02 January 2013

Delayed gratification doubles gratification

We're all, every last one of us, sick. Abigail is on day 3 of her cold, Matt has been flirting with a stuffy nose for a few days, but early this morning, when I felt my throat on fire, I knew I was sunk. When the alarm went off at 6:30am, I croaked to Matt, "I'm sick." "Me too," he whispered back. My house is littered with tissues and Ricola wrappers, and we're desperately trying to string together what few baby signs we know to communicate without having to speak. Abigail is allowed to play with whatever her heart desires because 1. there is nothing more depressing than a sick baby crying, and 2. what little energy Matt and I have is going into grocery shopping and doing laundry, so the more she plays independently, the better. We have been running nonstop since Christmas preparations on the 22nd, celebrating here, in Michigan, and hosting friends for New Year's in Chicago. I am thankful I scrubbed a few days worth of dishes, swept and Swiffer-ed the floors, cleaned the liter pan, and took the trash out yesterday, the day before I got sick, so that we could at least wallow in cleanliness. Matt had already arranged to have today off as a rest day before rejoining the grind, so now we're all just the most pathetic bunch you've ever seen. I full plan to spend the afternoon curled up in bed watching Blues Clues and Baby Signing Time with Matt and Abigail.

I am also thankful to have pre-written a blog post to appear today, otherwise what you see above would be it.

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The best meal I've ever had in my life was a crunchwrap supreme from Taco Bell.

Yes, the very same restaurant at the butt of all the "places-you-go-when-you're-drunk" jokes. The very same restaurant that had to take out a full page WSJ ad to defend their use of governmentally acceptable meat product. That one. Matt and I love Taco Bell, so when I was in college, Taco Bell was a natural place for me to break my two day fast.

After two days of nothing but water and diet coke, a crunchwrap supreme was the greatest thing to ever touch my taste buds. I still remember the warm sour cream and the queso-sogged hard taco shell bursting in my mouth. Delicious.

But, as you've probably guessed, it wasn't the crunchwrap that was amazing, it was the act of eating after a few days of naught. Sleep is always more refreshing after a hard day, coffee after a busy day, and relaxing on the couch after the floors are scrubbed. Matt and I gave up chocolate for Advent, and when we finally had some on the evening of Christmas Eve, it was amazingly delicious. Try giving something up for Lent this year if you want to see what I mean. Life is more enjoyable when hard work precedes a reward.

This concept translates very smoothly into consumerism as well. A new pair of shoes is much more exciting when you're closet hasn't seen an expansion in a year. A new gadget is entertaining for longer when you don't already have a media center full of electronics.

It is an easy concept, and one that most people would probably accept without much prompting. But living it out is insanely more difficult.

The hardest thing for me when it comes to living frugally and simply is the (1) abundance of cheap stuff (2) around me at all times. It seems silly to make a rag rug with our old sheets instead of just buying a new one for $10 at Target. Or the grocery store is a 10 minute walk away, so why not pick up a candy bar when I swing in to get Abigail more bananas? It's everything I want: quality over quantity, simplicity, a clean house, more money in the bank, a greater pleasure in the things I already own: a family and a mother straight out of a 1950s television show. But when I pass the billboard for the damn McDonald's peppermint mocha for the 4th time that week, my resolve breaks down and the next thing I know, I bought it.

When Matt and I are good about sticking to our budget and we don't make impulse buys at Target, birthday and Christmas gifts are immeasurably more exciting, dessert tastes better, and pretty barrettes are more prized. It is also true that buying begets buying and ignorance is bliss. Having an iPod Nano makes me want an iPod Shuffle so that I don't have to "lug the big one" with me on a run. Having a camera makes me want a better camera, and having a camera makes me want a video camera. Having a smart phone makes me want to have an e-reader, and if we had an e-reader, we'd probably want a tablet. Lastly, now that I have texting on my phone, I don't think I'd be able to get rid of it, and deciding to drop the data plan from Matt's phone next summer is already looking impossible. Sometimes good things comes of these splurges, but more often than not, they just make me want more things.

My in-laws are the type of people who rarely by things. For themselves, for others; they are the ideal example of "make yourself rich by making your wants few" and "teach your kids the value of a dollar." One year, I crocheted them winter hats. They were quick little things, 4 hours tops while watching a football game with yarn leftover from a previous project. I still hear about those hats every winter. They really get use out of them. The energy and resources used in producing the yarn, the gas and money it took to ship it to the store, the time we worked to earn the money to buy the yarn, the time I put in to the making of the hats - none of it was or will be wasted. Because they do not have a basket full of random winter hats that they will one day sort through and toss out because it is overflowing and they need more space.

Even though we don't own a credit card and pay with cash, I still find myself buying too much. I tried limiting my exposure to advertising, and I tried jotting down my wants on a piece of paper - an "impulse buy list" - and making myself wait a few days to buy them. It all helps in the short term, but nothing lasts. I talked to Matt about my frustrations and came up with a resolve for the new year. I want to tie purchases to special occasions. So if Abigail falls in love with a new toy during therapy, we have enough cash in the toys and development budget for the item, it's sat around on the wish list for a sufficient amount of time, and I purchase it, she can't have it until a holiday, albeit a mini-holiday, comes to pass. A "month birthday" (the 18th day of the month since she was born on May 18th), Valentine's Day, a Feast Day, something. It isn't that I'll buy her something on every mini-holiday, but saving what I do buy for the nearest event will raise up both the event and the gift, and it will hopefully diminish the purchasing since there are a limited number of holidays in any given month.

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Abigail is currently in the process of shoving empty bags of teddy graham under furniture, so I need to wrap this up quickly. Contrary to my previous post, I did make 2 of my 3 pre-New Year's Resolutions. It wasn't easy, but I managed to crank out numbers 2 and 3 from my list. A lack of dieting and exercising put me back a few weeks on the weight loss goals. I designed a few New Year's Resolutions to catch me back up. Matt and I decided to re-evaluate our resolutions on the first of every month (which we also reserve to talk about the budget), so we can remove, add, and switch things up as they get stale. Anyway, it's now back to wiping noses, washing hands, and braving the cold to switch the laundry for me. Have a happy and safe start to 2013!

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