January 21, 2010

The Great Recession Generation To Learn Value Of Frugality


It's not the Greater Depression. It isn't even a minor depression. But it is the Great Recession - the biggest, baddest, meanest recession of the last 70 years. Some are predicting that the current generation may not get more stuff than their parents, the first time this has happened in decades. A whole generation is being introduced to the thrifty, efficient ways of their ancestors.

What the simple living and environmental movements couldn't achieve in decades the Great Recession has managed to do over the course of a couple of years. We are going back to less wasteful, more sensible times. Bigger is no longer better, and excess no longer means success.

In good times super-sized trucks, TVs, and houses signal to others that you have achieved the American Dream. George Carlin observed that it's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Sure enough, we have woken up and the 'good life' fantasy is dissipating into thin air. Turns out a lot of the dream was bought on credit, and the banks want it back.

Excess does not look the same through our recession-coloured glasses. It looks like what it has always been - waste. It has taken the biggest financial kick in the ass in seventy years to make us realize that we must adhere to nature's limits, and nature is frugal. Nature does not waste.

A policy in our home is to not replace anything till it is worn out or broken beyond repair. It is not only about saving money. It is also about honouring the earth by using its resources as economically as possible. Many things we buy would serve us faithfully for decades, if not a lifetime. A cast iron frying pan will last several generations.

In spite of what a New York author said in her 2006 book (with a title similar to this blog) about her year-long experiment with the simple life, you can't really wear out a sweater in a few months. A beggar in India with no arms and no legs might wear out a sweater in a year.

All the things that we buy, and used to cherish till worn or broke, have become 'starter' items on an endless evolution of upgrades. The Ikea student furniture for the dorm is the gateway drug to the crack of leather sectionals in granite and stainless steel starter homes.

I could see that we were at the nadir of our obsession with acquiring new things when I spotted a particularly blatant commercial on TV. A car manufacturer showed an entire family, small kids included, pushing their new-ish, perfectly good mini-van over a cliff so they could go buy a new one.

Do we really fall for such blatant, disorienting propaganda promoting endless waste? It is easier to fall prey to such manipulation when we are flush with cash or cheap credit.

In this new era of perpetual recession we will find that we can do without the propaganda, and a great deal of what it promised. The acquisitive part of the American Dream was always an unattainable illusion. Our desperate attempts to achieve it has slain the earth, and made us fat, slow, and vulnerable.

Some say that the Recession Generation will be traumatized, but I say they will be unfettered. Saved from mindless toil and constant lifestyle upgrades, this generation will make frugality and common sense mainstream. They will be free and the healing will begin.

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