I am frugal. Crazy frugal. You know the scene in Father of the Bride when Steve Martin gets frustrated about the hot dogs and the hot dog buns being packaged in different quantities? And then later when he says, “You don’t know who you’re talking to. I am the cheapest man alive!” I completely resonate with his frustrated tirade.
I reuse almost every to-go container. For six years, I’ve been decorating my house with items from my wedding. For the actual wedding, I did everything possible by myself. For birthday parties, I usually max out on spending $20 on decorations. I run errands at five differents stores to save money instead of just going to Target or Walmart.
My husband loves my frugality, and for most of my life I’ve been quite proud of my ability to create out of so little. Usually it does seem pretty “Proverbs 31-y” to have this trait... And then there are the moments I look into a drawer and none of the crafts are in the same size container. It looks like a disaster even though I have everything put away. I go to organize my attic and find endless items for which no proper destination exists. I make almost every dinner from scratch when I’m exhausted, even though I have gift cards to use up. Sometimes I want to cry after running errands because I’ve blown an entire afternoon with my kids just to save a few dollars. I’m sick of opening closets to have items I’m saving fall onto my head. My desires to be frugal AND organized often stand in direct opposition to one another! Having my house in order requires that I learn to balance these sides of myself.
Christianity so often involves living a life of balance with the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit as our guide. This issue is no different. Exercising frugality is fantastic, but not if it costs you sanity or relationship-building time. I am right in the middle of this transition—seriously, no one come audit my attic and see if I’m practicing what I’m preaching yet! You probably have already figured these tips out, but just in case you are right there with me, I’ll let you in on my process. Here are a few ways I’m discovering to help me navigate this balance:
1. Saving everything is hoarding, not helping!
The environment is important. We should do all we can to preserve and care for it, but there reaches a point when you are making yourself crazy trying to reuse and recycle everything. If you have a product you use frequently (and therefore will accumulate many empty containers), go ahead and keep them! For me, coconut oil jars fall into this category. Another one I make a “hoarding exception” for is Talenti sorbet containers. They are a great size, and so cute, so I let them stow away for a good purpose. Little beads, pom poms, and craft supplies fit great inside them. The other “one-of-a-kind” containers that don’t stack need to be recycled and turned into a park bench somewhere. They should not be taking over our cabinet space! This brings me to my next tip:
2. Save up until you can afford to buy organizational items in bulk.
I’ve wasted lots of money buying an adorable bin or basket on sale only to become baffled by its best use or location. When I don’t have a group of matching items for a location, it feels hodge-podge. This year for Christmas I was given some cash. I decided I was so serious about getting more organized, that I put these extra funds towards organizational bins and containers. The feeling of lasting order in my home is better than the fleeting fun of a new blouse. So save those dollars and get something you will use for years to come, and be pleased when you look at it. Don’t buy one or two bins if you have a whole shelf to fill. Occasionally, you will be able to organize cheaply. Laura told me about these magazine holders sold at IKEA ($1.50 for a pack of 5). They transformed my homeschooling supplies! The idea is the same though—the items are alike, so it looks more organized.
3. Consolidate errands.
Going to five stores to save a few dollars will make you crazy in the long-run! I love supporting the little guys, but there is a point when buckling toddlers in and out of shopping carts, navigating nap times, and tip-toeing around potty schedules will cost you your sanity. In those moments, try to go to fewer stores. It may cost a few more dollars, and you may really need to crack down on your impulse items to make this worth it. (Check back and see how I’m doing with this one. Seriously!)
4. Stewardship requires that you use what you have.
If your home is filled with items you will use in 5 or 10 years, you aren’t stewarding your belongings. If you honestly can’t use an item for years (and it’s not a family heirloom or incredibly valuable), give it to someone who can, or donate it.
5. Buy quality.
Buy less often. Is anyone else’s closet filled with clothes they bought for $3.99 on the sale rack? I used to go straight to the back of the store and only check the clearance rack. I have learned, however, that these cheap purchases are usually the first to be donated. By all means shop the clearance rack, but if an item doesn’t fit right, do yourself a favor and put it back! I am learning to enter a store and look for my favorite items before I even look at the price. If I see a sweater I know I’ll wear once a week for the whole winter for the next few years to come, it is worth it to spend a little more. This way I have more quality items, and I’m really not spending more money.
6. Make a buy list.
Try to only buy what has been on the list for X days. Impulse items can really eat your budget up. Instead, set aside brainstorming time each month to think about what you need. When you go to the store, stick to the list. I have heard some people only purchase items that have been on the list 30 days (this is a little extreme for my family) but a one- week timeline works better for me.
7. Shop garage sales and thrift stores strategically.
This is similar to Tip #5. Don’t justify purchases because of the cheap price tag! If you see something you’ve been wanting and it’s at a resale shop, it is an AMAZING feeling! Get it and tell your best friends, it’s a happy day! However, if you are buying a $10 coffee table to repurpose, and you know you’re not going to get around to it in the next six months, walk away Sister! Let someone else have that steal of a deal! You can go home with your sanity in tact and breathing space in your basement.
8. You can't give to the poor if you're keeping everything valuable for yourself.
One of our greatest commandments is to provide for the poor. If you keep everything you might use someday, it is robbing someone who needs it more. I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip, I’m trying to bring you freedom. Let go of what you aren’t using. Hold your belongings with an open hand ...and an open heart.
9. Pray about the little things.
I cannot tell you how many times I have asked for something in a quick, passing prayer, only to have someone donate it to me shortly after. In these moments, God’s love for me is so evident! I know He’s hearing those little “mama’s heart” prayers. Just as you have a “Buy List”, make a “Prayer List”. Ask God for some of those details, and see Him come through! (Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. -James 1:17.) Then rejoice in the blessing, and don’t write it off as a coincidence!
10. Giving to others requires trust in God's future provision for your life.
My mentor in college was overflowing with generosity. She was constantly giving what she had. She was also very frugal. I noticed she had complete faith God would provide for her future, so she had no problem giving away her blessings. (Now this REALLY sounds like the Proverbs 31 woman, doesn’t it?!) This is the root of the issue for many hoarders. Do you really believe that God knows your needs and is going to provide for them? It all goes back to the heart doesn’t it? In Matthew 6:25-34 he promises he will!
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life , as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life ? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Alright! I’m taking this list the Lord has put on my heart, and I’m going back through my drawers, closets, and nooks! Who’s with me?