Spinning Straw into Gold

by Katy on March 21, 2009 · 11 comments


Non-Consumer Living Room

I am the queen of spinning straw into gold. I guess you could say I’m the Rumpelstiltskin of the non-consumer set. Show me a mostly empty refrigerator and I can pull together a tasty meal, show me an empty bank account and I can find free stuff to do, show me a poorly decorated room and I can tart it up using things found throughout of the house. 

Yup, straw into gold.

Sometimes I think we do ourselves a disservice when we are provided with all the resources to everything we could ever possibly need, as this state dulls ingenuity. Some of the most creative people I know are that way precisely because they’ve never had a comfortable living.

Paris Hilton? Not so creative.

Anyone schmo can walk into an Ikea or Pottery Barn and pick out everything needed to outfit their home, but it takes creative and critical thinking skills to figure out how to furnish on a dime. And if done right, can be a much more beautiful and fad-bypassing look than when everything’s bought at once.

Need a bedside table? How about hauling that ugly dresser out from your mother’s garage and stripping off those layers of paint.

Ahh . . . better. 

There is little in my home that I paid more than $100 for, yet I think my house looks much more elegant than I could normally afford. My living room is pulled together from Goodwill, craigslist and garage sale finds. My dining room sports 1920’s craftsman-style Carnegie library oak chairs that I bought off somebody’s front porch. (Eleven of them for $75!) The 1914 piano was free, as was my living room rug. (That burned-by-an-iron-mark? Just make sure it’s hidden under a chair!)

I derive a tremendous amount of satisfaction from being able to assemble a great life for my family. And I don’t just mean furnishings. Money is tight at our house right now, yet we’re heading into a Spring break that will include a night at a water park resort and a few nights nestled in a cabin on Mt. Hood. All of this is for free, and all of it will be way more fun and satisfying than if I’d simply booked a trip to Disneyland.

Cause that’s how Rumpelstiltskin rolls.

Do you feel having less inspires more creativity in your life? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

linda March 22, 2009 at 8:16 am

Yep, I’m like you. I live large on a budget. I think people sometimes think I’m crazy (or cheap) but I love the challenge and I love my life. Thanks for the great blog.


Marci March 22, 2009 at 8:40 am

Yes! Finally I have found like-minded people!

Thanks so much for your blog, it is truly inspiring!

I too find that living a non-consumer lifestyle definitely inspires creativity. Friends and relatives cannot figure out how our family can own a car, truck and boat, be debt free except mortgage, own a nicely furnished home, dress well, eat healthy home cooked meals, and go on (frugal) vacations all on our less than modest income!

Thankfully, being frugal and living our chosen lifestyle has allowed our family to survive my husband’s job loss after 37 years at the same job. We are managing just fine on my part-time legal secretary job and unemployment. In fact, our creativity and frugal choices over the years may give my hubby an opportunity to work a part-time job rather than go back to full-time employment until he retires in 6 years!


Angela March 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I think it’s very fun and creative to live a non-consumer lifestyle.

I would also call it resourcefulness. It makes you feel strong, like you could get through any disaster, and carry your family to safety. Like the pioneer women did. And feeling tough and able to weather any storm does wonders for your self-esteem.

I agree that the people I know who live on less have had to be more inventive, and they live more interesting and creative lives as a result.

It’s so great to find other people who believe that instead of being about sacrifice, frugality is about fun.

Keep on spinning, Katy!


mindfulmama March 22, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Oh Yes! This is the game I play – do as much as possible with as little as possible. Almost all the furniture in our home is second hand, and we paid a pittance for it. I love the thrill of the hunt, personally. I just wish I had more time for refinishing things.


Tammy March 22, 2009 at 7:39 pm

For many years we would buy new. In the last two years we have come to our senses. I regularly brows craigslist, kijiji and our local bargainfinder for anything we need. Recent purchases include a complete office suite of furniture for my husband, art for our new home, workout equipment for our home gym, rug for our downstairs livingroom. We have also sold our castoffs in the same way. Whatever we cannot sell or would prefer to give away we freecycle. Keep up the great blog.


rachel March 23, 2009 at 3:20 am

I love to ferret around for things I can use. Very little of my home furnishings were bought new – and the few that were were gifts. I have my parents second hand furniture, or buy from charity shops (goodwill). Freecycle has been a great place to get odds and ends. My somewhat ‘eclectic’ tastes in decorations seem to fit with the bits and pieces I find. A dab of paint and even covering them with interesting papier mache designs can really do something magical.
love this blog by the way.


tammy March 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm

RumpleKaty! I love this post. I think living frugally is somewhat magical. When you find that item you’ve been seeking, it sure seems like a buried treasure. And mindfully setting aside money is like creating a pot of gold. I love Angela’s comment about frugality making one feel strong and able to confront whatever life throws at you.
Keep writing Katy. You have a wonderful way with words!


Lisa March 23, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Your blog has been like someone has tossed me a life preserver. I’ve only recently found your site. My husband and I had our second child a year ago. I quit my job to stay home with our children. We have relied heavily on credit to live up until this point, putting groceries and most other expenses on our cards. Deep in debt, I’m forced to figure out how our family is going to survive on one income. Feeling scared and overwhelmed, you’ve helped me to realize that it is possible to live an enjoyable frugal life. Much to my detriment, my mother has ingrained in me that “it’s not good, if it’s not expensive.” I have to struggle with that little voice in my head with every purchase I make. It is exciting to finally take responsibility for my actions, to take steps to live below our means. I love the beautiful home that you’ve been able to create. In the last few weeks we have stopped using paper towels, and before your post on that very thing I wasn’t sure it could be done. Stopped using paper plates, stopped being a slave to brand names. Stopped buying convenience foods, and have started making all my own cookies, and snacks for my kids, as well as our meals. and above all else, stopped using credit. It’s a work in progress. All I can do is try and see what works for our family. You’ve given me the courage to forge ahead. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful resource – you are an inspiration. Thank you for the great links as well.


Angela March 24, 2009 at 10:55 am

I actually think that living deeply in debt is more frightening than having to live on less. In fact, as Katy’s post and the comments demonstrate, it can be quite liberating and even fun to realize how well you can live on so little. It’s hard to get rid of habits and mindsets developed over years, but it can be done! I know you can do it, because if I can live frugally, anyone can. My mother is the type of person who spends tens of thousands of dollars for a rug and wastes thousands for a storage garage for all the furniture she can’t let go of. So I can relate to what you say about your mother. Sometimes they end up teaching us the opposite of their own values.

I also would like to say that if you’ve done all you say in just the past couple of weeks (giving up paper towels, brand names, etc.), you’re a very determined person and I commend you.

Living below your means is the BEST.


Lisa March 24, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Angela – Thank you for the words of encouragement. and yes I am determined. The quality of our future depends on it.


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