How I Went from Stinginess to Simplicity


The other day, my husband caught me darning my underwear. The pair had a hole near my hip. They’re a few years old, so I had thought about tossing them, but pulled out my needle and thread instead.

This frugality runs in my blood. My mom grew up poor, her mother was a child of the Depression, and I, an anxious child who didn’t much like shopping anyway, learned from both.

Mom would cut the rot off strawberries and serve the good parts. She faithfully reused plastic bags and containers (once, my birthday cake, stored for a few hours, tasted of detergent, because the bag she put it in had previously lived in the laundry room). We were pretty well off, but our sound system and TV stayed old.

Simplicity, then, comes naturally to me. But for a very long time, it did not feel like a blessing.

It felt stingy. I struggled to tithe because I was afraid of not having enough. I did not buy nice things because nice things felt like a waste. And I felt ashamed of my incredible privilege.

So I tried to do with less. I bought my clothes on sale, and always felt a little anxious about shopping at all. Always put off haircuts, and always felt a little shabby. I thought I had to pursue any practice where I’d save more, spend less, and do with less rigidly. That if I did not cut corners, I was lazy, profligate, and ungrateful.

It was as if I were trying to make all my needs disappear.

My life did not feel spacious. I worried about my stinginess—both towards myself and towards other people. I knew very well how to say no to myself. And I was honestly a little tired of it.

And then, a few years ago, I started focusing on saying yes. I called them little yeses at the time: small choices to choose joy, and use my gifts, and be present.

As part of the process, I thought a lot about what yeses to say. What made my heart joyful? What brought a little bit of beauty into my life?

Those intentional choices transformed my life.

To my surprise, I started doing way less with my time.

Instead of couponing and volunteering and cloth diapering and buying everything I could used and trying to prepare everything I could with organic produce, I started focusing my energy only on those things that really made me feel joyful.

The volunteering—for a role that wasn’t a good fit—went out the window. I got some disposable diapers when we moved abroad because it was more rational. The couponing—well, with pursuing real passions, and my lack of real savings, I decided not to bother.

Instead of fifteen dutiful, grim obligations, I focused on writing, on being present with my kids, and on developing friendships, especially cross-cultural ones. Everything that did not meet those priorities fell by the wayside.

Can I tell you how different my life felt? Instead of an endless grind to do less with less, I felt like I could do more with very little.

Every time I evaluated a purchase, instead of asking myself if it was wasteful, I asked myself if it was joyful. I’d usually end up not buying, but the reason felt like self-care, not self-denial.

With that lens, I noticed how shopping made me anxious and the clutter of new stuff made it harder to keep house. I noticed how cooking fresh food from our CSA box made me feel rich.

I liked the practice of avoiding disposable items, but bought new cloth napkins to replace my old, threadbare ones. Now, every time we sat down to eat, the table was lovely.

My husband and I laugh at our dearth of seats—guests often sit on pillows on the floor since we only have one small couch and no armchairs—but our choice to not buy furniture is because our kids skate inside and I like being able to paint on our wide-open floor-space.

And I still buy my clothes used, and have many less of them than I used to, but I am better about buying pieces that make me feel beautiful.

I still struggle with stinginess. I still struggle with shame (as well as healthy guilt) about money. But though my journey out of shame is ongoing, simplicity has become a way to invite joy into my life, instead of shutting out generosity.

Real simplicity is about choosing. It means prioritizing and selecting only stuff that brings life. It means knowing yourself and your values. It means trusting that our lives are full without busy schedules and lots of stuff. It means paying attention to how the influence of our culture’s consumerism numbs us and separates us from issues of justice.

I once tried to live simply because I thought I didn’t deserve the alternative. But now, I realize God invites me to live simply because a simple life, well chosen, is the richest option there is.  

Image credit: Danielle MacInnes

Heather Caliri
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