Saturday 2 March 2013

On Having Nice Things

People like us don't have nice things. People like us don't living in houses which have heating, buy new clothes or things with name brands, or go to the doctor until they're really sick, are you sure?

That kind of mindset makes it easy to be a bit poor, because you don't deserve nice things anyway. It makes it easy not to buy new things or take a holiday and vintage clothes are on trend anyway.

That kind of mindset also makes having nice things a little confusing.

Until quite recently I didn't have many nice things. I had given myself a moratorium on buying Things (books, artwork, furniture), because I didn't have any money, and also I wasn't sure I wouldn't gap it, even though I never wanted to move to Australia. 

Most people seem to make the move, not exactly for better work or adventure, but because there's something wrong with their lives here. A shitty job, a shitty partner, a shitty family. These things are independent of location, and at one point I had the trifecta, and thus considered it.

I also had a shitty CV, showing I hadn't held any full time job for much more than a year. This was because of my relative youth, and my unwillingness to stay in a truly atrocious job: I've still never been fired (except from that waitressing job I had when I was sixteen, after I eventually worked up the nerve to complain about the sexual harassment I was receiving from another staff member. I don't count that).

Despite my shitty CV, at this shitty time I had a new job. I'd been in my previous job for all of three months before leaving it (I don't feel any guilt about that. They fudged the answer to a direct question I asked in the interview; my coworkers confirmed that the my predecessor had the exact same experience and left for the same reason. I wonder if they did it a third time, or worked out that it was kind of an important thing and they ought to stop lying about it.).

Self, I said to myself, you have to stay in this job for at least two years. In two years, if things are just the same as they are now, why not leave? Everyone else does, and seems to like it. But for now, you stay.

Instead, things got better, first slowly, and then all at once, good things snowballing just as the bad things once had. I got a few nice things, like insurance and a smart phone. The final good thing was a new job, after one year and eight months of slogging it out in a role I was ambivalent about.

With the certainty I'm not going anywhere (at least not until I've been in my current great job at least three years - my poor CV still isn't all that much healthier), I have been acquiring Nice Things.

The first was an iPad when my student loan went away. I won't say "paid off" because I was studiously ignoring both it and the government mandated 10% of my take home pay which was being put towards it. What paid off was working up to three jobs at a time through university because people like us don't just not work. That took a hell of a lot more sacrifices than just paying 10% of my wage ever did.

I found the iPad meant I read more. eBooks are marvellous. I read the classics, and started buying more new fiction.

The second thing Nice Thing was a car. I haven't had a car for three years. This was great when I wasn't earning so much: cars are tremendously expensive. I couldn't afford a decent car, and knew I didn't want a shitty car, which would require costly and confusing repairs at inconvenient times. I got a loan for my car, which worried me tremendously. The one financial lesson I was given growing up, aside from "don't buy anything if you can help it" was "don't buy anything unless you can pay for it in cash". But I didn't want to have to spend all my savings on a car: what if I lost my job or had to move house? What if I had a Medical Emergency, which somehow fell outside the realm of insurance? Besides, I've heard that never having a loan makes it hard to get one in the future - not having a credit history is as bad for your credit history, I've heard, as having bad credit. It's a practice loan, I told myself.

The surprising thing that came from having a car was how much easier it made getting rid of clutter. I can pop unworn clothes and unloved books in the boot and then in one of those clothing bins. I turned out my wardrobe and tossed a whole trashbag full of clothes.

Then I bought a bed, a proper grown-up bed. I'd been sleeping on a bed I bought off a friend when she conveniently moved in with her boyfriend the same week I moved house. She'd had it since she was 14, and it must have been cheap when it was new. It cost me $100, and I never liked it. I bought expensive sheets and pillows for it, which helped, but didn't disguise the fact it was basically rubbish.

My new bed was a glorious waste of money. It's bigger than my last one - a queen size - which means I can sleep diagonally if I should so choose to do so. I've been sleeping better - more deeply and with fewer bad dreams - and I no longer wake up so tired.

The final nice thing a desk, a writing desk, to replace the $100 chipboard-and-laminate monstrosity I'd had for a year. (Yes: my budget for everything was $100. I also have a $100 dining set, but I actually like that. So, until recently the value of all the furniture I owned was less than the cost of a smartphone.)

I've always wanted a writing desk. They're deliciously archaic, and fold up so tidily. I bought it today, and while tidying away my staplers (why do I have three staplers?) and scarves which lived in my old desk's drawer (why do I keep knitting them when I have so many?) and jars of pens (why I don't I throw away all but one pen?), I tried to justify why a person like myself should have a nice piece of furniture when I clearly don't deserve it.

I had a perfectly serviceable desk, which was doing an admirable job of holding my laptop and jars of pens, even if it did shake alarmingly if you knocked it, and was terribly ugly. I told myself sternly that even if I didn't need it, I wanted it and was sure to use it daily and I had thought about it for a long time and I could afford it and I paid cash for it. At this point, I realised that by the awful convoluted logic of poverty, I did deserve it after all, and despite my efforts, I still identify with people like us, and maybe always will.

At least I have nice things now.


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