I am ambivalent about our new bedroom decor. It looks innocent enough: some throw pillows and a trendy acrylic headboard decal, but it’s the kind of home improvement that makes me nervous. J and I want to be free to travel, but by my nascent calculations, we are still at least one year away from taking our first giant step.
And you can do a whole lot of living in one year. The good thing is that we are neither of us very big spenders. We liked to go out to eat, we buy a couple bottles of wine a week, we buy books and groceries. We could definitely trim some fat from our budgets, but we aren’t the types to run up big credit card bills or indulge in expensive new toys. But then, it’s pretty easy to nickel-and-dime ourselves right off the road.
When J and I started dating almost a year ago, I had a few bookshelves and one rosewood chest from Hong Kong. He had enough furniture to fill up his small apartment, but his mattress and boxspring were on the floor. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I vacillated between not caring and craving a nice bedroom set. We finally got a frame for a queen bed for $10 on Craigslist and the $25 (on Ebay) headboard decal I loved on all the decorating blogs. I splurged on the linens and the pillows during a regrettable moment of self-indulgence that I doubt will be repeated in the near future, but all in all, we got a nice setup for not a lot of money.
It looks innocent enough:
But of course, as soon as J and his buddy finished carefully putting the decal on the wall and lifting the bed onto the frame, I started looking for matching nightstands on Craigslist. I didn’t want anything too expensive, but isn’t it just more grownup to having matching nightstands?
For once, J called me out. “Do we really need nightstands?” he asked. I know we don’t really “need” nightstands, but we didn’t really “need” bed linens that weren’t six years old and gross, either. Nor does the bed really “need” to be off the floor and iced with a bunch of throw pillows and a big black sticker. And we didn’t “need” the matching area rugs he bought for $75 last week, either.
This Friday I will receive my first paycheck for which every penny has already been accounted for and the funds merely need to be directed into their appropriate accounts. I am really excited about it. This is the beginning of the money that will be used as a tool and a resource to buy my freedom and security.
When I think about everything I want for myself and for us in the future, domestic comforts and decorations seem not only unimportant but wasteful. But when I think about the kind of home I want to come home to, I’m glad that our bedroom is a few degrees more clean and welcoming than it was a couple of months ago. I’m glad we’ve hidden the old green rug out of sight and I’m glad our friends like our new rugs.
A couple of years ago, however, I was living in Taiwan and dealing with the same questions, only I wasn’t very clear about how to proceed. I talked to my best friends about wanting to travel the world and being unchained. And in the next breath, I would gush about my new microwave or how pretty my room looked after a spending spree at IKEA. I didn’t even realize how schizophrenic I sounded until it was pointed out to me, but even then, I thought I could continue partying, traveling, and consuming, but I would someday, somehow have enough money to do what I wanted.
In a lot of ways, I’m still trying to balance my desire for freedom and security against my desire for the stuff I think I need. But at the same time, instead of blowing a paycheck on an IKEA trip, we’re making small purchases one at a time. And the other expenses that were even more thoughtless–binge drinking a couple of nights a week, expensive vacations, eating out for almost every meal–aren’t really tripping me up anymore. We’re more likely to spend Saturday night working on our website or parked in front of the TV than at the bar, and we’re more into day trips than big holidays.
I’d like to think that with patience, common sense, and some boundaries, J and I can make our house a home without mortgaging our freedom from conventional jobs. But I’m also afraid of being naive, and that I really need to choose between having any nice things and having the financial freedom we want so bad. For now, I’m going to hold off on drawing any lines in the sand because I know I am making progress toward my goals. I am inching along, but I am inching along in the right direction. I am sure that once I reach a clearer vantage point, I’ll be able to tell if trying to make a cozy home is incompatible with trying to get out of the rat race. At least I already know that hopping from paycheck to paycheck with nothing to show for all my hard work at the end of every year won’t get me anywhere.
What do you think? I know a lot of people I love on the internets have built their awesome lives around living frugally and simply, but at least some of them still manage to have cute things. Am I doing it wrong?