There’s no doubt the recession has spurred interest in living more affordably—cutting back, scaling down, and doing more with less. There’s just one hitch with the prevailing frugal ethos: A fair number of penny-pinching Americans have confused thrifty with cheap, bargain hunting in discount shops that rely, for example, on low-wage labor or disposable design.
Taking a page from Ellen Rupel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Noreen Malone expounds in the American Prospect: “Houses won’t last and clothes won’t be handed down because we no longer ask that they be built for the long run. . . . We might be cheap, but we’re no longer thrifty. In fact, even if we recover that instinct, we’ll have left ourselves with gaping holes in the reusable products ecosystem.”
In a nutshell, an Ikea couch makes an unlikely family heirloom. And the longer cheap culture prevails, so ebbs the flow of quality goods to thrift stores and reuse centers.
As a sort of antidote to the cheapening of thrift culture, I’d enthusiastically suggest picking up a copy of Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Recently published by Microcosm, it’s an adorable, addictive, pint-sized compendium of DIY advice, ranging from house-cleaning solutions and garden-tending skills to nontoxic bodycare products and natural remedies.
It’s not that I don’t have anywhere else to turn for this type of advice and information; on the contrary, here at the Utne Reader library we have a regular embarrassment of resources. As a matter of fact, our sister publication Natural Home just published a bang-up breakdown of the essential ingredients in a nontoxic cleaning kit. Another one of our sister magazines, Herb Companion, focuses an entire sector of its coverage on herbal remedies and using herbs for health.
There is an extra spoonful magic in Briggs’ pages, though. Make Your Place is neatly hand-lettered and illustrated throughout; the first two chapters began life as zines. When looking to disrupt the low-wage, productivity-maximizing philosophy of cheap, picking up a book that’s been crafted with such care, it seems to me, is quite an appropriate rebuttal.