I Need to Talk to You About My Car

All right, here’s the deal: I drive an Audi TT convertible.

Given that I’m sort of a loudmouth about poverty and privilege and materialism and minimalism, that may seem a little hypocritical. So before you go all TMZ on me and hire someone with a drone to scope out my (non-existent) multi-million-dollar ranch, I want you to know something about my mid-life-crisis-mobile: Jack talked me into it.

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On Being Counter-Cultural

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I’m frustrated these days. Okay, okay. I’m usually frustrated. But lately, I’m especially frustrated.

There’s this preacher-guy named Michael Frost, whom I respect quite a lot. A couple of years ago, he lectured a room full of professional Christians about how we should be leading “questionable lives.” That is, if we’re truly following Jesus, our lives will look so completely bonkers to people around us that they’ll be asking us why we’re behaving so strangely. I’m talking about unreasonable generosity. Irrational compassion. That sort of thing.

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Well, That’s an Odd Place for a Life Lesson

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Over the weekend, Jack and I made a tiny bit of progress on our journey toward Less by wandering around the metro St. Louis area looking for our new home. We’re not picky—we simply need a place that:

  • isn’t a ranch-style but still has a bedroom and full bathroom on the main level
  • has dormers
  • is no more than 1000 sq. ft.
  • sits on at least 1/2 acre
  • doesn’t require a septic tank, propane heat, or well water
  • has a garage
  • would allow Jack to build an additional, sizeable outbuilding for his workshop/social enterprise
  • is closer to the city (for me), but not actually in it (for Jack)
  • doesn’t have a mildew problem
  • is no more than $135,000 ($150,000 if it won’t require any updates, repairs, or remodels to meet the above conditions)
  • isn’t in an area where we’re likely to be robbed or shot
  • is on the water.


  • a piece of property that’ll let us do whatever we want
  • but still has public utilities
  • on a road that won’t activate my motion sickness
  • and will be plowed when necessary so we’re not stranded in a medical emergency
  • on the water.

WHATEVER with your pessimism. This post isn’t really about the whole house-hunting thing anyway. It’s about toilet paper.

(Yes, I’m going to talk about restroom issues for a minute or two. If we’re going to be friends, you’ll have to grow accustomed to over-sharing and awkward. I am an embodiment of those words.)

As we’re driving around looking at places that meet almost none of our requirements but “we might as well take a look,” there’s always an I’ve-gotta-get-something-to-drink moment and, consequently, one or more I’ve-gotta-pee moments.

So, yesterday, in some bathroom in Webster Groves, I think it was, this happened: I sat. I peed. I reached for toilet paper. There was none. I panicked. (Much like I do when I get stuck in a dress in a fitting room or try on a ring that’s juuuuust about too small.)

“Well, that’s great,” I said.

I stared at the TP holder—one of those giant, nearly opaque deals that holds 4,572 rolls. “It can’t be out,” I thought, and I stuck my hand up inside the dispenser thing, expecting to feel only plastic. But I didn’t. I felt toilet paper. Thank you, Jesus! (No, I didn’t actually pray for TP, and I don’t think Jesus actually provided it. But I know He was happy for me. So why not given Him the credit?)

But here’s the problem: I could neither get the replacement roll to move down to the proper spot; nor could I get the roll started. And believe me, I tried. I sat there with my hand deep in the bowels (HA!) of a public restroom’s TP dispenser, clawing at the roll, trying to find the end of it. Soon, I’d created a small mountain of TP shavings on the floor.

Eventually, I managed to scrape off enough TP, put myself back together, wash my hands, and saunter out of the bathroom. Jack met me with a you-were-in-there-forever-are-you-okay-maybe-we-need-to-go-home expression. I explained, he laughed, and we went on our merry, house-hunting way.


Until we stopped for dinner at McAllister’s, where, wouldn’t you know it, the same damn thing happened. Sit, pee, no TP. Hopeful exploration of dispenser. New roll discovered. New roll stuck. Scratch, scratch, scratch…

No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were. What are the chances this would happen twice in a year, let alone twice in four hoursHow lucky can one girl be?

I bet you’ve already guessed the moral of the story: Look firstAlways. Even if you’ve already survived the first go around, because it might happen again. Sooner than you’d ever expect.


A Jar of Peanut Butter in a Box

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It was cold that night, and we were giving out donated socks and gloves, water bottles and fruit. Dim light from one, tired streetlamp puddled in the deep cracks and potholes around us. We stood silently, watching the door of the dilapidated warehouse across the street; we’d been warned it could contain “trouble.” (Of what sort we were left to imagine.) We were waiting for permission to walk around the building and into the back parking area, where some homeless men were staying.

After several long minutes, our group leader emerged and waved us back. We walked along a dirt path hidden between abandoned trailers, finally ducking under one that served as a gate of sorts. On the other side of the yard, four or five men were huddled around a fire they’d made in a rusty oil drum, holding their hands near the flames.

As I stood there—awkwardly, wondering what to do now that I’d given away what we’d come to give—one gentleman abruptly limped away from the fire, picked up a box, and brought it back to me. He smiled, and as he tilted the box toward me, he said, “Everything I have fits in here.” Although it surely contained more stuff, all I recall seeing is a jar of Skippy peanut butter. I must’ve just stood there, blinking at him and his possessions, because he soon shrugged his shoulders, put the box back on the concrete, and returned to the fire.

Later, as we made our way back to our warm cars that would soon deliver us safely to our comfortable homes, I tried to figure out why he was smiling. “It must be freeing to own so little,” I decided, as my eyes welled up. And then, immediately: “Really, Kelley? The man has no home, it’s 24-degrees outside, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have too much stuff?” My cheeks, already red from the wind, ignited with hot shame.

Every Christmas season seems to trigger this memory. As I find myself standing in ever-longer checkout lines, as I dodge yet another frantic-looking woman at the mall who’s rushed out of a store without looking to see if someone’s walking in front of it, as I circle the Target parking lot again and again and again—I see his smile. I see the shrug of his shoulders. I see him walking away from me, shaking his head as though I’d missed the point.

I’m still embarrassed by my envy, but I’ve clung to the night’s lesson: Consumerism has claws. They sink into our flesh so slowly we don’t even realize we’re in pain… until we attempt to pull away.

It’s 11 days until Christmas, and at no other time is this lesson more difficult to embrace. Every year I declare, “We’re going simple this year, so don’t be expecting much.” And then I head out to pick up “a couple of things,” which turns into “just one more,” which becomes “Oops. I did it again.”

I’m not doing that this year. I’m not. So, if you see me out and about, and if it appears I’ve overdone it, do me a favor: As you walk past, after we’ve done our hi-how-are-you-fine-thanks, look me in the eye and ask:

“Will that fit in the box?”