We Are In A New Age Of Frugality

Posted on July 22nd, 2010 in All Articles.

For years I have been probing the idea of what we need to have in a home that serves us well in our lives.

I am looking for the expression of “emptiness” and “freedom” that capture a more pure form of us.  Where are our values, hopes and dreams embodied in our home space?

Does that Crate and Barrel table carry the message of our lives against the backdrop of that flat screen tv and West Elm lamp?  Does the granite counter express you that the builder chose against those shaker cabinets?

The issue is this: How is it that we don’t put ourselves into a home and  envelope our bodies in a space that surrounds us with consumer items that then cause us to be less present and less aware of our quieter selves?

Think of your home now.

What in your home is a reflection of that deeper self and of your big why in life?

Is it there?  Is it prominent?  If it’s not, how do you get it there?

How do you know what your why is and what is cultures purpose for you?

In other words, how does your home more express who you are than the culture that surrounds you?

I helped a buyer in Orland Park early in my career.  He was retiring.  He was single.  He wanted that big suburban house that is 3500 square feet.  I felt guilty moving Carl, one of my first clients into that home back in 2002.  He had no kids.  He didn’t need the space.  He wanted it.  I don’t know what he filled it with.

He just wanted that big house. It meant something to him as a symbol.  After all he was moving from an Englewood bungalow.

I didn’t probe it too far with him other than he thought it was a good investment and he had visitors occasionally (nephews, etc).

Well I can’t imagine Carl making that choice anymore.  To move to Orland Park for a McMansion like that and get saddled with heat and electricity bills that are in excess of $300 a month!  Not unless it was a foamed LEED rated home  with a geothermal pond.  Then to be awash in a flood of homes exactly like it on block after block with all that grass to water and cut and have look just like your neighbors.  Not all the blocks near him had sidewalks.  It was a true suburb subdivision – this type of sprawl decision that a new urbanist, like myself, loves to hold up as an example of where we went wrong.

I also have become better at asking the right questions from the get go and challenging my clients.  To try to tease the real needs of a home buyer from the delusions of grandeur that seems to captivate so many of our housing choices and lead us to “overbuy” and get ourselves into a housing payment that saps our freedom, peace of mind, and stability/financial security.

We can be happy with less and more in the bank.

In reading the literature around this subject and observing the changes in our decision making about home choices and what buyers’ of homes are concerned with, I think the intersection between homes and economics is a mindset of frugality.

It’s about focusing on what’s important and not much more.  It’s about what’s important to you.

Recently I came upon the the new book by Chris Farrell, “The New Frugality.”  This is one such example of someone articulating the new epoch we are in.  Of identifying it and planning a new life forward.  If you’re someone who’s considering short selling or having trouble justifying your “old way of thinking house payment,” you are feeling the trigger of something new arising inside of you.  If you are not.. and your reading this and thinking “what the hell is he talking about” you will likely sooner or later start to see the cues arising near you if you listen to people’s choices.

I think it is our identities collectively letting go of an old reality.  When the 9 million jobs disappeared with the trillions of dollars in equity in our homes, so did our collective truth that “expensive furniture is important.”  Well made furniture is still important and functionality is of course . A comfortable chair is desirable over an uncomfortable one.   But if it rings of “expensive” it is less important than ringing of “function.”   Hence an Ikea chair is just as suitable in a high end home if it “works” with the room as a $5000 chair.   The aesthetic in our home, the symbols we fill our home with, has shifted to a new frugal design.  The truth that big expensive homes are better is not true any longer.  Smart homes are “better” but not bigger for bigger sake.  Look at the popularity of the Smart Home at the museum.  Green is sexy.  Smart is sexy.  Cheap Green and Smart is magic.

From surveys online I found six out of ten people would not agree that having more space than you need in a home is a wise choice and desirable because you have to heat and cool it and spend a lot on it and work more to pay for that excess.

This lifting of the “hegemony” or “matrix” of excess off our backs since 2008, 2009 and 2010 has allowed us to see how much we  have filled our homes with to think anew. We got caught up in around our home environment with “looking good”. Martha Stewart fed some of it in me (yes, I was a subscriber).   We formed our perceptions with the ways we made our home purchases  and settled into our homes based on a consumerist mindset that was about keeping up with others.  Having that better TV.  Having that leather chair.  Roman curtains. etc. etc.  It is loosening it’s grip on us all, the deck of cards has fallen and something new is taking its place.  I am seeing it everywhere.

If you are exploring these changes in your way of thinking and noticing it, the subtle shifts around you… happiness = less expenses … please go out and buy the New Frugality.  It’s a good start.  Better yet, get it at the library (I went to the library for the first time because it was about not buying stuff I actually went down town, got a library card and checked it out).

Farrell talks about the new age that we are in.  He applies the thinking to all choices, not just the home.  I am more interested in the home choices and I am exploring those choices on my new blog called TheGrailHouse.com.  If this conversation interests you check it out.

So as you listen to the news each day, remember, there is a silver lining to this great recession.

We will be better after this.  For all of us, it’s in how we respond.  If we grow bigger and get bigger as a nation.  As a family.  As a community and a person.

Who will you be as a spender now?

What will you do with your money now?

What will you do with your time?

What about the false promises we made about working more = having more = happiness? Do you have any of those to clean up…?

I look back to the houses people bought with me and the way that we thought in masterminding their purchase.

It is so different than the buyer’s of today.