I regularly workout in flip flops. On the weekends I tend to wear the same shorts and/or T-shirts for two or more days. I’ve had the same breakfast for nearly five years (some type of eggs and toast). I started cutting my hair in sophomore year of college — can’t remember if I’ve paid for a haircut since then. I hate dressing up for work. I don’t have a car, and regularly bike to first dates (Where’s your car parked? Oh, the bike racks over there!). I fantasize about stealing condiments of ketchup and mustard at a local fast-food restaurant. I’d rather enjoy a good book or the company of friends over crowds in a club. I tend to leave the AC off or, at least, at sweaty levels if I’m alone. Vice versa, I tend to freeze in the winter because my room is draftier than the rest of the apartment and I keep the heat low. I’ve been known to pick up grocery items and carry them throughout the store, and then dispense of unnecessary purchases on random shelves (I’m sorry store clerks).
When I was younger, each of these pieces brought me great insecurity. I purchased Under Armour clothing and paid careful attention to be appropriately attired to workout. I was terribly concerned with how I’d be perceived. I used to drive my car to dates, and pay for parking, gas, and all the depreciation in the process. It seemed customary to have and drive a car — the movies always featured the man picking up his date. Many of these examples started out as deep vulnerabilities, which spawned into consumption.
Then frugality hit me. With all of its messages and philosophical underpinnings, I felt this pull to save wherever I could. It worked. I started to save money and act more consciously about my spending. But like many moments in my life, I was insecure to broadly announce that I was frugal. I wondered how people would react.
Reactions varied across genders, ages, and populations. Some loved and admired that I was so “young” and looking to right my financial path. Others were defensive that I was looking to save, as if it said something about their own spending. They’d question just how frugal I was being, and whether I would continue. Doubt was pervasive at times — for me and the person listening. Could I continue frugality in the face of cultural assumptions of consumption?
I gained confidence in this new life by regularly reading websites such as Becoming Minimalist, Budgets are Sexy, and Zen Habits. Each website presented a minimal, simple life. The authors had removed themselves from many of our culture’s trappings. They wanted and professed the mantra of less.
While individuals’ reactions varied, there was consistency in my reading and writing. I found solace in their words and my writing. I could reflect on what this meant to me longer term. The broader picture I kept coming back to was a sense of modesty and necessity. I needed to live on less because I was born privileged, and many weren’t. Additionally, I was motivated to cut back to trim my student loans. These ideas provided a motivation beyond simply wanting to see more money in my bank account. I had no interest in amassing wealth.
Somewhere around then that confidence led to a loss of the previous insecurities. I embraced the weird. In the past, I may have held back with friends and dates. But I turned a new leaf and led with my new life. I’ve made do with less, which is transferable across domains of personal and professional work. There’s a grit that develops from going without.
Yes, I’m sweating profusely as I type these words. Yes, I risk dropping a free weight on my flip flops. Yes, I did bike to our date, and no there aren’t any pegs.
I’ve changed. At times, I’m countercultural, but at the heart is nonconformity. I’m sick of living within the carefully crafted bounds that others expect. Nonconformity has opened doors for me. My creativity has flourished in this time. By accepting a simple path, I’ve written and read more than ever for pure fun and enjoyment. It’s the greatest reward of this new life.