The more I embrace frugality, the more I wonder if a frugal life equals a life detached from society. And then I ask myself: Is that a bad thing? I find myself less and less interested in “mainstream” society as the years go by. I don’t watch TV much, so I couldn’t tell you anything about American Idol, Survivor (is it even still on?), or any of the cable-only shows that are so popular these days. I take my news in small bites through the Internet, so I’m not aware of much beyond the big headlines. Since I don’t go out to eat very much, I’m not up to date with all the latest restaurants and bars in town. I don’t keep up with fashion trends, gadgets, or cars. About the only thing I do keep up with are movies, and even then I’m six months behind or more because I get them from Netflix rather than seeing them in the theater.
I don’t engage with service providers all that often, either. I’ve learned to do so much myself that I only have to call on the professionals when a job is really complicated or dangerous. Even then I’m likely to do at least some of the work myself. I don’t shop much at all because I make things last for a long time and I don’t shop for fun. I grow a lot of my own food in my garden, so I don’t even go to the grocery store as much as most people. The more frugal, self-sufficient, and independent I become, the less I’m involved with and dependent on mainstream society.
Sometimes I feel like that’s a bad thing. Sometimes I wonder if I’m losing touch with the world. Sometimes I wonder why I’m content to be this detached. Am I one step away from becoming a Howard Hughes disciple? Shouldn’t I want to get out more and do the things that “normal” people do? Over the years I’ve tried to force myself to become more involved in the mainstream. I’ve gone to the movies, eaten out more, and hung out at the mall. Every time, it’s not long before I run back to my quiet life. There’s very little “out there” that appeals to me. Having lived simply for so long, the harried spend, consume, repeat world makes me a little disoriented. It’s too bright, too noisy, and too fast paced for me. I’d much rather be with my books, out in my garden, or hanging out on the porch with good friends and a beer than in some stuffy mall or smoky restaurant. That’s just me and I’ve come to accept it.
The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I’ve concluded that being detached from the world is a good thing. If I am not dependent on the outside world for my happiness or even survival then when the world is in chaos, like it is these days, I’m less affected. The price of gas annoys me, but it doesn’t rule my world because I don’t need to constantly be on the go. If the economy collapses, I can still get food out of my garden. If I need work done, I can do it myself for minimal cost. If movies, cable, phones, or anything else go up in price it doesn’t drive my budget into meltdown. I don’t even try to keep up with the Jones’ so there’s no shame on my part if they see me in my old clothes or driving my old car. I suffer from less stress because I don’t hang on every word of the news and TV shows that mimic a hostile reality. It’s not all that bad to be detached from the modern world.
There is one segment of society that I find myself drawing closer to these days, however. Those are the other “frugal freaks” like myself. I look for people who believe in thrift. I’m drawn to people who believe in the power of bartering, neighborly help, borrowing, reuse/resale, and community supported agriculture. I’m drawn to community programs like local theater, libraries, museums, and recreational programs. In other words, I find myself drawn more toward “communities” than toward “mainstream society.”
As a country, I think we’ve gotten too far away from our communities as we’ve pursued the mainstream. We’ve forsaken our downtowns and our local merchants in favor of glitzy malls and stores found in hip magazines and celebrity culture. We’ve gotten away from relating to each other on a local level and we’ve replaced that community with movies, television and the Internet. We’ve decided that borrowing and bartering are poor substitutes for paying full price because paying full price means that we are “somebody.” We’ve decided that paying someone else to do something for us is preferable to gathering a group of friends together on a nice Saturday afternoon to do the job and then spending the evening on the porch talking. Mainstream society dictates that we stay so busy that we have no time for each other. Our pursuit of the “mainstream” has robbed us of our communities and I think it’s sad.
With each passing year I find myself seeking community and detaching from the mainstream. The more frugal I become, the more I find myself hanging out in frugal world, which has become almost a counterculture in this country. I’m not so much detaching from society as I am finding a new society to hang out in. And that’s not a bad thing from where I’m standing.