This is a response to Trent’s post The Backlash Against Frugality, which itself is a response to Anya Kamenetz Yahoo Finance article Staying Frugal in the Age of the iPhone. The long and short of it is that Anya wrote an article about frugality, and the comments left on it are very, very divided. Although there was a lot of positive, the negative comments unfortunately stick right out.
What really stuck out for me were all the comments calling Anya’s life “miserable.” Most of the negative comments took offense to the idea of Anya buying second hand clothes, and not having a TV. (Since when, I wonder, is the television the only bringer of happiness?)
My own situation is not all that different from Anya’s. In fact, in some respects, I’m more extreme. I’ve been Compacting since January – that is, not buying anything new except for food and toiletries. So I started thinking about it – am I more or less happy now, as compared to before I started compacting?
Before I get into anything, I would like to say that this is entirely non-scientific. There are a lot of other things that have changed in this time period (my job, my major, this blog, the house I live in…), so it’s nearly impossible to tell. Still, it’s worth musing on.
I’ve spoken before about my ability to live without a television, and I stand by it. I now often forget that I can flip on the television and watch live broadcasts – I’m no longer used to the idea and it almost never pops into my head as an idea for entertainment, or even as a procrastination tool!
Not watching TV has given me so much more time, and flexibility in my time. The television I do watch, I watch on DVD or on syndicated internet – I choose when I watch it. I believe I am much happier having control over my TV instead of being bound to its time slots.
Yes, you could argue that a Tivo would offer me the same benefit, but think about it. I already HAVE that benefit – why would I need to buy a Tivo and pay a monthly subscription for a benefit that I already have?
Second Hand Clothes
Easily the second biggest beef negative commenters had with Anya’s article. I have to admit, I haven’t actually bought any second hand clothes… ever. Not even since I’ve started Compacting. I have a dresser and a closet full of clothes, so the need for new ones simply hasn’t come up.
I have no problem with the idea of buying and wearing used clothing. I’m not sure why it bothers other people, but I can’t see it affecting your level of happiness. I don’t think it matters at all where clothes come from – what matters is how they look and make you feel. If a sweater falls really well on you, does it matter that it came from Goodwill?
Not Buying… Things
I have a “things” problem. Even now, after having moved house and scoured my possessions, trying to only bring with me things that really mattered… I still have too much stuff. Most of my stuff is still sitting in boxes, waiting for me to get around to organizing my new bedroom.
Even having not purchased any “things” in the last 9 months, I still have an entirely messy room with too much stuff in it. Getting more stuff is simply going to compound the problem.
Buying Experiences Instead
I’ve been to more concerts and amusement parks. I’ve gone out with my friends on hikes and seen places in my neighborhood that I had no idea existed. I hang around on my campus and enjoy the free or cheap entertainment ($1 for two comedians this Saturday – I’m so in!). I hang out with my friends and play wacky card games.
Spending less money on things means having more money to spend on life. A few months ago, I tried to think about the thing that matters to me most. It’s not my computer (although sometimes it may seem that way), and it isn’t my collection of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s my friends and my family.
I love my computer because it’s an easy tool for contacting people. I love my car because it takes me to the places where people are. I love talking about Buffy with people even more than I love watching it. The things I value most in my life are those that help me reach people. I’m happiest just spending time with people. Just last night I had the time of my life… grocery shopping with my friends.
Happiness is not confined to objects for me anymore. I know, it all sounds very cliche. But not spending money hasn’t turned me into an awful miser. I feel much happier having a handle on my money, and I really don’t believe anymore than owning “things” is the road to happiness.