Guest Post: Lavish Frugality

The Oxymoron

Lavish frugality. What a pair of words. The first time I mentioned it to a friend, he instantly said this is an oxymoron.

An oxymoron describes two contradicting terms put together. We have all stumbled upon it before. At school, at university, in advertising or when we have placed an order with our favorite Asian restaurant: “I’d like to have chicken sweet and sour chicken, thank you.”

Additionally, the terms lavish and frugal do not seem to go together at first.

Many understand frugality not only to be modesty and a cautious behavior, but also celibacy and the renunciation of certain enjoyments. As opposed to this, there is the concept of “lavish lifestyle”. Especially, nowadays this term has a negative aftertaste and stands for the frivolous and overly generous consumption of money, things and resources. Those who have a lavish lifestyle live very richly and wastefully. So how do these two terms fit together?

Cheers for enjoyment

What is minimalism?

If you look at Instagram, Pinterest and the lifestyle magazines, you will quickly notice that the current trend is towards minimalism and sustainability. There are two great documentaries about minimalism on Netflix and sustainability is receiving much-needed attention. It seems as if these two lifestyles always went hand in hand. When it comes to minimalism, you actively ask yourself:

“What do I really need to be happy?”

It is not about reducing your possessions to a certain number of things or living in an empty apartment if possible. It is about making room for the important things in life and sorting out everything that is not important or even burdensome.

What is sustainability?

When it comes to sustainability, your own consumption and lifestyle are optimized so that you live as resource-efficiently as possible. It is a matter of aligning one’s actions in order to preserve the natural regenerative capacity of the systems involved in satisfying one’s own needs.

Lavish frugality

The idea of “lavish frugality” is not about saving money come hell or even throwing money down the drain. It is not about minimizing or adding to your possessions. It is more about balance.

After having dealt with the topics of minimalism and sustainability, after several unsuccessful clean-ups and tidy out actions à la Marie Kondo, I had to realize I love beautiful things. It just makes me happy to sit on the couch in the evening and look at my wall full of well-stocked bookshelves. If this makes me happy, why should I reduce myself to twenty books?

Please do not get this wrong. I am still reducing, and it makes perfect sense and joy surrounding yourself with the things that make you happy and that you use. However, the joy of life should not suffer. Not everyone is a minimalist. Nevertheless, that is not bad either, because sustainability is also possible if you have a lavish lifestyle – if you define it correctly!

The sustainable, lavish lifestyle

We are surrounded by advertising all day long, whether on television, social media or by friends and acquaintances who arouse desires and needs in us without knowing it. Hence, everyone’s spending is likely somewhere between what we can afford and what we think we are owed. For everyone, money is synonymous with work and drudgery (more for some, less for others). Moreover, students in particular know the feeling of being torn between their studies and part-time jobs, only to start their professional life with student loans debts.

Create new, repair or buy used

The solution is that what you cannot afford financially, can be recreated, repaired or used for little money.

 There are now countless ways to add very beautiful items to your wardrobe without having to immediately spend huge amounts of money or invest in fast fashion. A capsule wardrobe is fine, but if you want to expand it, you can do that. In addition, if you switch to second hand, you also get the opportunity to breathe a second life into a beautiful piece and at the same time, you protect the environment. Those skilled enough can upgrade their favorite pieces themselves with a needle and thread. Therefore, you almost have an individually tailored piece of clothing for a few euros.

Books, whether for private reading enjoyment or for studying, can also be bought second-hand or borrowed from the library, if you know in advance that you will not necessarily have to have them in hard copy on the shelf later. You can also join so-called book hikes, in which a book is passed on to the next person after reading, so that it travels from person to person and hopefully gives you hours of joy.

Thanks to the corona lockdown (regardless of whether it is number one, two or five); we are forced to spend more time in our own four walls. You can have cabin fever and the furnishings lose their appeal. But isn’t this the perfect time for a self-painted picture that will be placed prominently over the sofa, as if you had bought it for several thousand euros in a gallery? Existing pieces of furniture can often be upcycled in a few simple steps and with little material and transformed into truly unique pieces. Each of us has seen at least one Ikea hack and thanks to YouTube and Pinterest there are no limits to the imagination of turning our own furniture catalog home into a dream house à la McGee & Co.

Not just consumption

However, lavish frugality is not just about shifting consumption to more sustainable and therefore cheaper alternatives. But to actively enjoy one’s life. Sit on a park bench with the first warm rays of sunshine with your homemade coffee and just watch people passing by? Having digital lunch breaks with your best friend or having a movie night with your loved one in the evening, including self-made popcorn. Why not just celebrate the nice idleness and sit on the balcony with a beautiful teacup (bought on eBay) and just read your favorite book again? Or treat yourself to a lush bouquet of self-plowed flowers.

Find the balance

In lavish frugality, one finds the balance between luxury and the essential. Instead of snacking on a pack of cookies every day (absolutely no problem in lockdown, trust me), just go to the patisserie and buy a wonderful, but sinful piece of cake. Alternatively, go to the trouble of strengthening your bed linen and ironing it, only to have the feeling of hotel bed linen in the evening when you slip under the sheets.

A cheap wine tastes much better from the crystal glasses bought at the flea market and you instantly feel like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey.

True luxury costs little or nothing – and you do not have to miss anything. It is enough if you think a little more about what kind of priorities you are setting. Even then, it is possible to behave freely and decadently at any time, even without overdrawing your own budget or painfully missing the missing millions in your bank account.

Lavish frugality means that you reinvent the rules for yourself, let yourself drift, create and develop without exploiting the environment and its available resources or having to miss anything.

Feel free to enjoy life to the fullest!

Guest Blogger: Julia

Check out Julia’s Blog: www.zeitistrelativ.com

Follow Julia on Instagram: @jezabel_botanica

Guest Post: How to write a Master’s thesis

Recently, I handed in my master’s thesis for the degree of a Master of Arts. During that time, I had a lot of problems going on, most of a personal nature, but also others that you are all aware of, namely, the pandemic. Then, next to personal and public issues, there is the academic process of writing a thesis of 80 pages. All three of those areas in your life come together in a tangled mess when you begin preparing for your thesis project. In order to maximize the success of your project, I’d like to suggest a few guidelines, based on my experience and that of my fellow students.

Before you start:

1. If possible, pick a topic you like.

Choosing to write about a topic you hate will make the thesis absolute torture because there is little to be motivated for. However, writing about something you really love bears the risk of losing critical distance and simply praising everything, which is not what the thesis is supposed to be. Attempt to find a balance between enjoyment and critical distance.

2. Be in close contact with your advisor.

Not only will you not run the risk of failing because you worked completely against your advisor’s ideas, but you will (hopefully) receive useful guidance and support. I am a bit spoiled because the professor who supervised my thesis is completely awesome and has listened to me crying and worrying a lot. If you do not have that kind of personal relationship with your advisor, it is still central that you listen to what they have to say about your plans. If you are very unhappy with their ideas for your thesis (for instance because they want you to completely overthrow the structure you envisioned), then you are within your rights to defend your viewpoint. If you like your ideas, defend them.

3. Find a support group of like-minded students.

Especially now in pandemic times, it is hard to come into contact with fellow students, but I cannot stress how useful it is to have a small group of people who study the same thing you do. They will have an informed opinion on your ideas for a thesis, so you can use them as a sound board for things you are not ready to talk to your advisor about. They can proofread stuff for you and help you when you feel stuck. And, most importantly, they will remind you that you are not alone. I felt immensely comforted by our little support group that met (and still meets) once a week via Skype to talk over issues each one had or currently has with their theses.

4. Prepare as much as possible before the official registration date.

I don’t know how it works at other universities, but I was able to do a lot of the reading and research before I ever registered my thesis officially, and it was a good thing, too. I changed my focus a few times, so that I continually needed new literature, not to mention the fact that the library closed during the first shutdown, so that I couldn’t get my hands on a book I needed very badly. If you take care of as many problems as possible before your official time frame begins, you will have less to worry about.

5. Know if you are ready to register.

This goes not just for your research process and how certain you feel that your topic is the right one, but it also concerns how prepared you feel for this challenge in general. If you are not ready, but you register your thesis anyway simply because you think you need to, it could end very badly. I registered too early, and the first month I spent with nothing but panicking and having a few nervous breakdowns. I was prepared enough academically, but not emotionally, as spiritualistic as that may sound. Your state of mind needs to be the right one, as my advisor explained to me: commit to the thesis. Be a thesis-writer.

During your writing process:

1. Find a working rhythm that works for you.

If that rhythm is to write 8 pages one day and then do nothing for the next three, that is fine because it keeps you going. Do not force a rhythm on yourself that doesn’t make you feel productive because you will lose motivation. If you set yourself the goal to get up every morning at 6am because you feel you should, but usually you get up at 10am, you won’t manage 6am and then become frustrated. Work with your own rhythm, not against it.

2. Adopt a steady work ethic.

Once you have found your rhythm, stick to it. Do not let it slide for more than five days at a time, because you might fall out of rhythm and it will be hard to get back into it. Do not simply rely on motivation to keep you going. Sometimes you will find no motivation, but you need to keep going regardless. Adhere to the rhythm you have established for yourself and pull through.

3. Create a focused work space.

Put your phone on silent and tape off the time display on your computer screen—when you’re wired in, you don’t need to answer messages or check to see what time it is. If you have appointments you need to keep, you can set yourself an alarm that will remind you. You will benefit immensely from disabling as many distractions as possible.

4. Do not read all of the literature at once.

I cannot stress the importance of this method enough. Sort your secondary texts according to the chapters for which you need them. Read the literature for one chapter, write that chapter, read the literature for the next chapter, write the next chapter, and so on and so forth. I had over 90 secondary sources, and it loomed over me like a mountain that I felt completely unable and unprepared to climb, a feeling that majorly contributed to my panic during the first month. Then, a friend of mine told me to sort the literature and work my way through it one chapter at a time, and it was the decisive piece of advice that got me through the thesis. If you divide the huge mountain of literature into discrete piles, it does not seem so imposing anymore.

5. Work on the list of references as you go along.

While we are on the subject of secondary literature: putting together a list of over 90 sources the day before you hand in is a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Put every piece of literature you have read on the list and immediately format it correctly according to the MLA guidelines or whatever guideline you are using. Later, in the penultimate step of proofreading your thesis, check to see if every work on your list of references has actually been quoted in the text you wrote. It happens that you cross something out that has ceased to be relevant for your argument and you don’t notice that you have removed a quote from a secondary literature text, so you forget to take it off the works cited list. Even if you work with a citation program (e.g. Zotero), you should not skip this step.

6. Save at least five copies in different places.

Make sure to include both clouds and hard drives. Not only does that mean you are prepared for your computer crashing and any other eventuality, but it will make you feel very safe. Not only should you continually save copies of your thesis as you go along, but save all of your digital material (notes, literature, preliminary drafts etc.), from the very first word you type. If anything happens, if your computer crashes, if you accidently pour coffee on it, if—God forbid—someone hacks you and you can’t access your files, you will NEED these safety copies. Trust me, it will make you feel very comfortable knowing that nothing can get lost because you saved it all.

7. Believe in your abilities.

There will come a point in the process where you lose all faith, in yourself, in your topic, in your argument. It will all seem ridiculous and arbitrary and you won’t want to do it anymore. In marathons, this state of mind is called “hitting the wall.” When you have reached this point (and you might reach it several times), it is important that you keep going and remember that yes, you can do it. You’ve come this far, so there must be something about you that has made it possible.

After your writing process:

1. Get a certain number of people to proofread your thesis.

Delegate what their job is supposed to be: one for grammar, one for typos, one for formatting, several for content and so on. Having more than one person on content proofreading is important because the content is the key piece of this thesis. Grammar and format can be perfect, but if your argument makes no sense you haven’t won anything. That is also why the support group of students is important: their input will help you immensely.

2. Do not get too many proofreaders!

Too many opinions can confuse you, so you need to choose a few people whose opinion you trust. Also, you need to be able to tell apart which points of criticism of your thesis are valid and important for you, and which are merely fine-tuning or concerning your style of writing. Do not incorporate every single point of criticism given to you. Not only will it drive you crazy, it will also take your thesis away from you. Your ideas need to stay your own, so do not let criticism water them down.

3. Save enough time for proofreading.

Leave yourself and your selection of proofreaders at least a week for reading the whole thing. If you rush through it, the risk of overlooking mistakes is too big.

4. Check the formatting at the very end.

The last step of proofreading, after all of the input from others has been incorporated and you have checked to see whether everything you cited is in proper formatting, cited correctly, and has found its way onto the list of references, you look at every page one last time to look for formatting glitches. Doing that earlier is pointless because changing the content changes the format, so you would need to check everything several times. Once the content is absolutely set, ideally the night before you need to hand it in, sit yourself down one last time and go over every page carefully to see if the format is correct, if every paragraph is indented and every chapter title is the correct font and if your text program has glitched anywhere.

Miri

Guest Blogger: Miri

Follow Miri on Instagram: @miri_mh8

Guest Post: The Power of the Internet – An Opinion on Assassination Nation

The internet is a two-faced jerk. It can make us feel loved and precious and hyped up to soaring heights, or it can leave us lonely and hated and at the absolute bottom of a bottomless pit of rage. It has the unique power to universally unite us as people. It has the historically unparalleled power of dividing us and creating problems where there were none before. And the extreme ambivalence I feel when thinking about this two-faced jerk results from the fact that embracing the good side means the acceptance of the bad side. As I open my door wide to the beautiful face of the internet, the ugly face sneaks in behind my back while me and the beautiful face hug it out in the doorway. I invite one face into my house, but both faces come in.

The internet’s good side is its magical power to connect people from all over the world. It enables me to see and hear things from remote cultures that I would otherwise never come in contact with, thus broadening my horizon, forming me into a more complete, more tolerant and educated being.

The internet enables me to share my creativity with others in the hopes of making their day a little bit better. And the very best thing about it is that entire generations can share their experiences with one another, be it through memes, or tweets, or TikToks, sending out into the world the very clear message that we all need to hear: you are not alone.

Especially now, in pandemic times, the internet and its ability to connect us are more important than ever. I know a video call with my friends will never replace their actual presence in my living room, but it offers me something of a reprieve until I can hug them in person again. And seeing my exact experience and feelings summed up in a meme created by someone from the other side of the world on Facebook reminds me, again, that I am not alone in this.

So the internet’s best side brings people together to create something beautiful. However, there is a dangerous downside. The troublesome thing is the reason why people get together, because it can be to share love or creativity, but it can also be in order to unite against someone else and ostracize them.

The internet’s bad side that piggybacks on the good side is the way in which it has changed the way we communicate with one another. It has completely deconstructed the notion of facts, as David Mitchell explained on the Graham Norton Show: thanks to the internet, the truth may never be recognized as such again. There is no certainty of factual evidence on the internet, because the internet has given everybody the chance to share their thoughts on any matter, and the result is an endless web of facts mingled with opinions that are then misunderstood as facts and again mingled with opinions until nobody can actually comprehend what is true and what is not. There is no way to share your thoughts without them being misconstrued by someone else, and that is one of the big downsides to the internet’s ability to give everybody a voice: people think that because they have the opportunity to express their opinion, their opinion is automatically important, and it is not. Your opinion on a subject needs to be informed, or it is completely useless, but this idea of information is rendered more and more obsolete.

The result of this desire to share your thoughts on any subject with anyone simply because the opportunity is there has led to what I would like to call audience entitlement. Everyone obviously is entitled to their thoughts and opinions. Your mind cannot be controlled, it is yours and yours alone. The problematic thing about the internet’s open platform of opinions, however, is that people appear to have developed the feeling that because they have an opinion, it needs to be listened to. And while this feeling of being entitled to an audience in itself might not be inherently problematic, it very much becomes so once it leads to what Joe Rogan once called “recreational outrage.” People become habitually upset about things they read on the internet and, thanks to their audience entitlement, share their outrage and demand it to be taken seriously. If enough people share their outrage about the same thing on social media, their combined outrage is bundled into a shitstorm. And there have been outrages that were completely justified. The internet pools and combines worldwide forces to fight against injustice and that is beautiful. The issue is that it has become habitual, recreational, for people to try and kickstart shitstorms. In the process, we become desensitized to our own outrage and its consequences. And this desensitization is the bad consequence of the beautiful unification of the people.

The bad is created out of the good, then. The question I have come to ask myself is: is the good created out of the bad? Do they condition one another, or is it a one-way street that ends in doom and destruction? I have to admit I am not sure I have a definite answer, but Sam Levinson’s 2018 film Assassination Nation opts for the pessimistic view that yes, it is a one-way street, yes, it does end in doom and destruction, and that is because it is human nature. It is the human way of handling things, and it has been since colonial times, if not before that.

The film uses the analogy of the witch hunt to make this drive to destroy explicit. The city in which the plot takes place is Salem, Massachusetts, which is historically known for the Salem Witch trials, during which women were burnt at the stake or otherwise executed over accusations of witchcraft that the accused failed to disprove. What the film makes clear through the connection created between the history of witch trials and the postmodern process of the online shitstorm is that both kinds of hunts are not about the accused’s actual culpability. They are about scapegoating.

In Assassination Nation, a group of teenaged girls are blamed for a hacker’s leak of personal information that concerns the entire town of Salem. The girls are actually innocent, but once the town has settled on them as the guilty parties, nobody cares to prove or disprove the assumption of their guilt. And as one Salem citizen after another becomes the victim of a shitstorm concerning their private data (now open for the whole world to see), these victims become the perpetrators of a new shitstorm, namely the hunt for witches. As the hunt for the four girls escalates into a massacre, people die, blood is spilt, and Salem becomes a battleground for a war that started online, but has entered the real world. The fascinating thing is that the film takes the idea of the recreational outrage of online shitstorms, which are a safe, sanitized form of hunting someone without ever having to actually face the victims, and places it in the analog world. An execution in the street is an online shitstorm taken to its logical extreme. As such, Assassination Nation is the satirical, over-the-top conclusion to the trend of online outrage. The internet brought us together for us to share love, but the film proposes that it inevitably transforms the world into an assassination nation.

I watched the film because I saw it in Amazon Prime, and I had no fleshed-out expectations; Wikipedia described it as a black comedy thriller, so I might have expected some laughs, but to be quite honest, it was a horror film to me. You can easily read Assassination Nation as a slasher, with the four girls at the center as the final girls and the entire town as the killers. Reading it like that makes the expectations heaved upon girls by patriarchal structures in the postmodern age even more explicit. The most horrific thing, however, must be the fact that these girls are innocent. They have done literally nothing to deserve the town’s persecution, and it does not matter at all. Nothing makes you feel powerless like telling the truth and being called a liar. The girls have the truth on their side, but we live in the age of alternative facts, so really, who cares? Apparently, we don’t want the truth. We just want someone to blame.

As such, I can’t really find humor in the film. It scares me too much. I am aware of its satirical exaggeration in the Tarantino-esque escalation of bloody violence, but it felt too real for me to be satire. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian described the film as “social media revenge porn,” which best describes what Assassination Nation presents to the audience: the consequences of lives lived on social media that then (literally) bleed into the real world. Ultimately, the film seems to suggest that the two forms of life (online and offline) do not mix. The intersection between online and offline is also a one-way street. The real world barely affects the online world, but the online world has massive consequences for the real world.

That being said, I really enjoyed Assassination Nation for its artful inclusion of social media into the medium of film. I always enjoy films that explore the limits of the medium, and the internet is so much a part of our lives that we will cease to exist without it.

Miri

Guest Blogger: Miri

Follow Miri on Instagram: @miri_mh8