07 November 2009

The Real Meaning of Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness.  What can be said about it?  It's what Saturday is supposed to be all about, on this blog.  It's what the past nine months of my life have been all about, really.  While I don't have a nice, neat little story to relate and then wrap up with a nice sentimental "moral of the story", I do have some things to say about the last nine months of resourcefulness.

After high school, I jumped right into a guaranteed paycheck and yearly raise with military service.  I stuck with that gig for six years, during which I frivolously frittered away the bucket loads of money I was making.  Towards the end I made a serious mistake.  I enrolled in college, got hooked up with student loans, and saved all the tuition assistance I received from the GI Bill, with plans to use it to pay the loans after graduation.  Well, I was honorably discharged in July and dreadfully unemployed until December, right after I graduated.  Those six months of unemployment drained every bit of savings from that GI Bill and now my unpaid student loans have gathered $3000 of interest that's been tacked on.  That's right...I haven't been able to pay on them regularly for about five years now.  That bachelors degree isn't worth a pile of beans.  In my last job, it provided me with a whole .02 per hour more than my unschooled coworkers.  Wow. 

Every now and then, usually after I've just renewed my forebearance, I think to myself "I really wish I would've lived more cheaply and wisely during that unemployed six months.  I wish I would have been able to use that money to pay the loans off".  I wouldn't have this one financial mess, on top of others, right now.

The next time I found myself unemployed, I was unable to pay my mortgage on my newly purchased house so I moved out and a renter moved in.  That was in 2007 and now he can no longer afford to live there either.  In a desperate attempt to preserve my credit, I contacted a realtor only to find I'm seriously upside down on the house and have to do something called a "short sale" which leaves me at the mercy of a mortgage company and puts me in a generally unpleasant, stressful situation.  Now I just need to find a buyer and we can commence negotiations.  What will come of that is still up in the air. 

The most recent bout of unemployment saw me cancelling the cable, the netflix, and unplugging the dryer.  I sold my car to get out of payments and ceased all purchasing of anything other than food, soapmaking supplies, and spare linens at $1 a piece at Goodwill for my aprons.  Meanwhile, my husband is paying all the bills and grabbing parts here and there for the Diesel VW Golf he's rebuilding for me.  Obviously, money was very, very tight.  And still no employment.  Soon after, FEMA rezoned the property my rental house was on and demanded flood insurance...a year's worth right up front.

Then, in a horrible train wreck of a disaster, the unemployment agency informed me that they'd accidently paid me $5500 in benefits that needed to be repaid within 45 days or else a threat of jail time.  That unemployment check was groceries.  Now that was gone.  My mother-in-law saved my precious sanity by loaning me the money to repay the unemployment agency.  I'd rather not owe that much to anyone at all, but I'd rather owe it to someone I love, and someone who loves me, rather than the cold, mechanistic government.  Plus, I didn't want to go to jail.

So what did I do then?  In addition to the dryer, I unplugged EVERYTHING while not in use.  I started buying flour and rice in 50 pound bags, and beans in 10 pound bags.  No more soda or juice...just bulk tea bags and lots of iced tea or water.  We canned the tomatoes from our garden and the corn a friend gave us from his garden.  We dried everything else we could in my mother's food dehydrator and stopped buying our weekly treats of imported beer and ice cream once a week.   I made cookies instead. We wasted nothing.  Every scrap of leftover was eaten, always.  (We've eaten A LOT of soup and bread.)    All our meat comes from a local organic farm (Fox Hollow Farm) at extremely reasonable prices.  The farm offers everything from Filet Mignon to Lamb Kabob meat but I stick with cheapest...ground beef, whole chickens, and eggs.  I learned how to use every single piece of meat on a whole chicken.  I learned how to plan a menu of 21 meals, using all leftover ingredients for other meals.  My shopping lists include only what I need for those 21 meals and that's it.  I don't buy conveniance foods.  I make them.  Crackers, cookies,breakfast bars, ketchup, salad dressings, soup stocks, breads...you name it, I have a recipe for it. 

We haven't bought shampoo or conditioner in months.  Our backstock of borax and vingegar took their place.  (Really, it's not as bad as it sounds.  Seems to work better, anyway.)  Same thing with cleaning products.  I make all of them with these ingredients:  vinegar, borax, baking soda, lemons.  (EXCEPT, I still buy Barkeepers Friend, the BEST cleaning product ever invented, at less than $1).  When my year's supply of contact lenses ran out, I started wearing glasses for the first time in fifteen years.  And I started taking every odd job that anyone offered.  I've packed moving boxes, cleaned houses, watched cats, bathed dogs, and at the moment I have two custom soap orders, 5 custom apron orders, and one outsourced felted pumpkin project.  More cleaning and possibly bread-making projects are also in the works.

It has been overwhelming, exhausting, and stressful to say the least.  Nearly a year of this nonsense has proved to be an absurd life situation but at the same time, cannot be dismissed as useless.  It seems all throughout the years of tough financial times, I've been being nudged closer and closer to learn the real meaning of resourcefulness.  Of course it means sacrificing cable television and that Western conveniance we call entertainment.  It means sacrificing a lot, if need be.  It means tossing out the American consumer mania mentality and making do with what you have.  And it means using what you have wisely.  But it's more than that.  If the definition stopped there, we may as well make poverty a synonym.  But resourcefullness also means innovation, ingenuity, and above all, gratitude and joy.  Without those key ingredients, we could never reach the state of mind necessary for contentment and growth.

Nine months have passed since everything started going downhill, but the dust has finally settled enough for me to see a new perspective.  The reason I started this blog, and the reason I started selling aprons and soap on my etsy shop, is not just for money.  Learning the meaning of resourcefulness...learning to create the innovation and the gratitude...  has led me toward what I really want to do with my life.  I want a cozy, handmade life and a loving family. I want to make handmade beautiful things for others; and I want to inspire others to recognize the true value of home.

How simple.  Part of me thinks...if only I'd known what I wanted from life from the very beginning.  But then I think...nah.  I would have missed all this....

Making Soap


Char said...

wow - i admire you. you made do with a lot less than i did. even though i was getting to the very bottom, i was lucky enough not to get all the way there. if i can hang on until the first paycheck now, i'll be ok.

and yes. after december 1st we need to work out a barter if you like.

:) i love bartering.

corabela said...

Sweet! I'm looking forward to some bartering. I came across a blog the other day in which there were instructions on how to trade through etsy. I hadn't known you could.

And hang on Char! The paycheck is coming! : )

Annie said...

I am right there with you! Odd jobs, making things, ETSY, the stress, but also the many blessings. We will dig out of our holes and shine bright. xoxo

julochka said...

wow. that is a breathtaking chain of events...and having just resigned from my job because it was making me really, really miserable, i'm thinking about finding ways of being resourceful while i build up towards what i'd really like to be doing, which is actually pretty similar to what you're saying...living a cozy, handmade life, making beautiful things and being inspired as well as inspiring.

reading your story helps me in my thinking towards my own.