Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 13, 2017

The Art of Frugal Hedonism, by Annie-Raser Rowland with Adam Grubb

When I die and someone has the task of doing the eulogy, they will probably say something about how I was a teacher, and how I read a lot of books, and then they will pause and wonder what to say next.  Well, I hope they’ll go on to say something about how I was content with that, because I think contentment is one of my best assets.  Contentment is also a key strategy for spending less while enjoying everything more, which is the subtitle to The Art of Frugal Hedonism.

#BeforeWeStart: you might think, if you have seen my library and its shelves groaning with books, that I am hardly the one to start spruiking frugality.  But (apart from the fact that many of them are from the OpShop) at about 800 books with a reading rate of about 200 books a year, that is only four or five years’ supply (allowing for some that come from the library like this one that I’m telling you about).  And all the time I am reading those books I am not watching commercial TV ads or reading lifestyle magazines that encourage me to feel dissatisfied with what I have.  Reading is the ultimate strategy for saving money and consuming less.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism is not a sober instruction manual for making your own soap and recycling your undies into dusters.  It is funny.  The authors have a droll style, which is very engaging.  In Chapter 9, ‘Stop reading those magazines’, they point out that lifestyle magazines pander to the idea that the people in them are people like you, if only you were doing what they are doing, and then it makes sense for you to throw about phrases like ‘time poor’ and ‘retail therapy’ because they do.

Very few people do much of the stuff that the media implies people do, and those who do work hard to keep up.  But lifestyle journalism makes it easy to feel that there is a world of people out there effortlessly dressing, holidaying, exercising, eating and thinking in certain appropriate ways, and it is human nature not to want to be terribly out of line with what everyone else is up to.  Steer clear of this homogenising influence is your authors’ suggestion. Spend your Sunday morning breakfasts perusing odd facts about breeding piranhas in captivity instead.  (p.57)

The page is accompanied by a strip of photo images of people (and a leopard) smiling.  It is captioned Sample facial expressions you might like to experiment with while declining to read lifestyle magazines.

Chapters are very short.  ‘Create Your Own Normal’ zips through a typical frazzled day, and then shows us a chart with some startling comparisons from the 1950s and nowish:

  • The average house space has more than doubled, from 27m² to 83m²
  • The percentage of single occupant households has gone from 10% to 25%
  • The annual distance travelled in road vehicles per person has more than trebled from 4900 km to 16200 km
  • The percentage of food prepared at home has dropped from 75% to 50% [and I have my doubts about this, because processed food that is heated up at home is not ‘prepared at home’ IMO]
  • The percentage of houses with air-conditioning has leapt from 10% to 87%

There’s more than that, but you get the drift.

Are we any happier?  ‘Normal’ has something to do with what we compare ourselves with…

Chapter 2, ‘Relish’ is about resetting your ideas about what gives you pleasure.  Conversation gets a whole paragraph, because it surely is one of life’s great pleasures.  And the authors cite the peculiar results of one study that showed that the presence of a mobile phone, not even turned on, not the owner’s phone, detracted from the quality of conversation.  One hypothesis is that the possibility of an alternate convo, reduced participation in the here-and-now.

Counterintuitively, Chapter 3 is called ‘Be materialistic’.  That is, cherish the things you have and look after them, instead of chucking them away!

With such an abundance of cheap things to replace broken cheap things , many of us have lost the most basic knowledge of how to care for them, and instead have almost fetishized the pleasure of not bothering.

Chapter 11 is called ‘Beware Fake Frugal’ and it begins like this:

Listen up, this is quite an important bit.  Maybe it should have gone right up at the front.  Right next to the definition of frugality.  Because this is actually a sub-clause of that very definition: if it’s cheap to buy, but at the expense of someone or something else, it’s Fake Frugal, and it’s just not fair.  Factory-farmed eggs, endless brand-new clothes made by tired women in far away countries, ‘value packs’ of disposable razors that end up as bobbing carpets in the North Atlantic.  You get the gist. (p.62)

Their point is that we should pay the real cost of producing foods…

A little while ago the ABC ran a series about reducing waste, so many of us already know this statistic: Australians throw out around 20% of all food brought home – that’s one grocery bag in five. What’s more, almost as much again is wasted by processors and retailers before it even reaches the consumer.  The authors suggest two palatable strategies to reduce this dreadful waste:

  1. Look at anything you’re about to buy and assess if it has high potential to become waste.  Before you go food shopping, check what you already have before you go.  Buy to complement what you’ve got.  Give any leftovers to neighbours (as we do when we cut a pumpkin that we’ve harvested from the garden).
  2. Look at anything you are about to throw away, and assess its potential to be useful.  If it might be valuable to someone, find somewhere to donate it to, or put the word out on the village grapevine that it’s going spare.

A third strategy doesn’t suit everyone, and it doesn’t suit me.  Do your shopping in the waste stream.  That is, scavenge, from the tip, from the junk people leave on their nature strips at hard-rubbish-collection-time.

There’s a useful little chapter about resisting #MyPetHate advertising.  I like to think I see very little of it because I don’t get junk mail in my letter box and I don’t watch or listen to any commercial media (except for Masterchef, of course!).  Ads are all over the roads of course, and I see it in shops, but I think I’m unconsciously using this strategy:

Be more content: […] as author Douglas Rushkoff writes in his book Coercion, “the more fun you’re having in life, the more satisfied you are with yourself, the harder a target you are to reach.”  You may have observed that people with an air of contentment with life, a mind fascinated by ideas, and strong connections with other people and the natural world are less susceptible to advertising. (p.53)  (In the interests of truth, I had to cross that last bit out.  My idea of communing with nature is too limp and feeble to count as a strong connection. I don’t even watch David Attenborough.)

Here’s a little hint of my own to deal with advertising.  Set up your email to siphon off all those ads that come from online suppliers that make you give them your email address.  All of mine go straight into a folder called Ads Not Spam.  When I open it, I run my eye down the names of the suppliers to check that there isn’t one from Readings, (because I’m not #TotallyImmune) and then delete the lot. Sight unseen.  (For a short while after The Offspring last upgraded my computer, I didn’t have this set up, and I was quite shocked to find myself wasting hours of my life browsing all kinds of online stuff that I Do Not Need!)

The Art of Frugal Hedonism is a beaut book.  I haven’t told you all about it, because I’d like you to read it yourselves.  Even if you have a buy a copy!

Authors: Annie Raser-Rowland with Adam Grubb
Title: The Art of Frugal Hedonism, a guide to spending less while enjoying everything more
Publisher: Melliodora, 2016
ISBN: 9780994392817
Source: Kingston Library
Available from Fishpond: The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More


Responses

  1. I love the sound of this! I’ll look out for it. And I love what you say about contentment being one of your best assets …

  2. Thanks:)
    There’s no real virtue in it. It’s the way my mind works. More than one handbag, Christmas crockery used only one day of the year = more storage space needed. More storage space = a bigger house. A bigger house = more dusting. That’s less time for reading!

  3. Thanks so much for this book recommendation, Lisa, I’ll be ordering it from my local library tomorrow. I’m continually trying to figure out ways of living in a frugal manner. Such as reducing the buying of new clothes and the consumption of , fresh water, electricity, travel which is powered by fuel not generated by myself such as walking/ cycling. I do buy too many books and am making a real effort to order more from our local library.:)

    • I would love to be able to cycle but my ankle is too dodgy for that. But I do walk wherever I can within, say, 30 minutes distance, less if it’s hot weather. I’m not ready to surrender the car, but it sometimes stays in the carport for days and days without being used.

  4. Sounds fabulous. Off I go to look for this one right now. Thanks Lisa!
    PS. I’m sure you’re generosity as a blogger will also get a mention in the eulogy (in that you generously share your views about books so that others can enjoy them too).

    • Careful, you might get the job of writing it!

  5. This sounds absolutely splendid! Lagom is a Swedish word meaning “just the right amount” and this sounds an excellent maxim to me. Of course, one person’s lagom might be another’s lack but it would be nice to make the concept more generally accepted and this books sounds as if it’s a step on the way.

    • Yes, I think that’s true. The authors make the point that some places make it easier to do than others. For example, they say that substituting satisfying experiences for new consumer goods can make us happy, and they write about the pleasures of hanging out at their local park, the interesting people they’ve met and the friends they’ve made and how in some cases that’s led to sharing things and lending things and so on. But not all places have a nice park within walking distance. Our outer suburbs are really, really badly designed so that people have to drive considerable distance to get to shops and schools and so on, and the design of those fortress McMansions makes it hard to get to know your neighbours.

      • Yes, that’s true. There has been some research suggesting that younger people prefer experiences to yet more stuff which seems like a step forward but you’re right – it’s much easier to feel content with what you have if you live in beautiful surroundings.

        • Or if it’s possible to see beauty or interest around you, even if it’s not necessarily obvious.

  6. I confess this sounds very appealing. I am going through a phase of not really wanting to buy anything – apart from books, of course…. =:o – and it’s very refreshing. It does make you focus on the things you have and value them more – I wonder how long this phase will last!

    • It would be interesting to see how much time we spend shopping nowadays compared to when we were younger. It just seems like a chore to me now…

  7. Mum and dad who were brought up at the tail end of the Depression really were frugal, obsessive scraping of butter containers and saving meat fat in jam tins spring to mind, not to mention growing up wearing hand me downs. One real bar to frugality today is that manufacturers, of cars especially, have stopped issuing comprehensive repair manuals for home handy-people. My 1973 Triumph TC 2500 had step by step instructions for every possible repair and I kept it going for 20 years.

    • That’s true, but it’s also true that the computerised innards of things are too complex for mere mortals to fix. And sometimes to use. There are features on our oven purchased in 2001 that we have never used, same with our TV….

  8. This sounds like a fantastic book, full of great advice about how to stop trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and find contentment in life. I have a mixed view on contentment, I think a balance is important but then I guess it depends on how you interpret the word ‘content’ because I would see curiosity as a kind of discontent and I guess the writer is advocating curiosity as a means of being ‘hedonistic’ in life. So I think I would agree with that. Anyway, it sounds like a fascinating book. Great review.

    • Ah yes, there is a fine line between contented and complacent and I hope I never get to be the latter, because yes, I value curiosity too, and *wry smile* I am often discontented about the state of the world and the uselessness of our present government in particular.


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