I define frugality as achieving similar results, for less. Less money, less time, and less energy. In turn, more of these resources are made available for the important things in life. Driven not by laziness, but optimization. This process of thinking is critical for designing an essential life. For example: how can I maintain my current social life, for less? How can I eat delicious foods, for less? How can I get direct access to the incredible minds of authors from around the world, for less? The last of these can be answered with a wonderful resource known to many, but used by few: the local public library.
Ask What Your Library Can Do For You
When I first moved to Seattle, renting an apartment in an area with a high walkscore was an important factor (my first apartment was a 93, in case you’re wondering). With that in mind, I located no more than a half mile from the post office, grocery store, auto repair shop, brewpub and of course, library. As I began exploring my neighborhood, I visited the local branch to learn more about its offerings. Using my drivers license to prove Seattle residency, I was set up with a library card in no time. They instantly offered me access to thousands of books, movies, car maintenance manuals, eBooks, streaming services, music, free museum passes, and conference rooms.
Over the past two years, I’ve absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge: from investing to community-building and cooking to philosophy. I’ve discovered a wealth of information rests within this free–and in my opinion–underutilized resource. As eBooks, Amazon, and online resources become more readily available, it’s easy defaulting to this sourcing method. However, thanks to all of our tax dollars, cities and educational institutions across America offer a vast amount of free resources such as those listed above. And I encourage you to source your books, movies, and other media in this way.
Shortly after establishing membership with my library, I developed a constant pipeline of books flowing in and out of my life.
Through the library portal, I am able to search for and save potential titles to my “shelf”–my online shelf that is. I can also read reviews, check the demand for a book, and set-up one-click holds at any branch. I can be alerted when one of my books becomes available for pick-up and receive automatic emails reminding me to return material on-time. What a deal! Anytime I receive a book recommendation, I access the portal from my smart phone and place a hold. Boom!
Although, I’ve primarily focused on reading paperbacks and hardcovers, the Seattle network offers more than I imagined (some I’m discovering right now as I conduct research for this article!):
- Lots and lots of books, of course
- DVDs and CDs
- eBooks downloaded at any instant
- Streamable movies, documentaries, etc. sponsored by Hoopla
- Federal and state income tax preparation services
- Free or discounted museum passes around the city
- Free WiFi in library buildings (no coffee purchase required!)
- Every magazine subscription under the sun
- Auto maintenance and service manuals for your vehicle
- Resources to help you learn a new language
- Software training courses on Microsoft Office and more
- Children and teen homework help
- Mobile hotspots for rent–access 4G LTE internet anywhere!
And guess what? If the library doesn’t have what I’m looking for, I can suggest items for them to purchase! It is a network of the people, by the people, and for the people. While the Seattle metropolitan area host a large network rich with services, smaller municipalities will undoubtedly provide the mainstays of any library system–books, DVDs, eBooks, WiFi, and community events.
The value of the resources above total in the millions of dollars, which are now available to everyone thanks to tax dollars. Remember, you pay for this service! But no matter how glitzy I describe their online portal or how easy they make accessing the resources, people are skeptical of the perceived inconvenience. Despite what non-library goers believe, these institutions can save you money, help you live light, and even develop a sense of belonging in your neighborhood.
Save Paper. Borrow Paper(backs).
As you progress in your lifestyle design journey, you typically need help, inspiration, and guidance–I know I sure did. And while blogs are wonderful resources, books also have their place. But how does should you go about sourcing one? Here are few examples:
- Buy it new from an independent/large online store
- Buy it used from an independent/large online store
- Use a buy-cycle service such as Buy Nothing or Freecycle
- Borrow it from the library
- Steal it from someone (not recommended)
Decisions like this plague our everyday. We trade-off time, money, and energy based on our personal set of values. The overarching point is that obtaining almost anything today can be done in a myriad of ways. For example, if you need the book immediately, you may opt for an online purchase. If you think libraries are dirty and don’t want to spend money, you might ask a friend. For me, I greatly value saving money, spending time in my community, and being energized by traversing my local neighborhood. With that in mind, heading to my local library is a slam dunk.
Acquiring books online or at your local book store will simply cost money–not very ideal when there are other equally-possible alternatives. While I love the idea of sourcing on Buy Nothing and Freecycle, I tend to shy away from simply moving books out of one person’s house and into my own. After all, I’m trying to be a minimalist, here. Given that, my library keeps things extremely inexpensive and doesn’t drive demand for new book printing as quickly.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, I have borrowed countless books, eBooks, and DVDs at no direct cost to me. If I had to guess, I’d estimate saving hundreds of dollars by simply “sharing” these resources with my neighbors. I can also obtain and return a book multiple times without having to repurchase. This helps keep my home book collection at a whopping 2 books–although even these are in question.
Dude, Where’s My Book?
If you visited my apartment in Seattle, you would never know I gobble up books incessantly. While I always have a best-seller checked out of the library, my shelves at home look pretty light–and it’s no mistake. When I first moved out on my own, I spent hours investing in the perfect bookshelf and proudly displaying every binded stack of paper I owned. I organized them from shortest to tallest, tallest to shortest, and even tried the inverted parabola with the smallest books weighted towards the center. Regardless the configuration, I wished to portray myself as a reader–an intellect.
After a while, I realized that I hardly read any of those books. In fact, I rarely read a book twice.
Yet, there they were–collecting dust among the rest of my decor and bookshelf artifacts. As I’ve said before, I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t own. The only lesson I want to instill is one of intentionality. And it became apparent to me that very little joy, use, or functionality came from the books lining my IKEA bookshelf. Hence, I started downsizing my collection into what I felt was really meaningful. I gave some away to friends and donated others to the library. Some stayed with me during subsequent moves, but few have lasted until now. And as you might imagine, I haven’t missed them.
Plus, if I really wanted to read one of my favorites again, I have millions of resources at my fingertips thanks to the Seattle Public Library.
Spending Time In The Community
While saving money and space open up your time and energy, there are other crucial aspects to the essential life. Using local services such as a library brings you into the community and helps develop a sense of belonging among your neighbors. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the quality these places that deter some folks from giving them a chance. For example, Millennials (or anyone fresh out of school) may confuse libraries as drab places in which you go to conduct term paper research. Others may think they are simply a refuge for the homeless or safe space for the economically disadvantaged. Busy parents may feel as if waiting a week for their favorite book is simply too long.
Unlike receiving a package at my doorstep, borrowing physical resources from the public library encourages me to make the short walk my local slice of Seattle. I stroll down a boulevard of trees, pass restaurants and coffee shops, watch children play on the school yard and nearby playground, and even pass a few bus stops of commuters. Occasionally I pass by friends enjoying happy hour beer on a restaurant patio. The ease of accessibility is too good to pass up.
When I’m not picking up resources, I’ll access free WiFi at the many study tables available to me throughout my library network. Not only do I spend time utilizing this tax-payer resource, but I also avoid a cafe cappuccino purchase every time I work outside the house. I’ve started to recognize various staff at the library and enjoy chatting with them during my visits.
However, I am occasionally pressed for time when I visit. In these instances, I will glide into the library, snag my book from the “holds” shelf, and check myself out in no time. All told, this takes a grand total of two minutes and has me on my way. I don’t even carry my library card anymore as I’ve memorized the serial number.
Discover Your Public Library
The services offered by a local library can be staggering–and at no cost to you. Whether you recently moved to a new city or are looking to rediscover the community around you, I encourage you to take advantage of the nearest library. A shining example of the share economy, libraries bring knowledge, entertainment, training courses, and resources to everyone in a community–what a great step in the direction of social justice!
Borrowing from my local branch drastically reduced my spending on books and streamed media while connecting me with my local community. Prioritizing the walkability of my neighborhood, I am afforded spectacular access to this cost-cutting and space-saving resource. And what have I received in return? A wealth of knowledge and endless inspiration.