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The Art Of Frugal Hedonism


Several years ago I coined the term ‘frugal hedonism’, partly railing against the assumption – of more mainstream friends – that a life of gleaning, gardening, hitchhiking and op shopping was part of a grey and dismal martyrdom endured for the planet’s sake. But I knew my days were rich with sensory indulgence and diverse pleasures.

As time crept by, many of these friends plunged into debt, overwork, middle-aged spread and a general sense of entrapment. It became clear that curtailed-consumption keeps us self-reliant and free enough to be truly alive to pleasure, and I realised how protective it can be against many of the ‘ills of modern life’.

Anyone reading Pip is likely already pretty cluey about the ecological reasons for reining in our rabid consumer habits. However, reshaping our priorities and habits is challenging, especially in the face of a larger culture that suggests spending as the starting point for all pleasure. We don’t want to miss out on pleasure! We are only human.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: a Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More (Melliodora Publishing, to be published in 2016) aims to help readers finesse their frugality. The guide is a basket of life hacks and psychological strategies that make it not just easy but luscious to live on less than a quarter of the average Australian income – as I do, merrily. Here are my top five:


There is no better incentive for being frugal than having passions you want to chase. Don’t do it because you’re noble, do it because you’re greedy for a life of liberty. By consuming less, you have more money to spend on doing what you really want to do.


Develop some cooking instincts, and then base your meals on whatever happens to be in season, cheap, or in the cupboard right now. Go totally freestyle or, if you do like to use recipes, learn to substitute. No breadcrumbs to help bind your meatballs: grind some oats in a blender. No apple cider vinegar: lemon juice, plus a pinch of sugar, will probably be just fine. You may have a culinary miss now and again, but you’ll also concoct many scrumptious triumphs, save money on special ingredients and learn a lot along the way.


‘But what?! Surely anti-materialism is the cornerstone of buying less?’ you splutter. Upping the esteem in which you hold consumables may sound an odd path to frugality, but if you’d like to avoid the constant consumption involved in replacing things, you need to recognise their value and maintain them; buy well-made things in the first place, those that will last and are fixable. Be dazzled that you have all this stuff with its stupefying lineage of effort and resources. Be reverential, then look after it.


The hunt for wild greens is such a fine and fun skill that I wrote a book about it with Adam Grubb (The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia, Hyland House 2012). Make supplementing your diet in this way a habit, and you might find that you begin to feed the fundamental Homo sapiens instinct to roam-and-pluck. While connecting with your ancestral cave-self, by harvesting free superfoods, you may find that you also connect more intimately with your neighbourhood. The pursuit of wild foods not only heightens your awareness of the seasons, but has a delightful way of leading you into corners of your garden or suburb that you wouldn’t have visited otherwise.


It can be very liberating to notice that your life has been fine so far, maybe even pretty damn good, with what you already have. Or that if it hasn’t, it’s probably not because of a deficit of wireless speakers. So, the question you might want to ask yourself, next time you’re about to buy something, is not ‘Will this make my life better?’ but ‘Has my life so far been bad without this in it?’

The prescription is simple: spend less, consume less, work less, experience more, feel pleasure more. And if you happen to help save the world while you’re at it, all the better.


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