John Scalzi wrote a post right around the time Hurricane Katrina hit in the U.S., and I just ran across it again. It’s about being poor. Now, I have had my Ramen and peanut butter days, but they were a long time ago and I have never truly been poor. I grew up in an upper middle class family and have a host of first-world problems in my life. But, by definition, these aren’t real problems. These are the problems of people who have excesses of everything.
True poverty is scary even to contemplate for me. I think it is for a lot of people. That kind of uncertainty and hardship is uncomfortable even to think about if you’ve been raised like I have. I want to do something about it; I want to help somehow, but I don’t know how. I don’t have jobs to give, I have some money that I donate to food banks and such whenever I can. And, while I’m sure that helps some, it’s not the kind of help that relieves poverty. And throwing money at a problem isn’t always the best way to fix it.
For me, being thrifty is a way to save some money to do things we want to do, it’s not a way to survive. I read books like the Tightwad Gazette to get in a saving mood and to get some ideas, not as a guidebook on how to save enough to live. This article came at a good time for me. Within the last few days I’ve mentioned having too many books, and a pantry full of food that we haven’t eaten. I have always had a roof over my head with no threat of losing it. I have always had enough for food, even if it wasn’t the most nutritious choices. I don’t know what being poor is like and it’s hard to even imagine how difficult it must be.
Being green and thrifty isn’t always about buying organic food and compostable paper plates. Being green and thrifty is a valid way to live if you’re short on money as well I think. Making your own cleaners and soap, hanging laundry (even if it’s on hangars on the shower curtain rod), and saving water and electricity are valid ways to save money. For me minimalism and frugality are a choice. For others it’s fancy names for not being able to afford things. I need to keep that in mind when I write and when I think about this stuff. While it’s become trendy, and I am, to a certain extent, guilty of jumping on the bandwagon after the recession, it’s not a choice for everyone.
I think those of us in a position to help have a responsibility to do so. Even if the only thing you can do is throw money at food banks sometimes, it will help give someone food who needs it. There are people in the world who truly don’t have enough and, in my life I tend to forget that. I get caught up in my own little life and my own little concerns and only peep out every once in a while. I think a lot of people are like me. We want to help but don’t really know how. We buy the food bank bags at Thanksgiving and Christmas and donate to food drives, but know that it’s not really solving anything. The problem seems so very big. 15.8 million children in the US alone don’t have consistent access to enough nutritious food to be healthy. That’s just here. What about the children in other parts of the world? What about the adults who go hungry so their children can eat or have medicine? What about the homeless and starving and sick? I live a privileged life in a privileged country. While my life and keeping my family fed and clothed and cared for is important, so are the lives of countless others who don’t have what I have.
So, how do we help?