Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Annie Raser-Rowland of The Art of Frugal Hedonism.
If you are reading this blog, it is almost certain that you, like me, live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in an age of material convenience and luxury unimaginable to 99% of the humans who have come before us.
We should be ecstatic. But most us aren’t. We are clearly doing a Very Poor Job of turning our historically-unprecedented wealth into happiness.
Where did we go wrong? And is there a way to grab the reins back and gallop into the golden meadows of contentment you’d think such a lucky society would be frolicking in?
Answering this question was the motivation behind writing The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More.
Now, before you protest that ‘Frugal Hedonism’ is surely a contradiction in terms, read on.
For most of our species’ time on this planet, we’ve suffered from being too cold, too hungry, and having to work too hard to meet basic needs. We’ve had millennia to become programmed to always consume whatever we can get our hands on—because tougher times could be lurking around the corner. But now we’ve carried that programming into an age where there is so much for us to consume that it is hurting us rather than helping us. Easy mistake to make. Let’s start un-making it.
Even those of us familiar with minimalism can struggle to shake off the mentality encouraged by a million advertising campaigns: That ‘the good life’ and ‘treating yourself’ are achieved by spending, and that consuming less is a sacrifice. Something goodie-two-shoes do for the sake of saving money, or saving the world.
And at first glance it does seem that consuming less requires more effort. Ride a bike instead of driving?! Make a thermos of coffee every morning instead of stopping at Starbucks?!! Pump up the stereo and clean the house with nothing but some old shirts cut into rags, a bucket of water, and your God-given muscles?!!!
Yet, an oversupply of consumables (read: what most of us modern first-worlders consider necessary) actually has a nasty tendency to sneak up behind us and pop out in the form of effort we need to expend. Examples? The effort of going to the gym/weight loss group/doctor because you were oversupplied with cheap foods and labour-saving devices. The effort of taking your whatsit in for repair/finding a replacement part for it/getting it steam-cleaned/syncing it with your other whatsit. Not to mention the effort of going to work to pay for all those services.
A Frugal Hedonist is not sucked in by false convenience, but opts for the more elegant efficiency of a little self-reliance here and there, and a little creativity. Chop up that whopper pumpkin that you grew with a hatchet and make it into enough soup to replace ten takeaway lunches, then hang out your laundry because you’re too thrifty to use a dryer. Walk to the shops instead of driving, and base your holidays around hiking to waterfalls rather than eating at new cafes in different places. Instead of taking your kids (or yourself) to the movies or the mall for entertainment, loll about in the nearest patch of sunny grass for an hour and count how many types of bug you can spot.
Make these kinds of choices for a while, and you’ll find that staying financially and physically healthy starts to take care of itself. And true hedonism requires both kinds of health to bloom.
There is also profound pleasure in the power of acknowledging that you don’t need to get everything you want. Your children don’t need to get everything they want. Previous generations took this for granted, but our age has confused not getting what you want with deprivation. Tap in to the gutsy spirit of your forebears, and get on with enjoying life with an outdated cellphone and mismatched crockery!
Perhaps the most brilliant side-effect of restricting our consumption is that it keeps us alive to pleasure. Setting ‘lean against luscious’ is one of the key mantras of a Frugal Hedonist. Getting into a steaming hot shower feels eight times more delicious if you’ve just cycled home through a rain storm than if you drove there in a heated car. Scoring an amazing cashmere sweater from a thrift store is much more exciting if you don’t have a thicket of impulse buys looming guiltily at you from an overcrowded wardrobe. Buying a fresh mango from a street stall to eat messily on a summer’s afternoon park bench can only be as succulent to someone who doesn’t grab a chocolate bar every time they go through a supermarket checkout.
A Frugal Hedonist declares that it’s ridiculous to suffer from the living being too good, and looks for the sweet spot. She accepts that we are pleasure-seeking animals, but refuses to accept that decadence can only be achieved by spending money. He keeps himself financially free enough to do what he really loves by ongoingly questioning the ‘comfort and convenience’ spending that our society has convinced us is normal.
Let’s stop denying ourselves the full benefits of a materially-modest, sensually indulgent lifestyle. Let’s get Frugally Hedonistic.
Artist turned permaculturalist, forager, and writer, Annie is the co-author of The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More and The Weed Forager’s Handbook. I was introduced to her phrase, “Frugal Hedonist” a few months ago and immediately asked her to explain more. You can find more about Annie on her website.
In reading this article there are some things that resonate with me. I was raised by my “depression-era” grandparents who taught me so much about life and living within my means.
As a child, I had everything I ‘needed’ with a little of what I ‘wanted’ sprinkled in every now and again. I remember all my friends going on family vacations every year, living in homes with backyards (some with a pool!). They got new cars, new furniture and two friends had sooo many wrapped presents overflowing under their Christmas tree there was no room to even walk into the living room. I never felt jealous, nor did I envy them and I never felt deprived going back home to my house after hanging out with them at theirs. My family of 3 and our house was not like theirs at all. I know now, but never knew it back then as a child, there wasn’t a lot of money to spare, we lived off of their two monthly social security checks, no other income or pensions and no other family to help. We definitely were not ‘middle class’ (like my friends). Maybe we were poorer than most, after all we didn’t have a lot of money or ‘things’ like my friends’ parents but my home was filled with love and was THE place all my friends wanted to hang out at for Grandma’s cookies and Pappap’s hugs!! We are breakfast AND dinner together every day, a home cooked meal 7 days a week! Grandma was always there EVERY day when I walked in the door after school, and later so was Pappap. And that made me rich beyond measure. I grew up fast when they were called home, first Grandma (I was 11yo) then Pappap 3 years later. I was 14yo when I moved out on my own and went to court to become emancipated.
Their values, faith in God and invaluable life lessons in frugality are how I survived back then and through it all to thrive today. I learned from them at a young age how to create and stick to a budget, save my money, ALWAYS buy my needs before my wants, and live below my means. I’ve never been materialistic, I don’t live on plastic money. I do love a great hunt in my favorite thrift stores and the never-ending adventure of discovering new thrift stores ‘down the road.’ I love a good bargain and my local Buy Nothing Group! There IS a difference between being ‘cheap’ and being ‘frugal’ (a ‘frugal hedonist’ ??). If/when I have to, I can squeeze a buffalo nickel so tight the buffalo poops!
It’s all a matter of perspective. I am blessed beyond measure. Money isn’t always everything. I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. Mine is a life not of deprivation. Yes, there are things I want and I have my ‘Wish List’. Some things may be unattainable but I’ll never know that, only He knows.