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Less is More: Lessons from our little basement apartment


A lot of you know that my husband and I spent the first three and half years of our marriage with him in law school and us living on a part-time income. We never went hungry and we always had a roof over our head and clothes to wear, but it was a very lean time.

During those years, we lived in a little basement apartment that only had four windows on one side. I could plug the vacuum cleaner into one outlet and vacuum the entire apartment without ever switching outlets.

We only had one old vehicle almost the entire law school tenure and Jesse usually used it for transportation from work and school. We knew hardly anyone in town we lived in–in spite of many efforts to try and make friends–and there were really not any safe places I could walk to from our apartment.

It would have been easy to have been swallowed up in despair and I won’t pretend there weren’t moments when I felt sorry for myself or wished we could be living in a little better circumstances. However, I decided, with God’s help, to try and make the most of what might seem like a less-than-ideal situation.

Maybe we didn’t have money to go out, but I challenged myself to think up creative ways we could still have fun without spending money. We’d check out a movie from the
library and have homemade pizza. In the Winter, we’d brew some coffee, pop some popcorn, and play a board game. Sometimes, we’d go to the park with a picnic or we’d browse the book selection at Barnes and Noble.

We didn’t have money to spend on decorating our home, but I still found ways to make it homey and inviting. For starters, I tried to always keep it clean and
clutter-free–even if it wasn’t very pretty, at least it could smell nice and look clean! We tried to have music playing in the background and that always spruced up a rather bare home, too.

We couldn’t afford fancy foods or restaurant meals, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t eat well. I had fun trying new recipes, searching out good deals, and stretching our grocery budget as far as possible. I discovered and enjoyed using their ingredient search feature to come up with new recipes to use what I already had on hand.

Instead of going out and buying things, I’d go to the library and check out a stack of books. Sometimes we’d check out CD’s too, so we’d have new music to play in our home throughout the week.

It was also in this little basement apartment that I first began blogging and tinkering around with online entrepreneurial things. Had it not been for the free time and lack of friends, I would have never even considered pursuing blogging or had the time to learn about basic web design, online marketing, or producing an ebook or ecourse. Little did I dream that in a few years, those same skills would allow me to help supplement our family’s income by doing something I very much enjoy while keeping my priorities as a wife and mother first and foremost.

And guess what? It was holed up in this little basement apartment with sometimes only $20 to spare for groceries for the week that I was searching grocery deals online and came upon this store called CVS that everyone in a now-defunct savings forum was raving about. I could never have imagined what that simple search would uncover for me that day, nor how many thousands of other individuals I’d have the opportunity to introduce to CVS as well!

Yes, living in that little basement apartment in an unfamiliar town barely squeaking by financially would never have been something I would have chosen for myself, but I’ll always be grateful God allowed me those three and half years of learning to be content, learning to love simplicity, and learning to make the most of what I had.  And I hope I never forget those lessons.

A cheerful attitude can go a long way in less-than-ideal situations; you can either complain about the thorns or you can savor the roses which bloom in the
midst of those thorns. Choose to bloom where you’re planted–even if it seems like it’s among thorns!

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  • Donielle says:

    What a wonderfully written post! This past winter has been the first real period I haven’t been working full time (or caring for a newborn like the winter before!)and it happened to be we were lacking financially and with gas prices on the soar along with winter storm after storm, I was literally trapped at home as well. Also lacking in friends, I had only the internet to my disposal. 🙂 What a blessing in disguise it’s actually been. Especially since I’ve found your 2 blogs! We’ve been learning how to really save money. And through your blog carnivals I’ve found so many other women who have the same values and interests. (one thing I can’t find in my town!) Plus I’ve been able to really research healthier and more frugal food options for our family. I’ve tried tons of new things I never would have because there are so many women who post about their projects and give pictorial step-by-steps.

    Thanks for all you do Crystal, you have a lot of friends out here in bloggy land!

  • Eleanor says:

    Excellent post. So often God gives us the best opportunities and beginnings where we least expect them!

  • Jan says:

    My husband and I are at the other end of life as you describe it–we are looking toward retirement, and trying to pare down and simplify our lives. We are currently building a cabin with a (less than)600 square ft. “apartment” on the ground floow–1 bedroom, bath/laundry, living/dining/kitchen. The upstairs is the same size, but just one open room, with a bath, which will be heated and cooled only when we have family or friends staying over. We are still in the process of planning to make the most out of less. Thanks for your tips.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Wonderful post, Crystal. I read on another blog, a remark made by George McDonald (who wrote some amazing novels): “No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in the wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through the fire. The greatest poets have ‘learned in suffering what they taught in song.’ In bonds Bunyan lived the allegory that he afterwards wrote, and we may thank Bedford Jail for the Pilgrim’s Progress. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make pre-eminent use of a person, HE put them in the fire.”

    When we live in a place as you did, without friends, it helps us get to another destination, and often I think the FATHER works through “circumstances”…though I no longer believe in such a thing as circumstance!! A loving FATHER, will help HIS children reach their destiny.

  • Jackie says:

    Crystal, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful website. If it wasn’t for facebook I would have never found this website. Also thank you so much for your encouraging words. I usually spend about $75.00 on grocery shopping, but now since I have found your website I spend about $60.00. I am a stay at home mom to two wonderful kids. My son is 2 1/2 years old and my daughter is 1 1/2. My husband and I just started following Dave Ramseys plan this year when we were not able to make our minimum payments on our credit cards. I wish I would have known Dave’s plan before we got ourselves in this mess, but with the Lord’s help I know things will work out. The Lord is showing his mercy to us now, he just gave my husband a second job which is an answer to prayer! I know that I am a total stranger, but I just ask that you please keep my husband in your prayers. We are 27 years old, but my husband has a heart problem that runs in his family, so I ask that you pray that the Lord will take care of him while he is working two jobs. I know the Lord will take care of him, but it is so nice to know that other Christians are praying for him. Once again thank you so much for this wonderful website. May the Lord keep blessing you and your family.

    Thanks again,

  • amanda says:

    I love being stretched like this! You make the best of so many more situations. When I was younger my parents were divorced and my dad could literally not make ends meat but would end up finding the COOLEST free stuff for us to do and inventing the coolest games. I would not trade those experiences for anything in the world :). Now I can pass them on when I have little kiddos (some day in the FAR future :))

  • Suzy says:

    When my husband was in grad school, we lived in a tiny shoebox apt. that had such poor A/C we would literally sweat unless we sat right in front of it. In winter we had to sleep with hats on because the heat was so poor too. We had no car and it was just over a mile to the grocery, so I would walk and just take back what I could carry. We didn’t spend anything unless it was a necessity – I was working a job that only paid $5 an hour. However, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything – it grounds you, and makes you shake your head at the whiners in life who go into debt because of what they think they have to have.

  • Tracy says:

    Your story moved me. Our living situation was very similar for our first 5 years of marriage with 1 then 2 small children.

    We live in the largest, wealthiest city in South Africa. We moved here from our small hometown a month after getting married – we were only 21 and already had a 2 year old daughter (another story). I remember never inviting anyone over and struggling to make friends because our tiny, rented home, furnished entirely with stuff other people threw away, didn’t even begin to compare with the large, elaborate homes others we came across (at Church and business) had.

    BUT, that time with my little girl was so precious. Stuck at home in a huge, crime-ridden city without a car (no public transport here) and my new husband working 12 hour days, my daughter and I spent all those days together. We’d walk to a nearby park and feed the ducks and play. I sewed and knitted most of her clothes. We had tea parties. We baked and cooked our frugal meals together. Sometimes we could get a ride to the mall but without ANY spending money, we’d spend hours just looking around and would finish the day with a shared cup of coffee at a small, inexpensive coffee-shop. The people in the shop got to know us and after a few times we got drinks and cookies free! During those afternoons walking around the mall, most people got to know us. I think it was a formative time in my daughters personality – she is very outgoing and friendly and this has opened many ministry opportunities for her. Anyway, we often look back and talk about those times – they were the best!

    We eventually earned a bit more and bought a large house. But guess what? With the cost of maintaining it, the hours that go into keeping the yard and with little extra money to re-decoarte or fix-up its many rooms (which means I often still feel too embarrassed to invite people over), we sometimes long for the little rental home we had all those years ago and the simple but blessed times we shared together there!

  • I have been looking for someone to explain the CVS thing to me! I am already a professional “cheapy pie”. I enjoy your site and will be back to learn lots!

  • Amy says:

    I just love this post because it echoes what has been on my heart lately. We lived in a teeny apartment with a futon to sleep on and two board games to our name for entertainment. We moved somewhere unfamiliar and had no friends…yet, my life was rich and my marriage was strong.

    There are times where I wish I could go to that simplicity and the newness of it all. Thank you for this reminder, Crystal!

  • Hannelore says:

    Thanks for your encouragement and example to pursue contentment. A scripture that goes along with this is Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said,’I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” It’s hard to be content with what you have unless you are content in the Lord. In contrast, even if we have nothing besides Him, we are RICH!

  • Michele says:

    Thank you so much for this post! 🙂 Your story has many similarities to experiences my husband & I have had as well. (Although you certainly made better use of God’s wisdom that I did originally!)

    I have a Simple Living series on my blog that shares our story, and I love reading others’ stories (like yours!) too.

    By the way, I can still do the “vacuum from one outlet” thing, and I really wouldn’t want it any other way! 🙂
    Michele 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    Your blog has been such an encouragement to me and I really appreciated this last article as it was a good reminder to be thankful for what we have been given. My husband is in the midst of raising support as a missionary and the last several months have been very tight, but God has indeed used the time to increase our faith and help us enjoy the simple things. Though always frugal, I had no idea how much could be saved through coupons. There is no CVS here, but I never would have benefitted from the savings at Walgreen’s without your blog. Thanks for all the ways you have blessed me and my family!

  • Mama Bear says:

    Great post! I can vacuum my entire apartment without changing plugs, too! I’m linking to this in my first ever link love post at my blog.

  • Rebekah says:

    Thank you for this reminder. I needed it today.

  • B says:

    This is what I needed today. I am currently living at home and not very happy about it. I so appreciate this article today. Gave me things to think about.

  • Heather says:

    I love this! We have been married 4 years in Oct. We started out in a 1 bedroom teeny tiny apt (where my mother thought needed to be demolished but I loved it), then we lived in a huge luxury apartment, a bigger rented home, a fancy house we owned….and now after a job change and cross country move we are in a small 2 bedroom apt. I will always love our teeny tiny apt the most. Lately I’ve had the itch to move and since we’re back in our home state it’s easy to compare our apt to everyone’s houses. I’ve been looking for a sign that we are were we need to be and tonight a nice gentleman knocked on our door and handed us our keys (car/apt/outside door). I’m taking that as a sign. This article has inspired me to hush the voices and live where we already are and focus on living not the apt. Thank you!

  • Great post Crystal. My basement apartment is living in a European country and being jobless for 3.5 years now,since you must speak the language first. I have previously never been jobless for any time. I think it was God’s plan coz I started writing. Had a blog for 2.5 years, starting a new blog in a few weeks, I’m writing a book, have learnt everything about book publishing. I never could have done so with the cushy jobs. Though I miss the spa lol. The process was uncomfortable but necessary.

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