A better “American Dream”
First, go read this. I’ll wait.
I never bought the “American Dream”. Maybe it was because I was a military kid, then a military member, and an outlier to boot. But I did watch the proliferation of big houses, big wages, and big cars as I clawed and scratched my way out of poverty. Then, I watched the same big cars, wages, and houses begin to vanish even as I scrimped, saved, and ignored all the ‘play now, pay later’ come-ons. All my scrimping, saving and delayed gratification finally payed off
I’ve made do with less for so long that it’s an un-breakable habit now. I chose a more modest home over the tons of empty McMansions begging for an occupant. I live within my means, but still find joy in small things- like having money left over after all the bills are paid.
Eternal growth is a myth that needs to die- and soon. If it does not, this country will collapse- if it hasn’t already. Human lives have stages: childhood, experimentation, acquisition, and maintenance. Or, they should have if the person isn’t poisoned by the cultural imperatives imposed upon them to Buy More Stuff. I Bought More Stuff until I realized that more was not better, and that I really did not need most of the things that were carefully crafted to be attractive to me. I learned how to ‘read’ stores, and peek behind the curtain at the sharply applied psychoanalysis that made things difficult to resist. Watching things like “The Persuaders” or reading “Adbusters” made me see the corporate world in a whole new way. I learned to tell when I was being marketed to, and how to resist it.
As a result, I actually found myself divesting many things. I only purchase something new after a lot of homework, and careful shopping. If I can get it on sale or second-hand, that’s a triumph. I do not have to -own- things- I can borrow, or rent them. I don’t need more things- I am happier with less.
Depression led me to a bout of hoarding, which I addressed when I finally bought my home. I divested myself of many, many things. And I am still paring down. While I’ll never be able to put all my worldly things into the trunk of my car, I will have emptied my life of the weight of things I no longer need or want. I have found my center in doing so, and with it, quiet contentment.
Perhaps this should be the way of more people. Learning to be happy with the things they have, learning how to maintain an even keel, not constantly climbing and grasping at goals that are no longer there. There is nothing wrong with maintaining an even keel, living within one’s means, or making do. In fact, I’ve discovered that there are benefits to doing these things- like lower blood pressure, easier sleep, and a calmer demeanor. More is not better. You still have to pay for it.
This principle can be upscaled. In fact, if anything truly must grow during the remainder of this decade, it’s the idea that constant, unlimited economic growth is an untenable myth. And if we don’t reign ourselves in, we will collapse from the hollow economy we’re already creating. Even the richest among us have limits.
There are signs here and there that people are seeing the light and heeding the advice of the ‘canary’ economists. Urban in-fill and re-purposing of abandoned big-box stores is one example. Pop-up seasonal shops are another. The sudden spike in prices for used cars. The ‘locovore’ movement. The beginnings of appreciation for small batch, hand-crafted goods and services, and not just by the wealthy. But it’s like turning a battleship around- it’ll take time for it to truly catch on.
And, for once, I am on the leading edge of things, rather than a bystander watching the herd thundering by. This is a good thing.