The internationally renowned American Dream where anyone from anywhere can find their place and live their lives freely.
Wait, is that a little old fashioned? Hmmm, Let me try again. This time in a radio show host “voice” a la the 40’s.
Ah, the illustrious American Dream. Where the little guy from nowhere breaks it big and the world falls at his feet.
No? Ok let’s try a salesman pitch.
The One and Only American Dream, Available now, where anyone can become a success! All you have to do is get a college degree, drive a nice car, own a beautiful house and buy everything you could ever need!
Terms and conditions apply. Please read the fine print. Sign your soul on the bottom line. Debt may be incurred. Purchase at your own risk.
There it is!
Yep, that’s the message I was taught.
Not by my parents, oh no. They are totally not cool enough to get with the “hip lingo”. No, like all the cool kids I got that gem of “wisdom” from the mainstream media, bombarded over time.
Now I’m not going to blame a specific show or even channel with bombarding my malleable mind with images of illicit consumerism. Nope, because besides the TV, I also learned that in my school, church and playground. Not from the curriculum, Bible or playground equipment…that wasn’t the culprit either. Nope, it came from other people’s actions.
No, little Susie on the see-saw was not trying to push her business ventures as we sat on scorching hot equipment. Bobby was not trying to push his brands name over the competition. Not at all that overt, but, Bobby just may have been wearing that Michelangelo t-shirt I saw on TV and holding that Raphael figurine that just came out. Or little Susie was probably rocking out to Michael Jackson while wearing a Rainbow Bright tee, which I needed too.
All that merchandise, all the commercials with happy people buying things they must have in order to be happy…it gets ingrained into you after a while. It did to me.
When I was about 7 -8 years old, walking through a drugstore with my mom and little brother, I stopped in front of the creams and exclaimed with massive amounts of excitement a phrase that made my mother laugh riotously, even though I was completely serious. “Mom, I really think I need to buy some Preparation H.” I remember her laughing, and laughing and my brother staring at me like I had broken her. Her words were simple and to the point. “No you don’t. That’s butt cream.” Now it was my brothers turn to giggle uncontrollably. He laughed and called me “butt girl” for most of the day (that’s pretty funny stuff when your a 5-6 year old boy!)…and that was when I learned that commercials are not always true.
Come on though, think about it. Does anyone even remember those 80-90’s Preparation H commercials? It was some woman or man doing fun stuff and then claiming that it was all because of Preparation H! I wanted to ride horses and go mountain biking too! So, logically I would need Preparation H to do it!
Soooo, anyway… um… ya, this is just how my mind works. It is very black and white when it comes to things like rules or laws (or at least it took years for me to understand that greys exist). To break down the thought process would look like this:
If lying is bad
and children have to listen to and have respect for adults
then logically adults don’t lie
and since adults make TV,
then TV didn’t lie either.
This is also why we don’t let our kids watch commercials…my son is as literal as I was…no I take that back. He’s probably much worse. Afterall, when he was learning how to talk he called his blankie “this”. He kept that up for four years. All because when he was crying as an infant we would ask “is this what you want?” Or “do you want this” and then hold up the blankie first. His sisters had the same conversation occur, not one called their blankie anything other than blanket.
Fast toward a few decades, into the time of great clothes,and hair, and wallah! You’ll find me trying to build my own piece of the American Dream. My husband saw the Americam Dream differently. Why wouldn’t he? He grew up differently and his idea of want vs need is vastly different from mine. That was when I started seeking advice.I went to bible studies, and learned so much. I talked to older women, and learned so much. Read blogs and went “hmm.” Every mentor and bible study kept telling me to simplify. Focus on priorities. Put God first, everything else will fall into place later.
Man I worked so hard on that already! I WAS prioritizing and God WAS already at the center of my thought process so all I needed was to simplify right? This is no lip service, there’s a reason I went to the Bible regularly searching for answers and talking to Church mentors, I needed those how to references! Yeah…remember my post on balance…this is when the epic battles became nightmarish massacres. The simplify part just didn’t fit my idea of the American Dream. I’m an American, so shouldn’t my American Dream be huge!
I had been trying to go full fledged “simple” for about 5 years. It was a long and slow journey that has opened my eyes to many truths over time. However, until recently all I really did was change the way I got more stuff in a simple/inexpensive style, not the mentality to a more simple life.
I never was the materialistic type. It’s not like I was buying crazy stuff, I wasn’t shopping weekly or placing my self worth into brand names. I had kids, student debt, a deploying husband, and a single income to live off of. I was frugal! I was cutting corners and making things work. The dollar store and thrift shop was my best friend!
Looking back, instead of having a few nice things we needed, I had lots of cheap things.
When I wanted something pretty I would Pinterest that baby! The stuff was never a priority, we lived in wildfire country, I knew without hesitation that the only thing I would ever need in a hurry , besides my kids, was my computer, where I stored our family pictures. Anything else in the house could be lost in a fire without a single regret. We own no heirlooms or items steeped in righ tradition…I have nothing to offer Antique Roadshow for appraisal. Even if none of it mattered to me, it was still always there, and just too easy to get more of and then stash somewhere.
I went DIY crazy! I bought more materials so that I could make more stuff. I created elaborate birthday cakes that we ate within minutes of finishing. I learned how to craft…sewing, crochet…do you know how much stuff comes along with needle work? You need so much fabric and yarn…stuffed in every basket or bag. I saved money everywhere I went and I had the satisfaction of having made the item…I love creating, its so empowering!
See, I told myself, I made it… Simple!
I was focusing so much on how we were saving money, on NOT buying what we didn’t need that I didn’t even realize that I was still accumulating stuff…stuff we didn’t need…or even really use.
In my mind I was living the dream. It was wonderful. We were happy. Well, we thought we were happy.
The almighty Corps handed down the orders and everything changed.
We said goodbye to the most perfect house I’ve ever lived in, on military housing, as a family. Left behind an amazing 50’s TV like neighborhood where children rode bikes in streets, walked to the bus stop alone while moms chatted in pjs with coffee mugs, and teens babysat for reasonable prices or mowed lawns for the deployment single moms. We hugged our new best friends and cried crocodile tears as we drove away. Two adults, a kindergartner, 3.5 year old, 2 year old and 9 month old plus all their stuff crammed into a van heading across the country for four days (8-9 hours per day in the car). One child threw up half way through day two forcing us to find a hotel with washing machines. The two year old was potty training. Daddy had only been home from his second deployment in two years for two weeks and we were all ready to be home.
The new base was a joint command run by the Army. Beautiful but strange and unfamiliar. The schools were lovely but just didn’t fit with our family. There was a rich community outside of base but on base it was cliquish according to both rank and service affiliation. So many outside job opportunities for wives meant working families, which in turn meant few children playing outside or at daytime programs for my Newly homeschooled (again) children. Finding a church was awkward, a Bible study, even worse…due to my newly homeschooled children.
The house was in front of an adorable playground with attached woods for exploring but was about 300 square feet smaller and a townhome, so we lost the benefit of a two car garage.
We had to downsize. Stuff was bursting from the seams. We got rid of one third of our stuff. None of it bought by us. I thought I was being “simple” and living the American Dream when I said yes to all of those hand me downs and gifts.
I thought we needed the baby toys, clothes, sofas, gadgets, etc…
When others moved, we received. We were still under our allotted weight so we weren’t that bad, we were by no means “hoarders”. The kids had everything they could want and they were turning into brats. They fought over every toy. Everyday. They would have tantrums over cleaning up their messes and epic battles would ensue with great wailing and gnashing of teeth by all involved parties. Now that we were in a new place, with new seasons, stuck indoors for days on end, it was a big problem that wasn’t getting any better. I had no real solution either and all the organizing ideas required even more stuff.
Eighteen months later, after much prayer and a change in circumstances, we decided the smart thing to do would be to get out of debt so that we could be prepared for whatever gets thrown our way next. We decided the best way to do that is to move out of military housing.
It was with this drastic move that the epiphany knocked me flat on my rear.
We needed to downsize. Again. This time to an apartment. With two bedrooms and a loft, this place’s square footage is more than half the size of the last house. I was preparing my self for even more monumental battles over cleaning and organizing. I was researching a million ways to organize small spaces and we started watching and/or reading everything we could find on the tiny house movement. I still wasn’t sure if we could pull it all off.
Guess what. We did. I didn’t think that having less stuff could be such a huge help! I didn’t think that it would help me prioritize. I didn’t think that having less stuff would help our relationships grow. I didn’t realize that having less stuff would help ME center God again…I hadn’t even realized that I had moved God out of my center. I started this blog to chronicle the amazing blessings hidden in the everyday…but I was getting lost under my stuff. If the American Dream is centered on freedom, than why, like so many others, did I not realize that I was giving up my freedom? I was handing off my inalienable right towards the pursuit of happiness in order to be enslaved by the Debt and collection of trivial and inconsequential rubbish.
The TV lied, again. Not one of us needed that extra stuff. Life is more simple without it. More enjoyable. We still remind the kids to clean up but the battles are no longer epic. Now there is less to clean and less to fight over. I don’t need that extra space. I never did. I would love a library and artist studio one day but I don’t need a big place to have that. I don’t need 2000 square feet to have a happy family of six. I don’t even need a 1000. I don’t need a full closet of clothes. Neither do my children. I don’t need a new camera, TV or computer. The ones I have now work fine, especially if I take care of them. My children don’t need a separate room full of toys… They don’t even need toys in their room. We have four bags of toys (garbage bags not grocery bags) and more clothes that we moved here and haven’t unpacked yet. They don’t even miss them.
We still want to own our own land one day. Maybe one day soon, maybe not. That’s not for us to know right now. But even with that it’s about owning the land it’s a different mentality. It’s not about a big house, near a big city… It’s not even about a small house in a small rural town. It’s about want vs. need. The American Dream is to have the freedom to provide for the NEEDS of your family, not their wants.
Simplicity is not a style. Making things or buying them, either way can be simple. It is not about the stuff at all. Pinterest worthy, Magazine worthy or out of date… none of that matters. Debt is not a necessity, but getting into it sure is easy and getting out of it is much harder than I ever imagined. Commercials, Billboards, TV shows and even the News build their business off of this perversion of the American Dream…don’t buy into it.
I like to watch PBS history shows (you know where the story is based on truth?) from time periods like the Great Depression and listen to stories passed down through the family because they remind me that providing for needs is anything but simple. It’s filled with hard work, self restraint, balance and integrity.
I need more self-restraint…but thats a fruit of the spirit issue and requires a whole ‘nother story altogether.
The American Dream was never about stuff. It was about people, freedom and life.
About people, living freely.
As a start I have a new mantra. It’s “relationships are more important than things” the kids and I repeat this often.
In the end.. No matter what…
People are always more important,
I still Pinterest stuff and I still buy stuff. I still cook or bake from scratch and we still go out to eat. I still crochet..but that doesn’t mean I’m doing it willy nilly, now we do it with purpose. Living a simple life is knowing that your needs are met and being comfortable enough to say “I want that but I don’t need that” or “I have this but I don’t need this” and moving on. It means focusing on the child playing with blocks instead of being on my phone trying to find a new pattern. It means taking the time to call that friend back and TALK, instead of instagraming my “homemade” PSL right now (I can do it tonight or when I have down time). Its taking the time to smile at the stranger we walk past and recognizing their presence in the world, that’s a big step for this introvert.
So, yes it may be old fashioned but My American Dream is a place
where anyone from anywhere can find their place and live their lives freely.