Five Tenets of Yankee Thriftiness


| 12/26/2007 5:33:14 PM


Tags: back-to-the-land, Vermont, conservation, frugality, Yankee thriftiness,

Vermont’s tradition of frugality has been traced by some observers “to the short growing season, when nothing could be wasted,” writes Kirk Kardashian in the Vermont weekly Seven Days. Through his interviews with Vermont “back-to-the-landers,” Kardashian discovers that members of this otherwise unaffiliated group share an almost Depression-era sense of economy. The simplicity and intentionality of their lifestyles is perhaps more impressive than ever in an era of unparalleled American opulence and consumption.

Vermonter Robert “Dunnz” Dunn tells Kardashian, “I could have bought a BMW, did cocaine, and worked on 128,” referring to a highway outside Boston that’s lined with big engineering firms. “But it seemed like I needed to be one person saying, ‘I don’t want to contribute to the way the country’s going.’”

“If there are any hard and fast rules of New England frugality,” Kardashian concludes from his conversations with this thrift-oriented strain of conservationists, they might be distilled down to these five tenets:

  • First: “You shouldn’t buy stuff you don’t need. The old farmers couldn’t buy frivolous things, so they didn’t.”
  • Second: “Everybody needs some stuff…If you’ve got to buy something, make it as cheap as possible by amortizing its cost over a score of years.”
  • Third: “Heavily research your major acquisitions: Know exactly what you’re buying.”
  • Fourth: Buy things that are serviceable. “We always ask: Is it serviceable? If it is, it means we can buy parts and fix it.”
  • Fifth: “Take the same conservationist approach to non-mechanical items that don’t break so much as wear out.”

For all but the handiest of us, mending our wares may mean making the acquaintance of our local cobbler. “In the comings and goings of daily life, we walk through soles, we pull off zippers, we come unstitched,” Kardashian writes. “This is where the cobbler comes in—if you can find one.”

Jason Ericson

seth r.
1/8/2008 2:41:42 PM

These guys like Dunn never get over not having had the courage to live the coke and beamer lifestyle. I hear regret there, no doubt. Not to advocate extravagant wastefulness, just the opposite, but dropping out, moving to BFE and isolating yourself is not the answer. If you want the world to change you've got talk to other people and convince them to work with you. This primitivist hogwash is just another kind of sprawl in my book - a reimagining of the myth of the American frontier. Loners are part of the problem! These back-to-the-land people here just got lucky that some reporter didn't drop out of society and instead decided to trek up to the middle of nowhere to talk to them. In the bigger picture, they got more accomplished doing a 20-min interview then they did in 20 years of reusing their old clothes for shoe strings and whatnot.


a.m.r._5
1/2/2008 12:03:49 PM

Nice little article. The piece itself was short implying frugality of words/information. I was raised by survivors of the depression so am well aware of such tenets although it was out of economic survival that we practiced frugal living rather than by any great desire to live simply although for my father I think it gave him a sense of adventure... for my sisters and I, we were just plain hungry at times...


a.m.r._4
1/2/2008 12:03:12 PM

Nice little article. The piece itself was short implying frugality of words/information. I was raised by survivors of the depression so am well aware of such tenets although it was out of economic survival that we practiced frugal living rather than by any great desire to live simply although for my father I think it gave him a sense of adventure... for my sisters and I, we were just plain hungry at times...


marika winter-johnston
12/30/2007 10:15:29 AM

Yes, oh, Yes. Nothing is more infuriating to me than an oil radiator heater that cannot be repaired; unless it is any other small appliance, radio or old phonograph (rendered useless due to unobtainable needles) that must be jetisoned into recycling or (god forbid) garbage, due to my inability to repair or find an all purpose "mr fixit" anymore. I despise buying remanufactured cotton goods - socks that wear out in a day; colors that fade in one wash, etc. ad nauseum. Some upscale catalog goods even fall into this category. Autos? our new pickup truck has paint that "nicks and chips" at the slightest abrasion, its American made with German motor and French transmission, or something like that. Lord help us -- if we could only restore quality, durable goods for purchase - but globalization has come to mean "cheap, dangerous and trashy" -- we can only combat it locally, establish sustainable, repairable products - no government will intervene in this "throw away society" by setting standards/we have to do it ourselves. http://none


joe norris
12/29/2007 2:27:47 PM

The term "intentional poverty" reveals a great deal about US culture. Compared to most people in the world, Dunn and the others mentioned in the article live in relative affluence. I agree that there should be more profiles of the "unintentional poor," but that wasn't the purpose of this article. Perhaps if the rest of us adopted the five tenets there would be fewer people in real need.


john parfitt_1
12/29/2007 9:16:56 AM

George Woodbury's "John Goffe's Mill" is an early (1940's) classic of self-sufficiency relevant to this discussion, lived and written before the term was invented. I hope it's not forgotten in the land of its origin (New England).


gary ashcraft_1
12/29/2007 7:34:36 AM

I take issue with the concept that he his somehow engaging in " radical frugality " or being " self-congratulatory " any more than the owner of a Prius is more pious than an SUV owner. I am a bicyclye commuter in Houston Tx, I also drive a diesel and make my own bio-diesel. There are a number of reasons among them is an attitude of both frugality and anti-wastefulness it is a self-imposed disipline and yes I do feel a bit virtuous. If we ( particulary in the U.S. ) don't become more intentional about these issues we will pass from this planet like the dinosaur, and we will as the poet said go out not with a bang but a whimper.


kevin james
12/28/2007 11:26:48 AM

Indeed, there is a self-congratulatory vibe there. Somehow, Mr. Dunn's status as a would-be "128" makes him better than downtrodden people who behave similarly, but not from choice. I have no problem with points 1-5 in the article, though. :)


festivemanb
12/27/2007 8:20:42 AM

An interesting part of this radical frugality is the choice implicit in it. The farmer you quoted makes the point that he COULD have done something else. And then I'm thinking of the ultimate New England back to the lander, Mr. Thoreau himself: his exile into frugality was completely self-imposed. Why this is interesting is that is draws out the difference between frugality and poverty. Frugality becomes a sort of virtue - intentional poverty. But the element of intention - the option to do something else - is essential to our perception of virtue here. We don't write magazine profiles of the tens of thousands of unintenional poor people who have to remain frugal - not because of any highfalutin liberal ideals - but because they don't get paid enough. http://bmackie.blogspot.com