As someone who has lived a frugal life by necessity pretty much since I got married at 18 years old 10 years ago, I've gotten my fair share of remarks from people about how we live our life. Many people don't necessarily understand why I do things the way that I do, and I have a relatively tough skin, but I'll admit, certain things can sting, and even if they don't hurt me, they certainly have the potential to be hurtful to others.
Now that we moved into our new house, these types of remarks have increased, and I am writing this post as a public service announcement, because I'm sure many people don't even realize how certain things they say can be hurtful, and I wanted to point out to people about the power of their words.
First of all, I think it is important to realize that you can never really understand why someone else does things the way that they do. Things may seem silly or strange to you, but if you aren't aware of someone else's life circumstances, you may be missing a big part of the picture of why people are doing things a certain way.
For example, and totally not connected to the comments that inspired this post, I've had people assume that the reason why I am on a strict diet is because I am orthorexic, that I have mental issues that cause me to desire to restrict myself and take away all enjoyment from food, when the truth is that it is because I had physical health issues for years that finally were eliminated by removing trigger foods. Simply because they weren't privy to the details of my health situation, they assumed very incorrect things about me.
Similarly, when people make comments about why I am doing things a certain way, or telling me that I should be doing things in a way I'm not, they aren't knowledgeable about my financial circumstances that are influencing the way I spend or don't spend money. I happen to be more open about my finances than most people (being as I run a blog called Penniless Parenting), but even so, I don't share the details of how much money we bring in each month, various expenses we have, and how much money is left over after all that. Therefore, people may not understand why I make the frugal or extremely frugal choices I make, why I won't spend on certain things that would be givens to other people, and why I do sometimes spend money on things people may consider frivolous.
Regarding our new apartment, I think people sometimes said things thoughtlessly, not realizing how offensive or hurtful their remarks were or could have been.
For instance, a blog reader sent me a nastygram saying that she thinks I am very ungrateful, looking a gift horse in the mouth, that we were gifted with a large apartment, and we insist on living only in half of it, making sure that we move from one shoe box to a slightly larger shoe-box. Another person, while touring our new place, commented "Oh, this is so large and beautiful; you really should be living in the whole thing instead of making it into two apartments, it's a shame that you only are going to be using half."
The first person was being nasty and knew it, but the second person simply wasn't realizing that his/her words had the potential to be hurtful. Because the reason we aren't living on both floors of this home, and instead are renting out one, is because we can't afford the mortgage otherwise. In an ideal world we'd have more than enough money for that, but you can use whatever PC or non PC words to address it, but we're currently "too poor" or "too strapped for cash" for the whole house, or simply "that's not in the budget", but telling someone whose finances you aren't intimately aware of that they "should" be living in a way differently than they are can be a reminder of the fact that they are more strapped for cash than they'd like to be.
If you aren't offering to pay for peoples' expenses, there's no reason why it is remotely appropriate for you to be telling people how they should be living. (And even then, even if you are willing to foot the bill, it still probably isn't appropriate to be telling others how to live, but at least then it would be somewhat more appropriate.) Because no, we shouldn't be living in both floors of our house, because that would mean not having enough money to make it through the month. But that really isn't anyone's business, is it?
Different people have made it their business to tell me what furniture of ours they think is garbage, what they think we should throw out, and that we should buy this new and that new, and there's no reason why we should bring non perfect/old/less pretty furniture or things to a brand new pretty apartment, and honestly, that is very hurtful. Calling people's furniture garbage or ugly or gross is quite offensive and should never be done.
I was also asked by someone, when they learned that we used to live in a bigger apartment when we first got married (a few square feet bigger than this one, but laid out differently so it was only with two bedrooms and overall less useful), before we downsized to our previous smaller 484 square foot apartment "If you had a bigger apartment beforehand, why would you leave that and go to something smaller?" There was a very good reason. Our rent doubled from what it was when we first moved there, and we were so broke that we weren't making it through the month, but why is that anyone's business? If you hear someone is down-sizing or down-sized in the past, assume it was for a good reason, but that doesn't make them obligated to tell you.
Lastly, I can't even begin to count how many people have either said or implied, once we moved out, that our previous apartment was awful, that it was a closet and horrible and ugly and a dump and other bad things about it. It wasn't said maliciously at all- most people just said it in the context of "We're so happy you got to have something nice and bigger after living in a hole these past years", but...
Let me give a comparison. Lets say a person is feeling really gross and yucky one day for whatever reason. She may look in the mirror and be honest with herself and say "I really don't look good today" but for someone else to tell her "Hey, you know you look ten kinds of awful today" is so hurtful and can make a person feel even worse about themselves. Even if a person is well aware of their flaws, having an outside person tell them that, reaffirming that yes, not only are these flaws real, but everyone is noticing them too, can make an uncomfortable situation be down right miserable.
Alternatively, if a person was very overweight and then lost a lot of weight, when people comment "Wow, you lost a lot of weight! You used to look like a whale!" that is beyond offensive, even when it isn't referring to a current state, but just a previous one.
Even if someone knows that some of their furniture isn't the most beautiful looking, and even if they want to replace it when they get a chance, if they haven't already replaced it, it usually is for a good reason- perhaps their finances don't currently allow it, or they have other life circumstances which make it not possible at the present time. People like myself try to make the best of their current situation, and try not to let imperfect things bother us, and often we try to pretend that other people don't notice these issues the way that we do. But similarly to when a person is feeling gross, if people point out that they, too, are noticing the imperfections that we ourselves are already noticing, it makes it that much harder to handle less than ideal situations, and make the best of your circumstances, because then there is that social discomfort too, not to mention reassurance that everyone noticed what you'd hoped they wouldn't.
People might think that if they are complimenting how things currently are, by pointing how much it is improved over the last one, it isn't hurtful, but it is. Similarly to when someone says "Oh, you used to be a whale" to someone who lost weight, when you're pointing out to someone the negative things you think about what they were like/what their home was like, it is nearly as bad as making negative comments about how someone currently looks/how their home currently is, because, had their circumstances not been able to change, you'd still be thinking negatively about them/their home.
About my home, especially its hurtful to hear people insult my previous home, because it's not like we managed to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" to be able to buy this house. We moved to our last home because we were too poor to afford anything else, hoping it would be temporary, but ended up having two more kids in that tiny place, and didn't see us being able to get out of there any time in the foreseeable future. Though we ended up being really cramped in there by the end, with a family of 6 living in 484 square feet, we didn't have the money for any place bigger or nicer. The only reason we were able to move was because my mother, out of the goodness of her heart, used a large chunk of the inheritance she got when her mother died, to pay for the very large required down payment for the place. So insulting our old home is just as insulting, because that home was the best we could afford then, and still is the best we can afford now.
Anyhow, I know people don't mean to be hurtful when they make such comments. Sometimes its just that people don't think first about how what they say can be hurtful, especially if their life circumstances and/or financial situation are very different from the person about whom they are commenting. Occasionally, things are said in a joking manner. And at times, it is merely expressing a wish for someone they care about to have nice things. But even so, it is still hurtful.
So a few tips to prevent hurt feelings, since I'm sure no one wants to be causing someone else pain:
If someone has life circumstances or things that aren't as nice or good as you think they should be, you're welcome to think what you want about them, but please don't say anything about the imperfections to them. Its not that they aren't already aware that their situation is sub-par, but they are trying to make the most of their situation. And if they aren't aware that it is sub-par, what is the use in getting them to realize that, and start being upset? Nothing good comes from pointing out that people's things aren't good enough.
If someone's life circumstances improved tremendously, and you want to wish them well and share with them how happy you are about their turn of fortune, leave out the criticism of the previous situation. Say "I'm so happy for you, that looks amazing" or "You must really be thrilled with your new place" or "You look radiant"; no comments about "That last place was a real dump" or "You used to look horrible" or even implied negative comparisons necessary. Trust me, people already know the difference and how much it is improved, you don't need to rub it in.
Thank you for listening.
And before I end this post, I just need to say that I already know that some people will comment that by being public about my life circumstances via being a public persona on my blog, I am opening myself to these types of comments. But no, this isn't about that. Every single person who made such a comment recently was a person who does not read my blog, and is not an "online person" so this has nothing to do with my online public persona. That said, I do have tougher skin than most, but even so, I found such comments hurtful. I wrote this post so that others, with less tough skin than myself, hopefully won't receive such thoughtless comments and end up being hurt.