Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Themes. First up: Thrift

This long winter, I find that my life and my thinking are slipping into a framework of several themes. This has not happened consciously, is not the result of deliberate study. Rather, freed now of a full time job, and not at this moment needed to provide care for a family member, I have had the deep pleasure of filling my days any way I choose.

Thrift is something I have been thinking a lot about. I think this has evolved from a sadness I feel about this decade's growing tide of contempt for the poorest of our neighbors, even the working poor.

According to Time, in each of the 50 states, income growth among the top 1% of earners rapidly outpaced that of the bottom 99%, according to a recent study.  And who are too many among us blaming for this alarming disparity? The poor themselves.

That did not used to be the American way of things.

I recently read this book, Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was, by Eric Sloane. Although Sloan's book was intended for young adults, I found much to ponder in this slim volume. I didn't agree with everything he said, but Sloan sure got me thinking about thrift.

Chapter One begins, "Once upon a time, believe it or not, America was frugal."

Waste was deplorable, Sloan says. There was no such thing as garbage. 

People carefully hand-made things like chairs which were intended to last for generations.

Sloan writes, "Being content with no more than what was needed became an early American trait, almost a national creed."

Well, that sure isn't the case anymore. 

We no longer honor thrift. We no longer teach it to our children. In fact, it is often mocked. We don't think we need to be thrifty. However, somehow we expect and demand it of poor folks, despite the fact that we don't model it, don't teach it, don't value it, and don't practice it within our own homes. Every part of our culture teaches quite the opposite: thrift is for losers.

Happiness, we are led to believe, can be found inside a Best Buy or at the Lexus dealership. Yet, we forgot to tell the poor that this ethic doesn't also apply to them. So, we are outraged when we discover a SNAP recipient who has a bigger TV than our own.

We can re-learn some of the old values. We can become thrifty again. We can learn to be content with enough. In my opinion, it is worth doing.

It is not the food stamp recipients that are causing problems for our country's economy. They are not nearly powerful enough to do that.

I look at my own clutter. I look at food I have wasted. I look at time I have not used wisely. I think I can learn to do better.

An old farmers' almanac put it this way:

The devil damns the man who lives by greed,
Jehovah loves the man who only fills his need.

And how will our family be thrifty today?

  1. The books I am reading this week and the DVDs we will watch have all been borrowed at no cost from our local library.
  2. I am at this moment roasting a chicken that will likely re-appear in at least one or two more meals.
  3. As I write, my Handsome Husband is making use of free open gym time at our local community center. (It is still bitterly cold and icy outside, not very appealing for an outdoor walk today.)
  4. I will do a bit of knitting later, getting closer to finishing a blanket made from yarn leftover from past projects.
  5. I will remember to be grateful for what I have, which also happens to include all that I really need, and more. I will remember to appreciate and be glad of warm food, a warm home, family that I love, good friends and neighbors.
How will you by thrifty today? I would love to hear your ideas.

Stay thrifty, my friends.