Before the girls got started on cleaning out their room this past weekend, I snuck in to snap a picture of their backpacks, which had been sitting on the floor in their room since their last day at school before winter break. YaYu currently uses the dotted bag on the left; WenYu uses the messenger bag on the right.
You might not guess from the picture, but the dotted bag is actually in its seventh year of use. We bought it for WenYu before she began the 6th grade back in 2009. Besides serving as a school backpack, it’s also been to China twice, to Japan, to Outdoor School twice and to numerous sleepovers and on other journeys. The messenger bag sitting beside it is in its third year of use; YaYu bought it for herself before she started the 8th grade. The girls switched who used which bag sometime last year.
When we bought the dotted backpack we were still in the buy-the-kids-a-new-backpack-every-year stage of our lives, whether they needed a new one or not, or whether we could afford it or not. A new school year meant new clothes, new shoes, a new lunchbox/bag and a new backpack so we bought them, often with a credit card.
The fall of 2009 though we were reaching our financial limits. Brett’s income had been cut back by one-third a year earlier, and expenses and bills that had been easily managed before were now a struggle. When the school year started, our savings were about gone and our credit cards were pretty much at their limits. In late November Brett and I could see the writing on the wall, so we gathered the family together and let everyone know that we were going to work together to cut spending, get out of debt and change the way we lived.
And, we did. Not only did we get out of debt, but the journey ultimately led us to retirement, downsizing and relocation to Hawai’i.
The dotted backpack has been used each year since 2009. It gets washed frequently and is holding up well. Same goes for the messenger bag. YaYu plans to use the backpack until she finishes high school. WenYu plans to take the messenger bag with her to college this fall.
For me, these two bags serve as a metaphor for how far we have come since 2009, and how much our family has changed. They represent how we live now compared to how we did in the past; that we were able to accomplish our goals of being debt free, retiring and moving to Kaua’i; and that we live within our means these days and are happier with less. Finally, these bags symbolize to me how our whole family worked together to reach our goals, and how we continue to support one another in our simple, but oh so rich, life.