I read this amazingly simple and heartwarming quote from a book this weekend. The book is Frugal Luxuries – Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul by Tracey McBride and I really, really, really, can’t say enough good things about it. The idea behind the book is to show us how being frugal and simple in our taste is really an art form. It has nothing to do with being miserly or being a cheapskate and everything to do with living well, even luxuriously, on less. It is about making do with what we have and finding joy in all the simple pleasures of life, being a lover of beauty without the extravagance.
A mental image from one of the chapters has always stuck with since I first read this book over a year ago. It talked about a family living in an abandoned wood shack. A group of charity workers heard someone was living in it and decided to stop by and leave food for the family. When they went inside they were stunned by what they saw. The wood floor was scrubbed until it gleamed and was covered with wood wax. A fire was burning in an old river rock fireplace and on the hearth sat a pot of simmering apples and cinnamon that made the place smell divine. A spool discarded by the cable company served as their table and it was adorned with floor length green and white checked gingham cloth. Simple curtains made from the same fabric covered their windows and hung from willow branches. A garland of evergreen and pine cones hung from the ceiling like a wallpaper border. They sat on fruit crates topped with red cushions and their guests were treated like royalty when they stopped by.
This always struck me as a perfect example of what being frugal/simple is all about…. living well, and being happy with less. Not feeling as though luxury has to equal expensive. Luxury could be that latte you treat yourself to once a week. It could be fresh strawberries, still warm from the sun. It could be reading a book next to an open window as rain falls.
We live in a society that almost always seem to emphasize that a good life full of luxuries requires lots of money. This book shows how this just isn’t so. It also shows how being frugal is an art we can cultivate to improve our lives and simplify them or perhaps even realize that we already have all the luxuries we need and value.
In chapter two, McBride compares the the money attitudes of America versus Europe. She claims that Americans are concerned about cost..the actual dollar amount of a service or product. Europeans are concerned with “time” it took to earn the required amount of dollars. Instead of wondering if they can afford something or generalizing that such and such is a good monetary price, they are mentally tabulating how much of their time is being traded for the goods in question. It is a lot harder to submit to instant gratification when you think in terms of time.
This reminds me of that story of you often see posted on the Internet of the Mexican fisherman who fishes just enough to feed and support his family so he can spend the majority of his time sleeping late, playing with his children, taking siestas with his wife, going to the village to see his friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. To him that is a full life. Then he meets and American who tells him that he should invest in more boats, put in more hours, expand his business, incorporate, and rake in lots of money. When the fisherman asks why he would want to do all that, the response is so that he could have enough money to be able to retire and sleep late, play with his grandchildren, take siestas with his wife, go to the village to see his friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. He already had everything he wanted but some people have to do things the hard way.
McBride encourages us to create a money map. It is basically a money plan that allows us to get away from random spending. She likens spending without a money map to choosing random articles of clothing without any consideration for color and style, resulting in a chaotic clash of colors and patterns. Random spending is chaotic and dysfunctional. No matter what budget you are working with you have to have a plan, or money map. She outlines how to do this in the book.
After some information on reducing debt she goes into simplifying your life…”eliminating material and intangible excess, conserving time, energy, money, and thoughts. It is using the resources you possess in a way that will take you toward your dreams, your goals – your desired future.” So again she emphasizes working with what you have to make a better life…not accumulating things to make it look like you have a better life.
Part of living simple and luxuriously on less is learning to value and appreciate simple things. People are what make an object valuable…things are not inherently valuable on their own and we CAN choose what things to value.
“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
McBride shares with us ways in which we can start to value different things like friendship, memories, kindness, levity, learning, observing, wisdom, and family time. She makes a case for each as to why they will enrich our lives more than any physical item we think we need to own.
Other sections of the book discuss practical every day ideas we can apply to our lives like frugal and luxurious food… or humble cookery, frugal clothing, and making a home. The food section has lots of great tips for making meals into feasts and it has little to do with making more food or having expensive food. Her clothing tips were good reminders for me. I am drowing in laundry and I think it is time to downsize every one’s wardrobe. Statistically McBride says we only use 20% of the clothes we have on a regular basis. I also loved her tips on frugal decorating and the personal stories are priceless.
Frugal Luxuries continues to be a real gem with great wisdom and helpful tips and it is one I will likely be reading every year for a refresher on why simple and frugal are the way to go.
Want to teach your children about simple, humble values and lives? Try reading them the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The author or Frugal Luxuries refers to it often.
Tuesday, March 10th, 2009