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Does Frugality Equal Detachment?

By , March 15th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

The more I embrace frugality, the more I wonder if a frugal life equals a life detached from society. And then I ask myself: Is that a bad thing? I find myself less and less interested in “mainstream” society as the years go by. I don’t watch TV much, so I couldn’t tell you anything about American Idol, Survivor (is it even still on?), or any of the cable-only shows that are so popular these days. I take my news in small bites through the Internet, so I’m not aware of much beyond the big headlines. Since I don’t go out to eat very much, I’m not up to date with all the latest restaurants and bars in town. I don’t keep up with fashion trends, gadgets, or cars. About the only thing I do keep up with are movies, and even then I’m six months behind or more because I get them from Netflix rather than seeing them in the theater.

I don’t engage with service providers all that often, either. I’ve learned to do so much myself that I only have to call on the professionals when a job is really complicated or dangerous. Even then I’m likely to do at least some of the work myself. I don’t shop much at all because I make things last for a long time and I don’t shop for fun. I grow a lot of my own food in my garden, so I don’t even go to the grocery store as much as most people. The more frugal, self-sufficient, and independent I become, the less I’m involved with and dependent on mainstream society.

Sometimes I feel like that’s a bad thing. Sometimes I wonder if I’m losing touch with the world. Sometimes I wonder why I’m content to be this detached. Am I one step away from becoming a Howard Hughes disciple? Shouldn’t I want to get out more and do the things that “normal” people do? Over the years I’ve tried to force myself to become more involved in the mainstream. I’ve gone to the movies, eaten out more, and hung out at the mall. Every time, it’s not long before I run back to my quiet life. There’s very little “out there” that appeals to me. Having lived simply for so long, the harried spend, consume, repeat world makes me a little disoriented. It’s too bright, too noisy, and too fast paced for me. I’d much rather be with my books, out in my garden, or hanging out on the porch with good friends and a beer than in some stuffy mall or smoky restaurant. That’s just me and I’ve come to accept it.

The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I’ve concluded that being detached from the world is a good thing. If I am not dependent on the outside world for my happiness or even survival then when the world is in chaos, like it is these days, I’m less affected. The price of gas annoys me, but it doesn’t rule my world because I don’t need to constantly be on the go. If the economy collapses, I can still get food out of my garden. If I need work done, I can do it myself for minimal cost. If movies, cable, phones, or anything else go up in price it doesn’t drive my budget into meltdown. I don’t even try to keep up with the Jones’ so there’s no shame on my part if they see me in my old clothes or driving my old car. I suffer from less stress because I don’t hang on every word of the news and TV shows that mimic a hostile reality. It’s not all that bad to be detached from the modern world.

There is one segment of society that I find myself drawing closer to these days, however. Those are the other “frugal freaks” like myself. I look for people who believe in thrift. I’m drawn to people who believe in the power of bartering, neighborly help, borrowing, reuse/resale, and community supported agriculture. I’m drawn to community programs like local theater, libraries, museums, and recreational programs. In other words, I find myself drawn more toward “communities” than toward “mainstream society.”

As a country, I think we’ve gotten too far away from our communities as we’ve pursued the mainstream. We’ve forsaken our downtowns and our local merchants in favor of glitzy malls and stores found in hip magazines and celebrity culture. We’ve gotten away from relating to each other on a local level and we’ve replaced that community with movies, television and the Internet. We’ve decided that borrowing and bartering are poor substitutes for paying full price because paying full price means that we are “somebody.” We’ve decided that paying someone else to do something for us is preferable to gathering a group of friends together on a nice Saturday afternoon to do the job and then spending the evening on the porch talking. Mainstream society dictates that we stay so busy that we have no time for each other. Our pursuit of the “mainstream” has robbed us of our communities and I think it’s sad.

With each passing year I find myself seeking community and detaching from the mainstream. The more frugal I become, the more I find myself hanging out in frugal world, which has become almost a counterculture in this country. I’m not so much detaching from society as I am finding a new society to hang out in. And that’s not a bad thing from where I’m standing.

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  • snshijuptr says:

    There is hope in the youth today, but we must open our eyes and recognize it. They generate communities of interest, spread over the world, not communities of place. They work together on virtual projects like open-source software or mashup videos. They believe in the freedom, and free trade of information and media. Maybe these children will grow to backlash from these beliefs, as the hippy-generation became the GOP, but for now they are moving toward interdependent communities, even if they don’t look like those of their grandparents.

  • baselle says:

    I don’t think you are detached from the world at all – you are just detached from media and from most forms of high-consumption …is that really the “real” world? I don’t think so.

    It sounds like you are attached to nature, your friends, your family, and your immediate community…which is the “real” world.

  • PauletteG says:

    It’s my belief that America’s societal salvation will come with a decentralization, as people perhaps urged by some combination of boredom, burnout, frugality and compassion will see that reallocating dollars to savings and their local communities will be more enriching than feeding a gated community executive.

    Not all continental pockets of social capital are flatlining.

  • Dawn/FFL says:

    While I was reading this I was reminded of a bible verse I had to memorize growing up… I think it applies to this as well.

    “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

  • Lisa says:

    I can really identify with what you wrote. Thank you!

  • Jay Gatsby says:

    You are more “normal” than you think. Warren Buffett lives the way you do (or you live the way he does). Many millions of people throughout the U.S. also live the way you do, but because they’re not engaging in conspicuous consumption as a way of staying in the limelight (i.e., movie/tv star, athlete, etc…) you never hear about them.

    Who are these people?

    They’re the millionaires next door. Here’s hoping you can join their ranks some day.

  • Forest says:

    I have never thought mainstream detachment was a bad thing, even when I was a wasteful unfrugal teen… I always hated the mall and the overconsumerism I saw, the crap on tv and the general wheels of society….. This I think in many ways led me to the frugal chilled (some may say Hippy) crowd long before I realised I wanted to be frugal!

    I too love Movies and a good beer on the porch (although I don’t have a porch here).

    Sadly here in Cairo I am finding it much harder to find the crowd that I did in my previous residencies of Canada and UK but there are a few of us oddballs floating around.

    Thanks for the post.

  • larabelle says:

    Thank-you so much …I completely agree. I am looking, looking, looking for folks who are similar in mindset…however all I find are spendthrifts.

  • rob62521 says:

    Larry Winget says in his books that one must associate with people who have the same mindset. I am similar — I don’t watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. I do watch network news and read the paper, but also read news off the Internet. My home isn’t like our friends. We have old stuff — some antiques and some junktiques. My dear husband plants a garden and I clip coupons. We save money and most everything is paid off. We use a credit card and then pay it off each month. And we are so different from our friends. One couple does nothing but spend, spend, spend, and then complains when money gets short. Everything is tied up in the “hunt” for whatever he fancies and then is disappointed when we aren’t overally thrilled. For example, this person bought a pinball machine. He had one and he wanted a new one. The hunt was on and he spent weeks finding it. When he got it and we did see it when we visited, but neither of us are pinball fans so it really didn’t interest us that much. He was devasted. The same fellow, when he found out we bought a flat screen T.V. (cash, I might add), had to go out and buy a 60 inch T.V. on buy now, pay later plan. We didn’t brag about the T.V. and it just so happened he saw it when I invited him for dinner when his wife was out of town. Yet, we had to stop by and admire his new T.V. and his 200+ channels. It’s becoming more and more difficult to associate with these folks because our lives do not revolve around constantly buying things.

  • Belinda Gomez says:

    But it seems sad to miss so much of what’s going on in the creative world, just because you chose to ignore mass media, etc. You can watch movies online, or download them without waiting for Netflix, but why not go and enjoy a film in a communal setting? Being frugal doesn’t have to equal being a hermit.

    Going to art galleries, concerts, lectures, museums, etc. isn’t the same as consuming, but you’re actively participating in a world of culture and creativity.

    Seems like a lot of frugal people seem to forget to have fun and be “in the world and of the world”, to quote the movie Sabrina.

  • Erica says:

    I hear you — I just saw a link to this post on another blog I was reading. I sometimes wonder about the same thing, but when I dip my toe into “mainstream” consumption-driven society, I don’t like it. I prefer my very quiet life of reading and socializing with a few folks in my neighborhood, but I do wish I had more frugal friends. Sometimes my friends invite me to do things that I just don’t enjoy (and likewise I them), so it would be nice to know more people who shared my simple pleasures.


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