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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Just Call Me "Contrary..."

What's going on here? Suddenly it's popular to be frugal, to grow your own food, to make your own clothes, to *gasp* conserve!

I remember "back to the land" the first time around in the '70s (and I don't think that really was the first time). I remember the Green Revolution (the first time). I also remember gas lines and the Oil Embargo, other recessions, and How To Prosper During the Coming Bad Years (he's written some new ones, including one published this year, but I'm kinda betting it's the same old "we're-in-crisis-buy-gold-it's-the-only-REAL-money" mentality, just repackaged, what do you think? Oh. I think I'll keep my money in my pocket and not send it to him to find out!).

And I realize, yes, I do, that the 20-and-30-somethings can't begin to have my frame of reference at all. After all, having lived more than 1/2 a century really should have some kind of benefit to it - getting older surely isn't a piece of cake!

But since I'm bringing up Howard Ruff, and the doom-mongers, I'll try to remind folks of some basic economic theory - what goes up is probably gonna come down, and while it's not a lot of fun to ride that particular curve of the rollercoaster, you know what? It'll come back. The general trend is upward. With smaller steps backward over time. In short, we are so much better off than previous generations.

What I find truly fascinating is the propensity of the human animal to resort to knee-jerk behaviors when things start to spiral downwards: stop spending, start making everything yourself, grow your own food, do your own work so you don't have to pay others, head for the hills and build a fortress, stock your doomsday pantry, and my personal favorite, begin to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Especially tell everyone how you're going to do it and isn't it the coolest thing ever? "Less is MORE!"

What has me shaking my head is this: Why now? Why not two years ago? Why not ten years ago? (Oh and I guess we really did, some of us, do it 9 years ago with the turn of the century!) Why not use the voluntary simplicity principles, the green living methods, the make-do philosophy even when times are good?

(Well, okay, I know the answer to that - it's not a lot of fun, it's not the American Way. Shopping and spending is soooooooooo much more joyful!)

Or is it?

I have a blast buying second-hand - and most of my furniture is. A lot of folks think you have only two alternatives: keep what you have or buy new (and green).

You have a third choice: take over someone else's items they no longer want - sometimes they even turn out to be antiques and they don't know it (you have to educate yourself if you want to do that well, of course). Over the past 20 years, I've feathered my nest with other people's cast-offs...most of which are either collectibles or antiques. You can't get a lot greener than that (because when you do this, you keep things out of landfills).

I have a friend who finds wool sweaters at garage sales and frogs them for the yarn.

Everyone can learn gardening with a few pots of herbs - you might enjoy it so much you start a garden of vegetables. Then perhaps even plant a fruit tree.

When things like that start perking away in your head, you stop tossing stuff. I'll admit that I'll never be accused of being a "minimalist" - I keep things that might come in handy (not quite as much as my parents did, but still...)

I guess my point is this: Just because we're in tight economic times, there's no reason to panic. We'll come out of it. We always do - even The Great Depression! And if you truly believe in the principles of "less is more" then practice it all the time. Not just when things get tight.

There really is something, too, to the idea that consumer confidence can push us into a recession - that doesn't mean I think we should all run out and charge up the credit cards - in fact just the opposite: get the debt down as fast as you can, just on general principle. But fear is a nasty thing, don't let it eat you up. If you need something - or really want it - and you can afford it, won't break the bank to buy it, then do. But try to do sensible, sustainable purchases: buy locally, or from small independent producers, buy things that for the most part have a long life - except for electronics, I guess! - and buy with cash not a credit card.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without? Do that every day. All your life.

You'll have a lot more in the long run.


Birdsong said...

What a great post!! You and I both have the perspective of having seen economic swings, and you are so right... when the living is easy, people forget and spend freely and wastefully... thanks for such thought-provoking words.

Shelob said...

Excellent post! And you managed to do it without scoffing too strongly at the "Chicken Little's." My life's been a study in "downsizing" for the last three years, and I'm actually far more involved in the luxuries I DO invest in.

Hmmm. More deep thoughts for the day. See what you get started! (grin)

Ruinwen said...

Super post Sallee! :)