The essence of living | Sunday Observer

The essence of living

9 January, 2022

Have you heard about Feodor Ingvar Kamprad, who was a Swedish billionaire and business magnate best known for founding IKEA, a multinational retail company specialising in furniture? Although he was worth US$ 58 billion at the time of death in 2014, he was known to use the bus for everyday trips. He apparently had no TV at his humble home. We all have heard many stories about the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel who lived in a private flat sans any luxuries. Asked why she kept on wearing the same clothes over and over again, she replied: “I am not a model, I am the Chancellor.”

These are examples of frugal living, which is an alien concept to most people in Sri Lanka. Even as a country, we like to live beyond our means, as seen by the debt to the outside world. As a people too, we are no different. Even the poorest parents want to hold a grand wedding for their daughter or son, for which they will even sell the very house they live in. In other words, we like to show off and flash whatever wealth we have. If my neighbour buys a 32 inch TV, I would rather buy a 43 inch TV. That is our mentality.

Spending money carefully

It is time that we switched back to frugal living, especially in the context of the present economic conditions shaped by the Coronavirus pandemic. But what exactly is frugal living? I trawled the Internet on this subject a bit and found this definition: “Frugal living is the act of being very intentional with your spending. If done properly, you will be able to prioritise the things that matter to you most. You will prioritise spending money on those things that matter and cut back on spending in other areas.”

This is only one definition, but they all essentially mean the same – just live within your means. Do not overspend regularly or at any given time such as Avurudu. This does not mean that you cannot splurge on something you like once in a while. Take time out to dine out occasionally, for example. Travel a bit and discover new people and places. Life is short and one has to enjoy it while it lasts. But sense should prevail and we should know the priorities.

Follow the Middle Path

Frugal living also does not mean that you have to go the other extreme of being extremely miserly. That takes things a bit too far. There is no use piling up money if you do not use it occasionally. Frugal living is sensible living – one can live comfortably within one’s income levels. The key is to find the balance between extravagance and misery. The Buddha perceived this all those years ago when he advocated a Middle Path for life. He lived a life of luxury as Prince Siddhartha and then, in His quest for Enlightenment, went to other extreme of suffering, where He did not even eat properly. Then He realised that both approaches were futile. There was a meeting point between the two extremes which helped Him to attain His goal.

A lot of people cannot also let go of the things they have – both materially and mentally. If you hold on to the bitter episodes of the past, you will not be happy. On the other hand, it is quite all right to hold on to happy memories, but in any case you should not live in the past. As someone said, the past is another country. The future is still unknown, so we should not think too much of it either. As they say, “today is a gift – that is why they call it the present.” Live for today, but sensibly.

Decluttering, a must

Surprisingly, a lot of people hoard things in the physical realm. They are unable to let go of their material possessions, however useless they may be. The Buddha and indeed all other Great Masters have urged us to be free of material possessions and to focus on the spiritual side.

Nevertheless, from old bottles to paper cartons and everything in between, people hold on to a variety of sometimes utterly useless things right till they die. Perhaps only printed books deserve to be collected in this manner, for they are timeless and someone else can read them once we have passed on.

There is indeed a separate movement worldwide dedicated to get people off this practice. This is called “decluttering” – which means throwing out everything that is not needed for day-to-day living and keeping only the essentials. Here, throwing out should not be taken in the literal sense. In today’s world, we really do not have to throw anything away –almost everything from tins to cardboard can be recycled. Just head over to the nearest recycling place with your decluttered junk.

The same thinking should apply when you buy stuff. Obviously, we cannot do without food. But buy and prepare your food in such a manner that any waste is minimised. Also, look for excessive packaging that serves no purpose. I have seen cereal packs that can hold around 2 Kg, yet hold only 500 Grams. Looking for such excess is also part of frugal living.

As for everything else from electronics to furniture, think twice before buying. You do not have to buy a new TV if your existing TV is working just fine. As the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In case your TV or any other appliance breaks down, try to repair it first. If the repair technician says it is beyond repair, then you can consider your options.

Remember that some frugal actions can save the environment too. If you walk to the junction without using the car, you can save fuel as well as prevent air pollution. You gain the extra benefit of exercise too. If you turn off the fan in an empty room, you save electricity and hence, fossil fuel. Life is thus meant to be savoured from a middle ground in a manner that can add life to our years whilst saving our Planet Earth as well.