I might be the cheapest person on earth. I hate debt, though thanks to college, business, houses, and cars, I can deal. I love the “Three R’s: reuse, repurpose, recycle…” the essence of thrift. I own three pairs of jeans, and I’m contemplating skipping back to school clothes shopping altogether. Fashion and shopping, yuck. If I do buy something, it must be justified. The new grill, “happiness budget.” Rusty loves it and the food tastes great. Yoga, “mental health budget.” Yoga keeps me from imploding. “Hot tub” couldn’t sell itself, so I skipped that purchase. “Athletic recovery?” I’m not a good enough athlete. “Personal hygiene?” I have a shower… No hot tub until I can mask the purchase like the US government budget office.
Is this the right approach? Why can’t I just buy stuff?
When I lived in the city, I was a coupon master. The stores were twenty feet from my house. I matched coupons to sales, getting many products for free. Sometimes they’d pay me to buy things. Who can turn that down? I had bags of free products. I’d keep some for the family–toothpaste, shampoo, soap–and bring the rest to the shelter around the corner. I’d send out care packages with free stuff and when people visited, I’d make them take free stuff home. It’s fun giving stuff away. It’s especially fun at holiday time, when I could make baskets and gift boxes out of the free treat/fun stuff and bring that to the shelter. I always included a free toothbrush in the baskets.
At back to school time–right about now–I was coupon crazy. I’d match up every drug, department, and office supply store to coupons and sales. I’d note the limit, and I’d make the rounds twice–morning shift and afternoon shift. It got to be such that if I skipped a trip, I’d think about those 100 omitted pencils wondering whether they’d affect my job performance or my students’ future opportunities. I’d go to the teen that looked disinterested, “Listen, let’s cut to the chase. I see that there’s ‘limit 5,’ but I’ll come back eight times today. Can I buy 20 now?” They always obliged. They cared about the future of education. I still have 1 cent paper in a box from this hoarding period in my life. I’ve been sharing this with English teachers for years, and still have one case left.
It’s funny how scarcity makes you react. At home, the fear left by the Great Recession made me garden and clip coupons. In school, it made me fill cabinets with supplies students should be bringing them themselves. This is no good. Neither gardening nor clipping coupons saves money when you run the real math, and supplying a classroom will break the bank fast.
Gardening is expensive when you consider the setting up of the garden, time, nets, and supplies that you need. Ends up being one expensive bell pepper. Couponing is worse when you calculate the cost of the papers, and time spent cutting, organizing, reading fliers, and shopping at a million stores. If I bill this at my current consulting rate, it’s quite a pricy tube of toothpaste. This begs the question of “Do I need all this free shit anyway?” I do not. At one time, I had enough free health and beauty items to save us–worldwide–from teens with BO.
Doing things out of fear or scarcity is unhealthy and not productive. Simplicity is a much better approach. I stopped crazy couponing a couple years ago, finding I didn’t need most of that stuff anyway. My little bottle of Aveda shampoo and tube of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste–which is never on sale anyway–lasts me a full year. The last half-gallon of free Pantene in the shower now–three years later. Letting go of things, habits, and excesses reminds me of how little I really need to be happy. It’s a peaceful feeling.
This year again, I’ve tuned out of the back to school sales hype. I am letting go. For a couple of reasons. Classrooms should be supplied with the things they need to operate. End of story. In Corporate America, I walked over to the cabinet and got a pen. At my own business, whatever the team needs, the business supplies. I’ll still bring my students treats–it’s fun–but I’m not compelling myself to buy the basics anymore. When teachers systematically do this, they send the message that schools do not need to supply the basics. That’s wrong. I’ll do with less.
At home, I’m happier with less. Simplicity. Zen. I’m improving.
In school, I strive for the same mindset. What do I really need to teach? A room full of students and the creativity in my own mind. This year is all about doing more with less at home and school…still producing amazing results, and getting one step toward inner peace.
So, this year, you won’t see me at the Back to School Sale. I won’t be restocking paper… I’m trying to go digital and near paperless…
You will see me in the garden, however. That, to me, doesn’t fall under clutter. It falls under Zen. And yes, I have too much. Food, not Zen. I entreat you to come get a little of both if you’re passing on by.
[images: http://alongdaysjourneyinto.blogspot.com/2011/07/back-to-basics-my-frugality.html and desertcomfortmechanical.com and zenpencils.com]