abundance · change · clarity · deprivation · despair · family · finances · hope · recovery

Cleaning House.




There’s a phrase in Al-Anon: Let it begin with me.
I’m in the process (or supposed to be) of looking back
through my life and writing down where underearning/underbeing/debting has
affected my life, and eventually caused it to be unmanageable.
I’ve often and easily thought about my dad’s parents and his
half-brother when I think about the history of this “disease” in my family.
It’s easy to do. They are the ones who hoarded, let the dog go to
the bathroom in the house, and despite brains that cognitively thought at high
levels, lived like people who were under a crushing weight of despair, which
looked on the outside like the crushing weight of filth.
These folks, my kin, would have been the people who Hoarders would have descended upon, who would have reluctantly
and silently allowed their belongings to be sorted, sifted, and discarded. And
after the cameras left, would have as quickly as possible returned their home
to the state of dishevelment and insurmountable disarray. The familiar state of
it. The state in which they felt most comfortable, even if not comfortable at
After my parents’ divorce when I was 20, my dad let our
childhood home fall into much the same state, with the dead bugs on the hood of
the oven, the flies belly-up on the window sill, and the tree that shaded our
home, that stood sentry in our front yard, so long-neglected it had to
come down. And though it’s easy to see these patterns of neglect, hopelessness,
resignation, and simple denial in that side of the family, through my inventory work, I’m also getting to see a different strain of ideas around money,
belongings, worthiness crops up from my mom, too.
I spent some time with my brother last year in his apartment
he rented alone. The same silt of neglect, of using half-broken items, of
allowing the home you live in to be in a state of disrepair lay over his home,
too. But, from the same familial miasma, his attitude toward money became very different than mine.
At some point, I brought up money and my not knowing how to manage it, to save it, to “make
it work for me” (whatever that means!), and he admitted, surprising me, that he
is a miser with it. He hoards and saves his money, and is virulently opposed to being indebted to anyone.
He hoards money. I hemorrhage it.
In the end, though, the result for us both is the same (and
I recognize that my assessment and diagnosis is unfair to him, simply in that I
am not him, so please forgive my
hubris). But the result is that neither of us have money to spend on fun
things, nice things, things that make our lives fun and easy and worth living.
If he’s loathe to spend anything, even if he has it, then life becomes smaller
than it needs to be. If I simply spend whatever I make without thought to
long-term or significant goals, my bank balance becomes zero, and my life shrinks
with it.
I may not do my dishes as regularly as I should (though I am better now!), and my
fridge may house food that is unidentifiable with mold, but my home is
neat, clean, organized. It feels light, despite its size, and I endeavor to make it so. But there’s an article I read recently on home
decoration that said, “Do it: Clean, organize, make pretty, and then GET OUT.” Get out and into and on with your life. There’s more to life than decoration.
So, as I tally my numbers each month, calculate my income & expenditures, as I put money into a savings account and a vacation account, I
have to remember it’s not just so that I can have a neat and orderly
spreadsheet. That, in fact, even if there were a million dollars in my account,
I’d have to remember, like my brother, that it’s there for me to enjoy thoughtfully. That
it’s there for me to live, to support a life worth living. I have to remember that I do all this work so that I
can go out in the world as my family was unable to do.
I let it begin with me. 

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