My favorite Borders is closing its doors.
We are all having to make tough choices these days.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was totally invested in the American Dream. I wanted it all: a generous income, a spacious house surrounded by a white picket fence, beautiful friends, two or three kids, a family vacation every summer, a fantasy holiday every winter. My dream turned into a nightmare in 2001, the year I joined the ranks of divorced, single moms. I have much to be thankful for: a job that allowed me to stay at home with my three healthy boys; a home of my own; family and friends who love me. We even made some memories aboard cruise ships and around the Christmas tree. But these tough economic times have forced just about everybody to look inward - to recognize that THINGS don't really make us happy; that the endless quest for more, more, more takes us down a road that leads far away from financial peace and true security. Indeed, I have come to realize there are three things I want LESS of in my life.
CREDIT CARD DEBT
Thanks to the current economic situation, my income has decreased approximately twenty percent in the last year - after all, piano lessons are a luxury, not a necessity - while my expenses have, for the most part, remained steady or actually increased. As a result, my credit card debt has risen steadily every month as I have relied on credit to help me pay the bills when, despite my best efforts, there is more month than money. I have become aggressive about finding ways to reduce spending; we stopped eating out, I clip coupons and shop the sales at the grocery store, I got rid of our land line, cut back on our cell phone and satellite television plans, and reduced the cost of my health insurance premium by almost 72%. I visit stores only when necessary, take a list with me, and avoid places like Target and the mall like the plague.
In essence, I put this family on a "spending diet." There was a great article in the March, 2011 issue of "Oprah" magazine, in which Martha Beck explained that we have a primal instinct to spend. "You see," she says, "our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived by collecting pelts, sticks, fibers, hunks of peat - whatever might keep them comfy in their caves. Thousands of years later, acquiring, just like eating, still flips the switch that tells our primitive brains we're well supplied for hard times." Her conclusion? "To sustain a balanced buying diet, we must flip that switch without actually accumulating more stuff." Makes sense, doesn't it? This month, for the first time since last June, I have a balanced budget; moving forward, I will apply every spare penny towards paying off those credit card bills. My plan is to be debt-free (other than my mortgage) by the time Nathan graduates from high school in 2014.
The sad truth is a lot of the stuff I'm not buying today would end up being the clutter of tomorrow, anyway. Down with clutter! I am weary of all the piles of unread books and unused music collecting dust in my home; the craft supplies I will never use; the junk-filled drawers that won't shut and the garage that I can't park cars in because it is stuffed to the gills with who-knows-what. I am on a mission to get rid of every single item that I don't use or love. I will enjoy what is left so much more, and there will be a lot more space for the things and people that really matter.
There are dozens of books out there with advice on dealing with clutter; my system is simple. I am going through the house, one room at a time, filling bags and boxes with unwanted items - being ruthless in my selection process - and hauling them to Goodwill, one trunkful at a time. My piano studio is getting the treatment now. After I am finished, each room will get a carpet cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I will keep you posted.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and plan to share that story in a future blog. Right now, although I am at a "healthy" weight - at least according to the BMI charts - I know that I look and feel better about fifteen pounds lighter. Menopause and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism have taken their toll, but now that the hormones have leveled off and my thyroid levels are where they should be, I am ready to give up however many glasses of red wine and however many pieces of chocolate are necessary in order reach what I believe is an optimal weight for me. I am doing it the old-fashioned way: counting calories and increasing my activity level. I am keeping a food diary and making a point to go to the gym (I have a $15/month membership at Fitness 19) at least five times a week. Bonus: I won't need to go shopping for new clothes when I am able to get back into some of those cute tops, pants, skirts and dresses already hanging in my closet.
So there you have it. If any of you battle any of these same issues, feel free to share your own struggles and successes. We are not alone.