When Is Frugal Living Taken Too Far?

MSNBC ran a story yesterday on a group of friends in San Francisco that is living entirely on second-hand material (except for food and very basic toiletries). The article is an interesting piece, as it seems to positively profile the group while adding in a few backhanded compliments.

These 10 friends vowed last year not to purchase a single new thing in 2006 — except food, the bare necessities for health and safety (toilet paper, brake fluid) and, thankfully, underwear, and maybe socks (they’re still debating whether new socks are okay).

This is a great goal to strive for. Not only does it save money, it reduces individual impact on the environment. As I read, I’m interested to see how it works, but the further I get into the article, the further their story goes from being a real experiment in frugality.

“I go on talk radio shows, and I’m amazed by the anger of some people, the Chamber of Commerce president who calls up and says, ‘You’re trying to ruin the economy,’ ” Lasn says. “I sympathize. I know you have to pay your rent, but try to take the larger view. We consume three times more than we did right after World War II. These things are connected.”

If this person is actually committed to living such a frugal and communal lifestyle, why is this person appearing on talk radio, which is largely the bastion of conservative America? The only reason I can think of is that this person simply wants to stir up passions.

This is a perfect example of why I rarely listen to talk radio. A person with a highly left wing economic perspective unsurprisingly stirs up the passions of someone with a right wing economic perspective. Of course the two sides are going to have different perspectives, so why is it newsworthy when conservatives and liberals fight on the radio?

One member recalls asking permission to purchase a new toilet brush, contending that it was a health issue. Overruled.

Although I admire the principles of the project, disallowing the purchase of basic home cleaning equipment based on abstract principles is simply disgusting. From this, I can only conclude that they are cleaning their toilet with an ancient brush – one that is likely leaving their toilet in a disturbing state. Once your frugality has reached the point that it begins to interfere with basic cleanliness, you have a problem.

Toys? The easiest. Perry and his partner, Rob Picciotto, a high school language teacher, have two adopted children. “I take Ben to Target sometimes and we’ll play with the toys and then leave,” Picciotto says. The kid seems happy.

Again, there are some roads that just shouldn’t be taken. They’re choosing to take their child into a store, have that child play with the toys in the store, and then leave without any intention of buying them. That’s wear and tear on the toys in the store (along with potential damage). Who pays for this? They could make up for it by purchasing an item on occasion, but instead they are teaching their child that you can use items without ever paying for them. Over the long run, that’s a form of thievery.

At the potluck supper, the family dog is playing with a toy, which looks like a ball of yarn. Technically, it is new, and thus a Compact breaker. “But if she eats it,” points out Rachel Kesel, a professional dog walker, “then it’s food.”

At this point, I chucked out the article. This could have been an interesting experiment in frugality, but it failed because of nonsensical decisions and politics. In no way is a dog toy food, and excusing it like this is no different than excusing pretty much anything else you might want. If you’re going to make grandiose claims about your project, you shouldn’t undermine them to reporters in such a blatant fashion.

I respect the tenets of the project, but this version of it is overtly political and bends and twists the concept at will, thus undermining the whole thing. Instead, I’d like to see a family of four implement this in their daily lives without the need to head to talk radio to defend their cause and realizing that a toilet brush is more important to day-to-day health than a dog toy.

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