Monday, October 17, 2016

Going Without

When I was in graduate school I unwittingly rented an apartment that lacked a dishwasher and microwave. I say unwittingly because I was without wits or general sense even in my mid-twenties.

Washing dishes by hand was a little annoying but doable since I lived alone and had very few dishes to wash anyway.

It’s like a dream to me now, this lifetime ago. These were the blissful days of only looking after myself. I can’t really imagine what it’s like anymore, worrying only about my own needs. Later I will ask my husband to describe his current life.

But not having a microwave – now THAT was a brain teaser.

How to heat up a piece of chicken that I brought home from my dinner out with friends the night before? What about this little bit of macaroni and cheese that I didn’t finish? Spaghetti is good cold, but I am not an animal. What if I want to warm up a piece of bacon sometime?

I had to call my mom for directions. See also: no wits or sense

“Stick it in the oven or heat it up on the stove!” my mother yelled exasperatedly through the phone. Her atomic matter is comprised of nothing but common sense. Using the range to heat up previously cooked food was something that I had never thought about doing, a completely novel idea. A couple of reheated meals later (that dirtied more dishes than they were worth), and I learned to enjoy the taste of cold food.

I may not be an animal, but I also realize that the value of time sometimes trumps the value of eating hot food.

As the family house manager, I’m always in the midst of shuffling things around in our house; things pile up and are removed to make room for new stuff, for different phases and uses, or simply to free up space. I frequently make hard choices about what I can live without.

I say “I” because like the Little Red Hen, nobody bothers to help me make decisions or assist with these projects, so they learn to live with my choices forever. And quietly.

Over the years we have learned that people can live without1:

Art and family pictures displayed on the walls. Any walls. Because sometimes you just want to live with bare walls for a while. Nobody cares.

Bedroom television. (On the day I finished painting our bedroom) My husband: “Maybe we don’t need a TV in he-” Me: ::unplugs TV, heaves it out into the hall, just like on everyone's favorite family feel-good movie 1982's Poltergeist::

Cable or subscription TV. We went without cable to save money when I first quit my job. The kids watched Sesame Street and I watched prime time with commercials. We missed nothing.

Clothes that spend more time in drawers and on hangers than on the body. You don’t need that gross, pit-stained t-shirt you’ve had since the mid-90s. YOU DON’T. IT IS ACTUALLY GARBAGE.

Curtains. We have pretty nice wood trim around our windows. Why cover it up? Not having curtains sort of squashes all the nude prancing that people do in general, but depending on who your neighbors are, that might be a good thing.

Decorative bedding. We went without pillow shams and a fancy cover on our bed for years. Still alive.

Desk drawers. It’s amazing how much junk gets thrown in there. All I need are a bazillion pencils to keep my kids happy. Seriously with the pencils. My kids eat pencils. Send pencils.

Flat sheets. I like a flat sheet, but our son informed me that he doesn’t, and I think he’s onto something.

Front-door wreaths. We got a new front door years ago and I quit hanging stuff there so it wouldn’t get scratched up. Like the windows, it doesn’t need any help looking good.

Juicer. Just a fancy word for “blender”.

Large storage units. Like everyone else in America, we had an enormous wall unit to store all of our television-watching electronics and accessories. A medium-sized wolf pack could have lived in there and no one would know. I know this because we hardly ever opened it up.

Living room seating. The floor is clean(ish). Sit on it.

Meat. I’m no vegetarian, but I don’t mind playing one once in a while.

New school clothes. Our kids wear summer clothes until well into October, so it’s rare for them unless they’ve grown out of everything to get a whole new wardrobe at the beginning of the school year. Usually they’ll get new shoes because like pencils, they eat shoes.

Old books, magazines, and reference materials.  I used to keep CPR certification materials on hand in case I ever had to perform CPR and needed to quick brush up on my skills. And then I realized that a situation requiring CPR would never allow time to peruse and refresh procedures, so I chucked it all. Much luck to anyone needing this type of lifesaving skill when I’m around.

Rugs. Beach towels work great.

Snow pants. Even if you live where it’s cold. Me? Snow Pants-Free in Pennsylvania since 1991.

Standing mixer. We used to have one, and then one of the beaters broke. In a rage I threw the whole thing away. I was remorseful for a second, and then discovered that a little hand mixer does a great job, as well as – wait for it – a spoon.

Stockpiles of canned or frozen food. I mean, you can only eat so much at a time. There’s a grocery store down the road in every direction; I don’t need one at my house, too.

Toaster oven. Once our toaster oven caught on fire. NOTHING WAS COOKING IN IT. Toaster ovens are not to be trusted.

1Heavy sigh disclaimer: We don’t really *go without*. There are millions of people who lack basic human needs every single day to the detriment of their health and lives. I am not ignoring the plight of these people. Nor am I glossing over some very real circumstances. I am a middle-class American mother blathering about so-called necessities that I have found my family can live without, okay? Settle down.



  1. We ditched cable a couple of years ago. Best decision we made.

    1. It's easier now, with all the online TV available. But in the early 2000s it felt a little more like a sacrifice for the first few days, and then we just sort of didn't miss it.

  2. I love this post.
    We have done without all of the above at one time or another but not all at once because we aren't yet to your level of living.
    You are like the commoner's Martha Stewart.
    Or someone completely better than her.

    1. We don't often go without all of these at the same time, either. Nor for very long, but I appreciate the Martha Stewart reference. Thanks. :) Know what we're going without today? WATER IN THE KITCHEN. That is not cool, man. NOT COOL.

  3. Sorry if the subject of my house fire is growing tiresome (I'm sure people are sick of me relating back to how much I learned from it but I CAN'T HELP IT WHEN IT'S RELEVANT!)


    Our entire house was boarded up and we took nothing from it but what we were wearing during the fire. Everything was smoke-damaged and had to go into restoration/dumpster.

    We were put in a hotel for two weeks then moved into a rental house by our insurance company that arranged for rental necessities for a family of four.

    They gave us 8 bowls, plates, cups, knives, spoons, forks. And 8 bath towels. (So a spare set for each of us.)

    3 beds. 3 bedspreads. 3 blankets. 3 sets of bedsheets. (Not even a single spare. Gasp.)

    They actually gave us several silk plants (???) which I immediately put in an empty linen cabinet. (Who wants to dust those? Answer: NO ONE!)

    We had a rental couch, a love seat, a kitchen table (4 chairs!), and a desk.

    And one television.

    Sweet friends/neighbors gave us hand-me-down clothes and understood why we re-wore the same stuff all the time. (I don't really care about fashion on a good day so this was fine for me.)

    Do you know how clean and uncluttered that house was? The drawers, closets, cabinets. Only what we needed. (And in fact, more bowls/knives/glasses than were completely necessary, so we learned.)

    When we moved home five months later, and got most of our salvaged things returned to us, I was incredibly grateful for the photo albums. And yes, of course, some kitchen items for cooking. But seriously.

    For three years I have felt the desire to give away (or throw away) almost everything else.
    Most of us have so much more than we need. And when what you really have is just your family, you realize that's everything.


    (Silk plants. Seriously. !!!!)

    1. I like that you can share what you've learned from your experience! What else is there in life, anyway, but to share what we've learned?

      I hate that you had to go through the house fire - it's my biggest fear - but I'm glad you know where I'm coming from here. I was afraid that the ten people who read my blog would read this and think "OMG there are people who would kill for a POTATO and she's patting herself on the back for surviving without curtains?" I know my trials are small compared to others, but it's interesting to me to reassess our "necessities" sometimes.

      Your family's experience flashed through my mind as I wrote this. We all know the "If you could save one thing from a burning house, what would it be?" conversation. My answer is always the photo albums.

      Never the silk plants.