What is the most prominent thought that comes to mind when you think of words like ‘frugality’ and ‘sustainability?’ What sort of emotions do they evoke? If they trigger thoughts of scarcity, lack, or limited resources, you’re not alone.
Most of the attention given to these concepts and lifestyles is based around the idea of scarcity – there’s just not enough to go around – so that’s how people relate to them. The frugal tend to believe that they have a limited amount of money, so they must decide on things to give up in life to stay ahead financially. Environmentalists believe that because there is only one earth, we must continuously search for ways to use less of it or we’ll run out.
The effects of a scarcity mindset
Is it true? Sure. When you base every tomorrow on what was possible today, it’s easy to project exactly where you’ll be next week, next month, or even next year. If you believe that what you’re capable of today isn’t enough to conquer everything you’ve dreamed, then it’s absolutely true. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking this way. It makes sense. It’s tangible. I could wrap my brain around it. So, I’ve continued down this path believing I’m on the right track, but I’m not, and today it stops.
After really confronting and wrestling with this idea, I believe that this is where the frugal and the environmentally conscious really have it wrong.
You see, this type of thinking, when allowed to run free, can permeate all facets of life and turn into an overall mindset, causing you to believe that you’re limited in what you’re capable of achieving. This really becomes problematic once it seeps into your creative, problem solving mind space.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The only person that decides how much money you’re allowed to make or what you’re allowed to do to improve the world is you.
Even though it feels like your boss sets your income and some higher power has determined what you must do to be a good environmentalist, it just isn’t true. I’m completely guilty of this.
Let’s pause for a second and let that sink in.
Abundance as an alternative
Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy everything that strikes your fancy or turn all the faucets and thermostats in your house up because living abundantly is the only way to exist happily. No. What I’m suggesting is that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the situation you’re in is the only situation available to you.
There is infinite wisdom in the concepts of prioritizing and living simply, but they do not exist in a vacuum. I believe that in order to find a true solution to our economic and environmental woes, these concepts must be interpreted in a way that allows you incredible focus on the most important issues. And these issues must be determined by you.
By 2050, we’re going to add 2.5 billion bright and smiling faces to the planet. That’s about 28% more than we have right now.
I hate to admit it, but recycling my milk carton, in and of itself, is not going to dig us out of the hole we’re in. With inflation slowly eating away at savings, banking my change from the convenience store in a jar is not going to secure my financial freedom all on its own.
If you’ve been reading Frugally Green for awhile now, you know that I love to talk about making little changes like ditching bottled water and hypermiling. They’re quick and easy to implement. You also know that the reason I like to talk about these small gestures is because they are so beneficial in propelling you to bigger changes like unplugging your dryer and eating less meat.
The focus is not the change itself; it is the progress of it. Seeing progress can open your mind to a whole new world of possibilities. Where once there was a giant burden, there is now a great opportunity. Like I’ve said before, success begets success and continual progress can open your mind to more abundance-minded thinking.
This is why I find technology so inspiring. It’s no secret I’ve often complained about how I can’t keep up with it and many times I shouldn’t, but the truth is, it’s refreshing to know that there is a world of people out there inspired by possibility.
Where the scarcity-minded see a need to simply do less, the abundance-minded see an opportunity to do more with less.
This is the heart of the sustainability movement to me – finding ways to do more with less. With an abundant outlook, anything is possible. Let’s stop breaking our backs shoveling coal into power plants and start letting the sun, wind, waves, and earth do the work. Why flush our toilets, wash our laundry, and water our lawns with drinking water when there are thousands of gallons of it running off of our roofs?
Looking only for ways to do less doesn’t really address the problems we face every day at their deepest level. We default to this mentality because it’s been done so many times before and we’ve proven it works, to an extent. It’s a safety net.
A quick case study
For many years, I’ve managed my money with a very close eye. I had a budget that accounts for every dollar that comes into and goes out of my life. My net worth was growing like crazy. My goal-targeted savings accounts were really adding up. And I was completely unhappy.
Something had to change. Thanks to my inspirers (mentioned above), I’ve been able to allow myself permission to relax my budget a bit, take off a bit of the edge that comes with sweating every penny, and guess what? In a very short period of time I’ve found several new, less apparent solutions to make more money doing things that interest me.
Similarly, but with a slightly different twist, I’ve saved a significant amount of money and carbon and methane emissions by reducing my meat consumption, and I’ve discovered all kinds of delicious alternatives that keep me satisfied on veggie days.
By deciding to reject scarcity, new opportunities opened up. When I spent hours managing every dollar in my life, I was too busy to see all the opportunities floating around just above my head (which was pointed down at a complicated budget) and when I was busy chomping on beef every day, I was scared to let it go because I couldn’t see the alternatives that were staring me in the face once I finally committed.
Now, obviously I’m no expert on the abundance vs. scarcity debate. I am but a beginner, dabbling in the concept. All the same, I gave myself the opportunity to try it and found some success. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t share that with you.
Many of us in the world of frugality and environmentalism, though well intentioned, are very set in our ways. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that my greatest strides are made when I step out of my comfort zone.
If you’re ready to step out of yours, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. This is more of a journey than a destination and there’s no reason we can’t be on it together.
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