I love crossing things off a list. But now I have a whole list of things to be crossed off of my life. Does that sound strange? Wait til you read the list.
Craig Groschel, in his book “Weird”, advocates a departure from the normal lifestyle of doing moreandmoreandmore, and suggests devising a To-Don’t list, versus a To-Do list, in order to prioritize the time we have. With a To-Don’t list, you force yourself to pick the best over the good, and you have a reason to say no to the urgent: all your efforts are toward what is most important in your life. In our life, we would rather make it than buy it, do less and enjoy it more, and learn instead of being entertained. We don’t condemn the lifestyle of others, but no one can say yes to everything. Here is my To-Don’t List:
TV – No cable, satellite, or pay-per-view; no extra money for HD, HI-DEF, or plasma. I’m not letting the pornography, violence, and foul language on TV into my house and my family, and that’s just the commercials. I have seen only a handful of shows even worth considering, and I found myself getting up from cutting our sons’ hair nearly every commercial break to change the channel or mute the sound. And this was during America’s Funniest Videos, which (I thought) should have had family-friendly programming. And since taking a 3-week break from TV, my wife and I have found the time to read and reconnect that we had been missing. No brainer. We do use the TV to check the weather and watch cooking shows on Saturday mornings while folding laundry. Once in a while, surfing channels can find something amusing, but if you aren’t purposeful in the use of your time, the good becomes the enemy of the best. Choose prayerfully. [ We have recently become devoted fans of three cop dramas: Castle, Blue Bloods, and Person of Interest. We don’t watch each one every week, but they are a great way to get the laundry folded after the kids go to bed. We would be fans of NCIS, too, except our kids would be awake for it, and I just know one of them would Gibbs-slap me on the back of the head at some point. ]
Debt – Fewer payments means more discretionary income that we can put toward what we believe in most. Less stress plus more freedom…if you have the self-control to wait and hunt for a deal. Deals are fun to find, but the deals are limited if you are desperate. Don’t be afraid of waiting. Dave Ramsey makes a more eloquent and compelling case. We also have chosen to shop used, second-hand, and garage sales for most major purchases: vehicles, appliances, furniture, clothes, electronics, etc.
A spotless house – We have decided to make our home a place others feel comfortable, and that means a little mess is okay. We have never felt relaxed in a completely spotless house, especially the kind with fragile objects in glass displays. I run into things, or they run into me, I’m not sure which. I don’t like to be a bull in the china shop. I much prefer a lived-in look and feel, and that atmosphere helps others feel at ease when they visit us. No one has to overwork to keep up with the standards they find in our home, and that’s relaxing for our visitors. And this goes for our yard, too. No grass seed, aerating, de-thatching, edging, or putting-green style lawn. We like a slightly organized wild look, with flowers, some grass, some weeds, and some trees in vague patterns. It keeps us from stressing about looks, but brings order while preserving natural beauty. Now, if I could just do the same with my hair…
Video Games – They’re addictive time-wasters. Throw in graphic violence, hidden pornography, and law-breaking (GTA), and they just don’t fit our lifestyle. They have hurt the image of men nationwide, exposing the worst side of our ability to focus exclusively. Find me a wife who wants her husband to play more than he does…Find me a mom who says her boys don’t spend enough time plugged in…Find me a gamer who has the self-control to quit on a timer, or turn it off when it’s bedtime, or put the whole system away for weeks at a time…Any rare exception to these only proves the rule: they’re addictive time wasters. They divert the attention, talent, and strengths of men into meaningless, useless, self-centered activities, and away from the adventurous life God intended. That’s a high cost for a little hand-eye coordination.
Women’s Magazines – My wife had a great comment about these. She says all the articles are designed to make you fret. Health, money, relationships…all of the content tries to get you worrying so you’ll be interested in the “solutions” the magazine has to offer. My wife throws away the free ones after 5 minutes of clipping recipes, and doesn’t subscribe to any.
Sports Magazines – Every now and again, a new one comes out, but they all seem to be very slight variations on the same theme: a few insightful articles surrounded by lots of photographs, gossip, stats, and products dealing with professional sports. Oh, and the surprise add with sexualized imagery. Not for me. I gain more insight listening to those who have read the articles, and I avoid the hang-ups, including the drive to stay on top of sports news. I have the freedom to ignore the sportscaster, the sportswriter, the professional athlete, and the memorabilia. I already know I’m uninformed, and I intend to stay that way.
Children’s personal electronics – Okay, our kids have a stereo in their room that plays Adventures in Odyssey tapes and dramatized CDs of the Chronicles of Narnia. But what I’m talking about is kids with web-enabled phones and Ipods. Explain to me how withdrawing from reality is a good thing for a child or a teenager. Childhood’s purpose is to learn how to be a functioning adult, and the point of adolescence is to start practicing to be a functioning adult. Personal electronics for kids and teens allows them to remain non-functioning and a non-adult, and it lets them import worldliness at will via the internet. And it teaches them to expect this treatment from other adults. We sabotage our children’s growth when we allow them abilities beyond their responsibility.
Multiple Consecutive Evenings Away From Home – We’ve all done it a few times, probably, but if this is your lifestyle, if this is normal, consider what you are paying for it: 1) health – eating out, especially on the run, can never be as healthy as fixing a nutritious meal at home. The stress factor alone from being in a hurry negates any health benefits of eating good food out, in my opinion. 2) money – it’s been shown (for those of us who haven’t slowed down to figure it out) that it’s way cheaper to buy ingredients and make food than to buy it ready-made on a regular basis. And there’s the gas money you aren’t spending because you’re home. 3) character – What else do you call the habit of never planning ahead, living by impulses, creating more waste products, and never taking time to think it through? Planning a shopping trip, using coupons, planning a meal, fixing the meal, and then eating the meal with those you love most, having a great time enjoying it together, and knowing your hard work makes possible the good health they enjoy…doesn’t that sound like a more satisfying life?
Valentine’s Day – John Eldridge said it best: there’s just too much pressure on both sides. The men feel pressure to buy the gifts, or write an epic love poem, or get a ton of stuff done around the house. The women feel pressure to look unrealistically great and be ready to jump in bed at the end of the day as “payment” for the man’s efforts to be romantic. It can be a lose-lose if you pay too much attention to the world’s ways and the messages of the enemy. My wife and I agreed to not put any pressure on each other for this holiday. If we do anything, it’s a bonus, not a requirement. And now we are free to enjoy each other and be romantic any and all days of the year. We aren’t storing it up, or sacrificing it now for a scheduled day of romance later. Is that even possible, a scheduled day of romance? Romance seems to blossom when it comes from a desire and effort to love the other person more than yourself. Pursue true selfless love, and romance will grow. Pursue romance without the love, and it will quickly become stale, feel forced, and ultimately fail. You have to be willing to love someone for nothing.
Christmas Presents for everyone – With our limited funds, any such attempt would result in debt or jail time for bank-robbing, and cheap gifts just so everyone could have one. We just don’t have the money to buy a gift for all our relatives within driving distance and all the friends we know in town, and we don’t want the stress of driving and shopping with the rest of America, especially at the mall, where parking is apparently worth spilling blood. In my parents’ and my in-laws’ circles, in order to limit this craziness, we put names in a hat, and each person draws one name. We spend a limited amount (usually less than $20). Everyone gets gifts, but no one has to buy for all. It keeps shopping, money, stress, and details to a minimum during an already stressful and increasingly commercialized holiday. We sometimes buy one gift for each other, my wife and I, and the kids spend $5 each at the dollar store to buy gifts for the others in our family of six. This reinforces the idea of giving, not getting, and they get plenty of gifts from relatives, anyway. This frees us up to enjoy holiday music, weather, lights, and decorations, and especially the reason we have Christ-mas at all: the birth of our Savior. Any strategy to minimize the commercialism is a good thing, I think. All that merchandising can suck you dry, and then you’re hit hard in January’s gray emotional landscape. I’m all for celebrating well, but Christmas will come again next year. I can wait.
Allowances for kids – I’m all for kids learning how to use money, but our kids get plenty of money on birthdays and at Christmas to fill their own spending dreams for the year. They don’t buy their own clothes or food or toiletries, so we don’t pay them just for being kids. We do pay for completion of work: commissions for chores, and that has helped to teach them the lesson that work done well = payment, something allowances can’t do in the same way. They have chores to complete each day, and they don’t get paid for them; work around the house has to be done, and you don’t get paid as an adult, either. We want them to get used to housework as a normal thing that everyone does and everyone appreciates.