on giving more while spending less

September 9, 2010

My dell started acting up last year, around the time I really needed it to perform quickly. I was interning at UPI, taking several units at a journ institute in DC, and I cumulatively wasted days, I'm sure, waiting for my computer to start up, waiting for word to stop freezing up, and taking hand written notes and making phone-calls trying to make use of the time that hootsuite, twitter and our feature page spent loading...and loading...and loading.

Morris and I spent a lot of time waiting on my computer when I was in Uganda. He re-loaded all of my drivers for me, and it sped up, but then he restored some of my files, and we figured that whatever virus I had picked up returned with them when it returned, quickly, to running just as slowly as it had before.

About two weeks into my trip to Uganda, my computer screen stopped standing up on it's own. Morris and I exploded into laughter when it fell backwards and laid, flat, on the table in front of me. There was nothing else to do. He held his gut, and pointed, "It needs a sponsorship!" It took several tries for me to find the right selection of books to hold it up while I typed. While I sat in the office, people would come in and out and it was always a look of concern, and a quick go at the broken screen, "Oh, can't this be fixed?" I would just smile, and Morris would chuckle - "maybe with a sponsorship."

I love Erin Hansen's idea of "Needing to Want Less." I lived it in Uganda, and am learning how to live it out here. When rent has to be paid, rice noodles and vodka spaghetti sauce CAN work for dinner three nights in a row. Last year's bikini fits just fine. An ipod is an ipod is an ipod, at the end of the day, and I can make do with an 8GB, instead of buying an itouch. A computer that works slowly is, in truth, still a computer that works. I have about fifteen pairs of stilletos, and I can keep walking past DSW. After all, high heels on sale are still high heels for sale - and I have to learn to spend less and live more.

I've learned that I don't HAVE to wear Lancome.

Erin advocates needing less, in order to begin spending less and working to weed out what one doesn't need, in order to allocate more time and energy doing what makes one's life more balanced. I've been thinking about how her idea pans out in my role in the nonprofit sector, as well as in the  in my personal life

I think that, sometimes, we think of working to give to charities as something that we can only do if we have money. What we don't realize is that those who are used to living with less have mastered the idea of wanting less. I had to buy a MacBook Pro today with my school loans because the sponsorship computer essentially crashed during my last week in Uganda. Morris, however, can't wait for me to send my old Dell to him because, "anything is better than not having a computer."

You'd think that donating a computer to a struggling college student in Africa would be beyond my reach, but, clearly, it's not. I've been thinking about other ways I can do more with less. Creating a list on my blog of ways that others can donate to my care package for my Ugandan friends is one of them.  This coming Tuesday's meeting with Mike Handy, who is far better at marketing products for nonprofit orgs than I am, is another.

I learning that it's about delegation. I'm learning that it's about needing things to be less impressive.

If I can't get Starbucks to donate within a week, then we won't sell coffee at our fundraiser. If I can't afford to get prints of my photography at Cosco, then we'll set up a digital slideshow and take orders.

If we can't afford to eat out this weekend, then I'll make tacos again, and we'll hopefully laugh just as hard and sit around the dining room table just as long. If I can't foot a cover charge, then we won't go dancing. We'll sit on our couches and watch another episode of "how I met your mother," and hopefully we'll all talk as much and eat as much and giggle as much as we did last time we couldn't afford a cover charge.

I'm learning that nonprofit work is a tightrope walk between what I can and can't do, what takes priority and when to wave the white flag and let it be for a few days. Don, who runs Align Ministries with his wife Elaine, told me not to burn out. "We need you here for the long haul," he said. "Because Uganda needs us for the long haul. Change in Africa takes years."

He was right.

This morning I woke up with a huge swollen gland on the left side of my neck. I wanted to go to class and start my internship. I needed to curl up on the couch with my hair on the top of my head and my favorite blanket. I wanted a muffin. I needed rice and vodka sauce again. I wanted to get ahead on homework, this evening. I need to go sit at a walk-in clinic, instead. I had plans to go out tomorrow night. But judging by the size of this baby, I need to sleep instead.

I would like to have enough money to put down on all the things I'd like for my fundraiser - and swallow anything that doesn't sell, or work out. I'd like to be without limitations. Instead, I'm surrounded by them.

It's the idea of Morris, working on the sponsorship computer late into the night, because he's finally able to use a computer whenever he wants to, that lets me know how long I have to go in learning to give what people need, instead of what I would like to give them.

I have a long way to go in learning that what they need is enough.

I have an even longer way to go in learning that what I need is, also, enough.

Photos via Erin.  


T.C. said...

Shanley, this is a poignant and brilliant post about wants, needs, and doing with less. This meshes very well with many of the same things I've been writing about on my new blog (simplyxian.com). Would you mind if I linked here and interacted with your writing? Your story is encouraging to me, and I look forward to continuing to read more!