For most of our 40 years of marriage we’ve concentrated on building our careers, raising a family, living responsibly and planning for our future. The stuff just sort of trickled in over the years while we pursued our version of the American dream. Now that our careers are winding down and the children are on their own pursuing their own dreams, we’re taking on a new challenge: Can we be happy with less?
We think the answer is yes.
For one thing, we’ve never bought into the “more, more, more” mentality that seems to drive many Americans in our unsustainable consumer culture.
As former Harvard professor Derek Bok said on PBS’ “News Hour” this week: “When you get more money, very quickly, you become adapted to it. And the things you have always looked forward to buying now become commonplace. And the other thing that happens is, your aspirations begin to rise, so that, if you survey the American people and you say, how much money do you need to live a really completely happy life, and then survey them 10 years later, you will find that, 10 years later, they want a lot more money than they did 10 years before. So, I think our aspirations are always leaping out in front of reality, leaving us about as satisfied and as frustrated as we were before.”
What if you went the other way and lowered your aspirations, would you be more satisfied and less frustrated? We think it’s possible.
For one thing, less stuff takes up less space and less space takes less maintenance. Getting rid of stuff is part of the answer; so is not buying things you don’t need. We’ve decided we really don’t need dozens of cable television channels and plan to drop our cable TV service in favor of an old-fashioned over-the-air antenna. We have access to plenty of channels over the air so why pay for something that we don’t really need? We’ll probably be ditching our landline phone service one of these days, too.
Ten years ago I became a fan of the UTNE Reader magazine. It was smart, educational and an easy read. In recent years, however, the magazine has gone through ownership and leadership changes and has repackaged its content and design into something I find far less appealing. Now, they’ve raised their rates making it easy for me to drop them from my must-read list.
Avoiding fees and shopping for bargains is the norm in our household and it’s served us well over the years, but what if everyone followed the same standard? What would our economy look like if we only bought things we truly need?
Unfortunately, many out-of-work Americans are being forced into this situation. What are they learning from the experience? Will they go back to their old ways once they return to the workforce? Is that a good thing?
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian and chief legacy planner at When Words Matter in Urbandale, Iowa, where he connects generations through their stories. To learn more, visit his web site, send him an e-mail or follow him on Twitter.
Flickr photo courtesy of P_Linehan