This blog was originally based on a course ran by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin who also wrote a textbook for the module Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. Now working as an independent consultant, Nick continues to work in the area of environmental sustainability and looking at ways of making a difference without recriminations or guilt. Saving the planet is all about living sustainably.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Quality v. Quantity: Mindful Living...or Frugality often gets a bad rap.

 Frugality often gets a bad rap.
Why is it that so often living “frugally” is often linked mentally with want, deprivation and hardship?  Mention the word and immediately people conjure up archaic images of teabags drying on radiators, cold showers and penny-pinching, when in reality frugality is essentially a means of achieving a quality lifestyle and fulfilling the needs of the individual in society, whilst leaving minimum negative impact on community, the planet and its resources. Admittedly, the word frugal itself is hardly the most onomatopoeically-endearing of the English language, but it does certainly does lend a solid air of reality which encompasses the essence of what frugal living is about.  For me, being frugal is a means of directing the materials and resources available to me towards a goal which I want to achieve, enabling me to complete such tasks in a less wasteful, more efficient and thoroughly-considered fashion.  In no sense do I consider there to be any level of deprivation; in fact I think cutting the clutter and distraction from ones life allows for greater clarity to shine through, enabling one to visualise plainly what are the real essentials in life and how best to go about maintaining these.  In the overwhelmingly materialistic, consumer-driven society in which we live, more and more excesses of all has lead to a devaluing of quality in favour of inferior quantity.  Here frugality can act as a life raft in the sea of superfluousness, a wake-up call forcing us to examine what matters.  Giving a brief run-down through this topic does not do it justice as by its very nature greater depth of thought is required, but frugal living can be broadly addressed in three main sections:  the why, the how and the outcome.
Frugal living is a sustainable way of life and can be viewed as a way of guaranteeing, to the best of one’s ability, that the life one leads is truly meaningful.  My own personal definition of sustainability would run something like: “Sustainability is the thought process behind mindfully living a considered life, endeavouring to maintain an equilibrium between personal development, integrity, and responsibility, such that the needs of future generations are not compromised through mismanagement of the earth’s resources by present generations.”  Lofty ideals you may think, but unless one strives toward an upward goal there would certainly be no motivation to continue on.  In the case of any goal that requires longevity, soundly-founded motivations need to be established before anything is ventured and frugal sustainability is no different.  We need to ask ourselves “Why should I do this?  What are the benefits to me personally and what are the benefits to the wider community?  Am I ready to accept that my personal decisions can and will have a large impact on those around me?”. If these questions can be answered honestly and solidly there will be sufficient motivational undercurrents to sustain one through the practical implementations of frugal living.  Starting small and incorporating small changes on a day-to-day basis, great success can be accomplished through the setting of many small, realistic and achievable goals. 
Avoiding procrastination is a definite requirement for living the frugal lifestyle, but once this reality is accepted as a hitherto-unrecognised benefit, the sky’s the limit for the creative ways in which frugality can be lived out, making your time, money and resources work hardest for you.  From practical applications such as reducing waste in the home, buying less consumer goods and increasing productivity by utilising goods to the very end of their product-life, to more fun and unique approaches such as going on self-imposed spending ‘diets’, enjoying frugal freezer-food meals and trying out ‘Meatless Mondays’.  Certainly we must realise that there is no one magic-bullet, simplistic route to achieve these goals, but we need to take every small avenue available to us, making numerous small changes.
The outcome of embarking on the frugal living path is that it allows for greater personal freedom.  Less “stuff” means a reduction in time and energy consumed whilst absorbed in (or perhaps burdened with) said “stuff”. We are afforded more time to reflect and think on our life-goals.  We are mindfully conscious of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Savouring experiences and enjoying simple pleasures are incomparably more fulfilling than rushing through a series of tick-the-box life goals set up on a scale belonging to the Joneses.  Paring back the excess allows us to appreciate all the more how rich we really are – after all, our attention is no longer divided in multiple different ways but rather we are free to focus and enjoy the delights of a smaller number of better-curated occupations.  Each of us are the cultivator of our own person and our personal development, which in turn is amplified and combined with that of others to create the societies in which we live.  We have the right to enjoy this, but more importantly we have the responsibility to do so - not only for our own sakes’ but for the sake of our fellow man and frugal living is a powerful way to do so.

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