On Dryers and Upside-down Pineapple Cake (or an unlikely discussion on standard of living)

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“It’s amazing what people learn to live with. I could never get used to living here.” The stout, 65 year-old dryer repair man with a graying beard and amicable demeanor oozed “self-made man.” His opinions about our living style were robust, and he was brave enough to voice them, creating the most poignant conversation about contentment and standard of living that I’ve experienced since moving to the Shoebox.

For the past three years I’ve known that our “backwards” move was counter-cultural. I mean, our decision certainly went against most principles that we see in modern media—the ideas that you need more space to raise a family or that you need to work extra hard to keep up with what the neighbors own or that more stuff equals more happiness. Truth be told, I wouldn’t really have the privilege of hearing conflicting opinions because the circles I run in all hold values nearly identical to my own. (Clearly I need to branch out and make some new friends to add more variety to my life!) Yes, our downsize certainly felt counter-cultural, but I’ve never actually experienced or heard what mainstream America’s views might be about our situationuntil last month when the dryer repair man (we’ll call him Marc) stepped through the Shoebox’s front door.

Marc reacted immediately to the Shoebox, and I knew right away that his visit would be special. It was, in fact, so clear that our conversation was one I wouldn’t want to forget that I journaled some of our most memorable exchanges right there while he was just feet away. I cherish his point-of-view, (while polar-opposite from mine), and I thought that you might also benefit from hearing an opinion on stuff and life and contentment from a different corner than your tent might be staked in. (If the conversation feels disjointed, that’s because I’m recalling the most potent of moments from our overall interaction.)

Marc: “How on earth do you get two kids in and out of this place?!”

Me: “Oh, it’s not so bad once you learn the tricks.”

Marc: “It’s amazing what people learn to live with. I could never get used to living here.”

Me: “Actually we’ve been here for almost three years quite happily. It’s small, but we’ve learned to be content with less.”

Marc: “Oh that’s not right. You want something, you’ve got to go out and get it. You’ve got to make it happen. You’ll never get anything if you keep settling for what you don’t have.”

Me: “But if you learn to be truly content with not much, then you’re set up to be happier. Your joy doesn’t depend on possessions—everything else is icing on the cake!”

Marc: “See, you’ve got to have your icing. If you don’t go out and get what you want, your icing is always on the side. The way you’re living, you don’t have any icing! That’s why I like upside-down pineapple cake. The sweetness is already baked in. I like to live like a king, and to me that means a big bathroom.”

Me: “Our bathroom does seem pretty cramped sometimes.”

Marc: “You’ve got to think about your kids, you know. Kids learn early. You’ve got to be careful what you’re teaching them—to really live and not just exist, whether to live in poverty or to live in affluence. I saw poverty at a young age and decided that I wasn’t going to live that way.”

Me: “It’s more important to us that I stay home with the kids and spend my time with them than to live in a big house or have more stuff than we need. We want to teach them that life is about relationships and that they don’t have to run the rat-race to be happy. The Bible says to store up treasures in Heaven, not here.”

Marc: “Well, I always wanted a Harley. I saved and bought it 90-days-same-as-cash. I didn’t have that thing a month before I wanted a three-wheeled Harley. So I gave my motorcycle to a friend and bought a three wheeler. Now I want a four wheeled one. Bet you didn’t know they make four-wheeled Harleys, did you?”

Me: “But sir, if you had been content with that first Harley, then wouldn’t you have saved all that money and longing by getting the second one?

Marc: “I knew what I wanted, and I went out and got it. It’s that simple.”

 

I’d like to say that I was unaffected by this unlikely and friendly discussion, that I’m so secure in our decisions that I didn’t think twice about how Marc had drawn conclusions about our living style. But that would be untrue; I was shook up. I wrestled for weeks over why I was so bothered by the interaction and I now realize it was this: because it was the first time I had actually been confronted by a conflicting viewpoint.

It was the first time someone had dared to disagree with our chosen path, and I was forced to reevaluate. Are we doing the right thing?! Wait, are we living in poverty and directing our boys’ lives toward a future of apathy?! Is our life completely devoid of icing?! I prayed. I spent some time contemplating, and I am left in a posture of more deeply confident that this life is right for us, for now. We are content. We’ve got lots of “icing”! We know how to more profoundly trust our God for our needs. We more appreciate space and have learned how to be creative with what we’ve been given. I could go on and on about all the reasons we feel that our “backwards” move has blessed us. Oh yes. This is right.

Marc returned the following week to finish fixing the dryer. I’ve never seen such dedication and perseverance a repairman poured into his craft. He spent over eight hours wrestling with that machine in the back of the Shoebox and finally got it working at 9:30 p.m. We never continued the discussion we had so easily launched into during his previous visit, but he witnessed Life In The Shoebox: Unedited for hour after hour. I hope that what he saw supported my former claims of a life filled with contentment, joy, and simplicity.

So wherever you are, Mr. Marc-Dryer-Repair-Man, I am so grateful for your honesty and candid observation. Thank you for being willing to share your viewpoint, and thanks for fixing our dryer. If I knew where you lived, I’d bring you an upside-down pineapple cake to show my gratitude.

 

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28 Comments
  • Kari
    March 20, 2013

    Hi. Just recently discovered your blog and I think it’s fabulous. And I think your life is just perfect. It’s important to have those conversations with people who think differently, but it’s also important to know what’s best and stick with it.

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      Hi Kari! Glad to have you here. You’re right–I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to evaluate and resettle on where we’re at. 🙂 Hope to see you around in the future!

  • Lois
    March 20, 2013

    Your conversation, while much more civilized, is one I’ve had many times since I downsized. People wanted to know if I was hurting for money, or they gossiped similar opinions about my lifestyle, always believing it was about lack of finances. What I found when confronted by real questions, where do you store X or Y, it is because they are picturing their belongings in my space. They are unable to see that what I own and what they own and believe to be needed are two very different things. I hope Mr Marc finds his happiness, as I believe you already have.

  • Alyssa
    March 20, 2013

    You have continually showed me that relationships are far more important to you than material things. Your entire family always seems so happy. Your boys will respect the fact that their parents valued time with them over materialistic possessions. Not only that, but they will respect the fact that you guys are incredible wise with the money God has provided you. I hope you know what a inspirational person you truly are!

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      Thank you, sweet Alyssa! All honor to the One who leads us and has prepared this road in advance for us… (Eph. 2:10!)

  • Jane Sasser
    March 20, 2013

    Did he really say that you have to teach your kids to really live and not just exist? How ironic! I can’t help but think how, when Thoreau went to live in his tiny cabin at Walden Lake, he declared that he wanted to learn the essential facts of life, and not to discover, when he came to die, that he had not lived. His point was that getting trapped by possessions IS just existing.

    I am way too comfortable with my materialistic lifestyle to live as simply as you and your family, or Thoreau. But believe me, we are proud of the choices you make. And we think that you are phenomenal parents. If my grandsons are missing out on anything they really need, it’s news to me.

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      Yes, he truly did say that. I think his point of view is that if we were limiting ourselves, we were deprived. And if we’re deprived, then we’re not fully living because we don’t have everything we want. At least, that’s the best sense I can make.

      Your support means the world to us! Your grandsons certainly aren’t deprived at all. I promise. 😉

  • Jenifer
    March 20, 2013

    I usually speak openly with people about how this is not about money or poverty, but a lifestyle choice.

    You see, I do “go out and get” things. The things that I have are the things that I want. The things that I want are not what other people want. And wanting what I want (or, for that matter, not wanting what they want) isn’t poverty, and isn’t teaching my child that he can’t do/be/get anything that he wants.

    What my son sees, truly, is that we design our own lives. We moved from family/friends to the other side of the world for opportunity and because we love this country. I run my own business in work that I *love* and enjoy — and it’s work that is culturally rewarding and healing to people.

    We truly want for nothing. We don’t want more space. We don’t want more stuff. We don’t want fancier stuff.

    What Marc (and many people see) is their own lives. They look and they see “I wouldn’t want. I want.” And when I look back at their lives, I see the same thing: “I wouldn’t want. I want.” Meaning, they cannot comprehend me not-wanting what they want, or rather, wanting what I want.

    If that makes any sense.

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      It’s all priorities and point-of-view, right Jenifer? Your comment does make sense… 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

  • Jane Sasser
    March 20, 2013

    Also, I think it is incredibly rude to come into someone else’s home and criticize her way of life. What nerve. I’m afraid that our society is losing whatever sense of manners and civility we used to have. People seem to think that they are entitled to say anything. I can’t figure out if they don’t realize there could be repercussions to what they say, or they are so full of their own big opinions that they just don’t care.

  • George
    March 20, 2013

    This repairman could be making a lot more money if he were more competent. I could have built a dryer from scratch in less than 8 hours.

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      HaHA! I have no doubt of THAT, George. However the poor man didn’t have the luxury of starting from scratch–he had a beast of an abused machine to fix. 🙂

  • MrsWesonga
    March 20, 2013

    I appreciate “Marc’s” conversation with you. I admit I am pretty shocked at his strongly opinionated words! But mostly I am impressed by your attitude as you interacted with this man! As the Mister and I are trying to figure out what the direction of our life together will be, it is hard to ask the question, what your lifestyle will say to those around you?
    Isaiah 30:21
    “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.””

    I love you friend, and our family is encouraged by your journey.

  • Kathleen Chaffer
    March 20, 2013

    You are wise beyond your years, Evie. The repair man would likely scoff at Jesus as well. Let’s pray that you gave him pause to think about the source of your contentment.

    • Evelyn
      March 20, 2013

      Not wise, Kathleen… just following our Lord’s lead for us! I hope the same for our friend. 🙂

  • Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca
    March 21, 2013

    “If you want something, you have to go out and get it.”

    I think you’re doing just that, Evelyn. You want to provide a meaningful life for your family, focusing on time over possessions. 🙂

    • Evelyn
      March 23, 2013

      Thanks, Bethany. We thought so too. 🙂

  • Stephanie
    March 21, 2013

    Wow- this guy had some guts! I grew up in a nice, huge house, that was beautiful and had tons of room for everyone to be in opposite corners of the house. I loved growing up there- but from living in a small apartment during my college years, reading books on environmental issues, sustainability & this blog, I’m learning to live much happier with less crap- and that’s all it really is. I am only 20, but I do know that when I become a mother, I will teach them that the best thing in live to hold onto is each other (Audrey Hepburn) and not living on a wheel of working working working, competing just to get the latest iPhone. While I am not a Christian, I recognize & greatly respect that many religious philosophies have emphasized living simply as a more lasting path to happiness & godliness, so to speak. This guy seemed to miss the point- you & Caveman aren’t bashing working hard for what you want- but sometimes what you have to realize is material goods can’t truly ever make you happy- they can simply ASSIST you to reach your happiness, if that makes sense. You are completely raising your children in an honorable way- whether in a big house or small, teaching kids to be happy with what they have is ALWAYS a great think, I believe. I think you’d enjoy the book The Happiness Project actually. Give it a go if you get a chance:) And don’t let those dryer repairmen get to you too much:)

    • Evelyn
      March 23, 2013

      Thanks, Stephanie! I’ll look into The Happiness Project… and so appreciate your comments. 🙂

  • Kate
    April 1, 2013

    Hi, I read your blog every now and then and this is my first comment. I felt the need to share..
    What I got out of this is what I see in a lot of people with “Marc’s” view point- he wasn’t satisfied with the first harley so he bought another one- then another one- each bigger (probably more expensive) than the last. But he was never content with the one he had, You can apply this to any material thing in life you have (iphones, houses etc.) The point is when you place your happiness in material things, you are searching for something you aren’t going to find. The grass is always going to be greener. You will get it and then look ahead to the next thing, that’s bigger or better. You won’t be content where you are.
    My mother in law has a quote in her bathroom from the Dalai Lama that says “if you aren’t happy with what you have now, you will not be happy with more.” Which obviously does not apply to someone who is say, starving. But I found personally, once I stopped attaching happiness and success to material things, I truly became content and happy. And the things were just a side benefit.

    Sorry that is so long! Thank you for sharing your story!
    Kate

    • Evelyn
      April 1, 2013

      Hi Kate! I’m so glad you chipped in. I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head. It’s so true that if you can’t cultivate contentment with what you own, then the next thing and the next thing will not fulfill. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

      • kate
        April 2, 2013

        Thank you for your beautiful blog! I am really enjoying it and getting a lot of good ideas out of it.

        Kate

  • Meredith Lewis
    April 3, 2013

    This is completely amazing. So proud of you for being open to conversation and holding fast to your convictions. You may never know how your boldness and confidence affected him.

    • Evelyn
      April 3, 2013

      I pray that he was positively affected almost every day! 🙂

  • vigrx 3
    March 18, 2014

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and
    now each time a comment is added I get four emails with
    the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thanks!

    • Evelyn
      March 24, 2014

      I’ll see what I can do. A couple people have mentioned it, but I don’t know if everyone has the same issue.

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