A realistic look at living with less

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A Realistic Look at Living with Less: The good, the bad, and the ugly
by Kari Patterson
Sacred Mundane blog
Frugal Living NW blog

Every email my friend sends from Africa contains her signature quip: From a distance it looks like an adventure … up close it is filled with challenges.

Isn’t that always the truth? It’s easy to look on the lives of others from afar and simply see the adventure. The success. The end-result. But making meaningful changes in our lives involve far more than adventure, right? It involves challenges. Obstacles. Hard things. The key is looking honestly and realistically at these challenges and still believing it’s worth it in the end.

We all would probably agree that “living with less” is a worthy goal. I doubt that any of us made “buy more, consume more, eat more, spend more” a New Year’s Resolution this year. We all want to live on less, but statistics show that few of us really are.  Americans are spending more, weighing more, and consuming more than ever before. Where is the disconnect? Could it be that we romanticize this “living with less” lifestyle, making the reality of it so surprisingly disagreeable that we jump ship before making much headway at all?

For example, in October 2010 my family was inspired to take a step of frugality by selling our brand new dream home and down-sizing into an older, smaller rental (Check out the full KATU story). We had read the book, The Hole in our Gospel, and learned that around the world 26,500 children die every day of preventable causes related to poverty. We knew we couldn’t change the whole world, but we could change the world for one… or a few.

For us, this would be possible if we weren’t stretched financially thin. We began with great expectations. We worked hard through the weekend, cleaning and fixing and touching things up. New barkdust, sign in the yard; we were ready.

The house showed once. No offer. It showed again. And again and again and again and again. It showed ninety times over a full year. Still no offers.  With a busy life and a 2 and 4-year-old underfoot the year was exhausting. Constant showings. Constant emotional ups and downs, hoping for sales, promises of offers and nothing coming through. And a full year later, just before the listing expired – it sold. Time to move.

In my mind I’d imagined we’d move to a quaint little home. Bungalow-style or farm house. Something from the 40′s perhaps, with character. Surprise! None of those existed in our new frugal price-range.  So, we moved to a split-level 70′s rental. The first time I saw it, I told my husband it was the ugliest house I’d ever seen.

But now it’s ours, and we truly love it. Is it romantic? Not really. It’s crazy cold at night, sometimes it’s crowded in our tiny shared bathroom, and the smoke alarm goes off every time I use the stove. No matter how much I clean the laundry room it still smells like the B.O. of whoever lived there before. But we’re out of debt and living on less and it’s worth it.

But can you see how romanticizing frugality can sabotage our efforts? Eating less actually feels like eating less. Buying fewer groceries really means you have to get creative. Not getting that coffee is not what you feel like doing when you really want it! The benefits are bountiful: our health is better, our needs are fewer, and our lives are simpler. Less truly is more.

And the benefits extend beyond our household. Just yesterday we received a letter from one of our sponsored children in Zambia. I read her words with tears in my eyes when I realized that she has food, water, clothing, medical care, and education–and all we had to do was quit buying ice cream and snacks. Suddenly, everything falls into perspective.

But in the moment, going without is actually really hard. Isn’t it powerful to admit that? We’re so much more prepared to live on less when we expect challenges. An old house is cool, but it’s also really cold. It’s good not to have cookies in the house, but it’s also crazy-hard when it’s all you really crave.

The great news is this: You can do things that are hard. You can live on less. You can go without. You can resist cravings. You can find yourself free to live on less. But first we must resist romanticizing the process and take a realistic look at what we’re wanting to do.

Chances are, the adventure is definitely worth the challenge.

So what are your live-with-less goals and dreams? And then, what are the very real challenges you’ll inevitably meet along the way? How can you prepare for them and face them with confidence? Would you share with us a bit of your live-with-less adventures? It’s always refreshing and encouraging to candidly share bits of our own journeys with each other.

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Kari Patterson is pastor’s wifey, preschool mommy, writer, speaker, reader, blogger and frugal living enthusiast. She writes all about the beautiful mess of life over at KariPatterson.com.