Finding joy in temporary frugality
If you read frugality and simplicity blogs for any length of time, you'll run into a lot of people who take great joy in having simplified their lives. Gradually simplifying your life is one obvious path for finding some of that joy for yourself. Let me suggest an alternative: temporary extreme frugality.
Lots of people become temporarily frugal out of necessity--because of a lost job or an unexpected expense. Others are temporarily frugal to achieve some goal--saving up to make a down payment on a house or car. I'm suggesting temporary frugality where the goals are less material and more experiential.
Think about where your comfort zone is: What fraction of the continuum from third-world poverty to celebrity billionaire can you see yourself happily occuping for the rest of your life? Now, pick a spot distinctly below the bottom end of your comfort zone and live there for a little while.
Think of it like a camping trip. To go hiking in the wilderness, people give up basic comforts like a stove, refrigerator, and running water, but they don't give them up for the rest of their lives. The temporary sacrifice is both a means to an end--they can go deeper and stay longer--and an end in itself--their actions express who they really are.
Some people lurch from being miserly to prodigal and back again. That comes from being confused about how you want to live. This is different. This is about knowing where you want to live and then choosing to experiment outside that range in order to learn something about yourself.
Gradualism can work great--it can be very satisfying--but the satisfaction is incremental. It takes a long time to see if the joy that some people find in extreme frugality is there for you, too. A brief tour in that place can be a short cut.
To make this work, you need to get extreme about something, but it could be a small thing or a big thing: Brown-bag your lunch for a week. Park your car for two weeks and walk, bicycle, or take the bus. Eat no dinners out for a month. Buy no new clothes for a season. Drop cable and don't turn it back on until the next "free installation" offer from the cable company. Move to a cheaper apartment for a year.
Like a camping trip, you come back home to your real life once your visit to frugality is over. And, like a camping trip, you can go again--to the same place or a different one--if you found the experience rewarding.
The money you save through a brief period of extreme frugality probably won't be enough to change your life. The experience, though, very well might, if you find the joy that many people find there.