Vicki Robin

Frugal. Simple. Sustainable. Not always the same.

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2009 at 5:43 AM

Nothing like moving to hold a Your Money or Your Life Step One mirror up to reflect one’s mountains of possessions. Step One is where you put a $$$ value on all your stuff. To do so, you have to look at each of your things – all (tens of) thousands of them. I know. I just did it, and it reflected back the three faces of my shopping personality: simplicity, frugality and sustainability. They aren’t exactly the same.Simplicity would suggest paring down possessions to the essential. Not having a surplus hodge podge of pens or towels or dishes but just the right one of each thing.  People think of me as a simplicity maven, but my possessions say something else. My frugality has me keeping in my life anything that still has some life in it.  As long as the pen writes, the towel dries and the dishes aren’t broken, they are serviceable, and don’t need to be upgraded or replaced. Such frugality in part comes from a sustainability consideration. The earth is finite. Neither the earth nor future generations can support the process of turning the planet (resources) into products (pens, towels, dishes) which get tossed into landfills with life still in them. Every item I use until it’s used up is honoring the earth and playing fair with the people who’ll be here after I’m long gone.  My frugality also comes from having lived in rural areas with limited means for several stretches in my life.  I have learned to be a pack rat, regarding my “junk pile” as my own personal shopping mall.

Simplicity can also be frugality, since nothing more that what is wanted, needed and useful is ever acquired. Frugality can foster simplicity since money is never spent on things that have no place or utility. Frugality and simplicity are akin to sustainability because both limit consumption.

When I look at all I boxed and carried from my old apartment to my new home, though, I see more frugality than simplicity. And when I look at my housemate’s stuff that’s also getting unpacked onto our shelves, I see more simplicity than frugality.  She hates clutter. I hate waste. Hmmm.

This, of course, is the challenge and value of sharing living spaces with friends or family. Your quirks show up precisely because other people don’t see the world the same way. I’m a plastic bag washer/saver because frugality says I’ll save money and sustainability says I’m honoring the embodied fossil fuels by using it again. My new housemate, for simplicity and sanitation and saving water and sheer aesthetics , makes a different choice.  We’re giving each other a chance to see our certainties as mere assumptions and preferences – and let go. A little.

As well, the challenge and value of moving is that you get to feel the literal heft of your habits – by the shear weight of what you carry up and down stairs. Before I repack everyting into drawers, I’m going to see whether the pens with only one scribble in them can be thrown away, the frayed towels can become rags and the dishes that don’t match can go to the thrift store. I can admit I no longer live 10 miles from the nearest store and, yes, I can simplify.

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