The Art of Frugal Hedonism, or how to be happy with what you got

IMG_9059.jpgSeveral years ago a friend of mine recommended that I watch a film called The Clean Bin Project. It is about a couple who decide to live for one year as waste-free as they possibly can. I was pregnant, and recall watching it alone in our attic apartment, disgusted about the excessive, compulsive consumption in our society, and amazed at disastrous side effects of unnecessary use of plastic. Never do I cease to be amazed at how incredibly difficult it is to refuse plastic in our society, especially single use plastic, and how much resistance we get from others, even family and friends. And I still use plastic! Like, everyday. My dedication to the cause waxes and wanes, but it is something I always take into consideration when consuming or buying things.

This same friend and I jumped on the minimalism bandwagon with everyone else. We went to see The Minimalists speak. I am part of the Marie Kondo cult, folding my underwear and shirts into perfect little nuggets. This summer my friend and I have been playing a game that he and his daughter created and deemed “the minimalist challenge.” It’s easy – my friend rolls one dice each day, and we get rid of that number of things. We’d been playing for about a month and we both mused at how, even though we’d both discarded over 100 things, it still didn’t really seem to make a huge dent in the stuff we have. It helps that my friend and I are both a little bit type-a. My favorite part about this whole subject though isn’t solely about getting rid of stuff – it’s the bit about only having the stuff you use and need and, most importantly, really love. This leaves room for wanting things, desiring things, and even acquiring things. This mindset helps give me pause before pursuing and consuming things.

It is freeing, and confrontational, to be faced with choices about money and consumerism. I’m insanely privileged to have these choices. I live in the US, shop at box stores, order things off Amazon, and sometimes still order a takeaway coffee even if I’ve forgotten to bring my reusable cup. Living life with awareness of the choices always in front of us isn’t all or nothing; it’s a spectrum, and I still believe that little things make a difference. Some days it’s hard to believe that, but I try.

There are so many books out now about minimalism, zero-waste, discarding, slow/simple living, etc. etc. And I love reading books that talk about the best ways to live life. Often I wonder why this is exactly, but I know I’m not alone. Anyone who has spent time working in a library or book shop knows the self help and lifestyles sections get a lot of traffic. And if you too like reading these types of books, you’ll know that there are a few good ones, and lots more not so great ones.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More is one of the very good ones. It’s all the good things (funny, quippy, practical, friendly, human, attainable) and none of the bad things (preachy, dry, soulless, staid, overly stylized). The authors, Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb, focus their energies toward cultivating appreciation of the everyday little things, the free things that we’ve been programmed to ignore in our pursuit of more more more stuff. Mainstream media is expertly designed to make us forget these wonderful acts of noticing. This book gives so many fun, interesting ideas on how to view the world through a lens that is not focused on consumer pleasures. As a kid that spent her spare time lurking about malls, this continues to be revolutionary to me. All the typical frugal pastimes are accounted for in the book, as are other more unique, but all of them are so simple and easily done by anyone.

There’s an appendix at the end of The Art of Frugal Hedonism with some other great resources. Especially the Tales From the Green Valley series. Even if you are not interested in any of the things I’ve mentioned in this blog, Tales From the Green Valley is outstanding. It is a British tv series, in which a bunch of historians live on a farm on the Welsh border, restoring it and living life as if it were the year 1620. They cook, farm, build, everything as they would have if they really lived in that era. There are subsequent seasons set in different centuries. Search youtube for it, and you will not be disappointed.

Annie Raser-Rowland is absolutely charming, by the way. I’ve listened to her speak in a couple of podcasts, especially this one on the Slow Home Podcast. She’s so well spoken about all things frugal. Her lust for squeezing out the most enjoyment from life is infectious.

Here are some of my other favorite professional-life-liver-type books, especially focused on doing more with less, and focusing on relationships and epicurean delights rather than consumerism. I love having these on my shelf to look back on whenever I need a boost or a reminder about the life I’d like to live.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease by Julie Pointer Adams

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson

Happy August everyone.



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