Saturday, January 2, 2010

About The Wife's Project

Though a few folks (and Google robots) may stumble upon this blog by chance, I suspect around now at the beginning most of you have been hanging around the kitchen table talking with The Wife.

(If not, you really should head over there. Not only because she’s done a great job chronicling our last year as mid-century anachronisms, but because she’s built up a great community of folks gabbing about 1950s era vintage living.)

But since you’re in my den now, and you’ve been polite enough to accept a cigar and a bit of scotch, I’ll give you my recap of 1955.

* * *

It was easy spending a year in the world my wife made for us. What’s not to like, from a husband’s point of view? A delicious meal to come home to, in a clean house with a closet full of clean clothes. Good conversation with a woman who seems more happy and content than she’s been in a long time, and who is better dressed than anyone else I see during my day.

Why should one feel guilty about such things? Why not accept that the things that make us happy must be pretty damn good?

By putting a focus on simple living and frugality (but never at the expense of pleasure - oh, no) we’ve been able to have more fun and less stress than we’ve had in a long time, too.

Granted, adapting to vintage living may have been easier for us than most. We’ve never lived completely in the present. The Wife used to wear Victorian dresses to school, and I’ve smoked a pipe since I was 19.

Plus I have this long-standing habit of denying myself things until I can see clearly how they’re going to make my life better. That’s why I did all my writing on manual typewriters until 1999. Computers were for messing around and tinkering with, not for getting any work done. I refused the car my mother insisted I should want in high school, preferring instead to ride a bike and save the gas money. The wife and I actually went without cars for our first few years together, too. And we weren’t living in a city, surrounded by goods and services and public transportation. We lived on the Outer Cape. It was five miles a day round trip to work and on Saturday we walked six to the Chinese buffet place, where we ate all we wanted and never gained a pound.

I skipped college too. It seemed like the biggest scam of all. While I sometimes wonder if I might have missed out on a few opportunities and experiences there, I have never missed the student loans. Instead of paying those off, we were able to invest in mutual funds, land, and then our first home.

So the art of self-denial is something I’ve mastered and refined from youth. I’m always been more comfortable with less - safe from the specter of waste and dissolution. That’s why going back in time last year felt like returning to our roots. And it was a way of knocking our finances back in line at a time when the country was teetering out of control.

So I was happy with her idea because I’m happy with less. But what surprised me right away was how much more we seemed to have, after we moved back in time those 54 years.

There seemed to be more leisure time. When I got home from work I didn’t have to launch into laundry, cleaning, and yesterday’s dishes. (I do still pitch in on the last occasionally - perhaps not enough.) The Wife had more leisure too, since freeing herself from the bonds of work and career meant she could express herself more effectively and efficiently in the home, leaving hours to enjoy her own labors.

The food tasted better and cost less.

Since we started donating and discarding a lot of our modern junk (designed to fall apart within a few months of purchase, anyway) for the “dusty and out of style stuff” other people were discarding, the quality and solidity of our belongings started to go up too. Plates, glasses, utensils, even linen napkins lent a sense of specialness and richness to daily routines, routines we would have simply rushed through in previous, modern times.

None of this is new to readers of The Wife’s blog, of course. But some may be pleased to hear that the experience really was mutual.

* * *

The Wife’s broadened her perspective as she’s moved on to 1956, and I’m happy to go with her. But what I’m mostly interested in is the pursuit of good living from all of the rich past available to us. Not so much picking a time and sticking with it, but looking at all eras critically and choosing the best lessons from each to use in our own lives. The 1970s may have thrown off some hideous cars, for example, but they left behind some elegant typewriters. (For discussion: was there anything else from the 1970s worth saving?) The nineties brought an internet worth participating in and the noughties reminded us of the limits of finance. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in any of those decades again, but rather than blindly grabbing the latest and greatest of everything, I can cherry-pick the best from the past.

I like the example of the Amish. They aren’t necessarily anti-technology. In fact, I’ve read they usually keep a cell phone or two in their villages. You just need a good reason for using it before you make a call. They’ve decided, as a culture, only to accept those technologies into their world that actually make their lives better. I have a similar vision. It’s what makes me such a poor participant in today’s economy: I refuse to buy the latest crap, opting instead for the slightly used article, something that’s proven its utility and durability. (And while I lack the religious convictions of the Amish, I certainly respect the utility and durability of their views.)

Nine times out of ten, newest isn’t always best.

Of course, if it weren’t for this daft internet, I wouldn’t have so many typewriters.


  1. Finally! Voices who echo what I believe. Not giving up new technology, but also, not throwing out the old just to acquire the new.

    Why fill my kitchen with plastic when glass and stainless steel work wonderfully. Why fill our bodies with artificial foods when wholesome and natural are healthier for us.
    Why continue using the old wringer washer when a current, energy-saving model will clean my clothing with less damage and save my energy, as well as time. (and yes, even though I am only 46 years old, I used a wringer washer and clothes lines exclusively for several years.)

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts, Sir.

  2. Thank you for sharing yourself, and your point of view, with us. I am thrilled to hear, from your own mouth, how much you support your wife, and, for some reason, I LOVE when you call her "The Wife". Call me silly, but that is extremely sweet to me.

  3. Well, so far sir, I have enjoyed your blog. What a fun and interesting year we have all enjoyed with your wife...I'd say you have a keeper there!

  4. No cigar for me, please – but whisky is ok. :)
    What I truly like about Donna's project is that both of you enjoys it and have found your roles, that's harmony. You sound like a spoiled husband. ;)

  5. Very cool to hear about things from your point of view. Thanks!

  6. Hi there: Have enjoyed your wife's blog for the past several months, and look forward to yours, as well. Having lived through the 1970's, I generally abhor most everything associated with it. :) The one thing that did come to mind, though, is corduroy pants. Of course, we've had them all these years, but my mother dressed me in lots of corduroy when I was a child in the 70's. I recently bought a pair of corduroy pants and have really appreciated that they are comfortable and much dressier than jeans. Otherwise, I'm a blank on great things from that era!