Simplicity: The Intersection of Frugal and Cheap

I found my canvas bags.  In my move, I’d lost them and I’d been forced to use plastic. I’d  committed a great many enviro-crimes in moving from House A to House B, the least of which was forgetting my bags.

I confessed this to my green friend.  I expected to hear “You can do better,” but I got a welcome surprise, “You get a pass on this when you move.”  She proceeded to tell me to throw out all of my clutter and simplify.

I had, in fact, been working on this for some time–decluttering, simplifying, and replacing processed foods with home-grown all natural items; learning the fine art of DIY and self-sufficiency.  More on the reasons for this in a different post.  Regardless of the reasons, I’m enjoying my journey uniting myself with the skills of my grandmother, part of the Greatest Generation, who knew the real value of thrift, frugal, and efficiency–a value that far exceeds the bottom line that it saves.

What I learned in the process was that DIY, “green,” life hacks, frugal, and cheap, were all components of the same higher virtue–simplicity. And simplicity clears a tiny space in our brains where happiness and contentment should reside.

The Journey: 

I decluttered. This was the first step. Doing so in Tiny House A was difficult. House B is laid out better, and easier to keep Zen and clean. A lot of this is thanks to my Zen and Clean husband, but I try harder here too. In the beginning of this journey, getting rid of stuff was tough. I struggled.  Now, it’s almost freeing.

I planted.  In Old House, every time my husband left for work, I planted a raised bed. He liked this at first. Then, he said, “You THINK you have enough of these?” But, the backdrop of this project was the Great Recession–which is as good an incentive as any to simplify life. As anyone who has been nervous about losing their job, home, or business knows (for me, it was all three), it’s far better to have a positive obsession than become a crack addict, and one or the other is bound to happen.  Carrots became my crack. So, as soon as his vehicle rolled out of the driveway, my shovel snuck out of the shed and a new raised bed emerged, filled with seeds and seedlings before anyone had the power to stop me.

I changed my shopping. I went to all the little shops and bodegas where no one speaks English. This is where you get the real deals, and it’s fun. The Spanish store is a blast–Salsa and Bachata music dance customers around the store. The Korean and Chinese stores have aisles of noodles, wrappers, and teas. I’ll admit, the 26 major dialects at the Indian store occasionally slow me down, and I had a couple of epic fails learning the Cambodian store, but in the end, I increased my repertoire of ingredients and culinary techniques. If you look in my spice cabinet now, you will, indeed, have to translate, as I do not know the name of all my ingredients in English.

I do what I can myself.  I bake bread, culture yogurt, make cheese, sew, fix, construct, plant, forage and can.  It’s fun, and I don’t have to pay anyone.  My rule is if it doesn’t explode or cause a flood, I will at least try to fix it.

I reuse everything. This appeals to the green side of me–I’ve been bringing bags to stores way back before it was cool. I learned this in Russia where people took their three-foot loaf of bread from the boluchnaya (bakery) and carried it home. With their hands and no government warning about germs. It sort of looked like a bunch of people on deck at a Yankee game waiting take a swing. The American marketing machine wastes so much packaging and wrap it’s disgusting.  I was already trying to leave that behind by shopping bulk and making waste-free lunches.  However, add in the Recession, and I became obsessed.

I even began to wash ziplock bags if I am forced to use them at all, and I’ve been known to reuse Saran wrap–after all, it was just keeping flies out of my daily bread dough–why can’t it wrap a tomato? I knew the Recession was at its height when I considered reusing dental floss.  I know. The psychology of the human mind is baffling and it is possible to degenerate from positive obsession into insanity in very short order. I’m better now.  Ultimately, I decided that there are things that should not be reused–global warming be damned–and dental floss is one of them.

I compost. I will be expanding my farming operations this year since I have some land, but it’s nice not seeing a million garbage barrels out in front on trash day. Americans generate too much trash.

I cook my own food and freeze it.  I use my Food Saver.  I never waste if I can avoid it. I have a thousand code words for “leftovers,”  including (but not limited to), soup, stew, casserole, stir fry, and hash. Nothing gets wasted. I get grass-fed or locally farmed meats for the non-vegetarians in the family, which is expensive, but I don’t serve it every day. And I always pack my lunch. It tastes better, I get what I want, and it’s cheap. Besides, it’s really fun to see my coworkers marvel at my mason jars, furoshiki wrap, and “weird” foods.

I can and forage. Canning is not hard. It’s cathartic and fun.  It used to be a big money saver–getting B grade produce from farms and putting up a winter’s supply. B grade costs less because it’s the produce that doesn’t look perfect–the produce that is actually better because it’s the way God and nature intended it–it was never supposed to be a perfectly red shiny GMO-frankentomato anyway. Heck, if I can save some cash in the process because I know that detail, all the better for me.

Canning was supposed to help the budget, but it backfired.  The food is so much better that I have friends come over and raid my pantry for jams, salsas, and spreads. Therefore, I must ramp up production and buy more mason jars. This takes canning out of the money-saving category, but it’s still good, healthy, natural food, prepared in season and that, I’ll share any day of the week.

I use cloth napkins and put old face cloths on the Swiffer.  I am so militant about this that when Declan, the boy wonder, saw the emergency roll of paper towels I keep for dog barf and biohazards, he said, “Mommy, what’s a paper towel?” That’s green and frugal.

The Results?

Simplifying my life has allowed me to recognize the important things in life–family, friends, and joy about the things that really matter. I’ve learned the value of the skills of our grandparents relied upon for day-to-day living. And I’m glad that I’m no longer an outlier–that this vision has caught up with many of us in society, leaving the wasteful 80’s and 90’s behind.

So, while I agree it is still not okay to reuse dental floss, I’ll still squeeze an extra month out of the toothpaste, make “products” last forever, and march forward on my quest to banish waste packaging, industrial foods, and nonsense from my life, and hopefully save a ton of money in the process.

Because the process, I’ve discovered is about living a simple lifestyle and freeing the soul.

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10 thoughts on “Simplicity: The Intersection of Frugal and Cheap

    • I use a lot of furoshiki (Japanese wrapping) for non-leaky items, and some plastic with snap-down lids. I think the Mr. Bento is cool–I have looked at those awesome lunch trays and one other set whose name escapes me, but the size didn’t work. And I lose all the lids to regular cheap snap ons, so I was nervous to lose the little pieces. How have you kept them together?

      • I pretty much only use the tray with the attached lid that does not detach (bonus!). The little metal containers (medium and small) with lids that came with the lunch tray are in a special spot in my tupperware cabinet. There is a good chance a lid will be lost, but my kids like non-juicy things for lunch (grapes, apple slices, carrot sticks, cheese slices), so I don’t need to use those separate containers since everything stays separated in that tray once the main lid is clamped down. I’ve only been using it for 2 weeks, so my experience could change.

  1. I could not seem to add a comment on what you said about your daughter dying because someone didnt notice her symptoms and that it was like my son. when someone did not keep 911 on the line (apparently. I believe we already follow each others blogs, but I want to hunt for some about our similar situations on your site. Thank you for reading and commenting. beebeesworld

    • No, I didn’t lose a child. Maybe that was someone. I just believe that you have such a powerful message that would be so helpful for the world. You write beautifully as well.

      • I realized when I read your “about” that I had the wrong person-i was having problems getting a comment to register, and i guess I hit your link some how-so very sorry

  2. I’ve been trying to make progress in this area for years, though sometimes I backslide.
    The only paper product I buy any more is toilet paper. And the way to be frugal with dental floss is to buy it by the roll (the larger the better) rather than buying those single-use dental floss sticks. I have a black thumb and my last attempts to compost and garden became roach generation projects which were extremely disgusting. Fortunately the roaches didn’t try to migrate into the house!

    • The solution to your rat problem is simple. I bet you don’t balance your compost… Alternate the kitchen scraps with shredded newspaper or leaves. Newspaper is soy-based and compostable now (the regular newsprint, not the slicks). If you don’t have any, then equal parts kitchen scrap to browns (leaves, grass clippings).

      • Oh, Goddess no, it wasn’t rats! I think I’d have moved, not just cleaned it out, if it was rats! It was just the six-legged vermin. You’re probably right about not having enough dry stuff, even though I threw caution to the wind and went ahead and used weeds. I have “desert” landscaping that’s really more of a dirt lot (so more like the real desert than “desert landscaping”). It also probably needed more aerating. And my raised bed garden I think had a drainage problem.

        I now limit my gardening attempts to selectively pulling weeds so that the ones with pretty flowers stay until they die.

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