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resolution • abundance

Friday, 28 January 2011

One night two weeks ago, needing to decompress after a snowstorm that kept the four of us housebound—together—all day, I pulled my well-worn copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette off its shelf in the kitchen. I like to reread it once a year or so; I find that as our life evolves and our family grows and changes, I hit upon ideas that went unnoticed in previous readings that suddenly have a place in our life.

I am, I suppose, a closet tightwad. Or maybe I’m not so closeted. When friends and family visit our home, I’m always eager to point out some new yard-sale, thrift store, or side-of-the-road-on-trash-day find. George was amused, when we first moved to Buffalo, to learn that in our new city we were surrounded by people who, like me, regularly responded to the compliment “I love your sweater” by describing the great deal they got on it. (And I was relieved to learn, when we moved to West Hartford a few months ago, that thrifting and garbage picking aren’t as universally frowned-upon here as I’d imagined they would be.)

I come by my tightwaddery honestly. My grandmother has a basement full of personal-care products she got for pennies each by sales and coupons and rebates. (In the event of some earth-shattering disaster, we’d starve after about a month but we could be very, very clean for at least twenty years.) My mother makes a second full-time job of clipping coupons and tracking down the best deals at every grocery store within a twenty-mile radius, and she never, ever buys anything unless it is on sale. My father calculates the cost of a vehicle by how much he paid for it divided by how many years he is able to keep it running before it collapses into a heap of tired metal in the driveway, and can build and/or repair just about anything from materials he has lying around the house.

So I’ve learned well, taught as I was by the masters. I rarely buy new anything I could reasonably expect to find secondhand, and there isn’t much I can’t find secondhand. I can count on one hand the things in this room that we purchased new—generally, anything electronic—everything else was purchased used, garbage picked, or given to one of the kids as a gift. I cook most of our meals and many of our snacks from scratch, and don’t often buy pre-packaged, processed foods. In spite of the wager George jokingly suggested to my mother the weekend after Julia was born, I’ve been washing cloth diapers for more than two years now. But I often fall short of my intergenerational example. I don’t clip coupons (I usually buy store brands, and there are rarely coupons for those). I don’t shop at sixteen different grocery stores. I don’t often remember to mail in rebates (although now that you can submit them online I do a bit better at that). And as far as building and repairing goes…well, I seem to have inherited only about a quarter of my father’s ingenuity, and my ambition often far outstrips my patience.

::

We never consciously set out to live a frugal life. What we were really after was simplicity—a desire to unplug and slow down a little, to live more deliberately and not get sucked onto the hamster wheel of acquisitiveness. A simpler lifestyle, we’ve found, naturally leads to a more frugal lifestyle—which isn’t to say that one couldn’t spend a small fortune on products advertised as aiding in a “simpler” life. But really, that all misses the point, which is making do with what you have, finding creative ways to make what you have do what you need, and avoiding buying a bunch of new crap you don’t really need—crap that will come to clutter your home and your mind.

This sort of life, of course, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. When I linked the Amazon.com listing for Amy’s book above, I took a minute to read some of the reviews of her book. Many of them were negative. Some of them seemed—to me, at least—as if the reviewers had read a completely different book than the one I have—suggesting that the author was neglecting or even abusing her children by forcing them to live such a spartan life, that she shouldn’t have had a large family if she couldn’t afford to feed and clothe them, that she was subjugating her family’s needs to her own desires, and that somehow her children were going to be horribly damaged as adults because they grew up in a frugal home.

We live in a culture that celebrates excess, and if we’re honest with ourselves, even the least materialistic among us are susceptible to marketing campaigns that illustrate the wonderful life we could have if only we would buy the latest shiny new whatever. But what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that the opposite of “excess” isn’t necessarily “self-denial.” It can be—and for us, it is—abundance.

The way we have chosen to live affords us the luxury of choosing to live however we wish; we can live comfortably—by our standards—on one income, so I am home with our kids every day. We do not have an abundance of money, or of things; this isn’t anything new for either George or me. I do have an abundance of time, and energy, and creativity, and love. I’m not rushing around trying to manage my home and spend time with my children on top of a 40-hour-per-week job. (I’m a little in awe of women who are able to do this; I couldn’t keep it all together working 20 hours a week when I had only one child.) I can focus my energy on my family, my children, my home; I have time—precious time—to do the things I really want to do.

::

So: a resolution. Rereading my Tightwad Gazette reminded me how much I enjoy my thrifty pursuits—and also how much we let slide during all the upheaval of our move. It was so easy to just say, “Screw it—I don’t feel like cooking tonight; let’s order out” (and I did this more often than I care to admit); so easy to drop $100 at Target on things we “needed” for our new home (but that really weren’t necessities). So I’m rededicating myself—not just to save money or to live cheaply for the sake of living cheaply, but because simplicity calms my mind and my soul, and gives me space to truly appreciate this abundance.

::

 

kitchen garden • february 2010

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