The Art of Frugal Hedonism, or how to be happy with what you got

IMG_9059.jpgSeveral years ago a friend of mine recommended that I watch a film called The Clean Bin Project. It is about a couple who decide to live for one year as waste-free as they possibly can. I was pregnant, and recall watching it alone in our attic apartment, disgusted about the excessive, compulsive consumption in our society, and amazed at disastrous side effects of unnecessary use of plastic. Never do I cease to be amazed at how incredibly difficult it is to refuse plastic in our society, especially single use plastic, and how much resistance we get from others, even family and friends. And I still use plastic! Like, everyday. My dedication to the cause waxes and wanes, but it is something I always take into consideration when consuming or buying things.

This same friend and I jumped on the minimalism bandwagon with everyone else. We went to see The Minimalists speak. I am part of the Marie Kondo cult, folding my underwear and shirts into perfect little nuggets. This summer my friend and I have been playing a game that he and his daughter created and deemed “the minimalist challenge.” It’s easy – my friend rolls one dice each day, and we get rid of that number of things. We’d been playing for about a month and we both mused at how, even though we’d both discarded over 100 things, it still didn’t really seem to make a huge dent in the stuff we have. It helps that my friend and I are both a little bit type-a. My favorite part about this whole subject though isn’t solely about getting rid of stuff – it’s the bit about only having the stuff you use and need and, most importantly, really love. This leaves room for wanting things, desiring things, and even acquiring things. This mindset helps give me pause before pursuing and consuming things.

It is freeing, and confrontational, to be faced with choices about money and consumerism. I’m insanely privileged to have these choices. I live in the US, shop at box stores, order things off Amazon, and sometimes still order a takeaway coffee even if I’ve forgotten to bring my reusable cup. Living life with awareness of the choices always in front of us isn’t all or nothing; it’s a spectrum, and I still believe that little things make a difference. Some days it’s hard to believe that, but I try.

There are so many books out now about minimalism, zero-waste, discarding, slow/simple living, etc. etc. And I love reading books that talk about the best ways to live life. Often I wonder why this is exactly, but I know I’m not alone. Anyone who has spent time working in a library or book shop knows the self help and lifestyles sections get a lot of traffic. And if you too like reading these types of books, you’ll know that there are a few good ones, and lots more not so great ones.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More is one of the very good ones. It’s all the good things (funny, quippy, practical, friendly, human, attainable) and none of the bad things (preachy, dry, soulless, staid, overly stylized). The authors, Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb, focus their energies toward cultivating appreciation of the everyday little things, the free things that we’ve been programmed to ignore in our pursuit of more more more stuff. Mainstream media is expertly designed to make us forget these wonderful acts of noticing. This book gives so many fun, interesting ideas on how to view the world through a lens that is not focused on consumer pleasures. As a kid that spent her spare time lurking about malls, this continues to be revolutionary to me. All the typical frugal pastimes are accounted for in the book, as are other more unique, but all of them are so simple and easily done by anyone.

There’s an appendix at the end of The Art of Frugal Hedonism with some other great resources. Especially the Tales From the Green Valley series. Even if you are not interested in any of the things I’ve mentioned in this blog, Tales From the Green Valley is outstanding. It is a British tv series, in which a bunch of historians live on a farm on the Welsh border, restoring it and living life as if it were the year 1620. They cook, farm, build, everything as they would have if they really lived in that era. There are subsequent seasons set in different centuries. Search youtube for it, and you will not be disappointed.

Annie Raser-Rowland is absolutely charming, by the way. I’ve listened to her speak in a couple of podcasts, especially this one on the Slow Home Podcast. She’s so well spoken about all things frugal. Her lust for squeezing out the most enjoyment from life is infectious.

Here are some of my other favorite professional-life-liver-type books, especially focused on doing more with less, and focusing on relationships and epicurean delights rather than consumerism. I love having these on my shelf to look back on whenever I need a boost or a reminder about the life I’d like to live.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease by Julie Pointer Adams

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson

Happy August everyone.



August and everything before



IMG_9012IMG_9002IMG_9011Hello there. How are you? It’s been a couple years.

August, the sweet end of the summer, when we squeeze out the last drops of doing not much as much as we can. Just like everyone else out there, I cannot fathom how the past two months are gone. It’s all a blur of trips to the pool, sweet red toddler faces out hiking, popsicles, weekends, and generally pleasant days of work.

The weather has been so cool and wonderful this past week. Today I wore a long sleeve shirt even. I can’t think it would be fall starting to slip in on cool breezes and golden leaves, but maybe it is. This past weekend we got out, sans children, on a 12-mile hike – which is more walking/running than I’ve done since first being pregnant 5 years ago. Such a good sore feeling. Taking care of the kids is lots of work and is very tired-making, but it’s so different than the good, worn out feeling of walking a long distance. We hike with the kids too, but that doesn’t involve distance. It involves looking at dirt and bugs and jumping around on rocks, and stopping for lots of snacks, and usually carrying a sweet tired little body the last half mile back to the car.

I’ve been bitten by the reading bug. Does that happen to you? Going through phases of not reading all that much, not loving the books you pick, and then suddenly not being a moment without a good book and feeling like every book you choose is just right? This summer I started riding the bus to work (thank you city for lowering bus pass prices!), which gives me about an hour and a half of (relatively) quiet reading each day. When I see other passengers on the bus with a book in their hands I feel like we’re part of a silent commuting reading club. And it’s extra great when they are reading a paper book, rather than on their phone or tablet, because I can sneak sly glances at what they’re reading to get ideas. People always say, ooooh! being a librarian must be so wonderful – you get to read all day! I’ll join the chorus dispelling the myth. It’s NOT TRUE. I never read at work. But being around books, being part of an ongoing never ending conversation about books (and films and music…) is such a privilege.

Other good things of late…

Reading :: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. A good friend and I wanted to read a book together this summer, and I don’t know if either one of us would have chosen this book if we’d known how long it was (both being working moms of very small children, which sounds like it needs an acronym). But it’s really great, and I do love hauling it around. I wonder if the show is any good. Also I discovered the world of book boxes via a favorite blog, which led me to this pretty one. I love the summer box I got, and cannot wait to read the book, which I think is sort of a sequel to Home Cooking, which is one of my favorites ever. Now how to not order all the book boxes. Now I want to start making book boxes!

Watching :: Kanopy. Does your library or school subscribe to this streaming service? It’s amazing, seriously. Art house Netflix, I’ve heard it called, and I agree, only better. My favorites this summer have been The Love Witch and Alfie. Very different movies, both so twisted.

Listening :: Waxahatchee and a bunch of Kurt Vile. Giving me all the summertime feels.

Eating :: One pan zucchini and 3 cheese lasagne by Half Baked Harvest. So good. And it does not fit in a mediumish size skillet – it took my big dutch oven to fit it all in. Her cookbook looks really good. And she lives in Colorado!

Making :: The never ending Beekeeper’s Quilt. And when I say never ending, I really mean I hope it never ends. I love it and can’t imagine life without a hexipuff on the go.

Happy August everyone.