Last week some long lost relatives came to visit (well, not long lost but definitely not close relatives). Frankly, I wish they’d stayed lost. We let ourselves get talked into hosting these people by another relative who, knowing that these long lost people were coming to our town for a convention, so kindly recommended that they stay with us. (Note to self: Never agree to anything like this again. Learn the word “No” and use it more often.)
You have to understand: Part of the reason why these relatives have remained lost for so many years is that no one can stand them. They spend money like there is no tomorrow and then complain about the stress and financial trouble in their lives. They are uppity, whiny birds who generally refuse to take part in any family activity that they think is beneath them, which is pretty much everything. They remain lost because people have given up inviting them to things. They rarely want to come and, when they do show up, they spend the whole time complaining about how this isn’t right, or that isn’t they way they like it. Things cost too much (whine about the expense) or too little (whine about how can’t possibly be of good quality). This trip was no different.
The complaining started the minute they walked in the door. The guest bedroom was too small. The bathroom was down the hall. They didn’t like my cooking. (Meatless meals? How do you survive!) They were disappointed we didn’t have HBO and that there wasn’t a TV in the guest room. They refused to ride in my car because “That thing’s so old it might break down at any moment.” They were appalled when I pulled out the stuff to make a new batch of laundry detergent. And on and on it went. Nothing was up to their standards. Every time I turned around I was being made to feel like my life was “less than” and inferior. I didn’t care for it. I endured this with bitten lip and good grace for about two days before I discovered how to get some of my own back.
Normally I’m not a vindictive sort of person. I don’t like to get the best of other people and I don’t always have to “win.” But after two days of this, after two days of listening to them talk about how important they are, how stressed, how busy, and how much everything costs while dumping on my way of life, I sort of felt justified in finding not-so-subtle-ways to take little pieces out of their uppity hides. It started on Monday when I went into my office in sweatpants and a t-shirt.
“Don’t you have to go to work?” asked Ms. Uppity.
“Yep. I’m going now.”
“In that?” she asked taking in my attire.
“Yep. I work from home. In there,” I said pointing toward my office. “I don’t have to get all dressed up.”
“Hmph,” she sniffed. “It takes me an hour at least to get ready for work. And it’s so expensive to buy suits and makeup. I hate it, but what can you do?”
“I’m sorry,” I lied. “But I’m glad I don’t have to do all that stuff. It gives me more time and money to do other things.”
“Must be nice,” she said as she walked off, clearly miffed that I had a situation that I adore while she was stuck in dress-up hell.
Later that day Mr. and Ms. Uppity returned from the convention to find my husband and I in the living room going through brochures and guidebooks for a trip we’re planning in the spring.
“Where are you going?” they wanted to know.
We told them that we were planning to drive up to Maine and back just to sightsee and check out the cherry trees in DC, while hitting a lot of museums along the way.
“Must be nice,” Mr. Uppity sniffed. “We never have time to travel. We’re just so busy.”
“Everything is so overpriced,” Ms. Uppity chimed in. “There’s no way to do a decent trip like that for less than $10,000.”
I nearly choked on that number, but smiled sweetly when I said, “Well, we’re going to be able to do it for less than $3,000 in our RV, mostly eating food we cook, and getting discounts on everything along the way.”
“Humph,” she sniffed again. “You’ll never make it.”
“We will,” I said. “And then we’ll travel again in the summer. That’s the benefit of not having to work all the time to pay for expensive stuff. We can travel when we want.”
Two days later, when Ms. Uppity was yet again complaining about not having a TV in their room, I told her that there was only the one TV in the house.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “We have six TV’s. One in every bedroom, one in the den and one in the living room.”
“Do you spend much time together watching TV?” I asked.
“No. He watches in the den and I watch in the living room most of the time.”
“That’s the benefit of one TV. If we want to watch a movie or sporting event, we do it together. Gives us time to spend with each other and talk.”
“We hardly spend any time together,” she admitted.
When she asked me why our house was so small (because she just knew we could afford something larger), I told her that it met our needs and that it cost us very little to keep up with. That’s part of the reason we can travel so much. Our money isn’t sucked up by the house. She seemed shocked that anyone could be happy in what was, to her, such a small space but grudgingly agreed that less upkeep and smaller taxes would be nice.
The day I came in from turning the garden all dirty and sweaty she asked me why I would bother. I told her because through the summer and the fall I can eat for just the cost of dairy products and the occasional chicken. My fruits and vegetables are pretty much covered, and they are fresh and organic because I grow them that way. She had to admit that organic produce would be nice and that their grocery bills were far too high when paying for organic food.
We went on in this way for the rest of the week. Every time she would complain about something or belittle our frugal choices, I had the audacity to subtly point out that, while my way of life might not be her ideal, I was able to spend far less than she and have more free time and money for fun things in life. Pretty much I just kept modeling my usual lifestyle. I refused to get drawn into her petty dramas and her insistence that living an expensive life is the best and only worthwhile way to live.
Normally contests of one upmanship are about buying the bigger and better item, not touting the benefits of the smaller, less expensive item. But that’s what happened in my house. Every time the uppity people tried to drag me into feeling bad about my “poor” choices, I turned it around and basically rubbed their noses in their own overpriced choices and wallowed in the joy that my simple choices brings me. I’m sure it confused the heck out of them. I’m sure they were expecting me to agree with them that my lifestyle was inferior, not turn it around that I thought they were the ones with an inferior
lifestyle. Does this make me a bad person? Probably. Like I said, I hate to judge, to compete, and to accuse others of making bad choices. Generally I’m a live and let live kind of girl. But I was provoked. When you come in my house and criticize my life, don’t expect me to just take it.
I’m sure I didn’t change their minds one iota for the long term. I’m sure they forgot about me the minute they left. I’m sure that if they do recall me it will be as some anecdote about “this hillbilly couple we stayed with once” and they will ridicule our choices to all of their friends. But, I have to say, that for the week they were here, it sure felt good to be able to point out to them that there are costs and benefits to everything and that their way of life might not be the end all that they think it is. Maybe I didn’t bring them down a peg, but maybe I got their noses a little out of the air. And who knows? Maybe one day, long from now, they will find themselves in a situation where they need to be more frugal and they will think of me and remember some of the lesson I modeled for them. Not that I wish that on them, or anything. That would make me a bad person.