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Thursday, November 08, 2007
When “Frugal” Only Means “Cheap”: Rethinking Simplicity
Many emerging/emergent folks have been considering the issue of consumerism, and how it affects our souls, families, communities, and environment. There have been calls to repentance from our greed and materialism, and there is a renewed desire to recover the virtue of simplicity.

These are all good developments. But while we reconsider our relationship to money and our “need” for shopping and material goods, we need to be careful to not succumb to the notion that simplicity and “saving money” are the same thing. In fact, in our attempts to save money so that we can be “better stewards” of it, we may be contributing to the evils of consumerism, rather than separating ourselves from it.

I recently spoke with someone who was complaining about the high cost of food at a local independent grocery store. He insinuated that people only shopped there because of its “snob appeal”. I sheepishly explained that I’d been known to shop there myself. Why? Well, the food is indeed more expensive than at many of the corporate chains. It is also of much higher quality: I know that the food that I buy at this store is free of hormones, pesticides and other disagreeable chemicals. (Plus, the food just plain tastes better!) I also know that the producers of the food are often small farmers (and artisan bakers, cheesemakers, etc) who take care and pride in what they create and who are making a living wage.

The same principle can be applied to clothing: We might fancy ourselves virtuous if we purchase less expensive, less fashionable clothing at a discount chain, but the truth is that synthetic fibers are often petroleum based, cheaply made clothing wears out faster (thus requiring replacing), and is often produced in sweatshops.

The desire to not overspend should not trump a commitment to fair wages and humanely/sustainably produced goods. Nor should it trump a desire for true quality (i.e. reliability, durability, and beauty) in those goods that we do purchase. Having a few extra dollars to give to our church’s food pantry is a noble thing, unless those dollars were saved at the expense of the environment (or on the backs of child laborers). When we spend, we should not just be concerned with whether we are spending “too much”, but whether enough was spent to fairly compensate those who created the product, to protect the natural resources affected by its production, and to ensure its quality. Simplicity may be our goal, but getting there may be more complex than we thought.
posted by Lainie Petersen at 11:47 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/09/2007 04:01:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Yes, living simply means cutting back on the amount of stuff we buy not just saving ourselves money. We may end up spending the same amount to buy one or two ethically made items of clothing as we would on the half a dozen or so new outfits we would usually but a Sweatshops R' Us, but we are not giving our money to evil systems. Living simply means getting beyond ourselves and caring for the needs of others.

  • At 11/09/2007 10:11:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Excellent point Lainie!

  • At 11/10/2007 08:55:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    Yes, I have been wondering: what is better at Christmas to give more more money to charity or give more in our purchasing choices which empower people, and women and children in particular to live respectful lives with a sense of worth? Is it even better to buy less? What if we buy more (as gifts) so that we are being generous to those we love as well as directing our finances toward honoring people and eliminating poverty at its source?

  • At 11/14/2007 12:31:00 AM, Blogger Katie

    That is beautiful...thank you. Exactly what I've been thinking (and practicing) but haven't been able to put into words.

  • At 11/20/2007 11:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Nowadays as the definition cheap has touched down to a new level, which are non environmentally friendly and no longer equal to a healthy life, your article is great to remind others regarding this fact.

    Great concept thin-slicing you made on this one, Lainie!

    Simple & Healthy choices mostly are no longer necessarily the cheapest ones..

    J.C. Carvill
    Email: support@cosmosing.com
    URL: http://www.cosmosing.com/jeanclaudecarvill/index.php


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