This second excerpt from [Callenbach, Ernest. Living Cheaply With Style. Ronin Publishing, 1993.] resonates with my own attempts at expressing who I am. One of my favorite words has become enough: “sufficient to meet a need or satisfy a desire; adequate.” Callenbach is definitely writing from within a specific political “box” (which is more than evident in later passages of his book), and I like to keep as far away as possible from partisanship, but much of his voice rings true for me. –SB
from: Living Cheaply With Style:
Thrift and “enoughness.”
Until recently, America was a thrifty country. People recognized a virtue in doing things economically, in not wasting, in making do with what was available. During the wastrel years after World War II (fueled by a ravenous consumption of fossil fuels), thriftiness temporarily went out of fashion. But in the long run we must rely on this virtue again, and it is time to begin learning how. Much of the information in this book will help you to be thrifty in ways your grandparents would find familiar: re-using things rather than throwing them away and having to buy new; salvaging and repairing; sharing things with others; trading things you no longer need for things or services; keeping only a modest supply of things on hand; using up what you have before you think of buying more.
Some people are fanatics about thrift; there is even a publication called The Tightwad Gazette dedicated to showing you, through carefully calculated examples, how much you can save by ingenious re-use of milk cartons, or repairing battered toys found at the thrift shop. (Ask your library to subscribe, if it isn’t yet available there.) It’s a fascinating challenge to see what is the absolute minimum you can lead a good life on—and it is a lot less than most Americans imagine.
But it is not necessary to be a fanatic, only thoughtful. In Your Money or Your Life (Viking-Penguin, 1992), Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin argue that the essential is to seek honestly to understand what is really “enough.” Beyond a certain point, once your real necessities of food, shelter, and medical care have been met, added expenditures bring decreasing returns of satisfaction. After that point, your precious life’s time—the only resource you are born into the world with—is being used to procure things that may be halfway satisfying, or may be simply junk. You will be happier if you can find a way to live that keeps better control of your time and relies less on junk.
Another virtue our grandparents prized was competence and ingenuity—the ability to understand how things work, to use things efficiently, take care of them, repair them when needed, or figure out alternatives if they broke down. In our consumer society, we have come to depend on artifacts whose workings we do not understand and that we cannot fix when they break down. So a lot of the material in this book simply gives you information you need to cope with the basics of life—all those things that you didn’t learn from your parents or in school, but that are essential to survive comfortably on modest amounts of money.
Even questions of diet are covered in some detail. Once we became a nation of fast-food eaters, we lost a sense of proper diet requirements. Recently many people have become conscious of the importance of eating right, but we still need all the help we can get; since doctors are taught almost nothing about nutrition in medical school, we have to be able to provide a decent diet for ourselves without advice from them.
Competence requires confidence, but trusting in our own abilities to learn and cope is the route to confidence. We should try to lean as little as possible on “experts,” whether they are plumbers or psychotherapists. Everybody in so-called primitive societies knows how to build houses, dispose of wastes, find and grow food, prepare it, deal with common diseases and accidents, give girth, care for children, and so on. Our goal should be to achieve similar levels of competence in our modern circumstances. All your life you will be picking up pieces of useful information; this book gives you a handy and compact source for a lot of these pieces, and a framework for understanding the bits you accumulate on your own.
A constant theme in the pages that follow is: Think for yourself! Conventional ways of doing things may make sense, but often they make sense mainly to the people who profit from them, and you would be better off to find or invent another way. Learn to be critical and analytical about information; even apparently authoritative sources may contain large or small errors, and a wise person is constantly cross-checking and verifying things.
* above photo taken by S.A. Bort, 2013.