My grandmother was raised during the Great Depression. She knew how to be frugal, and she’d save aluminum foil in order to re-use it later. That’s how I understood frugality as a small child: saving things you had now because you might need them again later.
There is nothing wrong with frugality or avoiding waste. But when frugality progresses to a pervasive feeling of scarcity, then we might begin to have a problem.
What does the world look like when viewed through the lens of scarcity? There is never enough, and whatever we do have might be taken from us at any time. There isn’t enough money, there isn’t enough food, there isn’t enough of the yummy cake from which we wanted another slice. There isn’t enough time. There aren’t enough friends, aren’t enough activities, isn’t enough love to go around.
And what about the complex we get about missing out on things? When the cool kids are always at the next activity or the next bar or the next party, and we’re thinking about what they might be doing or what we could be doing instead of paying attention to what we’re actually doing.
When we live in a world of scarcity, we are saving for a rainy day but aren’t very likely to recognize the rainy day when it comes. We are thinking about what we don’t have or what we might lose instead of being able to enjoy the moment, right now, in which we are who we are and we have what we have. We cling tightly to what we have even if we don’t even want or need it.
We are afraid.
Having been raised in a culture of scarcity, I struggle with this all the time. I was talking to a friend about the opportunity cost of going to an event, and he laughed and said, “What, twelve bucks?” And I had to consciously remind myself, oh yeah, Amy, twelve dollars isn’t actually a lot of money.
I was cleaning out my closet a few months ago, and I had to try on almost every piece of clothing to show myself, Hey Amy, see, it really is too big, so you for sure don’t need this anymore. (And those clothes are still folded neatly in stacks and haven’t yet made it out the door to Goodwill.)
When I need to say no to someone, I have to remind myself: yes, Amy, there will be other opportunities to see this person. There will be other chances to show them I care. There will be time.
Sometimes I take the idea of seizing the day way too seriously.
And so I’ve taken to giving myself these gentle reminders, repeated day in and day out. I’m slowly changing the way I’m thinking about scarcity versus abundance. There will be more. There will be enough. Somehow these things will work themselves out.
There will be a tomorrow.
And if I don’t re-use the aluminum foil, if instead I chuck it into the recycle bin, it probably won’t make much of a difference.