Is Being Frugal Enough?

Rachel Petroff Kessler
February 9, 2012
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I’ve never considered myself immune to our society’s consumerist culture. I want. Always have. When I was young I used to pour over the American Girl catalog. In middle school, I obsessed over the Delias clothes catalog. Today, cookware and furniture are the most common items of attention. The subject may have changed, but the game was always the same: what would I get if I could get anything I wanted? What if I could have 1 item from each page? What if I had a set budget?

Despite all this wanting, however, I rarely find that I want anything enough to spend the money on it. I like lots of stuff, but it turns out I like having a healthy nest egg in my bank account more.

I love reading the stories about the guy who lives for a year with only 100 possessions and found his bliss, or the family that downsized and moved into an RV and rediscovered their love for each other. I have found within myself, however, a major Achilles heel between me and that fantasy life off-the-grid.

I might not like spending, but I do sure like having. This leads me to ignore many of the values-driven questions asked in this issue of Sh’ma in favor of the question, is this a good sale? Yet truth be told, when my apartment gets overstuffed and cluttered, I stress out. Every move I’ve taken in the last few years has been accompanied by a frenzy of donations to Good Will, though I’ve never managed to get rid of as much stuff as I really want to, and my possessions have increased exponentially since college.

Downsizing and introducing new consumer habits is something I consider a new spiritual project for myself. So I need your help: what are your best strategies for reducing the number of items in your possession? What is the one thing I should change about my shopping habits (embracing the idea that changes in behavior are more sustainable when they are gradual)? What would you consider the most important lifestyle change to support separation from a consumer culture?

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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