Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Poverty, Choice and Liberation

Poverty can be liberating, or so I’ve been told.

The Independent this week is publishing a series of leaflets called The New Good Life: Simple Skills and Pleasures for the Credit Crunch Era. These offer tips on such things as DIY, making and mending clothes, money management and cheap entertaining.

The idea is that although we are in a global recession, people are losing their jobs and everyone is tightening their belts, these circumstances can force us to improve our lives and save the planet at the same time.

The back of the leaflet says: “There are few activities so satisfying as creating from scratch an item of clothing that you or a loved one can wear – or saving a much-loved garment from landfill with a timely repair.”

It goes on to say: “You may be astonished at how liberating it feels to rediscover a simpler way of living and to become less dependent on other people to provide life’s essentials.”

I must say, I have very mixed feelings about this sentiment.

On one hand, I have always been in favour of minimising waste, mending things where feasible and recycling rather than throwing things away. I’ve also always tried to manage my cash to cut down on unnecessary expenses – but then I’ve had to, I’ve never had much money and sometimes I’ve been downright poor.

Which leads to the other hand: being poor is not fun, especially when you live in a consumer society where people’s worth is often judged by whether they have posh homes, big cars and the latest gadgets. I agree it is satisfying and sometimes money-saving to knit your own jumper or sew your own dress, but it is still depressing to fall in love with something in a shop window and know you can’t afford it. And it is far worse to know that your roof needs mending, but all you can do is bung a bucket under the hole and hope it catches the rain!

Of course, some spiritual paths praise poverty. Christian monks swore to remain poor – as well as swearing chastity and obedience.

But I am more in agreement with the Buddhist way of thinking; that while too much attachment to material things gets in the way of spiritual growth, poverty itself is generally bad.

Those for whom poverty is a lifestyle choice – monks, volunteer charity workers, people who have given up their job to be a carer and unpublished writers starving in garrets, for example – are probably going to be more content to be on a low income than those who have lost their job unexpectedly and have a big mortgage and a family to feed.

So, while I’ll keep my copy of The New Good Life – and may even try out some of the ideas in it – I don’t agree that poverty is liberating.

Choice is liberating, not enforced hardship.

The New Good Life: Simple Skills and Pleasures for the Credit Crunch Era was written by Eithne Farry, author of the book Yeah, I Made it Myself: DIY Fashion for the Not Very Domestic Goddess, with an RRP of £12.99, available for £5.99 via Amazon.

Yeah, I Made it Myself: DIY Fashion for the Not Very Domestic Goddess


Anonymous said...

Back in the late 70's.I had a little girls sewing machine, I think I was about 9, and in the box there was an 'easy'pattern, which I dutifully churned out for myself and friends and little cousins.... it was a micro mini skirt that was held together with velcro!! When my mum saw them, there was an abrupt end to my dressmaking future lol!!!

Badwitch said...

That certainly doesn't sound the most appopriate pattern to put in a young child's dressmaking set :)