Scorned Tubs & Yankee Ghosts

It stood in the middle of our neighbor’s yard. Sun glinted off its pale porcelain nakedness. Rust freckled its clawed feet.

It was a bathtub.

From the back of my parents’ station wagon, I eyed the erstwhile bathing place turned flower planter. My Mom stepped on the gas. The station wagon puttered forwards. The tub planter receded from view. And, seven-year-old me? I judged.

I’d seen this before. Jerry-rigged mailboxes fighting to maintain regulation height. Aged cars parked permanently in yards. Creatively constructed chicken coops. Repurposed planters.

Yankee Thrift is a New England tradition, and New Hampshire is a master of it.
We are the Capital of Thriftendom.

The Ghost of Thriftiness Scorned

In high school, the Ghost of Yankee Thriftiness sensed my reluctant spirit and decided to haunt me at every turn. It’s not that I didn’t like thrift. It’s just that this was all a little overboard, right?

My neighbor used cardboard to keep weeds out of her garden—cardboard. My boss had a barn loft filled with every piece of furniture that he’d ever “gotten rid of.”

It was a conversation with a family friend that finally broke me.
“Have you see that car in my neighbor’s driveway?” 
I nodded and leaned closer.
“It hasn’t moved for thirteen years,” the friend explained.
“Our neighbor keeps it there so it looks like someone’s always home.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “It’s like home security, but cheaper.”

With the parked car home security system in sight, 17-year-old me made a decision. Saving money was great, but this Yankee Thriftiness? I wanted no part of it.

Yankee Thrift Takes Hold

If there were warning signs, I missed them. I don’t know when it happened. It just did.

As I’m writing this, I’m drinking tea steeped from a re-used tea bag. There may or may not be cardboard in my garden. And, I have a box full of random containers that I can’t throw away because I might use them somehow for something someday.

A lot of young people ridicule the idea of “Yankee Thrift.” I know because I did too. Now, though, I’m starting to think that my thrifty neighbors are just ahead of the times. Instead of sending their stuff off to be recycled, they recycle it themselves. They re-purpose, re-use, and re-create. They reduce by not buying things in the first place.

And, hey. That’s not so bad. In fact, a lot of us could use a little more of that Yankee Thrift in our lives. I’m not saying that you need a tub in your yard. Or a car. And, it’s okay to truly get rid of furniture. But, I do think that Yankee Thrift deserves our respect, or at the very least, less of our judgement.

Inspiring Your Inner Yankee

If you’re ready to flaunt a little frugality, or even if you’re still a skeptic, check out these stories…

Yankee Frugality Contest

Yankee Magazine held a frugality contest back in ‘91. If you think you’re taking thrift to the extreme, read this and you’ll feel like an amateur.

New Hampshire’s Real Life Yankees

NH Magazine hits it out of the park with Lynn Tryba’s feature on Granite Staters. Tryba includes hilarious stories of Yankee Thrift, and the accompanying photos are priceless.

In Cheap We Trust

This is a great NPR story about journalist Lauren Weber and her book on thrift in America.

I drove past the bathtub yesterday. You know, it’s taken me a while, but I’m really starting to like it.

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