Too Thrifty Chicks

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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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On the Bookshelf: Tuesdays with Morrie

“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

I recently read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (if you’re interested in a summary of the book, you can check out the description on Goodreads or Amazon). With all that is going on in the world–the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Russia beefing up military exercises near the Ukrainian border, and the US deporting children; and all that’s happening in my small part of the world–feeling excited about a new place but also like a fish out of water in some way, entering my first semester as an instructor at a new school, trying to get over my sadness that there’s no Trader Joe’s here–Morrie’s simple words felt like the antidote to everything. We know all of this, don’t we? We know that it’s important to invest in humanity. We know that community–real community–takes work and requires you to be pre sent and sometimes compromising. And we know that loving and being loved are more important than anything else, because everything else can fall under those categories. But sometimes we need reminders–maybe even life lines–to snap us back into the reality that we are breathing, thinking, acting human beings. If there is to be any positive change, if there has ever been positive change, I think it is because of what is summed up in those three sentences: invest. human. family. community. love. The book explores many topics, some of them touching, but this is what stood out to me the most.

Do I recommend the book? Eh. Maybe. Depends on what you’re looking for. I enjoy Mitch Albom’s writing style. I also really love the idea that something about him makes people comfortable enough to share really difficult things with him, which he turns into some beautiful writing. However, the book is about death. It’s sad sometimes. It’s philosophical. It doesn’t have much rising or falling action.  The book is about Morrie, but the experience of reading it is about you. The power of the story, rests almost solely on the reader’s willingness to be vulnerable with the topics covered. I don’t know if the book or the sentences quoted above would have had as much meaning to me if I had read it some other time. Maybe? Maybe something else would have stood out. I’m not sure. What I do know is that the simplicity gave me a little hope in a time when everything seems more complicated than it needs to be.

-Reese


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Food for Thought Friday: Reflections on Community

Reese’s Reflections on Community

BGR! Drive to End Hunger Race, September 2012

BGR! Drive to End Hunger Race, September 2012

So much has changed in a matter of months. I’ve moved, gotten a new job, started the Too Thrifty Chicks venture with Ricks, and met some incredibly fascinating people. Ricks and I started Operation Do Better to tackle debt and save money, and that has been more of a blessing to each of us and others than we could have ever imagined. Life is moving…and I’m trying to move with it.

About a month before we officially moved in together, Ricks sent me a blog post called, “Create a Superhealth Community.”  It couldn’t have been more on time. The very morning that she sent it, I was freaking out about moving and all the changes that would happen. I lived alone at the time — and for good reason. A year and a half prior, I was in a challenging roommate situation that convinced me that if I was

going to have another roommate, surely it would have to be my life partner. Living alone really spoke to my inner solitude. If I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t have to. If I wanted to hide my head under the covers all day because I didn’t want to be an adult, I could do that. Going back into a roommate situation freaked me out because I knew I would be in a space where I’d have to be mindful of someone else. And not just anybody. Someone who I had only recently developed a friendship with.

PhotoGrid_1355085713560Because of some shared experiences (including a roadtrip to ATL for a race), I had developed a deep appreciation for Ricks, particularly her character, her style, and her willingness to see life as a series of adventures worth tackling. I had a number of concerns about moving. Worry about damaging our newly formed friendship was not the least among them. But, even in my freaking out, my spirit knew moving was the right thing to do.  The blog post Ricks sent calmed me and reminded me that (as Ricks put it) “It’s good for us!”

And indeed it has been. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the community my roommate and I have built in our home space. I think my first “ah ha” moment about this came when Ricks went off to Florida for a week for work sometime in December. The weirdest thing happened: I actually missed my roommate! Dinner and TV alone wasn’t as appealing to me as it had been, not because I don’t like quiet time (there are times where we’re in the same room and never talk), but because the equilibrium of our shared space felt off. When I picked her up from the airport, it was like a flood gate opened. We talked a mile a minute for hours (literally), finishing each other’s sentences as we sometimes do. Perhaps for the first time, we realized that whatever our respective life journeys are, we were destined to support each other along the way.

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BGR! DC at the Crystal City Twiligher, July 2012

We joke about how often we’re #twinning (thinking/doing the same thing) but even in those jokes there’s a bit of affirmation/comfort in knowing that as much as another human can understand me, she does. Our home is a place of laughter, silliness, transparency, and comfort — all of which (I think) people feel when they come visit. Several of our friends have joked about wanting to come live with “the thrifty chicks” and we always reply with something like “Come on! There’s an air mattress for you!” We’re quite lucky to have each other, but I think we’re equally lucky to share our lives and adventures with the people in our lives. It’s a great reminder that our individual lives are never solely about us. We all have some role to play in others’ journeys.

Goodwill Shenanigans, November 2012

Goodwill Shenanigans, November 2012

The warmth and encouragement of community isn’t limited to our in-person encounters. Everyday we’re amazed at the level of honesty and accountability exhibited in our small but faithful group of friends and friends of friends who are committed to Operation Do Better. In our Facebook group, we post our successes and struggles, cheering each other on like we’ve known each other for years when in reality, most of us have never met in person. In just a month’s time, people have had exciting victories and we can’t wait to see what will happen by the end of 2013! Empowerment is happening…and it feels great to be a part of it!

We’ve been meaning to write a post about ‘community’ for a while now, because we spend a lot of time talking about it. In some ways, I think it’s hard to write about just how important community is. The gratefulness I have for the people in my life sometimes can’t be put into words, but I hope my actions toward them shows my appreciation. There is one thing I wholeheartedly believe: if there is to be genuine change in this world, if there is to be healing where hurts exists, it will start with the relationships each of us build with each other. Wholeness can only be accomplished through community building.

Inaugural Parade 2013

Inaugural Parade 2013

A word about community from Ricks…

When I reflect on the four years that preceded my moving to the D.C. metro area, I can only describe them as solitary. I had tons of friends and great work colleagues, but I lived alone. And the only-child in me that places a high value on her private, quiet, personal space thought that I liked it that way.

But the truth of the matter is I always lived as if I was going to suddenly be whisked away from the tiny house where I lived. It was sparsely furnished because I really only slept there. It wasn’t a place where I entertained friends over meals that we cooked in my tiny kitchen together, and it wasn’t a place where I watched movies and drank wine with a so-called “significant other.” It simply was the place where I slept and got dressed for work every morning. It wasn’t a place that I considered home.

Foolishness + Race Day, BGR! Race to End Hunger September 2012

Foolishness + Race Day, BGR! Race to End Hunger September 2012

When I moved, I knew I wanted things to be different, but had no real thoughts or ideas about how to change that, or any inclination of what I was really trying to change. I was a full participant in this world where self- reliance and independence are valued above connecting with others. Being transparent enough to let others help me in ways I didn’t know I needed help was something that I craved, but I had no clue how to let my guard down. How I solved this dilemma that I didn’t even know I was having is rather unique because I didn’t solve it at all. It solved itself.

First, friends of a friend opened their doors and their furnished basement to me to give me an opportunity to get my sea legs in a new town and to look for a place to live. They were a sweet, fun couple who took a chance that I wasn’t a horrible person. I mostly kept to myself, but they were always friendly. Whether it was helping me get my things out of my packed car when I first arrived on a cold, rainy afternoon at the end of March 2011 or lending me a fleece so that I’d have something warm to wear in Afghanistan, I couldn’t have had a nicer introduction to a scary new place.

The last chipotle supper before the spending fast, December 31, 2012.

The last chipotle supper before the spending fast, December 31, 2012.

I was baffled at how to make friends in a strange new place, so I reached out to colleagues who I knew lived in the area and fell back on my sorority ties to connect. These were all things that I’d done in the past whenever I moved to a new area. But it didn’t work as I had intended. Where I thought I’d find a comfort zone was non-existent. It’s like the universe wanted me to do something completely new, so I did. I managed to connect with a friend, who wasn’t a friend when I originally met her because in the space that we used to know each other, we didn’t really “know” each other. (You caught that right?) I also deepened a friendship that started in the place that I had just left.

Through Meetups, church and getting involved in other organizations

Ricks and Reese out on a trail run with one of our favorites, January 2013

Ricks and Reese out on a trail run with one of our favorites, January 2013

I have made and built friendships that have been a blessing to me and continue to be so. Through these friendships is also how I met Reese. If two spirits were ever destined to meet and make friends, then we are those spirits. I’ve been fortunate enough to have roommates exactly at key points in my adult life when I needed them. But Reese is truly the first person that made me think about the value of shared space and shared investment in the deepness of each other’s lives. I’ve been fortunate enough to like all of my previous roommates and even had deep affinity for one or two, but this is different. It’s a rare thing to live with someone who just gets you. Most people expect this type of synergy to come in their romantic relationships and maybe for some people it does, but she and I are like peas and carrots. We just go together. And it’s good for us.

Breakfast at the thrifty palace.

Breakfast at the thrifty palace

When I learned my mother was diagnosed with earlier onset Alzheimer’s and started reading up on the things that can contribute to this devastating illness, I came across this New York Times article about an island of people who regularly live to be 100 or older. These centenarians get regular exercise by walking everywhere because they don’t drive, they drink a little wine regularly, and grow a lot of what they eat. But what struck me most was that though some of them had lived through tragedies, including the death of their own children and even being diagnosed with cancer, they had each other. They enjoyed each other’s company and had stimulating conversations.

Trail run, January 2013

Trail run, January 2013

In our country, it’s common place that getting older means losing friends and family to death and illness. After the death of a spouse, or even divorce, some people never find love again and live out their lives in solitude that gets louder and louder as they get older. One day you look up and everyone that you used to know is gone. You drift away from meeting new people, disengage from the things that used to bring you joy because you no longer feel like you have anyone to do them with. This also can happen to single people as their various friends go off down the traditional path of getting married and starting families.

534590_696624856290_1972075459_nBut many studies have shown that connecting to a community of people and engaging in acts that keep you mentally stimulated and involved, whether they be with family or friends, is vital to your health.

As Reese mentioned about the blog post I sent to her, it’s good for you. So often, I think we get caught up in the idea that when you’re an adult, you shouldn’t really need anybody that isn’t your so-called “significant other.” Some might even argue that you can only have this kind of relationship with a spouse. But I disagree. Investing in the lives of others and making real connections can happen in any kind of relationship if you let it. I believe that this adventure with Reese is teaching me to value all of my relationships individually and collectively, to not place more pressure on one than another, and to find ways to connect with others and build community wherever in the world I might be because ultimately it is for my good and the greater good of others.