November 8, 2013

Thriving During A Time Of Economic And Lifestyle Contraction

A smaller, more local life can be very rewarding.

Economic fertilizer spreaders started spewing talk of "green shoots" shortly after the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008. Five years later and most of us are getting horse manure rather than the green stuff.

I have stopped waiting for "the recovery". I don't think it is coming. Ever.

Economists fling about the term "jobless recovery", but what that really means is no recovery as far as the majority of people are concerned. This is likely to continue - we have entered the era of contraction.

Blame the end of cheap energy, climate change, government corruption, environmental collapse, our own ennui, market manipulation, or the downfall of capitalism, but the days of abundance are coming to an end, the victim of natural limits on growth and consumption.

In the years ahead economies will likely contract, meaning that lifestyles will as well. Ask the people of Greece about contraction - they are currently having an involuntary crash course. The Bank of Greece predicted a 4.6% economic contraction for this year.

For many, downsizing to smaller more local lifestyles will be a difficult adjustment to make. But it does not need to be a disaster if one is prepared. Depending on your perspective, it could be seen as an interesting challenge rather than a hardship.

Either way, preparation is the key to thriving while responding to shrinkage in our economies and our lives.

Thriving During Economic And Lifestyle Contraction

There are two major things that will help anyone thrive in tough times:

1. The first is the ability to do without as much as you can.

In order to be ready for anything you have to be able to cut your expenses, and expectations, to the bone at a moments notice. People that can adapt quickly and focus on meeting needs efficiently will be well suited for a downsized lifestyle.

Remember that one vision of Hell is of a place where you always get whatever you want. I saw that in a black and white Twilight Zone episode, and now we are living it in Technicolour.

While contraction is taking place slowly now, it is important to reduce our addiction to out of control consumer spending before contraction gains momentum. The sooner you cut spending, the more you can save and the better prepared you will be.

When I think about doing without as much as I can I think about camping. For me camping is all about stripping life to the basics, and I love it.

2. The second is to be able to provide for as many of your own needs as you can yourself. 

Spending less money means doing more things for yourself. I see this as a wonderful opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills. Lifelong learning, curiosity and ingenuity are major survival skills that allow one to change and grow successfully with the conditions.

Those who can do things like cook from scratch, bake, sew, cut hair, grow food, keep animals, and build and fix things are likely to do better than those who lack these skills. If you currently don't possess the skills required for increased self-reliance, now is a good time to learn.

There are probably community/adult education classes near you that you can take to learn valuable skills that will help increase self-sufficiency. Eventually these skills can become enjoyable pursuits that connect you to a more authentic and enjoyable life.

Of course no one can do everything, and this is where a strong community comes in handy. We can share our skills with others and create networks of trading and bartering for goods and services. We can pull together and take care of one another.

Stop waiting for a recovery that may never come. If you can manage doing without and take care of your own needs, you will adapt well to the new economic reality of contraction. In the process you may find that your new smaller, more local and more authentic lifestyle is more rewarding.


  1. Something I came across a few days ago.

    1. Joe W,

      Thanks for leaving the great link. We really enjoyed the video about a 13 year project of building a tiny home without involving any bank.

      Johnny Sanphillippo's (click here) tiny home built without borrowing money on a $20,000 a year salary is an excellent example of doing what you can with what you have.

      We found ourselves frequently nodding our heads in agreement as we listened to the ideas that lead Johnny to seek greater self-sufficiency and long term security through acquiring a small piece of land and overcoming zoning restrictions to build an attractive, functional and modestly sized home.

      I have a strong urge to do something similar soon.

      Thanks again for sharing Johnny's liberating story.

  2. Anonymous11/08/2013

    Today i had an inordinate craving for sweet and sour anything Chinese. I had the takeout menus spread out on the table and while perusing them I kept thinking I should just wait awhile and the craving will disappear. It didn't but I remembered the bit of leftover rice in the fridge which I heated and then added some plum sauce. Doesn't sound too appetizing but it got rid of the craving, and saved me at least $40.00 because I would have bought for the two of us.
    I also needed to replace my ten year old runners and hesitated to buy anymore because any shoes for my difficult feet are always in the $200.00 range. Well I just rummaged through a lot of boxes that were stored in the basement from our move 8 years ago and lo and behold I came across a pair of leather shoes that were not worn. At the time I hadn't liked them and so put them away and forgot about them, I sure like them a lot 8 years later and the money saved is priceless.
    Maybe this isn't exactly what you had in mind but I have found that shopping in my own house or one of my son's saves so much money.

    1. Marilona,

      This IS exactly what I had in mind. This kind of resourcefulness has always been appropriate and it will be making a comeback after we recover from the 'wasteful years'.

      $40.00 dollars can buy a lot of rice and plum sauce. Learning to cook new dishes has been one of the major pleasures of our not buying anything life. It is fun and convenient to order food, but it is really satisfying to make yummy food yourself. The savings are tasty, too.

      I love how you are tapping into the resources that you have around you. It is definitely a good idea to check around the house first to see what is available. Or perhaps someone you know has what you need and is no longer using it themselves.

      There is so much unused stuff in most people's homes. Imagine if we liberated all of it and shared it freely so all of it was being used instead of gathering dust in boxes and garages.

      Thanks for sharing your story. That is the kind of shopping that makes sense to me.

  3. I don't know if it is just me, but I feel like even though there seems to be a ton of us in our simple living, minimalist, whatever you want to call it, lifestyle circle, I swear the majority of people I come across have thrown in the towel and said forget it! I feel like they enjoyed the way life was before and got tired of trying to change. Maybe, I hope, this is just me, but so many people seem to have gone back to life as it once was. They are shopping, eating out, buying, and consuming, just like they were before the economic issues occurred (in the US. That's where I live so I can only speak for what I see around me). A handful of people I know made a few changes, but they didn't seem to stick. It makes me sad. I feel like they live in their own world of disillusion. Hopefully if the simple living community keeps chugging along, slowly but surely, we can create big change.



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