Wednesday, February 04, 2009

[austerity] and the right balance

In a long forgotten post, I might have mentioned a boarding house master who lived what looked like an austere existence and I can remember thinking at the time that it was a miserable existence.

It wasn’t though; he wasn’t miserable. Let me describe it.

He was in a small room of maybe eight feet by ten, with one cell like window which was so placed that it caught the morning sun. On the wooden slatted floor was one good quality rug and in one corner near the window, a comfortable chair.

In the diagonally opposite corner was his writing table. Underneath that table was one shallow drawer and in that drawer were his securities which he one day showed me, for some reason. They came to a substantial amount.

Outside the room, under the stairs, was a cupboard and in this cupboard was his fold-up bed and a railing with his few clothes hanging from it.

His meals were taken in the school dining room.

He was a creature of habit and did his boarding house duties, went for his walks, retired to do his correspondence then went to bed.

Every second weekend he went to an Ibis hotel in a nearby village and explored the markets there, to what purpose, I have no idea, as there was nothing to show for it in his room.

Yes, you say but where were his pleasures, where was the nooky? Well, I can’t comment on that. In these austere days of mine, it’s not hard to admire him for having an existence he was obviously happy in.

Some people have four televisions, the same number of computers, all manner of clothing and bits and bobs in the hall cupboard and dotted all over the place. Are they used? Are they necessary? Then why were they bought?

In the kitchen here is no fridge and I’m not sure I want one now. The powdered milk has turned out fine, there are all manner of grains and fresh vegetables, in small quantities, to cook up. The meat and rolls can be bought daily.

When they’re finished, I bicycle up to get more. I’m either going to have to buy this ten speed bike or pay my friend rental soon. I was going to get a car but now I’m not so sure. A moped was going for a reasonable price the other day and that at least gets you into a nearby town, which the bike doesn’t.

Back in the kitchen, there are two small ‘hanging’ cupboards and under bench space for other things. I was looking at the white, four of everything crockery and thinking I really wouldn’t want any more than that – it would just clutter up the place.

What has possibly been passing through some of your minds is that that may be all well and good but what if there was a family? Well yes, that alters the whole thing.

What has possibly been passing through some of your minds is that this is a selfish, misanthropic existence. Guilty, I’m afraid. An austere existence like this would drive you out of your tree after a while but there are some good principles in it though:

1. Have, as I think Oscar Wilde said, only that in your house which is either beautiful or useful plus a Macintosh laptop. I’d add that it should have been useful within the past month.

2. Marshall your total resources and income, thrash out, over a coffee, how it is to be apportioned, percentage wise, stick to it and never borrow against your assets, except in a maximum three month period.

3. Tailor your lifestyle round your means, not your aspirations. As your means improve, so does your lifestyle gradually expand.


  1. I had no fridge or cooker once, lived on black coffee, bread and jam. Got fairly fit.

  2. I think those 3 principles really sum it up!

  3. James,

    A fridge is not a luxury,but a necessity. What if you were ill and could not get out to shop for a few days?

    It's a good thing you need electricity for your computer, or you'd be writing your posts by candlelight next. :0)
    Shall I buy you a nice lantern for a house warming present?

    Seriously, why the monastic lifestyle?

  4. May be I want to be a monk, Uber.

    Sackerson - fit for purpose.

    Cherie - here's hoping.

  5. You're already a monk , James.
    I could cure you of that though. :)


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