Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Doing More with Less


  • -People like my mom are feeling sudden competition at their favorite consignment shops, previously a well-kept secret for a thrifty few. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, here’s the scoop: a simple online Yellow Page search for consignment shops will have you printing out a “treasure map” to their locales in no time.

  • -Every so often I plug Freecycle again. It’s a great way to recycle, save, and share, and the process of posting or acquiring some free stuff is pretty painless.

  • -New to meal planning? The resources seem endless. Real is a good place to start.

  • -Food pantries need our help, now more than ever. Here’s a search engine for food pantries in or near your zip code.


As a nation, we are feeling a collective pinch. It’s hard not to internalize the sound bites that feature corporate failures, bailouts, and recession. In the pundits’ frequent comparisons to the Great Depression, the Depression seems to be coming out on top.

Of course, for those who have lost their jobs that pinch is replaced with a swift punch. Those of us fortunate enough to remain gainfully employed have to remember those who now fear being unable to provide even basic necessities to their children. Many of us know that, with a similar turn of circumstance, that could be us. Community food pantries need some extra generosity, with the understanding that it can’t be limited to the holiday season.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I just learned that Plato coined the phrase, so this truism has been around for quite a while. Some of us who had our career heyday in the mostly (or at least comparatively) prosperous 80s and 90s are trying on inventive economics for the first time.

I’ve seen a salvo of broadcasts on the rediscovery of consignment shopping, headlines on the 10 cheapest foods, and a plethora of coupons as local businesses strive to stay afloat.

It’s not all gloom and doom, and perhaps there is a silver lining for many of us. I get the sense that people feel good about taking stock, needing to prioritize, and cutting the fat from their day to day lives. It reminds me of my 9 months on Weight Watchers. What felt like deprivation at first became a new way of thinking about food, a sense that I was no longer eating in a mindless way. And that felt good, somehow crisper and cleaner, once I adjusted.

Tom and I made a list of ways to cut back. We’ve been better about burning oil—-since we work in the basement most of the time, plug-in heater at our side, we keep the house rather chilly during the day. For the first time in our 18+ married years, long overdue, I make a meal plan for the week. It’s nothing elaborate—just a list of potential entrees that we might otherwise forget, armor against the temptation to sigh “Let’s just get takeout.” We run the dishwasher on “energy-saver dry”. We’ve been thriftier about gift purchases for Christmas, taking advantage of coupons and special deals.

While we may be tightening our belts, all around us are reminders of how much we have had materially, perhaps too much. Decluttering has brought some good results beyond a neater-looking house. A thorough weeding out of our messy pantry and freezer showed me exactly what we had to make our meals—there was more than I thought hidden in the mess. Now that Gavin’s a sophisticated reader and has new tastes in toys, we gave a bag of kindergarten-level books and puzzles away through Freecyle, happy to know another family can benefit from our surplus. As Christmas approaches we’ll be giving away more, and I like the thought of meeting the beneficiaries of our paring down.

I have great optimism that an economic "diet" may be a wake up call for a lot of Americans to live closer to their priorities, to make good decisions. More can be done with less, and the benefits can extend beyond the pocketbook. Sharing what we have, when we can manage it, feels good. Enjoy your silver linings this holiday season!

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