What About Harry?
by Pat Mestern
I was helping an elderly neighbor spring-clean the other day and learned several valuable lesson by doing so. Bachelor Harry was telling me that he lives on less than $16,000 Cdn per year yet he doesn't do without any of the necessities. He is warm and well-fed. He owns his house and drives a paid-up car. He is the first to admit that he went through very hard times as a youngun and that life still deals difficult twists and turns. Yet Harry is an optimistic person. As he says, he rolls with the punches. His parents having experienced the depression first hand, taught him about the value of money and hard work. The best advice Harry received was that no-one owed him a living, that he had the tools within him to succeed at whatever he chose to do and that just because something was manufactured didn't mean he had to own it.
Harry talked about how change makes change. When he was young, Harry's only vice was smoking. He was a pack-a-day smoker but realized that he had to stop for financial and health reasons. He approached the issue in a rather unique way. Perhaps his system can help someone you know to kick a habit, whatever it might be. In order to stop smoking, Harry recognized that he smoked at certain times and under certain conditions. He first kept track of his smoking habits for one week - writing down when and where he smoked, why he smoked and how he smoked. Then he set about changing the pattern of his daily life. He changed everything - when he ate, what he ate, how long he stayed at the table after he ate. When he ascertained that he smoked while drinking sweetened coffee, after a meal, he began to drink his coffee black and for three months didn't sit down to a meal. He realized that he smoked when his hands had nothing to do so he took up a very exacting hobby, one that took concentration, dedication and two hands. At the beginning he switched to smoking herbal cigarettes-the type theatres use in plays-ones that didn't have a "kick" to them. He says they smelled terrible but did the trick. He took long walks when he realized he wanted a smoke. It wasn't easy. It never is. Today, the smell of cigarette smoke makes Harry sick and he knows that he has saved thousands of dollars by kicking the habit.
Harry's parents were depression era just-in-case hoarders but his home is as neat as a pin. He recycles to suit his needs. What he cannot use in his own home he delivers to a local reuse/recycle program. Most times Harry refuses to purchase heavily packaged items and he is bold enough to write the company to tell them why he didn't buy. Sometimes, when he desperately needs an item which is thrice-wrapped, he will send the packaging, with a terse note enclosed, to the offending company. Way to go, Harry!
In these days of rampant consumerism, it is difficult for some to lead a life based on simplicity. One must be totally committed to the lifestyle. Yes, living simply is a lifestyle, based on priorities that are chosen by an individual or family. Those priorities change with circumstances but always include down-to-earth basics. Quite often living simply is associated with frugality. Frugality means exercising economy or saving where possible. There is a difference between being frugal and being miserly just as there is a large gap between being extravagant and being frugal.
Sometimes when in a reflective mood, one looks at the busy world and wonders what they might be missing, what might be passing them by in the crushing rush outside their chosen lifestyle. During times like this, remember there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people looking in at folks like you, thinking how much they admire your lifestyle and wanting to emulate it. But for the fact they haven't stopped long enough to examine their own situations, to make decisive lifestyle choices and to act on their decisions, they too might be as rounded and content as yourself.
Yes, some days and under certain situations, you might not feel content. You might even have a twinge of unhappiness or guilt. You might even question your motives for living simply. Questioning is healthy. Through questioning you can understand the basis for your unhappiness, guilt or discontent. You can readjust priorities, always within the basis of your individual lifestyle choices. Remember that a lot of discontentment and unhappiness comes from exposure to twentieth century lifestyle advertising and merchandising. Never lose sight of your accomplishments. You are living well. You are living simply. You are contributing positively to family values. You are debt free or paying down your debt in a responsible way. You are living gently on your patch of earth. You are A #1 O.K. in my books.
Took a walk the other day to clear my head. Breathing deeply, I waited for that first rush of fresh, cold air to tingle from nose to lungs. GAG! All I got was the sickly smell of fabric softener. I was in a part of town that has a high concentration of housing and it was Saturday, laundry day for all those hard working, two income families. The air in a four block area was repugnant with the stench of fabric softener, the smell coming from dryers venting their moisture into outside air. What are these smelly-vent products doing to the atmosphere? Why do people feel it important to use this type of product? Generations of people have washed and dried clothing without having to add anything to their wash, other than soap. Why not save money by refusing to use fabric softeners, "wrinkle-outers" and clothing deodorizers. What are a few wrinkles among friends. Who really cares if your clothing is touch-soft and stinking clean in the literal sense of the word.
Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at patmestern.com.