Repurposed Life

My Midlife Crisis

Well, I wrote it down. I am officially having my midlife crisis.  The reason that I say “my” midlife crisis, and not “a” midlife crisis is because I am convinced that everyone goes through a midlife crisis of some sort.  It could manifest itself in many, many ways.  It can be a cliché, like a new sports car or a Glamour Shots makeover.  Or, it could be taking a chance at a new career or going back to college to finish your degree.  It could be writing a novel or writing a stand up comedy routine.  The point is that, for some reason, I think we are all hard wired, in some way, at the midpoint of our lives, to take stock in what we have learned so far, to assess where we want to go for the rest of our lives, and really determine whether we are getting what we hoped for out of life.  Isn’t that what our midlife crisis really is?

In a speech I listened to recently on NPR, David Brooks at the Aspen Ideas Festival coined this crisis  as “The Second Mountain.”  This is the second mountain we all climb at some point in our lives when we realize the first mountain didn’t get us where we wanted to be.  We take lock, stock and barrel of all the scrambling, clawing, scrimping, spending and running around in circles that we all do and see if it really made us all that much happier or gave us any fulfillment. Sometimes it does.  Sometimes one of us took the right path, at the right time, for the right reasons, and it all has worked out great!  Usually not, though.

While family, career, kids and home ownership can be very rewarding, the routine and drudgery of this life is not often fulfilling for our personal spirit.  Often we sacrifice every bit of our personal spirit to bring forth and maintain these items.  Every sense of wonder, adventure, restlessness, creativity and personal expression is pushed deep down into ourselves so that we can attend to the needs of others, so we can maintain the physical and aesthetic structure of our home, so we can work towards the vision and goals of the CEO of the company who signs our paychecks, and so we can feel like we are meeting the challenges that life throws at us head on!

Bullshit!  Who says that I am any less important than any of those people I serve?  Who says that my kids, while precious, should have a right to squash the wandering spirit within me.  When I signed up to have kids, did I need to agree that they should only be entitled to experience one, predetermined lifestyle that is deemed valuable by a specific set of cultural beliefs developed as a norm only within the last 50 years?  Midwest Suburbia?  No!  Millions of children experience this world in a million different lifestyles and so much value is gained from diverse human experience.

Who says that the time I exist on earth must be dedicated to enhancing the profit margins of a large corporate organization selling widgets I don’t much like or believe in? I’ve struggled with this question endlessly, for years, quite honestly.  It’s the chicken or the egg scenario.  If I don’t put in the drudgery to get the paycheck that I’ll use to buy the art classes that give me fulfillment, then I won’t be able to experience any of the fulfillment to begin with.  And, while this may be true for many, many people, who will always lack the vision, knowledge and resources to climb out of this trap; I’ve come to the conclusion that would like to not be one of those people in my life.  While I may not be a world class celebrity, inventor, entrepreneur, artist or politician; I can take a small slice of the pie for myself and carve out a pretty decent existence pursuing my true passions.

Funny, we still instruct our kids that this is the route to go.  We still tell them to pursue academics that will get them a good job, so they can buy a good house, and a good car, good spouse, good kids, good lawn, good neighborhood.  However, I have watched both of my parents, at some point in their adult lives, sell all of their belongings and move far away to begin a drastically different lifestyle.  It doesn’t really matter what the outcome was, but just as they were teaching me how to achieve success in my life, they were exhibiting that they were completely clueless about how to find success in their own lives!  And here I sit, doing the same thing with my kids!  We don’t know another way.

Yet.

I believe that we can teach people to pursue their passions early in life.  I believe that we can use people’s passions and natural gifts and talents in extraordinary ways to improve meaning, contentment and fulfillment right down to our daily lives…and still make amazing progress in the world!  I believe that we are born with certain genetic attributes that shape the way we interact with the world, and fighting against these attributes to fit your life into the box that culture has currently defined for us, is what leads to the discontent in with our lives.  I believe we need to teach people about these insights, give wings to individual ideas, and change the standards by which we deem our lives a success.

This is what RePurspose M.E. Life is about…this is what you will learn, with me, as we  reason, implement and experience these ideas.

Repurposed Life

Stop Stocking Up: Why you should rethink your grocery shopping habits

When I was little, we used to go to my grandmother’s condo and go “grocery shopping” in her basement. My grandma would go shopping and buy extra non-perishable items such as cereal, canned soup, ketchup and any number of other items when they were on sale, or she had a coupon. Then, she would stock her basement shelves with all the extra items and my cousins and I would fill bags to take home with all kinds of groceries.

I assume this instinct to stock up and save money was a product of the Depression era mentality. My grandma was born in 1920, and the Great Depression hit when she was just nine years old in 1929. Furthermore, she was the evolutionary result of a long human instinct to anticipate that fortunes could turn at any moment and they would be left with nothing, starving and hungry. And why shouldn’t she think that? We have never enjoyed the security of excess and plenty the way we do today due to the global trade economy. For thousands of years, one bad crop or a widespread epidemic could wipe out an entire regions’ food supply or obliterate a third of the population and entire cities and nations could starve or become immobilized by hardship.

So that is how I was raised to shop. Stock up when things are on sale or when you have a coupon. It makes perfect sense, right? You’re going to eventually use it, so why not buy it when it’s on sale? Cheaper, right? Saves money in the long run? That way you have it on hand when you need it. However, this turns out to be a perpetual cycle. You are always buying more than you need and never using up your surplus. I was continually filling my cupboards, my fridge, and my pantry with canned goods, sauces, rice and pastas, seasoning packets, salad dressings. The main reason they never overflowed was because when they got too full, I would go through and pitch half open bags of chips, crackers and cereal or toss bottles of marinades and jars of salsa we never touched again. And, it’s not like you can ever just “throw together” a full dinner with your non-perishables. You always have to plan a meat or pick up some veggies or some more refried beans, right? We would end up spending $200 at the grocery store on the weekend, then hit the store again 3 nights a week to pick up all the stuff we missed. It was impossible to plan a full week’s worth of meals, but never-the-less every Sunday we would try to buy a little bit of this and a little bit of that for a week and half’s worth of dinners, most of which never got cooked due to scheduling conflicts. At the end of the week, we’d throw away the thawed chicken we never cooked, and the zucchini that dried up in the fridge. (Read: $$ down the drain.)

So, since we’ve been simplifying in other areas of our life, we decided to try simplifying our shopping and meals, as well. Now we practice the principles below for our weekly shopping and cooking and it seems to be helping us save money, waste less food, eat out less and eat healthier, too.

  • Start by cleaning out your cupboards – I went through every cupboard, both pantries and every corner of the fridge. I spent about 2 weeks making dinners deliberately from items I already had. If I didn’t want to use it, whether because it was too old, not my thing or I could never see us using it (like the 6 bottles of liquor we had leftover from our wedding 5 years ago) I’d throw it away. What are you keeping it for if you wouldn’t use it today? Do you think your misguided memory of Spaghettio’s and affinity to throw large parties is going to change?
  • Plan your menu for a manageable period of time (no more than 4 days)– For us, this meant shopping on Sat. or Sun. and planning meals through Wed. For Thursday, we could usually throw something together with what we have leftover from the week or we would do a simple can of soup. Friday then became a splurge takeout dinner. And then we were back to the weekend. This meshed with our schedule. Yours might be shopping on Tuesday night and planning through Friday, then winging it through the weekend. Sometimes we need to make a mid week run to the store, but it’s usually just a quick to get a few fresh essentials. to carry us to the next big shopping trip. We throw away less uneaten fruit and veggies by only buying as much as we can eat in a few days.
  • Use the Sale paper as inspiration, not your Shopping List – Even if we get hit by another Great Depression, chances are that you will still be able to go grocery shopping and still have the food you need to keep your family alive. Now a days we have social security, welfare, unemployment benefits, food banks and free school lunches. In 1929, they had none of these things. People literally had paychecks one day and nothing the next. So, you do not need to buy four cans of refried beans and six boxes of Rice a Roni when they are on sale. If refried beans are on sale, buy one or two cans, but only as much as you’ll eat this week. Make this a Mexican themed week and start out with 2 lbs of ground beef that you can make into Tacos one day and Nachos the next. If rice is on sale, think about Spanish Rice or Fried Rice…shop accordingly. If several items you need are on sale, great for you! If not, no sweat, buy what you need to cook your next 4 dinners.
  • Plan for the leftovers – For us this is usually two different dinners with one main protein. I have a hard time using a base meat for more than two dinners, both because I get bored and because I run out of ideas. But, I can usually cook enough chicken or ground beef for two dinners, and still keep some variety. This means that buying for Sunday through Wednesday is two first dinners and two leftovers, That’s two meats, not four.
  • You MUST DO Curbside Pickup – OMG, if you haven’t don’t this yet, you need to. This is the future of grocery shopping. Kroger Click List knows everything I’ve bought for the last 6 months and displays it right on the screen when I start shopping. I can quickly add items I buy every week, and selectively search for new items I need. Instead of searching the entire store for white miso for a new recipe, I just search the keywords. And finally, I am not lured in by the strategically placed endcap filled with the shiny new products they trick me into putting in my cart.

I included pictures of my cupboards and fridge these days. They look quite pitiful and I’m trying to figure out what to do with all the extra space. You’d think my counters would be empty, but alas, I haven’t gotten to this area of self improvement yet.

As I said, we also seem to be saving money with this plan. We used to spend $250-$300 each week on the big shopping trip. Then, 3 or 4 additional trips to the grocery store of $40-$60 at a time was typical. Now we spend about $150 on the main trip, and usually $15-$30 for each of 2 or 3 additional trips.

I don’t have the long term results of this experiment yet, but as I continue to have success each week preparing home cooked meals, shopping less, saving more and getting less stressed out about what’s for dinner; I can see this experiment becoming a habit and a new way of life for us.