Friday, September 12

It's the little things

Night before last, I remembered to put leftovers into a Tupperware bowl.

I know that sounds like the smallest of accomplishments. But most nights, I'm so tired that I leave the pots and pans just sitting on the stove. In the morning, I wake up, find the mess (and the spoiled food) and grumble.

I think it's important to point out the small victories. With so many frugal blogs -- with ideas, tips and even mandates -- it's easy to get caught up on everything we don't do, as Rachel over at Life One Frugal Day At a Time points out.

I read her post and started thinking about all the frugal tips that Tim and I don't follow:

  1. Like Rachel, Tim and I don't reuse foil.
  2. We do sometimes reuse Ziploc bags, but only when there's no food debris on them.
  3. Tim can't wear clothes more than once before washing, so we spend lots on laundry
  4. We have Blockbuster Total Access instead of renting from the library
  5. We don't cook from scratch very often

I could keep going, but it's all too depressing. There are plenty of great frugal tips that I don't follow. No one can do them all. But my first instinct is to chide myself for not being more frugal.

As wondeful a tool as frugality is, it's also very dangerous. There are always new methods and ideas. Someone is always going further than you are. And at some point we all have to cry "Uncle!"

Because we all have a set amount of energy and time. It just so happens that mine is much lower than the norm. So, for me, perusing frugality blogs is a tad masochistic: Most of the tips I find either don't apply or require more attention and energy than I have to give.

I have spent a lot of time trying to come to terms with my limitations. (That reminds me, I have truly got to find a more positive word than limitations. It's just so dour.) Part of the process is accepting that I will always be frustrated and feel like I could be doing more.

(Side note here: I found this amazing composition online recently: The Spoon Theory. It's the best explanation I could ever ask for. Written by a gal with lupus, it explains how many small ways a chronic, invisible illness affects you and wears you down. I wish this piece were just distributed to everyone. To the people who say, "Well, we all get tired." To the ones who compare their incidental bad health to your chronic, lifelong condition. To the ones who suspect that we could work, if only we wanted to; or who offer us sit-down jobs as though it would solve the problem.)

At any rate, I am finally coming to grips with the fact that there are things I can't do. Perhaps most shocking of all, I'm finding out that everyone feels that way -- even people doing twice the stuff as I am.

We all seem to feel vaguely guilty or ashamed. About what? I should spend more time with the kids. I should be more patient. I should stay for an extra half hour to finish up this work. I should volunteer somewhere. I should give more to charity.

I once told my therapist that I was beginning to realize that "should" is the most dangerous word in the dictionary.

I have a disability. It means I get less done than I would like. It gets upsetting, and it sometimes even makes me feel very small or worthless. When that happens, I take a breath and remind myself that I'm doing fine. Great, even. For me and for my situation.

My instinct is to mock the relativism in that statement. But it's true.

I can't expect the same things of myself -- at least physically -- that I could before I got sick. I wouldn't expect Tim's mom, who has congestive heart failure, to take a mile-long stroll with us. We certainly wouldn't expect a paraplegic to get himself up the stairs.

We all constantly adjust our expectations based on any situation. Except, it seems, when it comes to ourselves.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick of being angry with myself, disappointed. It's a waste of time and energy, thinking about the things I haven't done. And I don't have any energy to waste!

So I celebrate the small stuff: Putting away leftovers, getting the dishes done, whatever. I do it because, when you get right down to it, life is mostly the little stuff. I do it because we all need a little positive feedback, from time to time. Finally, I do it because, really, if I don't, who will?


Okay, so I couldn't find anywhere to fit these in, but I just have to include them since they're fitting with the theme.

#1: I write down passages I like from books. For awhile I typed them up and put them on the cupboards (sort of affirmation, sort of hiding the ugly faux wood-grain). One of my faves:

"I... assumed he was like everyone else: always wanting more than he'd initially thought he wanted, so that every victory could conveniently appear a failure. This was called, in some circles, ambition."

--The Effect of Living Backwards
by Heidi Julavits

#2: From one of my favorite songs:

"Cuz when I look around/I think this, this is good enough/And I try to laugh/At whatever life brings, yeah/Cuz when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff/And when I look up/I just trip over things."

--As Is
by Ani DiFranco


Blogger Shevy said...

The spoon theory is great. I've read it before, but not for a while.

I had Post Traumatic Stress following a car accident years ago, plus weakness in my arms, severe migraines and a lot of soft tissue damage. I was a single parent at the time with 3 young kids and I had a lot of trouble with work.

I had to go back, first part time and eventually full time before I was anywhere near physically ready but it was that or lose my job and it was *hard*.

People constantly disregarded the fact that I wasn't okay yet because I didn't "look injured" after all the initial bruising etc. went away.

And then I'd beat myself up for not being able to keep up with the house or do stuff with the kids.

The spoon theory is something to really keep in mind. Even now I'm always saying "Why can't I do this, or that. Everybody else can."

Well, maybe I'm *not* really Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I don't bounce back instantly from stuff and I'm working and taking care of 3 little kids, plus driving to and from our other place every couple of weeks.

Oh right. And I'm not 20 anymore. By, um, 30 years. I think I need to cut myself some slack.

September 13, 2008 at 11:26 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Yeesh, as someone who's had PTSD I am sorry you had to do so much with trouble. You're right about the whole problem with looking fine. People forget. It gets frustrating.

September 13, 2008 at 11:49 PM

Blogger The J said...

Yeah for the little things!!

I too fight with the frugal monster - but that's also because I know the danger of falling too far under it's spell. I have a Nana ;). One who lived through the Depression, and raised 10 kids on a farmer's income. Who, when living with us, would occasionally invite us over to her flat for dinner - to clear out the vegetables she had frozen 5 years ago. My parents were more moderate, but also more scared.

There are times that I love frugality - I love making something out of nothing. I love that we managed to get most of our furniture, etc from sources like freecycle. I love that by going a generation or two back, we can generally get electronics for dirt cheap (although finding a working VCR is getting harder every day ;)). I love "treasure hunting" at second hand stores.

But I know the danger of "thinking poverty". Of "it's not worth the money". Of being surrounded by crap, because (a) you can't get rid of anything in case you need it later, or (b) it was "affordable", and the things you want are "too expensive". Of spending all of your energy putting up a bumper zucchini crop to save $1/lb for the winter.

Yes, there are some things that I do want to tackle. Especially things that hurt the environment as well as my pocketbook! But one thing at a time, as little guilt involved as possible. You can certainly frugal-guilt your way into misery, and I refuse to do it. The money I have is a form of energy too - I just have to decide where best to spend it. If buying more foil and ziplocks means more physical energy at night when you need it most, it's a good spending of that paper-energy. If spending on those things means you can't afford something that'd help more, then it's bad.

But I like to read what others do occasionally, just for the ideas. May hit the guilt button, but sometimes you didn't know something was reasonable/possible until you "see" other people doing it!

If you figure out a way out of the dinner-vs-energy quandary, I'd love to hear it - that's the worst for me too. I keep trying to have the big meal in the middle of the day, when I've got the wherewithall to deal with it (and my stomach has the energy to digest!), but the rest of the world isn't built for that either, and I keep slipping back to an evening schedule again.

September 22, 2008 at 7:06 AM


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