I just bought some velvet-lined, space-saving coat hangers in an attempt to motivate myself into organizing my closet. The high hope is that my hideaway of a clothes-container-with-sliding-doors can be somewhat referred to as a “functional closet.”
I stared at the Amazon delivery box for an extra few seconds after opening it, thinking: “Coat hangers. I just BOUGHT coat hangers. PURCHASED them, like it was a normal thing. Wow.” (Riveting, no?)
See, most of my life – my kid-life and throughout my early adulthood (which I still believe myself to be in. DO NOT tell me mid-thirties doesn’t qualify. Please.) – I was broke. BROKE. Paycheck-to-ramen-noodles-to-paycheck broke.
My husband and I have just in the past few years, hinging largely on getting past the many years devoted to graduate school and budget-cut jobs, come to a financial place I describe as “head above water.”
Don’t get me wrong. This is no brag. I know as well as anyone that a job change or something unexpected could happen and -just like that- we could be bobbing up and down again gasping for a breath of disposable income.
I also know that “broke” is different than poverty. I have thankfully never had the very real anxiety of wondering where my next meal will come from.
This IS to say that I know how “broke” feels. Twelve years ago, I came back from my honeymoon with my new husband to exactly $0.05 in my bank account. FIVE CENTS. No lie. The wedding gift checks I deposited in my account were put on a security hold because the bank thought that little Miss (that’s Mrs. now, thank you very much) Five Cents must be scamming them – and who could blame them?? I was just thanking God my account wasn’t overdrawn, and saved from an overdraft fee by that nickel from heaven.
I have also had the good fortune to have bounced up enough from that nickel, and the years of tracking every single cent (literally – every.single.cent.) we spent to know the luxuries that come with “head above water.”
Here are a few of my observations of my daily, middle-class luxuries. I may not be on a yacht off the coast of Monaco any time soon (or, you know, ever), but I am 100% thankful for these everyday extravagances:
- The aforementioned coat hangers. When you’re broke – or the broke-wearing-lipstick version: “on a budget” – the chance that you’d buy a coat hanger would be the same as you taking a precious $20 bill, twisting it into a hook, and hanging your shirt on it. Which is ZERO. Because there are a billion other things that $20 needs to go to, and coat hangers are free if you grab extra from your parents’ dry cleaning trips whenever you go to visit them (note to self: add “dry cleaning” to a future luxury list).Add under this point: The Container Store, and all things therein.
- A box of tissues. I get these in bulk (especially now that I have three kids who generally pass the snotty germs around like they’re playing a desperate game of hot potato) and I swear I discreetly hug that big package and whisper a thank you to God every time. Because when you’re broke, toilet paper works, and it’s way cheaper.We spent many a year with a roll of toilet paper in every room and in our cars, doing our best to consider it “resourceful” and “multi-use” and tucking them in cabinets when guests came over. Comparatively, actual Kleenexes are like the lost feathers of angels’ wings, with the added bonus of being not-embarrassing if someone drops by.
- A full tank of gas. Whenever I roll up to a gas pump and there is $5 on the tank total from the car before me, I think in solidarity “Oh sister, I have been there.” You’re getting by with enough for today and tomorrow. You’re making it happen.And it makes me extra-grateful I can fill up my minivan’s tank and keep these chickens bopping around town to fun places like dance classes and playgrounds that seem pretty frivolous in light of my $5 gas friend out there making it day-to-day.
- Salon hair color. When the big budget cuts come, this line-item is one of the first to go. Men, this might not seem like a big deal, but let me speak for a large contingent of women and just say IT IS. I have an adorable blonde-highlighted friend who struck this from her budget once and returned to her (slightly) darker natural shade, and I swear it was like she sacrificed a piece of her soul for her family’s greater good. She tried to give it the “take-one-for-the-team” face, but she may as well have been wearing sackcloth and ashes.The salon and anything that happens behind those doors is a luxury. Breathe it in deep next time you are there. (Oh, and though we no longer live in the same town, my friend is once again brightly blonde, so I have the strong feeling things are OK in her world.)
- Flavor drinks. That’s what my brother jokingly called anything that wasn’t water. We grew up in a tight-budget household and would often save a little money by the five of us ordering water when we went out to eat. “Whoa, mom, you’re letting us get flavor drinks today?” It was a joke, but sodas rack up, and are an added luxury to the already-happening-luxury of eating out. I try not to take a single fizzy drink, iced tea, or frozen margarita for granted.And let’s just add to this point: Starbucks, ever. You know why.
I could go on. I think about the clean water running from my kitchen sink while I’m waiting for it to get hot – how many people in this world would love to have that drinkable water I’m watching circle the drain? How many have to walk/work/sweat to get that much clean water, my simple waiting-to-get-hot water?
Point is: we are surrounded by small luxuries, and most of us really do know that when we think about it – I’m just on a personal mission to actively KEEP thinking about it and keep renewing my thankfulness. To be vigilant to what slips under my radar and gets taken for granted and maybe starts to look a lot like entitlement.
It’s like my house with my sub-par domestic skills – the more I begrudgingly start cleaning, the more I notice how MUCH MORE I need to clean. Every darn time. This is just the way-less-depressing inverse: the more you search the ordinary with truly grateful eyes, the more you notice the richness all around you. No yacht necessary.