Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In Other Words: One Family Chooses to Live Deliberately


Imagine that you can only own 100 items. Pretty tough? You bet it it. But there is a minimalist movement that demands that you can only have 100 items. That includes clothing, furniture, household items, everything. It’s pretty severe but it requires that you live deliberately, with purpose. I mean, I just did a quick inventory and I have over 40 screwdrivers. I don’t know why. It would be frightening to examine other areas of my life. So I am far from being deliberate.

In fact, most of us do not live deliberately. We live more reactively. I can go to the grocery store for one item and walk out with a cart full of stuff. I know you do the same. And then, we end up throwing food away.  We tend to live reactively rather than proactively or deliberately. Why? Because it is hard to be deliberate. It requires discipline and many of us (well, at least me) lack that.



So my ears perked up when I heard about Janet Harrah.  She ran an experiment for one year to see if her family could live on food stamps. Why? Well, she does economic research in the college of business at NKU and she noticed a disconnect in information regarding food stamps. So she wanted to know if she could feed her family of four on a food stamp budget of $600 per month or roughly five dollars per day per person. This would include grocery and dining out. There would be no wiggle room. “I like to cook so I follow a number of blogs. And a lot of them claim that you can feed your family on food stamp budget,” she says. So the experiment was set. One year.

Tim and Janet Harrah

Now she knew that the family would never qualify for food stamps but they wanted to try. She examined the different programs and settled on one and set out from there. It’s a good thing that Janet likes to cook. She could plan nutritious meals and the leftovers could be used in other creative food ways.

RELATED: Can a family of four live on a "food stamp diet"? (Podcast, April, 2016)

Now a problem is that not all food stamp recipients have quality kitchens or subscribe to food blogs or even have much time to devote to cooking at home or have access to grocery stores.  Janet Harrah claims that on average, we spend about 10% of our household budget on food. So what if you could reduce that?

She claims that the budget is a balancing act and that they questioned many aspects of their eating. So by examining just one part of life revealed layers and layers of issues in other parts of life. But that’s the way it goes when you chose to live deliberately. The choice reveals and guides and channels your life in other, often unexpected, ways.

The point is that she she chose to live deliberately.  She says, “It was always my plan to do it for a year but someone in the family developed a gluten allergy.” And that difference can result in 60 to 70% higher food costs. So it continues.


The intricacies of the federal program are not the issue here, but suffice it to say that it is a challenge for low income families living paycheck to paycheck. “For a middle class family, It is very doable,” she says.  But her research revealed that the issue was that “almost no one gets the full lot on food stamps. That’s not what most people get. The average allotment is $450.” Families are expected to make up the difference but that is complicated by living on low income paychecks and always being one paycheck from a disaster. It’s tough.  The Harrahs know they are fortunate.

But my point here is that this family decided to live deliberately. They wanted to see if they could reduce their food waste, eat nutritious meals, and save money. And they did it. Not just for one year but it is going on now for two and a half years! It’s part of their daily life.  Tim Harrah, Janet’s husband, says the experiment has been “very successful.”

Henry David Thoreau says in the opening of Walden that he “went to the woods to live deliberately.” And that line has resonated with readers since it was published in 1854. To live deliberately is to create an environment to find meaning, depth, and purpose to life. The discipline creates ripples of unexpected joy and insight.


Janet Harrah says, “So if we set our budget on the Thrifty Plan we are going to make a conscious effort to reduce our food waste. It would obviously be good for your pocketbook” and for the environment. That’s a double win.

And we waste a lot. I mean, the Rumpke landfill is the highest elevation in Hamilton County.  I respect anyone who chooses to live deliberately. Perhaps without realizing it, the Harrah family are true environmentalists for their deliberate choice. That’s a good life.

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