Ah, the New Year.
Such optimism. Such naiviete. For some reason, we feel that the turning of a calendar page will be the launchpad, the propulsion that jets us into new health, new habits, new bodies, new lives.
We vow to take on a new exercise (Crossfit! Yoga! Zoomba!), a new habit (Read the Bible one hour every day! Balance the checkbook! Stop procrastinating!), a new diet (Vegan! Paleo! Raw food! Whole30!), a new outlook (Be thankful! More organized! Less tardy!).
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been as guilty as the next one.
I’ve been watching a show about tiny houses lately. What would it be like to condense one’s life into 300 square feet? Ever since living in a tent for six months, I have frequent daydreams of ditching all the stuff and living “deliberately,” as Thoreau did.
However, since there are still children at home and, annoyingly, they feel the need to sleep in an actual bed in a space where crouching is not required, I am still a few years out from living my tiny house dream. (Plus, where would I store the hockey gear?)
So, what I thought I’d do instead is to start the new year not by adding, but by reducing. Starting Monday, January 4 (because who starts something new on a Friday?)(thank you for that wisdom-pearl, Carla; it gave me a three-day stay of execution), I am going to literally eat myself out of house and home.
It’s ridiculous how much food I have stored in my house. Here’s just some of the evidence:
Although I keep a running grocery list on the door of my fridge, before I write “mustard” or “balsamic vinegar,” I don’t ever seem to check if there might be some downstairs, or even in the cabinet right next door.
Years of this sloppy habit has resulted in an accumulation of frozen, canned, boxed, bottled, and bagged goods that would make a doomsday prepper proud.
So, I have decided to fight back.
Here’s the plan. I will not buy any new groceries until absolutely everything I can possibly eat – within culinary reason – is gone from the house. From the freezer. From the upstairs cupboard. From the downstairs pantry. From the counter space and refrigerator and storage bins.
I will also endeavor to use as many of the various ingredients that are stored in canisters, jars, Tupperware, and Ziplocks – in the lazy Susan or above the microwave, or under the sink – until every conceivable combination has been explored and exhausted.
No bread? Make some. No more granola? There are nuts, oats, and seeds galore; toss, toast and serve. A snack for after school? How ’bout muffins? I think I have everything I need.
Whoops – what’s that on the grocery list? Sugar? Sugar!
Perhaps sugar is one of those items I use, ahem, so frequently that supply never seems to catch up with demand. Fortunately, mid-muffin-mixing, I remembered I had a slew of those mini-sugar packets that are usually found next to one’s hotel coffee maker. Why did I have so many, you ask? Well, I admit that those powdered creamers are a treat with my coffee when I go backpacking, so if there is ever any left after a hotel stay, I grab the rest of the bag of goodies and throw it all in the back of the tea drawer when I get home.
I’m guessing you’re sensing a trend…
Anyway, as I was cutting open the little paper packets of goodness, trying to fill a half a cup, in walks the oldest boy child.
Hey, I remark. What you’re looking at is a genius at work.
What I’m looking at is a crazy person, he replies.
So I guess not everyone appreciates the efforts I am making to not bury myself in foodstuffs. He is the only child left at home on a looooong college break, so perhaps he has more to lose, an unwilling prisoner in my noble experiment; still, I did manage to make the muffins and he managed to eat almost the entire dozen, so who’s the real crazy person?
Things go smoothly enough. I decide three days in, however, when the coffee cream (real, not powdered) runs out, that there is no way I can go without cream until the shelves are bare. I rewrite the rules of engagement and allow myself a $5.00/week allowance to buy whatever I want, whether luxury or necessity. This seems reasonable.
I head to Hannaford with the best intentions, excited to see how far $5.00 will carry me. I am aware of the irony – the blasphemy! – that there are people living in my community for whom a $5.00 outing holds anything but excitement. I sub in the public schools, and my heart breaks for the kids who are not learning simply because they are hungry.
How can this be?
I want to wrap these children in my arms and invite them home for muffins or my latest improvisation, PB&J on crackers (bread requires sugar). We can never solve the problem of Common Core or Sally lagging behind in math and science or any other yada yada yada problem with education today until we figure out how to fill hungry bellies.
This will be good for me, I decide. Align myself with those hungry bellies, walk a mile in their oftentimes bootless feet.
I blame my first blunder on ambiguous advertising.
Blinders on so I won’t be distracted by the glitz and glamour of SO MUCH FOOD, I head to the back of the store and find something called “table cream” for $1.99. Not my usual organic brand, but we’re talking $5.00-wiggle room here. I add a dozen eggs for $2.19. Some quick math tells me I have less than a dollar left, but I spy a bag of apples for $.99. Ninety-nine cents for fresh produce that is likely to last a few weeks? Heck, yeah.
Cutting myself myself some slack for the $.17 overage (don’t be a Pharisee, I rationalize), I head to check-out.
On the way, as I have also promised the oldest boy child I will splurge on some yogurt (for HIM, not for ME…the rules seem to keep shifting)(don’t be a crazy person, I tell myself)(wait – do crazy people talk to themselves?), I throw in a container of Stonyfield vanilla for good measure.
As I smugly watch the figures adding up, one assaults me. $5.03 for the apples? What the what? Ohhhhhhh. Oh dear. It’s not $.99/bag, but $.99/pound. For 5.06 pounds. Dang it.
Reluctantly pulling the extra bills from my wallet, I vow to go back and look at that treacherous $.99 sign. When I do, I discover, hidden behind the mounds of MacIntosh, what I already know to be true. Sneaky Hannaford.
New rule: I will spend an average of $5.00/week throughout the month. This means, of course, most of next week’s $5.00 is already spent, so I will have to make do for another seven days with what I already have.
But I guess that was the point all along. Reduction is sacrifice, and if I am to benefit from this experiment at all, it’s going to have to hurt a little. Perhaps a lot.
Jesus once cautioned, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
It’s comforting to know that my treasure does not reside on my shelves, in my bank account, or even with the others that I love. My treasure is and will always be Jesus Himself.
With Jesus, there is never a $5.00 limit, as all the riches He earned for us on the cross have been paid in full and are at our disposal. With Jesus, it’s always surplus, never deficit.
My tiny house dream will have to wait, for now. Until then, I will practice reduction so that I will be ready when the time comes. Until then, I will rest in Jesus’s promise – “My Father’s house has many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-3).
I will always have a place to live, with Him, whether here and now, or there and then.
As I trust Him to meet my every need, whatever this new year holds, I can be confident that it will always be “exceeding abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
P.S. My BFF Aggie gives me a whole bag of sugar last night. Exceedingly abundantly.