Frugality, Hoarding, and Mindfulness

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How Frugal is Too Frugal?

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Have you ever considered that you’re perhaps too frugal? Sometimes, these thoughts cross our minds…

Arriving for an out-of-town wedding a couple of weeks ago, I parked my car and stepped out to walk the short distance to the church.

But it felt as if I had something on the bottom of my shoe, and when I pulled it off to look, I saw that the rubber sole was badly cracked and crumbling.

I attempted a fix by ducking into the church basement and connecting with a man who supplied me with rolls of electrical tape and duct tape. But a yard of tape couldn’t remedy the damage. The soles were too far gone. I left crumbs of black rubber in the aisle and in the pew and ended up attended the reception in stocking feet.

It had never occurred to me to check the soles before I headed out, so I had no idea that they were in such bad shape. I’d bought them at a thrift store at least a decade ago and worn them hundreds of times. They were the most comfortable shoes that I’ve ever owned, supple black leather uppers and low-heeled, dense rubber soles—my go-to pair for graduations, weddings, and town meetings.

Growing up Frugal

I learned my frugal habits from my mother. She was joyously and creatively thrifty in every respect. I still get a good laugh whenever I recall how she got me through high school and college with a single pair of dress shoes and a few cans of spray paint.

I sailed through proms and other formal dances, concerts, weddings—even made an appearance as a bridesmaid—in those shoes. Mom just sprayed them to match each new outfit, and they always looked great. At each outing, however, I prayed that I’d make it home before the cracks began to show. After all, the paint was intended for things like deck railings and furniture, not fabric shoes that needed to bend and stretch.

Frugality Taken Too Far?

For decades of adult life, I’ve bartered, scrounged, saved, reused, and repurposed—generally by choice, often by necessity. Anything organic that burns or rots ends up in the garden as mulch, compost, or a soil amendment. The burnables run through the woodstove first, but the ashes go into the garden to help sweeten our acid soil. We save plastic bags, packing peanuts, and insulated mailers. Over the years, I’ve hauled home discarded pallets, chicken wire, cast-iron cookware, laundry racks, and dozens of other items from the town dump.

The incident with the shoes got me to thinking about the many ways in which thriftiness can go too far. A quick search of the Web turns up many references to hoarding, obsessive thrift, and addictions to “extreme couponing,” thrift-store shopping, and yard-selling.

Hoarding? Not Quite

A quick check of my house, outbuildings, and grounds revealed that I’d collected a lot of stuff that I don’t need and won’t use.

I mucked out half a truckload of polystyrene vegetable containers and dozens of yogurt and deli tubs. I use about two dozen of the vegetable containers and another couple dozen tubs each year for seed-starting/transplanting. I cut the bottoms off the yogurt tubs and use them as cutworm collars to protect garden transplants from the nasty larvae. But I’d collected hundreds of them, many from friends and acquaintances. Off to the dump!

I emptied the clothes closets of anything we hadn’t worn for a year. That included a dozen pairs of shoes that I like to look at but don’t wear because they’re either uncomfortable or not practical. Off (or I should say, “back”) to Goodwill!

Next, I’ll tackle the stuff behind those knee walls in the attic, a repository of child sleeping bags and the backyard tent, “extra” pillows and old comforters the mice and squirrels have chewed apart for nesting materials, and 20-year-old electronics that we’ve never gotten around to recycling. Later, I’ll tackle the barn and outbuildings, a daunting project.

True Frugality

In my opening post nearly a decade ago, I described this blog as “Frugal, natural, at-hand: simple ideas for health & household.” I chose the word frugal with care because of its origins, writing:

It embraces a rich assortment of meanings gathered during its evolution from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root word, which meant both agricultural produce and to use and enjoy. This root gave rise to the Latin roots frux, meaning fruit, with associated figurative meanings such as value, success, and profit, and fructus, which figuratively embodies the meanings of enjoyment, delight, and satisfaction in addition to its literal meanings of fruit, and crops.

…So, by frugal, I suggest a way of living that’s fruitful: creative, generative, satisfying, full of delight, and connected to nature’s productive cycles.

Today, I’d add the idea of mindfulness to that definition. Frugality, whether chosen or required by circumstances, demands attention, and care.

By its nature, frugality implies not just usefulness and delight, but use. Hoarding, addiction, and obsession rob any behavior of its joy, and may prevent actual use. At some point, the habit takes control, and the virtues of true frugality disappear.

The English poet William Blake wrote, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

Enough said!

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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