I come from a background that could be considered economically disadvantaged. My parents provided for four children as best they could, and I didn't grow up feeling poor, even if we technically met the goverment's definition of poverty. But I know the stress of raising four children on a limited income took its toll. As I matured into my teens, I became more aware of the things I didn't have and I was determined to improve my lot in life.
I was fortunate that school came easy to me, right up through college graduation. I worked my way through university, including a full-time job my senior year. I had abandoned any creative pursuits in return for perceived job security and majored in accounting. It's not a sexy career choice, but I had an affinity for the work and have met with success along the way.
I went into adulthood wanting all the trappings of "the good life." I sold my soul to a big-4 accounting firm, worked my way up through the ranks, and eventually achieved a manager title, a comfortable income, a sports car with a big monthly payment, a nice house, fun vacations, toys and gadgets, and a fair few thousand dollars of credit card bills that stuck with me, growing gradually through most of my 20s.
Then I met D. Coming from a background not vastly different from mine, he nonetheless had approached fiscal responsibility entirely differently. This was a man to whom a car payment was anathema and all of his possessions could fit into 125 cubic feet on a pallet and were important enough to have been shipped overseas on two international moves (now three, and counting). We had totally different approaches to personal financial management. In my mind, if I could afford the payment, I could afford the thing. His philosophy - if he couldn't pay cash, then he shouldn't be buying. Unfortunately for most of the western world's economies, more people (and governments) follow my philosophy than his.
I've learned a lot from him. Coincident with my own move to England, I shed the car (and the payment), the house, the furniture, the toys and gadgets, and the debt and I've never looked back. At the time, all my possessions could fit into the back of a full-size van.
When we moved back to Oregon, the dream was to move to the country, grow veg, maybe raise a few animals and explore a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Well, I say "the dream," but it's really more D's dream. Our agreement was that we would move to the country, but it had to be close enough to a major city to ensure steady employment for me, because I quite enjoy being a cog in the corporate wheel with a steady paycheck and a health plan and a retirement account. However, I no longer wanted to live to work - D hadn't moved half-way across the globe for me to be working 60 hour weeks and hopping on a plane for business travel all the time. I took a step back in the career but stayed in accounting, and it has all worked out remarkably well.
We bought a little house in the country - a 1940 cottage that needed EVERYTHING doing to it - starting with jacking up the house and replacing the foundation. We are trying to accomplish this while living in the house, doing a lot of the work ourselves with no experience and not incurring any extra debt in the process. Progress is slow, but this experience has taught me so much. I would like to have a beautiful house, impeccably decorated - but I have come to appreciate the concept of enough. Function over form. Our ideas have changed about what is truly necessary for a good life, and it is far less than either of us imagined.
Career-wise, I am approaching a fork in the road due to a company merger. Our efforts at fiscal responsibility mean, thankfully, no wucking furries if I end up out of work for a while. However, now I must choose whether to focus on developing a new role with the merged organization or look for a position elsewhere. Contemplating this change has spilled over into contemplation of life in general, and a thoughtful exploration of my ideals.
This past weekend, I was searching for a tax document in the spare room, where a coffee table is functioning as a desk, only in that my files are in rubber bins underneath it and magazines and mail and anything vaguely related to personal administration is tossed in a mess on top of it. The spare room is currently stuffed floor to ceiling with things we had stored in the attic until we commenced our bedroom renovation up there this winter. There are only a few precious square feet of floor space around my "desk." While futilely searching for the tax document, hemmed in by the looming tower of crap, I started to feel claustrophobic. The pressure and weight of all the "stuff" we had accumulated, not just in that room, but in the utility room, the garage/workshop, the barn, everywhere made me feel trapped. I don't need it, I don't want it, I wish to get rid of it.