I’ve been thinking a lot about abundance lately, and the skill of thrift. The phrase “thrifty housewife” is stuck in my brain, and it feels like a solution somehow, or at least a balm for the bruises of today.
Thrift can mean many things, but in my mind it means making more out of less, using skill and care to turn what might otherwise be scarcity into plenty. A stingy housewife focuses on the lack and hoards what she can get. A frugal housewife is careful with what she has, stretching it to meet her family’s needs. But the thrifty housewife is too busy making a delectable French onion soup out of a bag of moldy onions to notice how meager are her resources.
The word thrift comes from the Old Norse word thrīfask, meaning to thrive. As many of us head into a time when our families will need to get by on a lot less money, we must take this idea to heart. We need to practice the skill and art of thrift— not just surviving, but thriving on less.
Thrift is one part vision and one part skill. First, you must be able to see the beauty and potential in whatever you’ve got, the abundance that surrounds you no matter how scarce things look. Second, you must have the skill to bring about that potential. And just like any skill, and any shift in perspective, thrift takes time to learn.
The skill of thrift I have in spades. I grew up poor, not destitute— I was the second poorest kid in class— but poor enough to know the ranking. I learning by default how to make do, jerry-rig everything, turn one thing into something else. But it wasn’t just necessity. I was drawn to old-fashioned things, nostalgic for a past I didn’t live. As a kid my favorite game was pretending to be lost in the wilderness and figuring out how to survive. As a teenager, I started baking bread and washed my clothes in the bathtub. In my 20s I lived way out in the woods, on a few thousand dollars a year, cutting all my firewood by hand and canning fish I’d caught myself.
Since then I have moved pretty fully back into the modern world. My family and I live in a small city, My Man works full time, I work part time and raise our kids and grow a garden. Pretty typical stuff. But all the skills I acquired are woven into my life, even now. I use those skills, coupled with a lot of time and energy, to make our humble non-profit incomes worth more.
Or, that has been the standard for the last few years anyway. Now I am unemployed, our income has dropped by a small but significant amount. I may or may not have a job again in the fall. My Man’s job is pretty secure, for now, as secure as working for an environmental non-profit in a time of economic duress can be. If we are headed into a real Depression, all bets are off. I find myself seeking backwards to those skills of thrift more and more.
And wanting to share that skill. It seems we could all use a little “thriving on less” right now.
When I first started cogitating on this subject though, I felt a deep hesitancy. Sure I may have skill in the bag, but what about vision? Who am I to write about what is essentially a positivity perspective, me the self-proclaimed pessimist. As a perennial glass-half-empty girl, I can complain about anything, and regularly do. I have a good ability to see potential where others can’t, but as for walking through life feeling some kind of inherent gratitude at the abundance which surrounds me? Even just writing those words makes my skin itch.
But then I remembered that although I enjoy teaching, and you the reader seemed to appreciate my more instructive posts, this blog was never about me brandishing my mastery to the world. I may have started the blog as a DIY instructional, but I didn’t really find my voice until I began to share my journey, with all the raw, tangled, dirty bits intact. Writing honestly about my struggles to be the person I want to be, and continually falling short but dusting myself off and getting back to it— that is what hit a chord in this too often counterfeit world. That is what you, the reader, loved to read and what I, the writer, loved to write. Instruction is good, necessary even. But company, solidarity, that is the stuff of magic.
Over the next few months, I will be shedding some of the niceties that I have come to think of as necessities over the years, pruning our budget back. At the same time, I will be trying to see the abundance all around me, and feel gratitude for it. In the spirit of solidarity, I’ll be sharing that journey here, with you, because I suspect that many of you are also shedding, pruning. And we might need company.