Operation Caffeination

Just another WordPress.com site

It’s a bidet

leave a comment »

We kicked the toilet paper habit.

And we went straight back to it.

Let me tell you the story. Jon and I decided to get married when we graduated high school; I was eighteen and he was nineteen at the time. It seemed like a fantastic idea back then, but Jon had only been driving for about six months when we got married and it turns out that I can get pregnant by sharing an apple with someone, so although we’d worked hard to build up our savings before we got married we burned through our $10,000 emergency fund within the first six months. I experienced complications in the pregnancy that forced me to quit my job as well, so a year into our marriage we found ourselves with no savings, no car, earning just enough money to prevent us from qualifying for food or medical assistance programs. No where near enough to pay off our $8,000 car loan and $13,000 in medical bills in this lifetime, or to survive in the meantime.

I visited a social worker at the hospital, explained our situation, and asked her what we should do. I will remember her response to my dying day, “Times are hard for all of us,” she shrugged, smiling icily. “You just have to get through it the best you can.”

That was pre-recession, and since then the income guidelines in our state have changed to allow families like mine access to food and medical assistance (although as a family of 4 living off of a combination of one $14/hour job and whatever financial aid we receive from school, which varies each quarter, we still can’t receive assistance with rent, utilities or childcare, so I am prevented from working in any official capacity).

At the time, though, we truly were on our own. I visited DSHS, I called the WIC office, I did everything I could. We tried food banks, and, after waiting in line for three hours, received a grocery sack full of stale Easter cookies, half-rotten produce and hundreds of packets of stale airline peanuts and Emergen-C beverage mixes (the irony of the Emergen-C is not lost on me). We threw the bags in the dumpster behind the church that hosted the food bank, took the hour-long bus ride home and started brainstorming.

We gave up meat, and bread. It was winter, so we stuck bubble wrap on the windows and gave up using the baseboard heaters entirely. I took my cat to the animal shelter, where he was put down when no one stepped up to adopt him. I started washing our laundry by hand, only using the apartment laundromat once a week to run a load of towels. I cut my hair short,  and started cutting Jon’s hair for him (which did not go well for either of us!). We gave up shampoo and conditioner, all hair products, lotion, face wash, toothpaste, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, cleaning products, eating out, buying clothes, paper towels and finally, toilet paper. We saved for a month to purchase one of these, picked up a bundle of old wash cloths off of Freecycle and put the rest of our toilet paper up in the closet. We’d pull a roll or two out when company came over, so that they wouldn’t be able to see how completely destitute we were.

The funny thing is, we realized pretty quickly that the hardest part of these major lifestyle changes was figuring out what to do instead of turning to a product for a quick fix. I remember spilling a bit of raw egg on the floor and just staring at it, paralyzed, because I didn’t know how to clean it up without paper towels and a heavy-duty cleaner. The same thing happened when we ran out of shampoo. I just kept watering it down further and further and washing my hair with the diluted shampoo, and then the half-and-half mixture, and finally it was really just disgusting murky water and I knew that, but I didn’t know what else to do and I had to do something.

Finally, after Darren’s birth and my collapse, we moved our family into my old bedroom at my parent’s dilapidated house behind the 7-11. Jon walked an hour each way to work each day while I remained stranded in the house with my son, alone, until my parents came home from work each night. There was no bus, no library, no park, no friends, nothing but me, my son, and whatever alcohol I could get my hands on. It was, without a doubt, the darkest point of my life.

Eventually, Jon got back into school. He worked hard and got a promotion, and we moved into a studio apartment right on Aurora Avenue . Our entire unit was smaller than my bedroom at my parent’s house, but at least it was our own. The political tides changed, and I started therapy and my therapist informed me that, based off of the new guidelines, we were probably owed back pay from the food stamp program. It took us a year from that point to get off the program wait list and begin receiving benefits, but we made it. We have food choices again. We can afford to heat our apartment. We have an old beater car, so we don’t waste hours each day on the bus commute. Jon will be graduating this June, and he has a job lined up with an insurance company. We are going to make it.

Now that we have these choices to make, though, we have found that there is very little about our previous way of living that we’ve missed. I’m never going to buy shampoo again, that’s for sure. Garbage bags? You must be joking me; why would I spend my hard-earned money on prettifying my trash?

Toilet paper is one thing we did decide to pick up again. I intend to return to the bidet sprayer in a few years, but with small children in the home it seemed like a terrible idea to essentially leave a garden hose in the bathroom for them to use as they saw appropriate.

We may also go with a nicer sprayer in the future, when we give up toilet paper again for good. I am researching sprayers that connect to the sink instead of the toilet tank now. Although that will probably require some minor bathroom renovation, nothing quite says “freeze your ass off” like spraying your bum down with toilet tank water in the middle of winter. I definitely don’t miss that!

I hope when my children leave my home, they will leave with more than a grocery list of products in their heads to guide them through life. At 18, I knew I was a Palmolive person, not a Dawn kind of girl, I drank Coke not Pepsi…but once all that was stripped away I had nothing and knew nothing. I felt so vulnerable when I realized that, without the support of products and corporations, I did not know how to survive.

I can’t say that I would do very well if I were dropped off on a desert island today with nothing but spit, grit and determination to get me by, but I have learned to think big picture, to solve problems instead of purchasing solutions, to decide for myself what is “clean” and what a “meal” looks like.

Maybe I wouldn’t survive the desert island test, but maybe my kids will. Voluntary simplicity is a lifestyle worth pursuing, if only for that reason.

And, yeah, it doesn’t hurt that we’ll be able to afford a VACATION this year, for the first time in five years, thanks to NOT blowing our money on cosmetics!  =D


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: