Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wants vs. Needs

So many times I have heard myself say, "Oh, I need to do that" or "I really need this" but that's rarely the case. The truth be told, there are very few things in life which are truly necessity. Air to breathe, water to drink, a bit of nourishment for energy and, if one is lucky, a place to sleep at night. Outside of that, everything else is really a want.

I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my parents made great sacrifices so I and my siblings would never go without. Not only did we have all the necessities, but we had extras...certainly nothing too extravagant, but I had an ideal childhood. Having grown up in comfort, I believe I came to expect certain things as necessities and the lines between wants versus needs became blurred.

Sometimes it takes a life-changing event to open ones eyes and for me that event was 6 months with little-to-no income. When faced with such monetary challenges of having money for a month of food and still being able to keep gas in my car (necessary in case I was called for an interview), I discovered this great truth: I don't need as much to survive as I once believed. My whole attitude towards salary, possessions and wants versus needs has changed.

At this time last year I was making $35,000 as a single other humans depending on me for food and shelter. I lived in a 2,200 sq.ft. home and thought I was living modestly. WRONG! Once the source of income was gone (from a job I hated and was miserable each day I had to drag myself to the office) I suddenly felt unburdened. I'm not even sure I can effectively explain how I felt, but I knew, despite the seemingly bleak circumstances, I was happy. There were lots of challenges to overcome, but I've arrived at a new place and I don't want to go back to those old habits and confining thought processes.

I currently hold a part time job which pays me $11,500 a year. I maintain a wardrobe of clothing and accessories which will fit in 2 overnight bags. Three mornings a week are spent helping others and 1/4 of my income is giving to charitable organizations who help those who are hungry, out of work and homeless. I don't want to mislead anyone and have someone think I've given up all luxury and am living as lean as possible. I still pay for a cell phone and to have my hair cut and colored every 6 weeks. Maybe I'll be convicted on down the line to give up the haircare routine, but for now I'm happy with how things stand.

One of the things I've noticed is how others are starting to discover their own struggle with wants versus needs. And once that conviction gets a hold of you, beware! It makes one do some radical things. Maybe because of my own experience with being on the edge of homelessness I'm more aware of people who show a passion and compassion for those in need, but I'm encouraged that maybe, just maybe, there's a movement starting which could very well change the fabric of our nation. But, even if I'm too optimistic, I want to continue to live as modestly as possible and help those, whenever possible, who don't have the support and resources I have been given.

Although I think everyone would find simplifying their life a rewarding and blessing-filled endeavor, I realize it's not a journey everyone can/will take and I hold no judgement over anyone and how they chose to live. However, since I have been convicted of my life of excess, I can no longer live it. I really could write on and on about the blessings I've received since "wiping my slate", but instead I want to leave you with a project one of my sorority sister's from college just started. When I read her facebook post about the "Seven" Project I was so inspired and excited for what she was doing I wanted to share it here. For seven months, she and her family are confronting the excess in their lives. To read about how the project came about, you can click HERE, but for the purpose of conserving length, I'll just list her outline for the seven months of project Seven.

1. Month One: "Put the Burger Down and Back Away Slowly"
I only eat seven foods: chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, and apples.

2. Month Two: “Nice Shirt”
I wear the same seven articles of clothes, speaking engagements included: one pair of jeans, one long-sleeved black shirt, two short-sleeved t-shirts, one pair of exercise pants, one dressy shirt, and two pairs of shoes.

3. Month Three: "Sonic, Barnes and Noble, and Other Places that Will Miss My Money"
Me and my family will only spend money at seven places: Online bill pay, one gas station, Farmer’s Market, the kids’ school, adoption agency, limited travel expense fund, and emergency medical.

4. Month Four: "Going Radio Silent"
The family eliminates seven media and social networks: NO internet (except for work), gaming, TV, radio, iPhone apps, Facebook/Twitter, or texting. Laptops for work shut down at 5pm.

5. Month Five: "The Great Giveaway" (Yes, I’ve Done the Math)
The Hatmakers give seven things away a day that we own. Additionally, The Council is adopting a family transitioning off the streets, and we will furnish their entire apartment by donating items we already own.

6. Month Six: "Composting, Sharing a Car, and Other Hippy Things I Never Thought I’d Do"
Our family adopts seven substantial habits for a greener life: gardening, composting, buying only local products, sharing one car, shopping thrift and second-hand, rainwater harvesting (too hippie?), and comprehensive recycling.

7. Month Seven: "Being Quiet, Being Still, Being Grateful"
Together, the family will observe “seven sacred pauses” daily: the night watch, the awakening hour, the blessing hour, the hour of illumination, the wisdom hour, the twilight hour, and the great silence. Additionally, we observe a weekly Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday

What an inspiring list! I know it has given me some new things to think about in my own personal quest for discerning wants versus needs. I hope you find some inspiration in it, too!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Direction

After 6 months of unemployment, I started a new job yesterday. It's only a part-time job an pays only a fraction of what I've been used to making for the last decade, but I've never been happier.

I really didn't write much of my unemployment this time around and I'm not sure why, but I suspicion it had to do more with my outlook than anything. Simply put, I wasn't scared, unhappy, depressed or any of the things one would think came part and parcel with the territory. I really feel it was the best way for me to discern the path I need to take; the new direction.

One of the things which really concerned me during my lean months was the type and quality of foods available [read: affordable] while on a very limited budget. I know I'm guilty of having looked into other carts at the grocery store and thinking, "you wouldn't be overweight if you didn't fill your basket with crap". However, I've changed my opinion. I'm sure there are some who eat junk no matter what their income, but the sad reality is most can't afford the healthy things such as fresh produce and whole grain breads.

Even going to a fast food establishment one sees the same trend. A double cheeseburger is available for $1.00 but a salad (made from iceberg lettuce at that) is $5.00! It doesn't take an advanced mathematician to figure out which economic class is eating the double cheeseburger. And I'm not even going to start on how the very class who either doesn't have health insurance or can't afford it are those most likely to need it once their arteries are caked with plaque because they had to survive by eating meals picked from the dollar menus!

But, I digress.

I've had six months to witness firsthand the challenges faced by countless Americans each day. During those times I was thankful to know my situation was temporary, but my heart was so convicted about how much actual wealth I had squandered over the years. So, I'm switching gears and my life has a new direction. Even this blog has taken a new direction during the last half year and I appreciate those who have stuck with me as I discover the new path. [and, if you miss the fluffier reading, feel free to check out my other blog As Seen in the 405!]

Trying to tie this up and connect the dots, I resisted taking a job which was only part-time. This particular job was dangled in front of me almost 2 months before I acted on it. But, now I feel it's absolutely where I needed to be, for lots of reasons. I really want to do something to make my community a better place. I know I don't have much to give monetarily, but my heart and my drive is full and ready to give, so I'm exploring ways to start some sort of community garden which will, hopefully, make fresh produce affordable to those who need it most. Working part time is going to give me that opportunity and I couldn't be happier about it.

Watch for more info about the community garden as I learn and work through the process. I can't change the world, but I'm going to do my damnedest to make a difference where I live!