Monday, 1 August 2011

Sell Outs

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I have long held the belief that a simple, frugal and green life isn't about following a script or ticking off certain things on a list. A simple life in the country isn't so simple if you spend your time yelling, constantly bargain hunting or feeding a tv addiction. A simple life doesn't mean you have to keep pigs and bees or make every single meal from scratch. A simple life doesn't mean you can't work. Instead I view the simple life as a paradigm and a lense by which I view the world; a fundamental belief in focusing on the most important things, seeking to find balance in all I do and living by the principals "less is more" and "living simply so others may simply live".

Lately all around me colleagues and friends have been talking about what is important to them, a few even mentioned the term sell out. You see many of them thought in their early 20's that they would make "good choices" (that is their term, I certainly am not value judging their choices as good or bad) but as their lives have developed through their late 20's and 30's they really haven't decided to stick to those "good choices" they once thought they would live by. I spent the last week listening to their examples, some of which were:

- Deciding to commute for 2 hours to work so they could have the "biggest bang for their buck" aka the biggest square footage house
- Not buying free-range or organic meat or dairy because they don't care anymore about animal welfare (this person was very pro responsible farming in her late teens)
- Not taking the option of a 4 day work week after returning from parental leave because that extra day is a weekend in Las Vagas every year.
- Never hanging clothes to dry because it would take an extra 10 minutes and interrupt precious facebook time
- Feeding the family hot dogs, boxed pizza and boxed macaroni & cheese almost every night because that is what is quickest and after 10 hours outside the home, no one has the energy to cook
- Admitting they see less than 10 hours a week of their 4 and 2 year old because with an 11 day work day 5 days/week and a love of bargain/frugal shopping (thus visiting 5 different shops on Saturdays and often nipping to the US for the real sales) the grandparents pick up the grandchildren from daycare Friday afternoon and keep them until Sunday morning. This was a hard one for this friend to admit because while suffering from infertility they swore time with their children would always come first, now they have 2 very good careers, a very large house they just totally renovated and only see their children Sundays.
- Being scared to go without because their friends are richer than they are.
- Becoming so obsessed (their words) with paying off their mortgage, buying a second and third home to rent out and retiring at 55 that they are not really living now
- Throwing away anything with a tear/needing a new button and buying new

As I have listened to these conversations, I have tried not to make any value laden statements but did occasionally ask "so if you know, would you change anything", I further asked one "would you now go to work 4 days a week so you can do the things that used to be important to you and simply shop/eat out less". What was really interesting to me, is that no one said they wanted to change a thing. One, a top city lawyer married to another top city lawyer, who eat out 20x a week and admits they don't see their children at all between Mon-Fri said "nope, I'm a proud sell out - I want as much as I can have for as little as I can get it for, we're not interested in having less money, we want more money". I smiled and pondered those words, asking myself what I can learn from their experiences, choices and definition of happiness/selling-out.

What is interesting to me, is in my experience, the older I get the less I want to "sell-out" and the more comfortable I am going without what most people view as a necessity. It took fostering four very broken and traumatized children to help me see there was another life waiting patiently for me to embrace; they taught me there is so much more to life than work, stuff, money and materialism. And while I don't really have any friends in real life who live like I do (although I am blessed to have one friend on either side of the Atlantic who are at the beginning of their simple living journey!) hearing these friends and co-workers yearn for more money and not desire to change anything about their current circumstances, made me very thankful for places like this co-op, the readers of my own blog, Rhonda's blog and the myriad of others which remind me daily that each day I will face choices, those choices bring me closer to the values I hold or further away. While I do aim to be careful about how much time I spend online, I do feel a bit of a haven in what I choose to read in this amazing place. It was that haven that helped me stick to my choice not to attend a friend's wedding and your words gave me the confidence to stick to my conviction when the bride expressed her anger.

Through my own learning this past month (both from the wedding and the new life that awaits me, as well as conversations with those who live so differently to myself) I've come to a place of both certainty I'm on the right path and also grace - grace in deciding I don't have to be perfect or do things exactly like other simple life followers. I've come to realize if we embrace the simple life as a lifestyle choice, then we are probably all doing the best we can, sometimes under extra-ordinary circumstances and most often without people around us to commiserate or encourage. I've come to accept this path will often be lonely. And maybe when it comes to a simple, frugal and green life, that is OK. Maybe as long as we hold onto that value and don't allow ourselves to totally "sell-out", then our anchor will at the very least keep us grounded through the seasons where being simple, green and frugal is more challenging. Like my current season of vermicomposting - and it failing time and time again. Yes, it may be easier to throw in the towel like many people and not bother with spending more time trying to "do good" but since when is the right choice the easy choice. And by heck, one day I'll get that worm compost system right!

My own personal goal this week is to write a list of things I'm not willing to compromise on, as I begin a brand new and exciting chapter in my life, maybe it will serve as a reminder to hold onto what is most important and leave the rest behind! Because the truth is, whether people see it or not, there is a cost to selling out - a cost to ourselves, our families, those we love, our community, our environment and future generations. By focusing on the most important things, I hope to avoid the real cost associated with selling out and instead reap the rewards of a slower, more balanced, person/community centered path. And suddenly I'm reminded of the tortoise and the hare. And now I can firmly, without a shadow of a doubt, say I'm the tortoise, how about you?

Have a happy, simple, frugal and green week, filled with choices which represent the real you !


Patty said...

This is a very fine, sort of sad, eye opening post. We all need to be reminded of why we're doing what we do. Thank you!

Frugal Down Under said...

I'm trying to earn and skimp so I can buy another property, cut back on my hours next year and retire by 40. BUT I look for fun and free things to do with my 4 yr old and spend LOTS of time with her.

Problem is that my life doesn't feel simple - it feels hurried and stressful. I'm probably the Hare.

I really enjoyed this post and will now go to bed with my head ticking with thoughts.

mollymakesdo said...

This post is beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. However, it's just what I need to read. I, too, feel quite along in our choices and it's nice to know there are others out there who are living the same way.

sonrie said...

Thanks for sharing your insights, FT. I know friends and family who have 'sold out' in various ways for home, job, family, car, etc. and many who live the way we do, which is to say cautious and eyes on the future, not on today.

Jenni said...

I too needed to read this post this week. I spent years saying I didn't want to work full time, was offered it on a plate and said yes, as it would only be for 2 years. 7 months in I'm feeling rushed and harrassed (even though I work 3 days a week from home!).

I'm saving all I can, so that in another 15 months when my contract is up I can remember to say NO to anything full time I'm offered, nd I'll have a little cushion of savings to lean on if necessary for a while.

In the meantime, thanks for the reminder to think about what's important and do it NOW.

Amy said...

You are right. Choosing to live more simply is lonely. Thank you for reminding me that we are doing okay! Like you said, the very fact we have chosen to really stop and think about how we live means we are making progress. And, just so you feel a little more part of a bigger family, I too want to "live simply so others may simply live." I read your words, and my heart almost leaped! Someone else feels this way! Somehow reading it seems a lot simpler than the reality of my life, but I am definitely not selling-out! Amy

SARINA said...

Evenso I have made my choice long ago to live simpler, knowing its truely my right choice, I watch my dear friend struggle in her frugality as its forced upon her through ill health and unemployment. I feel sad and often a bit guilty when I know she often has to forgoe certain needs in order to be able to pay her bills. Her simple life is not simple anymore, but is getting her down.
We should all reflect that our choices are made because we can. My friend Julia was forced into an even stricter frugality than she can often bare. I help out wherever I can but it makes me often feel that my choice to be frugal and live simple might make a mockery of her forced frugality.
Infact, her frugality is now edging towards poor living.
There is a fine line between our choice of a simple life and the step into a life of poverty.
I have certainly learnt to appreciate everything I have and the way I can still live well even on my frugal budget. Seeing a friend struggle on the bare essentials also lets me decide my priorities now with a different mindset. All over sudden my simple life could even be more simplyfied without me losing out on my quality of life. Everyone of us will have to judge it for ourselves what constitutes our ideal simple life. It needs to be tailored to our individual priorities. Everyone will have their own set of rules to live by.
It`s just sad that there is such a misdistribution of wealth in our world that allowes some of us to be frivolous while others have to live on the utter breadline.
Knowing that others have to suffer now makes me share far more easily.
Hopefully this will allowe others to find their way towards their own simple lives.

Anonymous said...

Too often nowadays, children seem to be viewed as objects or goals- almost like fashion accessories- than the little blessings they are.
Why have them if you don't spend TIME with them?

Why are there so many fevered, greedy cries of 'More, More, More!' instead of a contented sigh of 'Enough'?

Yes, I can understand you feeling alone on your path. Very few people I know seem to even try to understand- or tolerate- a simple, sustainable, more mindful way of life. A person being content with a simple lifestyle is considered eccentric (to put it kindly) and deemed to be de-valued in the eyes of the jaded consumer-crazed public.

Curvywitch said...

hmm today a choice of shopping for new clothes or the allotment - new things versus simple living. today I am mainly wearing mud, a happy smile and some red kale, chard and broccoli :-)

sometimes the simplest things bring the greatest contentment. don't feel alone or weird, but blessed.

Anonymous said...

I'm really grateful you posted on this ... like you, I often feel alone in terms of my values ... I have a friend who's main pleasure is shopping and I like being with her but sometimes her relentless consumerism wears me down and witnessing it I can see that it only offers a temporary "happiness" .. before she's out buying again (sigh). I do miss European culture as I think it's slightly more supportive of a simpler lifestyle - North America isn't as much (I have found). That said, I am in North America and trying (as much as I can) to hold to my simple values. What I also struggle with is that those that are caught up in consumerism seem not to care about the impact their behaviour has on future generations ... it's sad.

earthmotherwithin said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I have been feeling alone on this path of simplicity too, and it is so helpful to connect with others who value the things I do.

I too have friends who have stressful jobs -one has major health impacts from it-but she tells me that she will keep on working full time because she wants to travel, and work pays for it. Yes, but at what personal cost?

I have recently moved from full time to part-time work, and so today is one of those days I am at work ON OUR LIVES at home. I am managing a renovated bathroom, I am keeping our accounts and paperwork in order, so that tomorrow I can do what I love to do, and quilt all day!

It is sometimes hard for me to explain why I have chosen this path -your post helps to give me the words.

rhonda jean said...

That's a pretty sad list from your co-workers.

I'm really proud of you. I've read your words over the years and you just become truer to yourself and your values. I really respect and admire that.

Lindsey said...

I could not have said it better myself.

Ever since I had my daughter my whole life and way of looking at it has changed.

You know what? Every time people get the newest and best thing, or spend more money, there is always something better, newer or more expensive. That bucket will never get filled.

Slowing down and living DELIBERATELY is the answer for our family.

Good post. And thank you.

Mistyhollows said...

I understand completely that sometimes you feel along on your path but when I feel like this I think about the satisfaction I get from looking around me at what we have achieved. I have friends in their late 30's who's children have all the latest and greatest (which ours do not) and they are always searching for something new and better without realising that what is the best is right in front of them.

Sometimes this life doesn't feel simple when it would be a lot more covenient to just pop down to the shops for the veges instead of growing them in the garden, but at least I know what is in my food.

Jeroen said...

Awesome post, you seem to accurately describe the way people "kneel at the shrine of Mammon". Especially the case about the lawyer who basically doesn't want to see his kids more often if that means he will earn less money. I'm almost glad that with the education I'm taking (theology) it is almost impossible to become so "rich", most likely I am doomed to a rewarding life full of interesting people with only a mediocre salary.. ;)

Christina said...

I much prefer being the best I can and doing the best I can to having the best I can... Not that I succeed all the time, but it's an honorable if idealistic goal :-)

James said...

Having chosen the "simple life" in my late 30's, I have a different perspective on things, I think. I've been the consermer, avidly looking for the latest and greatest. I've had the "best stereo" my money could buy. I've been addicted to TV. I've been neck-deep in the shopping culture.

I managed to save myself from that life, because I too felt it was empty and unfullfilling.

So now I happily garden, cook my own meals, counsel my now-adult children, work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and that is all. I sometimes choose a meal out, or a video on the computer, but it is much more of a treat now that it is a rarity.

I enjoyed your post. Know you aren't alone out here. There are lots of marginalized non-consumers out here.

Keep choosing what is simple for you. And remember that if it works for you, it works.

elaine rickett said...

I enjoyed reading this post, as it confirms that the simple life I have been leading, out of choice, for the past 25 years, has been the right one for me. But, amongst my friends, I am on my own in this. Just being with people who spend freely is sometimes hard and I have to refuse a lot of things simply because I don't have the money to join in. My values are different to theirs, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily right - just right for me.

Krissy said...

Thank you for this post. Its come at a very interesting crossroads in me and my family's lives. It was a good reminder as we stare down the road and get to decide if what we have already been doing is still the things we will continue to do now that we won't have any financial reason to do them anymore. I guess you could say we've reached that point in time where we could choose to either sell out, or keep to our values. Thank you again for the clarity and the perspective.

Larissa said...


This was a interesting and somewhat sad post which has reminded me the importance of spending time at home. I am currently looking after my 3 children (2 are at school) and only working a few hours a week (gardening). But it means I have time to grow fruit and vegetables, keep chickens, bake snacks, make cheese and yoghurt, bake bread, and preserves, plan, shop and create all the meals, keep the home, start projects around the house and garden to make our lives more comfortable. Whilst I am studying and would like to get back to more outside work in the future I will only do it when we have the time as a family to maintain are homemade living that I will never change.

viggie said...

I was just catching up on old posts and wanted to say this one touched me too. I just went through giving up free schooling (and losing all my personal time during the week) and a career path my boss planned out filled with promotions in order to pursue the life I want.

It's tough to make these choices, but it's not a life you you aren't living it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on getting more and more into simplifying as I get older-- having kids really changed our outlook. (Not that we ever had a lot of stuff, but we used to WANT a lot of stuff, and now I just don't.)

I have to add a happier story-- a friend wrote to me recently asking about adding on some work hours on Saturday at my workplace. He didn't really want to work, but his family's expenses were getting out of hand (big house, expensive cars, etc.) and he needed to make more money. He didn't sound happy about it, so I gently suggested simplifying, making sure to be very clear that we're far from perfect but that I'm able to work part-time because of a simpler lifestyle-- and he wrote back that this was just the prompt he needed to get back to the things that mattered more to him. So, sometimes there are people who get it.