Anyway, lately my blog has not been as photo friendly. Traditionally though, I put a fair amount pictures online. Many of these are of quilts, recipes, things I make for dinner, and gifts I make, before and after pictures. I almost always get at least one comment that says something along the line of " You are so creative", or " I wish I were as creative as you". Or, even "If I had money I could do that too". What I want to say to those people, and what I'll say now, is that everyone is creative. Not only that, but most of the time people can increase their creativity level with a fair amount of ease-and little expense.
As we enter the retirement zone and the new economy, many of us are readjusting budgets in order to live the richest retirement we can. Some of these adjustments may be small and others require us to think and retool. My experience is that life is much more enjoyable and much more positive is we embrace these changes and use our creativity to find joyful alternatives. As the author of the Tightwad Gazette once said, frugality without creativity is deprivation.
Creativity is about finding unique and creative solutions. This is true for the artist as it is for the one income family or fixed income retiree. Creativity is about saying "but I can do this instead" once we've said to ourselves "darn, I can't do this". Creativity is being fulfilled.
Let me say here that creativity is not the same as being artistic or crafty. Creativity is not inherited genius. Creativity is a skill set, and something that everyone can develop. Creativity is about often about being non traditional, about thinking outside of the box. Creativity is the difference between positive and negative frugality, between joyfulness and deprivation. When two people have the same resources, the one who looks for creative solutions general has a much more positive outlook. Most importantly, creativity is something that I have found can be developed and learned:
- Be grateful and joyful. Embrace the reality for what it is. Denial and creativity rarely work together. In order to be creative you have to realize exactly what you have to work with. Once you've acknowledged that your clothing budget is a third of what you thought it was and a fourth of what you would like, THEN you can throw everything out of the closet and make new unique outfits. Or explore the thrift store looking for that perfect shirt for a dollar.
- Be patient. Creative solutions are most often not instantaneous unless they are born out of immediate desperation (the spouse arrives at the door with two extra guests, the child needs to dress like a colonial today, you need a last minute gift right now and have no money). Most creative solutions take time, and the bigger the "problem" the more thinking involved. Unless it's a situation like the one above, rare will it be that your solution needs to be immediate.
- The more creative you are, the more creative you will be. The first time you try to come up with an alternative solution will probably be the most difficult. Challenge yourself with the little things like food substitutions and the big things will come to pass. Challenge yourself on occasion if when it's not necessary to come up with creative solutions just because you can.
- Write down ideas and doodle. Yep, that's what I said. I'm not talking about to do lists here or step by step plans. I'm talking ideas. creativity is about turning that idea into something, but you may have ten ideas first. You may have ideas you won't use right away-but will be perfect later on. There is no such thing as a stupid idea.I thought about the idea for the memory pages for a gift years ago-and just decided how to implement it.
- Be willing to settle for something less than and different from "perfection" or the "social standard" You may end up with a superior product or solution that you like more. If the end result is something that you like, your family likes and works for you, that's what counts. Unmatched white dishes purchased at yard sales work for me for entertaining. They are cheap and I can mix and match my "good stuff' to get a look I like. Most folks would consider unmatched dishes completely inappropriate for entertaining. Couch surfing is a non traditional way of travel that works for many. You are not ""everyone" and you don't need to do what everyone does. Be unique.
- Learn to look at things in different, non traditional ways. In terms of physical items, bowls can become vases. Empty vinegar bottles that are pretty can be used to put in a homemade gift. Traditional Christmas dinner with prime rib can become a Christmas eve tradition that includes homemade lasagna and opening stockings once kids are of a certain age. Traditional gifting can become a year of gag only gifts or gifts of service and coupons for everyone. I store my items be they ornaments, candles or whatever for my house by color. Rust ornaments can be used for fall, red and blue for patriotic holidays. Candy can be used to fill a vase. Can you tell I LOVE this idea??
- When it comes to the home, original gifting and the like, learn to save things. Yes, I know this seems contradictory to the frugality rule. Downsizing and simple living are the mantras of the day after all. Use the advice above about alternative uses to consider before you throw out, and store items according to your abilities. If you have a damaged set of dishes and you like them, save a single dessert plate. I have made lovely centerpieces out of leftover candles, unmatched dishes and found items in the yard. I've used single earrings on tops of craft projects.
- Recognize your own skills-and limitations. This is not meant to be negative. I believe that we can all challenge ourselves to learn new things and new skills everyday. But like that earlier post on knowing thyself, creativity works best within the bounds of our own skills and abilities. To whit, my frugal creative solution to entertaining tends to be slow cooker foods where the reliance is on season and tenderness and my "showcases" are baked goods and hand decorated cookies. If I had no money for gifts, I would rely on the fabric and my skills in that area. I can decorate a thrift store blazer but not alter it, and I can paint or stain a dresser. Unfortunately I cannot turn an old TV stand into a kid's kitchen as a gift (ask me how I know).
- Accept that creativity will be messy and that the first time you may not be happy with results, especially physical ones. For the most part your creative process will use items on hand, and even though you are not happy you will probably find a use for the "reject" I've made many a decorated cookie in my day that looked godawful but was edible. Even though you weren't happy couch surfing it was a new experience and you'll come up with another solution for the next time.
- Have decent tools to work with. This sounds like a contradiction but much of creativity is of the "do it yourself" variety and decent tools help. Decent tools and supplies can be as minor as the proper glue for repairs, the proper screwdriver or something equally simply.
- Know what you have (physically and financially) to work with. On some level, again, this sounds like a contradiction. Looking at it from the parenting aspect again, if I have no money and my kid wants a killer outfit, the first thing I'm going to do is look and see what I have to work with. Do I have a big carton I can turn into an MM candy carton or a die costume? If I have a few yards of black fabric said child is going to be a funky witch. When my spouse comes through the door in the above example, I probably know what I don't have to serve for dinner-but I probably have a good idea of what I have on hand to work with. I need to know how much money I have next week before I can be creative with menus.
- Finally, share. Creativity is often a cooperative adventure. Talk with family members. Share with like minded friends and neighbors about solutions you have found, and they will likely be willing to do the same. When someone asks you where you got something or how you did something, tell them and be proud.