As I write this, my kitten is gazing out the open window, fascinated by the snowflakes that are gently, whimsically gliding around in no particular direction at all.
Life is simple, life is good.
This is a post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while, and it poses a bit a a dilemma for me: the seeming similarity and yet contradictory nature of frugality and simplicity.
When discussing the merits of frugality, inevitably the argument arises that frugality enables us to slow down, enjoy what life has to offer, reduce our wants and focus more on what really matters to us. (See my earlier post, The fulfilling frugal life, for example). To me, these are the fruits of frugality that almost anyone can achieve, provided they have their basic needs met.
For some, the main purpose of becoming frugal is to eliminate their debt load once and for all. For others, it is taking a pro-active approach to make sure that they will outlast this recession without winding up in a van down by the river. For others, frugality is a lifestyle choice based on religious or spiritual beliefs and values. Whatever the aim, frugality can offer a fulfilling life filled with simple pleasures, treasured time with family, and a renewed appreciation for the richness and beauty in the universe. A snowflake. An apple seed. Silence. Tremendous beauty surrounds us but is rarely paid appropriate attention. By living frugally, we have the opportunity to remove ourselves from the constant bombardment of “stuff” that occupies our minds, our homes, and our time. A frugal life allows us to escape the abrasive and intrusive nature of advertising by eliminating television, paparazzi, and malls from our daily experiences. Instead we may find awareness brought to once forgotten pleasures like cooking, focused attention to friends and family, time in nature, the crunch of snow under our feet on a quiet evening walk. What more, frugality brings out gratitude for what we have, and far from leaving us feeling deprived, can actually allow our attention to turn to the abundance we already have.
I have always appreciated these aspects of frugality. Granted, this kind of living was not forced on me through poverty, but nor was it consciously attended to. My first recognition of the pleasures of frugality came as a student in Peterborough. I recall walking down a street, enjoying the beauty around me in the pretty churches and simple homes. I purchased a hockey t-shirt at Zellers for $11. It made me so happy, to treat myself to this simple gift. Not a deluge of clothing. Not the latest fashions. Just one simple item. Because I rarely bought clothes for myself (It is a hippie-town, after all – no one cares about fashion) this item made me feel special. I became aware of the joy I received in simple ways – the friendly bus drivers, the pretty streets, the sunsets that could be observed from our home on the top of one of Peterborough’s many hills.
It is this joy from pleasant simplicity that I am seeking in my life.
But what is frugal is not always simple.
I often advocate saving all sorts of recyclable items. Couponing. Stockpiling. But all of these things can clearly conflict with the simple life. We can become packrats, hanging on to everything we own, in case we might need it in years to come. While resourceful, do we truly want more “stuff” taking space in our homes? And what about “gaming the system” through an almost obsessive search for coupons and freebies? As all my readers know, I love couponing and enjoy getting things for free when I can. But can these goals co-exist with simplicity?
The biggest contradiction between simplicity and frugality lies in the stockpile. In efforts to cut back our grocery budgets, it is common practice among frugal bloggers to stock up on non-perishables when prices are low and when you have an abundance of coupons. In theory this makes sense, but stockpiling can easily get out of hand. Recently a man in the UK passed away from dehydration after being trapped in a maze of junk inside his home. Frugal Dad wrote about the issue, asking how thick or thin the line is between stockpiling and hoarding.
An example of stockpiling can be found at Saving Your Cents. You can see the results of one of the author’s stockpiling grocery trips – on a triple coupon day with an 11 foot, 8-inch receipt that took 45 minutes to process at the check-out.
Looking at the author’s blog it is no doubt that she is very resourceful and she estimates that she saves about 70% on her grocery bill each week. But I wonder, what are the true benefits of stockpiling, and don’t they conflict with the other merits of frugality? If we take the time that might be spent in a mall, or watching TV, and spend it shopping to get the best deals and freebies, we might save money, but we’ve done very little to add richness to our lives through the pleasures of simplicity that frugality can offer.
I suspect that frugality can offer a life of rich fulfillment. By taking only what we need, reducing greed, reducing clutter, we can live in simple abundance, appreciating wholly what we have around us, not weighed down by too many extras, not a slave to any of our possessions or rigid determination to get the best deal. Just simply, joyful, frugal living.
Do you tend to err on the side of frugal or simple living, or have you reconciled these two?