“Imagine how liberating it would be to stop worrying about what you don’t have, and instead appreciate what you do have.” Those words of wisdom appear in the closing paragraphs of Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less And Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined by Rice University Management Professor Scott Sonenshein. For someone who is always looking for ways to further open my mind and eyes to the wealth, value, and abundance already within my grasp in order to get more out of what I’ve already got, this book provided fantastic food for thought. The strategies and information presented in the book also lead to an improved quality of life and reduced environmental impact so what’s not to like???
This post contains affiliate links. See Disclaimers for details.
A Book About The Power of Doing More with Less
The central organizing idea of the book is that people tend to either be chasers or stretchers. Chasers often motivated consciously or unconsciously by a bit of keeping up with the Joneses focus on acquiring resources and overlook what they already have at hand. The author points out that chasers tend to get caught up in functional fixedness (presuming that an object is limited to a certain function) and come to believe that having more resources leads to getting better results.
Stretchers on the other hand recognize that usually “better use of resources leads to better results.” Typically, stretchers are better than chasers at viewing resources as capable of more than their primary use. As a result, chasers frequently get caught up in mindless accumulation and trapped in a job and lifestyle that leave them highly dissatisfied. The situation for chasers is further aggravated by the fact that all the effort they put into accumulating more can become a “distraction from getting things done.”
Having Less & Living More on the Path to Financial Independence
While it is not a personal finance book, I am surprised at how little it has been referenced in the personal finance and financial independence space in the three years since it’s been published. I will be forever indebted to Michelle Greenwood, who blogs at Good Capital Projects and administers this related page on Facebook, for introducing me to it.
I was excited to see that one of the few references I did find to this book on a financial independence blog was penned by fellow Tampa Bay, Florida blogger B.C. Krygowski. In her post she notes that we should stretch for the sake of our finances and outlines how the book’s key points relate to personal finance.
In the personal finance realm I did find this episode of the Listen Money Matters podcast in which they interview Scott Sonenshein and discuss the value of resourcefulness in our efforts to grow our wealth. Professor Sonenshein himself also published this article on his website in which he discussed how being distracted by chasing can negatively impact our finances.
Certainly, the idea of achieving more with less is a common enough concept in personal finance. The major contribution this book makes though, is presenting great research, anecdotes, and other resources that really help us further open our minds to this concept and do more of it ourselves. Consider this post my public service announcement that Professor Sonenshein’s book Stretch is an underutilized resource. We in the personal finance space could be tapping it to get a lot more from a book that’s already been published.
The Value of Developing Creativity and Resourcefulness
I think a key point that is noted in the book is that almost anything, be it tangible or intangible, “has potential as a resource, but to become anything of value requires action.” Stretchers more easily see the potential for beauty and usefulness in places where others don’t and then take that required action to turn previously overlooked items into something of value.
Two skills that can be very helpful in unleashing all that unrecognized potential to transform things into resources are creativity and resourcefulness. I’m not creative in the artistic sense – I even find drawing stick figures challenging – but I do think creatively about how to live my life outside of the rat race and use resources differently to that end.
“Before you go out and spend your hard earned money on resources you think you need, try to innovate something that will fulfill the same function. Your imagination is renewable, easy to find, and free.”Heather Jo Flores, author of Food Not Lawns
At the end of episode 242 of the Afford Anything Podcast Paula Pant included the value of creativity as one of her key takeaways from her interview with Ash Ambirge from the Middle Finger Project. Despite the fact that creativity is often viewed as being at odds with security (I’m presuming that has to do with the stereotype of the starving artist), creativity she points out is actually one of our strongest assets. Paula goes on to state that “creativity and its close cousin flexibility are sources of security and tools for upward mobility.”
How to Be More Creative and Resourceful
So now that we’ve established the value of creativity and resourcefulness how do we cultivate it? Because even if we are artistic we can likely still benefit from thinking more creatively about how to use the resources to which we have access to save money and improve our quality of life.
For me personally, one of the ways I unintentionally started exercising my creativity and resourcefulness was through cooking without a recipe, simply using whatever ingredients I have on hand. Since I procure most of my food from grocery store dumpsters, which limits me to whatever I rescue, grow, am gifted, or barter for, I wing it a great deal in the kitchen. Cooking with what’s in your fridge and pantry is often mentioned as a great way to start flexing that creative muscle. But for those that don’t enjoy cooking there are other ways as well…
In chapter nine of Stretch Scott Sonenshein offers a range of exercises to help us strengthen our stretch. One of the suggestions is to just say no to additional resources and force yourself to work with those at hand. A great example he gives of this is the story of author Theodor Geisel, whom most of us know as Dr. Seuss. Geisel’s editor bet that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 unique words. The result of that wager is the book Green Eggs and Ham, so we know how that bet ended.
Additional stretch enhancing activities are available on Scott Sonenshein’s webiste. I also found this intriguing article about promoting resourcefulness in yourself and others on Lifehack. In it the author outlines additional strategies to bring more ingenuity to our daily lives and work such as learning everything we can about how to find information.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a new to me concept called SCAMPER, a creative brainstorming tool that is often used by designers to help them innovate new products. But as this article from Mind Tools states, “the word “products” doesn’t only refer to physical goods. Products can also include processes, services, and even people. You can therefore adapt this technique to a wide range of situations.”
I learned about SCAMPER earlier this year while searching online for ways to improve my (very) simple graphic design efforts. My mind immediately connected SCAMPER with the information compiled in Stretch. The SCAMPER tool didn’t directly address my desire to improve my skills at creating better graphics for this website, but I recognized its potential to help me expand my overall ingenuity. SCAMPER prompts us to look at something and ask ourselves questions such as:
-Can I use this object somewhere else, or as a substitute for something else?
-How could I adapt or readjust this item to serve another purpose or use?
-What could I emphasize or highlight to create more value in this object?
-What else could I use it for?
-What materials, parts, or ideas could be combined to improve it or use it a different way?
Towards Self-Actualization Through Unlocking the Power of Less
In a guest post on Get Rich Slowly last year Jakob Lund Fisk from Early Retirement Extreme wrote that for him and his wife “Spending money mainly serves to resolve friction from inefficient lifestyle design… We consider spending money a failure to solve our problems by smarter means.” Even if you have a negative reaction to that statement, which at least one commenter on the post did, we could likely all still agree that spending money occurs when we (choose to) solve a problem by other means.
Jakob acknowledged that if someone earns a high enough income it might make more sense for them to outsource things they don’t enjoy doing like housecleaning. He goes on to explain however, that “there are just limits to the insight, experience, knowledge, etc. that’s possible to acquire with money.” And as he puts it “you can’t pay someone else for the experience of completing a marathon.”
It turns out the feel good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin play a key role in creativity. I interpret that to mean when we put time and effort into thinking of innovative solutions to our own problems we’re increasing the levels of these sought after brain chemicals. I also imagine that this leads to a kind of cascade effect since when we do things ourselves or find ways to solve our own problems we experience tremendous satisfaction.
There is a great deal of joy that accompanies that “Aha! moment.”According to this article in Medical Xpress, “when people solve a puzzle through a flash of insight, the mood-enhancing substance dopamine is released and deep-brain structures are activated.” I shared in a previous post about my own Aha! moment when I realized I could use a piece of the slender bamboo in my yard to make a shower curtain rod and that is exactly what I felt at that moment.
Stretching is More Sustainable
I was struck by the research Sonenshein cites in Stretch demonstrating that when people have access to an abundance of resources they uses those resources in a traditional way. When people face a lack of resources they get much more resourceful and think of unconventional ways to use the limited resources to which they do have access. In fact he noted that facing a constraint such as a limited budget can significantly increase how people responded to challenges, leading to better results and less waste.
Saving money and experiencing greater satisfaction in life are peruasive reasons in and of themselves to do more with what I already have access to. What I find to be an even stronger motivation is that it is usually a much more sustainable option than buying something new. So many resources and energy go into producing items. Then there’s all the packaging that acommpanies the products. And what about how that product will eventually be disposed of?
I shared a picture in an earlier post of some corrugated plastic sheets that someone left by the curb in our neighborhood that my boyfriend Albert rescued. As a visual display of stretching (and scampering??), I’m including this picture here of the chicken coop he built using all rescued materials (except for the fence and side of his shed, which form the side walls of this clever coop). Albert also used reclaimed wooden fencing to cordon off a portion of his back yard for the chickens to have more space to enjoy during the day.
Stretching into Financial Resilience
The conventional way of thinking that we encounter in so much of our society limits possibilities and separates us from abundance that may reside just beyond our current reach. What I especially love about this book is that it clearly demonstrates that opening our minds through stretching can help us better adapt to and thrive in a changing world. That to me is a great source of financial resilience.
As I already mentioned, our ability to stretch will strengthen with practice. One idea to ease yourself into this could be to start entering DIY + whatever item/service you need into Google (or whatever your search engine of choice may be) as a first step when you need something and see if any of the options that come up are something you could do or make. I ended up finding a recipe this way for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for which I already had all of the key ingredients (I do take liberties and mix recipes often). Fortunately, I also had two small spray bottles that I had rescued from the local natural grocery store dumpster that worked perfectly for this.
Of course there is a level of balance that we need to achieve that will look different for each of us. Stretching can take more time than buying what you need or may involve tasks you don’t enjoy. I also know that the right tool can often help us do the job so much more efficiently and effectively. Each of you will need to weigh these and other realities in your lives against the benefits we’ve explored here to determine what level of stretching is right for you.
I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface in this post of all the great insights and concepts Scott Sonenshein covers in Stretch. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in further exploring these ideas to get their hands on a copy of this book. And don’t forget to check out the fun stuff on Scott Sonenshein’s webiste including this quiz to assess your ability to stretch.
What are some examples of how you have flexed your stretch muscle?
If you find value in the content here at Rich & Resilient Living, please consider supporting my work by ‘buying me a cup of tea’ using the Ko-fi button just below and then selecting the red support button on the right hand side of my Ko-fi page. Thank you very much indeed.