Frugality Is Sustainability

There is a strange trend that I keep observing in the intersection I occupy online between frugality/personal finance and sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyles.

At least in certain corners of the internet, some people seem more concerned with showing the world that they are eco-friendly by having certain things and looking a certain way.

But considering how over-consumption and over-population are the biggest contributors to the decimation of natural resources and climate change – there is just no way you can buy yourself a sustainable lifestyle through conventional consumerism.

The big picture

Sorry, but no amount of bamboo utensils, organic cotton or stainless steel water bottles are going to change anything (and that is coming from someone who loves all those things), unless you change your consumption habits at the same time.

If you throw out a perfectly serviceable couch because it isn’t made of hemp, then you are contributing to landfill just as much as someone who bought a new conventional couch.

If you feel the need to buy new clothes every single week, even organic cotton will be an issue, because it is a very water intensive plant.

We cannot solve our problems with the same way of thinking that got us into those problems in the first place. More consumption, even of less harmful goods, is still consumption.

If you need to replace said hemp couch every five years because of fashion changes, well, then you might be marginally better than couches filled with toxic flame retardants, but you’re still contributing an awful lot to landfill and resource depletion.

Days of yore

On the rare occasion that Mr. Frugasaurus or myself are exposed to TV-advertisements, we are always struck by how rushed they make everything. It’s always “New, new, new!”, which I  suppose is the whole point of advertisement – to sell you more, bigger and “better”.

Contrast that to my grandmother, whose house has looked more or less the same for as long as I can remember.

Yes, she did like to attend flea markets for sport when she had an easier time getting around, but it is the same rust-red couch in her living room, it is the same cupboards in the kitchen, and the bathroom still has the same interior and pictures on the wall.

When stuff gets exchanged in grandma’s house, it is because they genuinely provide lacklustre performance, like her 30 year old stove. Or if her needs have changed, like the new chair because she has trouble getting up and sitting down.

While some might cringe at her unfashionable lace curtains, I find there is a certain charm in a house and items that are well lived-in. They still serve their function, and because they are carefully taken care of, they still look decent.

Be a frugal lazy bum

Sometimes, I think it might fall natural to me to be frugal because in many ways, I am quite lazy.

Getting a new couch? But then I have to administer to sell or give away my old couch. Plus carrying, unwrapping and receiving people to pick up my old stuff and cleaning the living room several times.

I’ll rather just keep the couch.

Same with our dinner plates. They are in at least five different styles. Some we got for free, some I found in a charity shop, some were inherited from family members.

I couldn’t even set a matching table for four, let alone 12 or 24, which some dinner sets advertise.

But they are perfectly serviceable dinner plates. They hold food, are dishwasher safe, have no chips, and most of them have my ever-preferred shades of neutral to blue colours.

When we have friends over for dinner, they are usually more concerned with getting a plate than getting one that looks like their neighbours plate. At least that’s what I have found.

 Ban the normality of buying new things!

I wish we, as a society, would move away from the endless buying of new things. To embrace things like “buy nothing” challenges for clothes, furniture, kitchen equipment, you name it!

Wouldn’t it be nice if buying something new would be considered an exceptional action? Something to be pursued only if all other options have been exhausted.

Have you looked for a replacement? Asked a friend or family member to borrow it? Or looked for it used online? Are you handy enough to create what you want? Would it add honest and lasting joy to your life?

Closing thoughts

I sure don’t want to sound preachy, but this is such an important topic to me. I wish we could all consider, that when we bring something into our house and our life, we try our best to commit to keeping and using it until the end of its life cycle, however long that may be.

I am not saying we should never buy anything new, ever. But there are so many options to the majority of the things we surround ourselves with!

Be a lazy frugalist, you too. Just keep what you already have! 😉

PS: I will admit, I love researching eco-alternatives if something I own is nearing the end of its life. There are few things that will make me more frustrated and exasperated than not being able to find a sustainable alternative if we need one. So I am not saying I don’t understand the appeal of sustainable goods or that you should never buy them, ever.

I’m just trying to say that the most sustainable alternative of them all might simply be to turn the stupid box off, release yourself from knowing the current trends and what the Joneses are purchasing, and just enjoy the stuff you have already spent money on (or not)!

Frugality is sustainability. How you can't buy your way to sustainable, and we can't solve a problem with the same thinking that got us into the problem. #Frugality #sustainability

30 Comments on “Frugality Is Sustainability

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I love how you said “you can’t buy your way into sustainability.” Absolutely true! I often cringe when I go to Earth Day festivals because a lot of it these days are just glorified advertisements for green products.
    To be truly green (which is also truly frugal), there are three steps in the process: reduce, reuse, recycle.
    Or, as it was said in WWII:
    Use it up,
    Wear it out,
    Make it do,
    Or do without!

    • Yup! I agree with you as well!

      I also love this quote from Pete Seeger: If it cannot be reduced, reused repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, resold, recycled or composted. Then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.

  2. This is a fantastic point to make that more people need to realize! I have been gradually switching over to all natural cleaning methods the past year or so and a family member made an innocent comment asking why I still have regular store bought stuff under the sink. Why would I throw out all the cleaning supplies I have to make new ones? That’s only creating waste and defeating the purpose. I’ve been working on using up what I have and as one gets finished only THEN do I determine the natural alternative. Not only do we, as a society in general, buy too much, but we tend not to even finish what we already own.

    • Thank you! We are the same in our household as well. I think glass and ceramic kitchen bowls are pretty and non-toxic for instance, but when my friend gives me a large plastic mixing bowl because she has two, I am not going to say no! I see so much of what you say at some people’s house, particularly with bathroom products and food!

  3. At least here in Canada, advertising used to (I have no idea now) push people to buy more eco friendly or energy efficient . Of course they would, as they want to sell. But from the buyer perspective, at least they were wanting to make a positive choice. Sure if there item could be fixed or is still working, it’s not the best choice but intentions were good. I know it took me a few years to put 2 and 2 together before I realized that replacing something before it’s completely done is… not so great even if the replacement is more energy efficient.

    Cheers to being lazy!

    • Yeah, I used to think in the same way “at least it’s better, right?”. And not just that, but there’s also the incentive, at least for me, to buy from certain eco-friendly local producers to help them stay in business. Just like we have to use the watchmaker if we want him to stick around. It can be a difficult balance between knowing I can just order a battery online and replacing it myself, and paying the premium to vote for what sort of world I want with my money.

  4. When I moved into my own home I was lucky to get all of my furniture free from family and friends (either because they were clearing out an elderly relative’s home or because they were simply redecorating). As well as being environmentally friendly, reducing waste, and avoiding landfill, it saved me hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds. Plus, buying used (or receiving donations) reduced the options and got rid of the headache of having to actually CHOOSE furniture for myself. (And being very indecisive, I probably still wouldn’t have furniture if I’d had to actually go to a store and choose what I wanted!). There are so many benefits from not being a consumer!

    • We were the same when we recently moved. People were just giving away perfectly functional and comfortable furniture for free online! All we needed was a friend with a large car, some gas money and off we went! I don’t even know exactly how much we saved, but we certainly earned back the gas money ten, if not a hundred times over! I wish more people would realise how insidious decision fatigue can be. I too am much happier with my second-hand furniture than if I had been given the time and choice to go through hundreds of items and comparing them!

  5. Lazy frugal bums unite!! As much as I want to say some of my lack of replacement of things is for “the environment,” it’s at least as much from not wanting to go through the effort of finding a new couch (ours wasn’t new when we got it as a hand me down from my parents 8 years ago).

  6. I applaud you on such a great post! I could not agree more with your sentiments. We really can’t buy our way to a more sustainable future. It’s absolutely counterproductive! I love your point about being a frugal lazy bum, too. That made me laugh. That’s basically me in a nutshell. I’m striving to be reduce my impact as much as possible, but it also works out well for me because it means I simply don’t have to be bothered to keep consuming and then replace those items when they’ve gone out of fashion. It’s so much more convenient to have one thing as long as possible then replace it only when it’s literally falling apart.

    • Thank you! I am much the same way, I simply don’t bother to replace or buy/consume things. I recently made a comment to Mr. E. about whether or not we had a clean bathroom counter because we were minimalists or just because we were too lazy to buy that much stuff.

      The latter, for sure!

  7. Very true. A lot of our furniture is second hand and going strong. Our sofas were second hand when we got them 14 years ago and still look great now.
    It bugs me that white goods such as washing machines and tumble dryers aren’t made to last any more. A repairman who came to fix our washer last year said that most of them are only made to last 6-7 years, then need to be replaced as they cost more to be fixed than replaced.Same with smartphones…Apple have admitted that after a few years the phones are programmed to stop working and need to be replaced. It’s a shame to think of the environmental impact this waste has and I think there should be environmental taxes for manufacturers or something…

    • Oh yeah, planned obsolescence bothers me so much. It’s one of the things that just can’t be combined with a circular economy and finite resources, unless those same producers also drastically increase their recycling levels at the same time.

  8. Hurrah to all that! I feel similarly in general.

    My biggest money savings have been because we are too lazy to act- out of simple laziness or because we live rurally and things involve a 2-3 hour trip away. If it’s a large sized purchase, that would mean a second trip hauling the trailer and.. yeah fuck it, we don’t need a new couch (couch is good analogy because my husband wants a new couch to better fit our room flow.. with a recliner built in so we can ditch the cheap ass recliner we do have that has a blanket in the seat because the stuffing is coming out).

    Couple lazy with cheap and you’ve got a great recipe for environmental care: because we’re rural, we don’t pay for trash service. We generate a small enough amount of trash that we have a few bins we fill up and end up taking to the dump 2-3 times a year at about $40 a visit. We have to get creative with everything else, so cans and bottles are recycled, compostables are composted and some paper/wood based stuff is burned. I’m in Oregon where we have a bottle deposit, and you’d be amazed how many people throw their cans away because they have trash service.

    The inner glass in our stove cracked not long after purchasing the house. Sometimes things take a bit longer to cook (probably due to heat loss, so really I’m not sure out eco friendly it is to be using less effective equipment), but we’re lazy and don’t want to bother to buy another one until it dies. Same with the dishwasher. Something broke and we ended up finding the same model for cheap to replace it.. and then husband figured out how to fix the old one. So I’ve had a replacement dishwasher sitting in my garage for 4 years waiting for when this one really bites the dust, because, who wants to have to go dishwasher shopping.. 2 hours away?

    • Haha, yeah. Couches work for so many analogies!

      I find it really fascinating that you don’t have trash pickup in rural parts of the US. I think tiny Norway has mandatory thrash pickup everywhere. But I think it’s really great that you use it as a reason to get creative! Circular economy is where it’s at!

      I’ll have to admit, I’ve never had to go appliance shopping… yet. Our flats always had things like fridge, stove and washing machine included! But considering how much I stall just going to the city to buy… anything (and the city is twenty minutes away by bus), I feel your pain!

  9. Great read!

    My wife often questions green and high efficiency products that people encourage you to replace working products.

    It’s important to think through the entire life cycle.

    • Thanks!

      I think there is a cut-off area where an older product is so energy guzzling compared to a new one, that it might make environmental sense to replace them (re, my grandmother’s ancient stove). But for most things? Use it up!

  10. Kudos, Kristine on a very good post. It’s heartening to see so many people commenting in support of this message. It is such an important point that doesn’t get talked about enough. Like many others I also am a happy frugal lazy bum, who has been delighted to free herself from what I find to be the joyless and time-sucking process of shopping in numerous stores for furniture and other items. Instead I simply buy used items locally online, get them free for friends, or rescue them from the side of the street when they’ve been left for trash pick-up.

    I hope more people in the financial independence community will start applying this line of thinking not only in their personal lives, but in their income generation efforts (a.k.a. side hustles) as well. Do we really need more t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other cheaply made items that can easily be (re-)sold on and eBay?

    I dumpster dive quite a bit at thrift stores here in my part of Florida and am continually amazed at how much good stuff they throw out. We Americans consume so much s*** that our thrift stores can’t even handle all of what’s donated to them so they usually throw the excess out. Granted some of the items that get thrown out truly belong in the trash, but a lot of it is still usable. These dumpsters are teeming with perfectly good, sometimes brand new clothes, Christmas decorations, books, greeting cards, and so much more. Additionally, store employees often don’t have the knowledge or experience to recognize the value of the vintage or more obscure item they just tossed into the dumpster. I have earned hundreds of dollars selling some of these still usable vintage items (like a meat grinder accessory part), books, etc. on eBay. I have a list of blog posts related to all of this that I plan on writing and posting on my new blog in the future. Thanks for getting this conversation going.

    • That is crazy to me, just the idea that we consume so much, try to donate it to charity to alleviate our consciousness – but even the charity shops are receiving too much stuff to manage! It doesn’t surprise me any more, but it does upset me.

      Thank you for your very kind comment (and recent feature!), I am so happy to see more bloggers join the intersection between personal finance and environmental concern. We are a growing bunch, and a great one!

  11. I live on the other side of the world and yet this post rings true. From most of the people I know, I usually hear that being environmentally conscious is too expensive, mostly because organic and ‘eco-friendly’ products are pricey. I keep trying to make them understand that being environmentally friendly doesn’t have to mean purchasing more, it’s about not purchasing at all, or reusing things or making your own. I will make sure to send this article to them to better explain it. Very well written!

  12. Amen for lazy frugality! I am exactly the same, I prefer to fix something rather than dealing with the pain of finding a replacement

  13. Yes yes! Thank you. Things like Instagram make us feel inadequate for not having new everything. Let’s all just look at the pretty pictures and move on. Almost everything in my house is second hand. I think it give it character.

    • Absolutely! I feel so bad when I see fully functional stuff just thrown aside. Giving in a second life is almost as saving money on not buying it! 🙂

  14. Pingback: Plant A Tree - Frugasaurus

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