Too Thrifty Chicks

Think.Thrift.Create


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When Less Is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 2

I wrote a post almost a year ago about minimalism and promised y’all a part 2.  And here it is three months after I wrote it in June. (My bad y’all ’cause…life.)

My first post, which you should read here, was all about the genesis of how I came to live with less stuff in my life.

In brief, my journey to minimalism was about equal parts tragedy (dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s); necessity (the vicious cycle of living with debt and fluctuating finances) and desire (my quest for peace, presence and being awake to my life).

I have been going through this awakening process since Reese and I started this blog. Though we started Too Thrifty Chicks to curate a space where two quirky black girls could dream, and create our own virtual reality of funky style and sustainability, it has become soo much more.

As we’ve gone through the process of fixing our finances through Operation Do Better we’ve expanded what it meant to us to be Too Thrifty Chicks.

Spending less money necessitated shifting our focus on spending — even thrifty spending — to creating. We stopped poppin’ tags at our favorite thrift stores and started creating meals at home that we looked forward to eating together.

We created experiences with friends that costed very little. We even got to go on our dream trip to South Africa for which we paid cash.

This process of awakening also helped me think about my emotional attachment to stuff, and what it looks like to be focused on experience.

I love to travel, and I have either been to, or lived in more than half of these United States. I’ve visited our continental neighbors to the the north and the south. I’ve been to Africa, Europe and Asia and to three islands in the Caribbean. And I still desire to see more.

But I’ll be honest.

A lot of my pleasure travel was about escape. Being a journalist is as fun and exciting as it is emotionally and mentally draining. It can be particularly so when you love your job, and when you hate it, or when you live in a place that you’ve never embraced.

I confess that I was addicted to travel because I just didn’t want to be wherever I was, and I was always trying to get some place bigger and better than “here”. I also had this fantasy in my head of being a nomad who lived in exotic places abroad, and spending so much time living in southern states was cramping my style.

So I went on many a broke trip to escape my ho-hum life, and came back with the requisite knick knacks that proved I’d been somewhere. Some things I’d give away. Other stuff I simply held on to, feeding the fantasy of one day having a really nice house where I could display all my world treasures, and racking up a shit ton of debt along the way.

Movin’ On Up

When I had the opportunity to move to the DMV, I intentionally set out to do things differently. Living in Montgomery taught me that I could enjoy my life and where I lived even if it wasn’t the place I most wanted to live. I could make the best of it.

But now I was truly moving within spitting distance of a place I’d always wanted to live, Washington, D.C. I was going to be making more money than I’d ever made in my career. This was going to be great.

And in many ways it was. But just not in the ways I thought it would be. My job included travel, which was cool but exhausting, and made me think about whether I truly liked traveling and living out of a suitcase. My determination? I liked travel for pleasure, not for work.

Also, the realities of the cost of living and commuting in the DMV were staggering and I had to make some real grown up choices. I could have lived in the city, or lived in one of the ‘burbs for slightly (and I do mean slightly) less money. I chose the ‘burbs.

When I realized my mother needed more direct care, she moved in with me, and we moved into a townhouse. When I determined that that was not going to work, she went to live with my aunt; Reese became my roommate. When my old car died, instead of buying another one, I chose to give it up and use public transportation.

Little-by-little these things were preparing me for the life that I live now. When I left my job to work for myself, Reese and I changed our lifestyles drastically. We pinched all the pennies. I worked a temp position on the side while freelancing. She was babysitting and working a part-time position as a researcher in Baltimore County. We were miserable.

By the time that Reese knew she was heading to Memphis, I knew that I didn’t have the kind of financial cushion necessary to work for myself, and decided to get a job. But all that I experienced let me know I wasn’t going to go work somewhere that I didn’t love again. I wanted to a) live in a city that I could love, and b) live in a city that I could afford.

Traveling Light

I knew if I moved back to the South, I would need a car. Living in the North would mean public transit but higher rent. In the end it came down to two positions, one in Savannah, Ga., a place I knew very well, and a position in New Haven, Conn., a place I knew nothing about. Both offered an identical salary. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I chose New Haven.

Here’s why.

1) Roommates are temporary. Car notes are forever. I would have struggled to pay rent and a car note, and I had/have financial goals to accomplish. Unlike most journalism jobs, this one doesn’t require me to have a car. I walk, bike and bus to most places. It’s not perfect. And you can read a piece I wrote about how imperfect it is here, but it beats having to purchase and maintain a car that would spend most days parked.

2) Experience. I spent my first two years as an adult in Savannah, and while going back to a familiar place was attractive, living somewhere I hadn’t lived before was more attractive. Plus, it was closer to Philly where my mom is.

3) Community. I had initially hoped to live alone again, but then I remembered that there is community in sharing space with someone. As a single person one of my biggest fears is dying alone. And while I might technically die alone in the house that I now live in, my roommate and/or our landlords will certainly find my body if I were to meet an untimely demise. I find a strange comfort in that. Plus, I save money, and that leaves me room to pay off some bills.

4) The greater good. By not having a car, I am one less car on the road. One less person damaging the air. One less person contributing to the need for parking lots. Living with others also means I’m one less person consuming things to furnish an entire apartment or creating waste. That’s important to me.

5) Less really was more to me. Not living with more — whether it was more car, more apartment or more stuff — also had become important to me. Yes, I was probably influenced by the growing backlash against consumerism. But I also am influenced by my own personal experience being awake to my life and the reality of my situation.

Operation Do Better taught me that I could be a better steward of my finances, and overcome reckless spending. Dealing with my mom’s stuff made me realize that having an overabundance of material things is its own burden.

So today, I live in a city that I really enjoy, and I’m working in a job that is more fun than not. And while I have high hopes of being here for a little while, if for some reason I choose to move on, there is no “thing” holding me back. And that feels right.

– Ricks

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Hello, World. Are You (Still) There?

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Selfie Nation, Stand UP!

I’m not going to lie, I’m afraid to write this post.

I’m afraid that I might be posting at a time when I am super enthusiastic about a lot of things — my job, my newly adopted city, life changes, re-connecting with old friends.

But I am also afraid that I will start and then stop. Afraid that I will lose steam, lose momentum. Give false hope. Let people (myself) down in some way.

I am afraid that I might be writing to escape. I don’t think I am, but I’m not prepared to say that I am not. Even less prepared to say that things will be like they were before. Today, I make no promises.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

I might be back. I might not. Reese might be back. She might not.

Whew.

Now that I have sufficiently lowered your expectations and shared my current truth, did you miss me/we/us? I/we (maybe) (actually) missed you.

Returning to regular blogging is something we talk about, often, but haven’t quite acted on together.

Reese is deep in dissertation land. (Body roll for seeing the light at the end of the dissertation tunnel.)

I will leave it to her to tell you what she wants to tell you about her life, now. When she gets ready, in her own time, if ever at all.

Me? Last month, I wrote two whole blog posts that I haven’t posted yet. Why? Because I was feeling a bit shy. Truth be told I felt/feel rusty.

My "this weather sucks" face.

My “this weather sucks” face.

My voice doesn’t sound the same in my head when I’m writing. It’s my voice, but different. My voice, but wiser? More cautious? It’s complicated, I guess.

But the thoughts, the ideas — they keep arriving in my head when I least expect them. Uninvited. OK, occasionally invited.

The things I want to blog about keep flooding my brain. Case-in-point: It is 1:30 in the morning and I have an assignment at city hall in about eight and a half hours.

I. can’t. sleep. because. I. want. to. BLOG! Wanting to blog feels great. Wanting to blog feels terrible. (I’m sleepy, and I SHOULD) go to bed.

Instead, I write. And I wrote this post for you, and you and definitely you. But also for me. And for Reese.

Definitely for me.

I’m not back.

But I am (we are) still here.

– Ricks


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When Less is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 1

I must admit I came to minimalism through tragedy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my mother was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Part of dealing with her diagnosis has been dealing with her stuff: her house, her physical personal belongings, her finances.

I discovered that my mom, retired Army veteran, lover of all media, homeowner and divorcee had an overwhelming amount of stuff! Honestly, if she wasn’t so neat and tidy, I would call her a borderline hoarder.

And I, her only child, had to dive in, when she couldn’t.

The experience of going through her house — our house — and trying to decide what to do with it all broke me down. I cried. Sobbed in fact. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, but also by the memories.

At some point in the process I realized my mama wasn’t ever going to live in her house again. She had no need of all of the things she had accumulated over her now 58 years of life. Me, her only daughter? I haven’t lived in the same city longer than four years. Ever. I’m a nomad, at home every where and no where. Where would I put all this stuff if I kept if for nostalgia’s sake? I don’t have a house and the way this journalism thing is set up, I might never have one.

I’m still dealing with what to do with my mama’s stuff. It’s come a long way since that very first time I went through it, but the process continues. Dealing with her stuff forced me to have a come to Jesus meeting with myself about my own stuff. I had questions.

  • Why did I continue to drag things from my imagined life of living in a permanent space into my actual life of living in temporary spaces?
  • Did I place more value on “owning” a thing, rather than on its function in my life?
  • What would happen to my self-worth, self-esteem if I gave a lot of it away?

These are questions that I am still trying to answer.

In the beginning

When I got my first full-time gig at The Tuscaloosa News, I was stoked. And I wanted a grown up apartment to go with my new job. I did no math. Rent in Tuscaloosa and Alabama can be cheap. I would not discover until two years later how cheap it could be. All I knew was that I could get a whole townhouse for less than $500 a month. But a whole house needs furniture, right? And decorations, and, and, and…..

Yeah. That was a thing. Until I realized how much money I did — or rather, didn’t — make. I had to move to a less expensive apartment across town and try to get my mid-20 something head around the dismal state of my finances. I moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Sarasota, Fla. in 2005, for a job that paid more, but I couldn’t afford to take my stuff, which I’ moved to Georgia. The re-location money wouldn’t cover getting all that stuff to Florida and I was broke. I also didn’t have a place to put it. This was Florida, pre-housing bubble bursting. Apartments were being converted to condos and rents were outrageous compared to Tuscaloosa.

Instead, I shared space with great roommates until I moved to Anniston, Ala. for graduate school a year later. I was moving toward minimalism mostly by circumstance, and a little by choice. I lived for three years without most of my stuff. I told my mama to keep what she wanted for her daycare and sell/giveaway the rest. I was on the road to Montgomery, Ala. vowing to never, ever accumulate that much stuff again.

A broken vow

While I never accumulated a house full of furniture again — Reese can attest to this — I still managed to amass a closet full of clothes, kitchen supplies and books. Oh, and there were the huge pieces of art that I had been dragging around since my summer internship in Zambia, circa 2001! And did I mention the heavy, vintage typewriter? Yeah. That was a thing. My house was mostly a statement in minimalism, but it also didn’t feel like home. It felt empty. Disconnected. I knew I wanted less stuff, but I didn’t have the language to talk about it when everything about growing up seemed to be about getting more stuff.

Two steps forward, two steps back

I got to test these questions again when I moved to the DMV. I left Montgomery, Ala. with only what I could fit into a two-door, 1997 Saturn SC2. Clothes, kitchen supplies, books. I was jammed in that car like toes in too small shoes. And still I ended up leaving a lot of things behind at a good friend’s house.

Though I had successfully managed to give away a ton of stuff, I still couldn’t bear to part with anything more. I mean, for goodness sake, I got my book collection down to four small banker’s boxes. Who does that? I vowed to purchase a Kindle and to never physically turn a page again.

And then I met Reese. This girl loves books. When she became my roommate, she came with books. Her books reminded me how much I enjoyed reading. How much I enjoyed turning a physical page and devouring a book in a 24-hour period. Her books reminded me how good it feels to walk into a book store, especially in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is home to Sankofa Video, Books and Cafe, The Children of the Sun, Busboys and Poets and Kramerbooks & Afterword Cafe. Not to mention thrift stores where you can find out of print books dirt cheap. (True story: I purged my suitcase while in Memphis because I bought books at a thrift store. Reese still had to bring some of them when she last came to visit.)

Ahh, glorious books. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Operation Do Better, we would have spent every dime we made on books. The public library near our house, saved our pocket books to be sure.

But then it was time to move. And we both realized that in creating a home together, we had managed to amass a lot of stuff. That troubled the minimalist spirit that had developed in my heart from all my previous moves. Orchestrating a move is not my most favorite thing in the world, even though I have moved a lot in my 35 years. (Hello, Army brat.). I felt it whenever we visited friends, who had these spry, carefully edited apartments. Nothing more, nothing less. We had created an amazing space, but it was starting to feel like too much. Moving helped us both realize just how much it was.

Throw it out

When a friend posted a great article that encouraged us to throw everything away, ish got real. We jumped on a challenge to intentionally get rid of three or four things every day for 30 days. Because I was in transition, I had to modify the challenge. But I’m happy to say that by the time I unpacked my last box at my new space in New Haven, I managed to purge about 200 items over the last month.

While my stuff is still a little bit more than is necessary, it’s not much more, and that feels right. I learned while living with Reese what it means to create a space with intention, and I believe I have achieved minimalism without sacrificing comfort in my new place. I have some thoughts about how to ensure that I continue to travel light and ready for new adventure that I will share in another post.

So, I’ll leave you with these additional question to ponder: If you had an opportunity to pick up your life and move it to another country, state, city would your stuff hold you back? Would you chuck it all for the experience of a lifetime?

My courageous line sister recently did it. Check out her story and blog chronicling her adventures teaching abroad.

Do you consume, therefore you are? Share your thoughts on minimalism in the comments below.

-Ricks


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Dear God, I’m Here!

This time last year I had a lot of questions and no answers. I was in a grey place in a romantic relationship….that place where you’re technically broken up, but you’re still going back and forth about whether you did the right thing or if you can do something to make it work. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish my PhD. I was tired and directionless. I was feeling envious toward people who were gaining clarity in ways I was not–even though I was doing all the “right” things to get the direction I needed. My National Science Foundation grant funding for my research had ended, but thankfully I got a research job doing something interesting. I was trying to listen to the universe, but I was also very afraid of taking a wrong step.

Fast forward to 2014. I spent my birthday in Johannesburg, South Africa which was amazingly awesome…one of the best birthdays ever (we will have to do a post about the trip at some point). The next day, January 3rd, my sister told me via Facebook that my grandmother, one of the people who raised me, died. We had three days left in our trip, so I locked away the grief until I got home. But even when I returned, I felt not only my grief, but my (perceived and real) isolation from family. In March, our church did a Lenten fast called, “Surprise Me, God!” And oh was I surprised. In six weeks’ time, my car was broken into,  my laptop was stolen, I needed $1000 worth of repairs to my car, and I ended up in the Emergency Room.

March 30th was a Sunday. That morning, I decided I was going to go to church, even if I didn’t feel like it. On the way to church, a good friend texted me and asked if there was anything she could pray for. I responded, “pray that I can be still and know.” Got to church and the text for that day’s sermon was Psalm 46:1-11, which includes the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” That, for me, was confirmation that though I had had a tumultuous twelve months, and 2014 was off to a rocky start, I was going to be ok. I just had to chill.

The next day I decided three things: 1) I didn’t really want a postdoctoral position I had applied for, even though it was a good fit on paper, 2) I was willing and ready to leave D.C. and 3) I was ready for (and needed) change. Around 4pm that same day, I got a call from the Dean at Rhodes College inviting me to participate in a Skype interview for a job that I thought I wasn’t competitive for, since I hadn’t heard anything in months. To make a long story short, I did the Skype interview, was invited to an on campus interview, and was offered the job in a span of about 2.5 weeks.

I accepted the job and it’s official: I’m moving to Memphis, y’all!

This post is not intended to be a “life was awful but now it’s good” kind of post. Actually, it’s a “life is always happening…good or bad and you have to roll with it” post. Sometimes crazy shit happens in succession and you cannot believe what is happening in your life. Sometimes good stuff is happening and you feel like, “man, I’m finally living.” But that’s not true. What I have learned over the past year is that you’re always living. Life is always happening. It doesn’t start or stop because something good or bad happens. Life is in all the details. In some ways, I am very excited about this move to Memphis. In other ways, I am pensive. Yet, even though it’s a major change, this year has taught me many things, one of them being that no matter how big or small the change is, I’ll be ok….because life is always changing. Always. I might cry, cuss, scream, smile, laugh, etc. at all the things that are happening, but that’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? It reminds us that we’re present in everything. I look back to a year ago, and I can hardly believe where I am now. But as Miss Celie said as she left one life to start another, “Dear God, I’m here!”

Stay tuned, y’all. I have many stories to tell about trying to figure out this move on a budget….and I KNOW y’all wanna hear about my new place! 🙂

-Reese

P.S.-If you know any cool people in Memphis, introduce me!


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Food For Thought Friday: Letting Go of Attachments

So this happened today…I cut (with Reese’s help of course) my dreads!

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After nearly four years of growing them, I finally decided they had to go. I had been thinking about cutting them off and on for the last year, but all those insecurities that can come with having short hair kept holding me back.

Those feelings are ironic for a couple of reasons. Reason #1: Six years ago this weekend (Feb. 17 to be exact), I did this very thing. I chopped off my shoulder length relaxed tresses and started my natural hair journey. And I must say, it’s as liberating today as it was then. Reason #2: It’s just hair. If/when I decide to grow it back, I will.

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But right now I’m on a mission. You see I’ve always had this obsession with having long hair. It’s the reason I didn’t go with my first instinct nearly four years ago to cut the natural hair I’d been growing successfully for 2.5 years. It’s part of the reason I decided to loc my hair though I said I never would.

The decision to cut my hair flies in the face of that obsession and that’s exactly why I decided to do it. It’s obsession driven by fear and unfounded fear at that. I’m big on confronting some fears, particularly those that I have complete control over. That’

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s why in addition to the hair cut, I plan to rock my hair this short, or shorter for at least a year. That means no obsessing over growing it out, or not doing something to it because it might hurt length retention. Cut and color, here I come.

After Reese finished snipping the last lock, she said I was fearless. I’m not, but I want to be. I’m not fearless, at least not in enough moments of my life, but what I do know for sure is that a Ricks with a made up mind is a force to be reckoned with.

I don’t ever want to be so attached to something that matters so little out of fear. Fear that what I’m doing won’t be accepted by others, or fear that letting go will be so life altering that I can’t recover.

— Ricks

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