“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 situation—until 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.