Impoverishment of Mind

About a year ago we began our slide into the lower economic class.  It’s been a transition – one that has required a lot of adjustment as our lifestyle, living situation, daily routines, purchasing power, friendships and plans have all changed.  Some adjustments have been easier than others – oddly the move from house to tents to travel trailer hasn’t been as hard as you might think, perhaps because it’s such a concrete, physical alteration to make. It’s just a matter of cutting back on possessions to fit the space and getting used to the tight quarters and inefficiencies in the matter of the cooking and bathing facilities. It’s different but it’s still a house. I bet I could live on the space station without too much trouble.

Likewise budgeting on a much reduced income has also been fairly straightforward.  In fact, it may be easier than budgeting when you have some discretionary income – then you have to ponder what to spend it on, or whether to save or invest instead!  Now it’s just a matter of trying to figure out how to split the 20 dollars that remain in the wallet between gas and food.  

I have found other aspects of this transition much more difficult, namely the changes in friendships, daily routines and my own perception of myself.  I am a half-baked member of the impoverished class. I don’t easily think of myself as ‘one of them’ but after a year I daresay I look and act the part – my clothes are worn and clearly from discount stores and my hair and skin haven’t seen the attention of a professional in ages.  I caught sight of myself in a full length mirror the other day and saw a frumpy and frazzled middle-aged woman.  Scary!   I don’t eat out, or go on vacation.  I don’t shop for fun and when I do shop for necessities it’s at places like the 99 cent store or Big Lots. 

The most striking change has been gradual and pernicious.  It is the impoverishment of my mind.  Being poor affects what you think about, what you dream of and hope for.  Just as you pull in and hoard your resources you also retract your mind, narrowing your focus on the basics and essentials of life.  I can no longer conceive of things I once took for granted and it seems tempting fate to even begin to hope for things now outside my grasp. My focus has not only narrowed but has become foreshortened.  It is hard to think beyond the ever difficult end of the current month/beginning of the next when the major bills become due.  Long term planning isn’t longer than 2 or 3 months away. 

And unexpected events throw you for a loop as did a recent generous gift from a blog reader/supporter.  She sent us coupons for 2-for-1 admission to a theme park about 3 hours from here and a donation which she said we could use for tickets.  She wanted my kids to have a fun event this summer.  And the kids, who were present when I opened the envelope, were totally on board with the idea.  But my ‘poor’ thinking cut in.  I spent some time online looking at the theme park website, thinking about possible dates, wondering if the car was good for the trip down and back, but the niggling, ever present thought at the back of my mind was isn’t it terribly irresponsible to spend money (even gifted money) on fun?  Two years ago we would have planned this trip with glee and expanded it with a night at a hotel to make the most of the day at the amusement park, or maybe two nights so we could spend a day in a nearby city where our old beloved pastor is now preaching to catch one of his sermons and visit a little.  But now my tentative planning is overshadowed by anxiety at spending money on something that just isn’t a necessity.  I even, ludicrously, worry that the kids will start to expect a lifestyle with visits to amusement parks.  Will a day of extravagant fun make it harder than ever to wake up in the trailer the next morning?  No, probably not.  But this is what poverty does – it strips away joy, conjures up doubts and ladles on the guilt.  This is the thinking of an impoverished mind.

Post-note – thanks to everyone for the replies!  As always I appreciate the thoughts and suggestions.  I really mentioned the amusement park gift to illustrate how deep the changes go – not just the place we live or the things we do without or the clothes we wear, but how poverty seeps in and makes internal changes as well.  I know the stress gets to me, I see my tolerance and patience eroded, I feel my anxiety level go up, but I kind of thought/hoped my mind was stronger and more impervious!  This situation showed me that I’m developing a new mindset, one less expansive, less open, less hopeful.  It’s a little scary.

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28 Responses to Impoverishment of Mind

  1. Little House says:

    There was a time in my life when all I could think of was surviving and it did narrow my perspective. Of course, I was much younger than I am now and that alone allowed me to dream and hope. I think as we get older and are put in a situation of survival, our thoughts do narrow, especially if you’re not just having to think about yourself, but about your kids, too. Hopefully, you’ll be able to decide if making the trip is possible. It would probably do all of you good to enjoy the day and maybe for a moment forget your current situation. But I can see how stressful it would be trying to decide to spend the money on necessities instead of fun. Good luck in whatever you decide!

  2. Nicole says:

    I don’t know whether you should go or not, but I wish you weren’t in this situation. Hang in there.

  3. Kate says:

    Wow–Carmen sure sounds like she needs a nap. Maybe she shouldn’t have been up until 11:56 pm posting her venom. She obviously hasn’t read much, if any, of your blog. Your response to her was beautiful. Chin up and people who think like her can bugger off!!

  4. Adrienne says:

    So sorry you get ugly comments. To put yourself out there and then have to deal with reactions like that is sad. On a good note it has inspired me to make a donation 🙂
    One idea for other donations is to create a wishlist on Amazon. That way if people wanted to buy you something it could be what you or the kids really need. (just a thought)

    • Jay says:

      That is a great idea! If you posted your back to school list on Amazon it would be like double dipping. You could get the things the kids need, and the %age for the affiliate program 🙂

      • boxcarkids says:

        I’ll give it some thought. Have to wait for the teacher’s supply lists to be posted though.

  5. I think you have shown incredible strength in character! I wanted to email you and see if you would mind my linking to your ebay/site as a way to help!

    I think it is wise to question whether to go, I think in these situations people often want to donate to fun, because it is hard to admit people need donations for food, bills etc. Not at all knocking the person who donated, I think it is exceptionally kind and loving.

    I guess I would be tempted to think – if an emergency cropped up the next day and you needed that $50 or $75 or $100 would you wish you’d saved it? Having previously been in a long season of unemployment myself that was my biggest lesson for myself!

    I am sure you’ll make the right decision for your family, you know your kid’s needs best and what they would get from it. You really are an inspiration.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Yes, you may link to my blog. I like to stay connected with the adult world and one way I do that is through my readership.

      • I run a series called Help A Family Friday – I wouldn’t want to reveal more than you are comfortable with would it be OK to say something like you are a single mom to 4 through adoption (I’m sure you mentioned that on the old blog, but I don’t see it here) and after losing your job and home you are living in an RV with your kids? Then link to your etsy site? Is there any other site with help?

        BTW I have just been volunteering with dying orphans and people need to understand the difference between need & want. I think sadly nasty comments are people who view materialism over relationships, love and family. Hang in there ((((hugs))))

  6. ArdenLynn says:

    I sometimes wonder why you don’t post more often. Today I read the comments and saw the nasty one and wonder how you can post at all. Stuff like that gets to me.
    I’ve got twice as many kids as you and we live on a very average salary so it is always a juggling act. If I dare say anything about money or the cost of back to school (our district gouges us), Christian summer camp for multiple kids or I even hint that we can’t afford some of the junk that comes under the heading of “good parenting” I get thrown totally under the bus for having soooooo maaaaaany kids. Who said all that crap was part of a decent childhood? I’m pretty sure generations of kids survived on much less, just ask my mother in law that spent childhood summers picking cotton. My kids bitch their heads off if we turn off the AC.
    No, the kids don’t need the day at the amusement park. If it helps you sleep at night to take the money and buy shoes then by all means do it. If it helps you sleep at night to take them for the day, then do that. And thank you for ignoring the hateful commenters and keeping your blog open. You inspire me.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thank you. Interestingly I find it is my more personal posts that generate the hostility so I do limit those (although having just posted a more political one I may see that change, LOL!).

  7. Jeannette says:

    Dearest Carmen, You don’t have all your facts, like most narrow minded people do. That being said, until you walk in someone elses shoes in any matter why on earth do you have to be down right mean and nasty. Seriously saying your going to spit on someone? What kind of mentality is that is your iq level and common decency so limited? Give your kids away for a better life? Who and where is it written a child given up is better off? I raised four kids in poverty situations, most in America are doing the same, should all give away their kids? As I stated in my recent comment, I just sat with a one year old homeless child, not because the parents are dirty, selfish and low lifes, but because they fell on a hard time and are tryng to get back to being able to provide for thier children. Ugh this person really irked me-its human compassion lacking and to aire comments that are so negative… okay breathe

  8. Teri says:

    I have been lurking since your first site and you always provide such insight into your situation, one that given an illness, a job loss I could easily find myself in.
    As for this situation, I would say, if you can go, go. Your kids will never get their childhood back and if at all possible, take them. It will be a memory for them forever.
    You won’t always be poor, they will eventually grown up and yes, they will remember the hard times and hopefully will be kinder, more caring people because of it.
    But if you can at all make the trip do go, it will be a wonderful memory for all of you, one that you will always look back on and say “hey, remember that trip to the amusement park mom took us on when we were little?”

  9. Darlene says:

    Adding to the “not busy in an amusement park” list: The Friday before Labor Day is pretty dead in every park we’ve ever been in. We now make it an annual family event to go to one of the parks nearest to us every Friday of Labor Day weekend. If you are going to spend the money (and I think you should) you should go on a day when the kids will get the most bang for the buck.


  10. Carmen says:

    Look, nobody told you to create so many kids! The humane thing would be to give them up for adoption, that way they would have access to a normal life. Your son wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. They could all have their own rooms with heat, air conditioning and ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT! You are the selfish one – whining about lookin’ like a fat, middle-aged cow. UGH, you make me sick. They are the ones suffering for your mistakes! If I saw you beggin’ in the Walmart parking lot for change, I would spit on you!

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am reassured that my mind has a long way to go before it becomes as narrow as some!

    • Teri says:

      Wow! That’s all I can say to poster “Carmen” talk about self righteous and judgmental. Sheesh–hope that one day, if you ever have to walk in some one else’s shoes you will remember your narrow minded and sanctimonious comments. Pathetic!
      That being said, plenty of kids in the Third World sleep on the floor and don’t have enough to eat. And yes, it’s considered normal.
      Our bloggers kids have a loving home, a roof over their head and enough food to eat, they go to school, participate in activities and have a mom who cares enough to keep them together instead of getting strung out on drugs or hooking to pay the bills.
      Honestly, you make ME sick and if I saw you begging at Walmart I would hope NO ONE would spit on you.

  11. Jay says:

    I’ll add to the “go” vote (not that I have any say, and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you didn’t go!)

    But I’ve been out of work, with no prospect of work, with a child to feed.

    And the things I remember of that time are the great things like that trip could be for you. I remember not knowing where next week’s groceries were coming from and remember the stress but it is kind of nebulous. But the good times? EVERY single detail is etched into my mind and I can relive them over and over. It is like they stand out clearly because they are in contrast to what is going on in the rest of your life.

    Your kids won’t always be poor. YOU won’t always be poor. Allowing your current circumstances to define you, or your kids would be a mistake.

  12. Chris says:

    My Mother tells a story about when she had 4 preschoolers and was barely making it on my father’s salary. She took the money left at the end of the month and headed to the grocery store where she quickly came to terms with the tiny bit of food that it was going to buy.

    She took the few things out of the grocery cart, replaced them with a six pack of beer and invited friends over for cards.

    Most people think this is terrible – unless they know my Mother, that this was extremely rare behavior and that she just knew that she and Dad -she did not give the beer to the kids 🙂 – needed a little fun right then.

    Poor people need treats once in awhile just like rich people do – even more than rich people do. Just because you’ve fallen on difficult times doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have treats.

    By the way we all grew up fine, went to college, and have good jobs. Mom travels and has a great time but still shops at Big Lots and the dollar stores.

    It will get better.

  13. There’s mental health that needs nurturing, also. Take the kids. Let them forget for a day–and you too–your predicament. Enjoy yourselves. Laugh, be breathless on roller coasters, eat crap, and come home with big smiles on your faces; wake the next day feeling refreshed and perhaps a little different–new, even.


  14. Jen says:

    I understand the points you are making and the thought process behind it though I have lived this out a little differently. We lived in survival mode when our son was hospitalized for many months. Neither my husband or I were working at the time so we were most careful with money and donations that did come in. We had three children besides the very sick one who were forced to go to whomever could take them as we both needed to be present in the hospital. It was a hard time and no fun for anyone. In looking back, the highlights of this time and the years that followed were the moments when we could steal away for a day or two and pretend for that time, that our reality was different. It was a little slice of Heaven while living out an utter hell. If you can go on this trip, go. Someone cared about you enough to want to do this for your children and for you, to bring you some joy, even though temporary, joy indeed. Something to look back on and cherish. It might be the highlight of this dismal time. Go.

    You are ever in my prayers.

  15. Mark says:

    I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s right for you to question whether you should go to an amusement park, even when the money’s donated. Folks often want to help in this way but you are correct in wondering whether the money will be better used for groceries or shoes or whatever your kids need. If you ultimately decide not to go, that’s OK. You are the leader of your family and your decisions are your own.

  16. Becky R says:

    When you are living in survival mode it is hard to expand your mind. It is hard to dream about college for the kids when you can’t even buy them food or let alone an ice cream cone at a local ice cream palor.

    I used to not understand how cycles of poverty repeated, but now being here I realize.

    The kids I babysit are in all these cool camps, and have so many things, books, advantages, and so on.

    My kids know we barely have gas money to drive anywhere. Don’t get me wrong they have things. But my youngest wanted to sculpt the other day, but we have no clay (not play dough, he want the hard stuff.) I would love him to have this experience and he is saving his money to buy the clay, but I wanted to run out and buy it.

    Also when I see our clothes, although clean, clearly hand me downs, it makes me sad.

    Sometimes it is hard for me to think about activities to stimulate their minds, when I am scrambeling for grocery money.

    I even wanted to plan a fun camp for the kids and friends with art and stuff, but don’t have the money to buy the supplies.

    I so get where you are. I am praying for you.


    p.s. -take them to the amusement park, someone gifted us season passes to graet adventure six flags and although it cost me gas that I don’t have ever time we go, my kids love it. It brings me joy to see them having fun!

  17. Lynn says:

    Of course you know you need to do this amusement park trip! I don’t know which park it is, but Disneyland and the San Diego parks have good train service, if the car won’t make it. (The kids and I have driven down a couple times, while Jim takes the train and meets us the next day.)

    Is there an expiration date? We find that Superbowl Sunday, Thanksgiving Day (but not the Friday after) and New Years Day (but not NY Eve) are the least crowded.

    I wonder if favorite pastor could put you all up the night before? Lines are shortest right at opening time.

    GO AND HAVE FUN. It’s as important that the kids know how to recieve a gift, as it is that they know how to give (which I know you focus on).

  18. Jeannette says:

    Last night, through my church I attended a mission to feed the homeless, when I think of homeless in my limited mind I think of the people on the streets of NY living on a cardboard box,, imagine my surprise and wake up call when I sat down to dinner with a six year and a one year old that live with their parents in various places including their car. For one single week they are able to stay at the church have meals and toys. This humbled me in so many ways, I know its not by chance I volunteered to go, God is giving me some kind of message. When I volunteered to go with my pastor I honestly had no idea what we were doing, the pastor asked for help, I helped. My point, I am not sure I have one, I do understand the guilt and survival mode, I have been there did that, in so many ways, and places in my life. I am sure whatever you decide the outcome is your choice. I don’t have much, but I have more than I need when a six year old and a one year old don’t even have a bed
    and while we are at it, trying to get more followers, so feel free if you choose

  19. beenthere says:

    You are very correct in your observation. Living in subsidized housing didn’t bother me too much, but being on welfare and unemployment was very harrowing. I felt that we didn’t deserve any fun things and I felt ashamed to not be like the”normal ” people with jobs. I would be walking down a street and thinking that if people knew where I lived and where my support came from they would render me invisible. I went back to work when my youngest was seven and it took about five years for me to to let go of my fears and reclaim my self esteem.
    lLooking back now I can see that not doing fun things was not a good idea. Memories need to be built to include highlights and not just the drudgery over the years.

  20. Grace says:

    I realized how right you are when, a year or so ago, a workshop that I attend monthly in a city three hours away was cancelled. I love that workshop, love the people I’ve been meeting with for over twenty years, and love the dinner out and breakfast the next day. Yet here I was, grateful that I wouldn’t have to spend the money for it that month! What does it say that I would be glad NOT to go somewhere that I really enjoy just because it saved me a few dollars.

    • boxcarkids says:

      A sad sign of the times. I’m bothered by feeling my mind narrow. I wonder what I’m missing by focusing so closely on survival, which granted is important now, to the exclusion of other things. I’ve always treasured having an open mind!

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