Several streams of events and observations have come together this week in my brain and created a whirlpool of ponderings and wonderings about simplifying, convenience, frugality, and the occasional tension between our desire to make things easier on ourselves, and our need to save time as well as money. I've written before about how the weeds of convenience can overtake our garden of frugality. I still believe that. But I also believe that sometimes it's because we no longer really understand how to truly simplify.
When our second daughter was a wee thing, she was a bottomless pit of hunger. She was a tiny soul, with a huge appetite and metabolism of a hummingbird. Her 3 year old son is the same way, and he appears to have some food sensitivities, so much of her life (as mine when she was young) is centered around finding suitable snacks for this ravenous child. We lived in Japan when our second child was between the ages of 15 mos and 6 years old. One day I noticed that a neighbor child had been given a snack of a cooked sweet potato and sent outside to munch on it. Turned out this was a fairly common snack for her, and she really enjoyed it. She was about ten years old, and she had no objections to snacking on a steamed or baked sweet potato rather than a bag of chips or a box of cookies because she was used to noshing on sweet potatoes.
How convenient, and how frugal! How healthy!
In my weeds of convenience post I wrote:
MP: The authority of mothers was essentially destroyed by the food industry. The $32 billion a year in marketing muscle out there has undercut culture’s role in determining what we eat, and culture is a fancy word for your mom.
TMN: Just to emphasize that number, that’s not the food industry, that’s the food marketing industry.
MP: That’s advertising, studying us, packaging, figuring out how to get us to eat more.
One of the things that 32 billion dollars a year in marketing has bought is our idea about food and how fast we need for it to be.
For some time now I have been a strong fan of K-dramas (Korean television shows)- this seems like an abrupt jump, but bear with me. One program I particularly enjoy watching (and my 17 y.o. watches with me) is called in English, "Dad! Where Are We Going?"
The basic outline of the series is that five real-life dads who have some connections to show-business each take one of their real-life children along on a trip devised by the producers of the show. The dads have little or no idea where they are going ahead of time or what they will be doing. The producers usually take them to little known Korean villages in out of the way places where living conditions are still quite traditional rather than modern, and while in those villages, the dads and their kids are given various tasks. They are filmed the whole time- especially the children.
I know it seems like I'm still way off point, but we're nearly there, so hang in here with me just a bit longer.
Because they go to such out of the way places, the crew shows up at the homes of their father/child pairs ridiculously early and they travel for hours before arriving. After they have scouted out their sleeping arrangements, the fathers and their kids are given a large snack to take back to their separate sleeping quarters and enjoy along with some down time between each father and child. Here's the snack from the first episode:
Those are potatoes, by the looks of them, regular russet potatoes, baked or steamed. Each father/child duo was given a large bowl of steaming hot potatoes and that's what they snacked on. Nobody complained or seemed surprised, although some of the children did want something else to eat once they finished the potatoes.
Other episodes the snacks have been:
Steamed or baked sweet potatoes
boiled or roasted ears of corn
Some combination of the above, usually corn and potatoes, or eggs and potatoes.
They drink water when they are thirsty. I realize at home things are different for the kids, but still, they don't complain about the simple snacks, but eat them with delight.
We look for recipes for dishes that will make our lives easier- grafitating to five ingredients or less (although some of those ingredients themselves have ten ingredients or more on the labels, and we can't pronounce half of them).
If we really want to simplify- why not try snacks and treats of a single, whole, food (butter and salt not counted). In addition to the above, there's:
Bok Choy stems, which are mildly sweet
Jicama, which is also mildly sweet and quite juicy
a peanut butter spoon (ideally from freshly roasted peanuts and with no other ingredients- we have a nearby healthfood store that sells freshly ground nut-butters, maybe you do, too)
In the LIttle House on the Prairie books and Understood Betsy, people snacked on plain raw turnips!
Maybe our tastebuds are too jaded to go straight from pop-tarts and flavored corn chips to turnips, but we might surprise ourselves. I find the longer I avoid packaged foods loaded with artificial ingredients, the stranger they taste when I do have the occasional nibble.
We can apply the same principle to other areas of our lives- toys, for instance. Why so many? Why not use what we have around the house? Handkerchieves or bandanas.... a yard or three of fabric....a beanbag and a bucket, and I have the quickest and easiest beanbag in the world for you to make.... a corncob and some feathers (okay, that may not be an around the house item for you, but we live in the center of cornfields and my son hunts turkeys)
Clothes- With the advent of the sewing machine and automatic washing machine, women's lives became a whole lot easier. While washing clothes got easier, so did buying more clothes. So washing clothes is physically easier, but we own about ten times more clothing to organized, clean, fold, hang up, sort, find, match, clean again, and mend. A chore that used to be done once a week now has to be done almost daily. Are we absolutely certain we can never wear the same outfit more than once before washing it? Do we really need pajamas every night? Can we just sleep in the same clothes we're wearing (maybe yes, maybe not- depends on activity levels and the style of clothing- but maybe we shouldn't take it for granted that we have to change clothes for bed).
Stuff- for instance, the things we accumulate in the kitchen. What would a minimalist kitchen look like?
What are your favourite frugal solutions that are frugal of both time and finances?