Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living With Less Does Not Always Mean Doing It Yourself

One of the problems inherent in “going minimal” is the tendency to radicalize. That is, some of us assume that minimalism requires that we not only do without every luxury and most essentials, but that we involve others at a minimal level in every purchase. We often suppose that doing with less means doing it yourself.
Need an oil change? It must be a minimalistic approach to do it yourself. Want a special meal, such as a lasagne? One has to obtain the ingredients and make it oneself. Of course, a true minimalist must do her own vehicle repairs, make his own clothes, grow every food item and complete every repair or household renovation alone.
These are just a few of the myths of minimal living.
Let us take a quick look, for example, at that lasagne dinner. Typically, a 2-pound store-bought, ready-made lasagne will cost you $5.99 to $9.99. Your total cost, including cooking in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes, will be $6.11 to $10.11, or $3.05 to $5.06 per pound. However, calculate the individual costs of buying the ingredients. Cheese, lean ground beef, spinach, spices and noodles will end up costing you at least $6.80 per pound if you buy the size required to make a 2-pound lasagne. Cooking will take two hours, for an additional cost of $0.22, while cleanup of the baking pan and utensils will add another $0.30-.40 to the total. This doesn’t factor in the cost of the pan & utensils, or place a value on the two hours that it may take to make the meal. Total savings, per pound, of buying the ready-made meal will be up to $4.37! Hardly worth the effort, is it, unless you prefer the quality and uniqueness of a homemade meal?
How about that oil change? With a litre of oil costing, on average, $4.19 and a filter $6-12, a four-litre oil change will cost $23.76, versus the $29.95 for a shop to do it. Yet, you don’t have to worry about the cleanup and environmental impact, or the cost of oil drain pans, jack stands, etc. It’s almost a fair trade to farm out the task.
Don’t even consider doing your own repairs on a new car. Just the OBII-compliant computer tester will set you back $100 or more, and you haven’t begun to figure out how to do the repairs, with the few outdated tools that you own. Each new car demands its own specialty tools to conduct repairs. However, buying the new car is more environmentally friendly, and generally more cost-efficient than maintaining the old one.
A true minimalist may want to mend his own clothes, make his own curtains, upholster his own furniture. Aside from the grotesquely ugly results that are likely, this option, too, is impractical, even for a minimalist. However, if you find someone who is handy with a sewing machine or needle and thread, and you have the cash, consider providing the material, while your partner provides the handiwork and skill necessary to make clothes, drapes or couch covers.
Similarly, home renovation skills are seldom within the reach of the typical homeowner. You may be great at rough carpentry, but lousy at finishing work. You may know the basics of plumbing, and fail miserably at electrical repair. Here is where a collage of colleagues, with compatible and exchangeable skills provides a real advantage. You may undertake the framing (or supervision) of a garage for a neighbour, while another provides skills at concrete work and a third can wire the building. When you need your recreation room renovated, those same people can pool their skills to assist you, and so on.
Have a large back yard? Grow your vegetables, and a few for your neighbours, in exchange for a few trinkets that you require from them.
The last three examples are perfect illustrations of the benefit of bartering for the frugal individual, or those who favour the minimal living approach. Bartering, or swapping services and goods not only lessens demand for duplicate items or redundant services, but reduces the cost to each individual in the barter group. Barter groups may be loosely arranged, or established as a cooperative, with specific assigned values for work and goods that are exchanged, with a “banking” option that allows a member to provide his goods into the pool, and obtain the benefit that he wants or needs at a later time.
Minimalism is not about doing it yourself. It is about seeking the path that is least intrusive, with the greatest benefit, to obtain those needed items, while recognizing that “need” and “want” are not synonymous, and that using less is a pathway to getting more out of your life, each day.

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