My husband and I lost our house this past year. Then I was laid off. These events prompted relocation to Roseville with my daughter, her husband, and my 1-year-old grandson to cut living expenses. As my husband’s business in Sacramento continued to slump downward, he started a new business in the Central Valley.
While we were moving our belongings to storage and seeking good homes for the belongings we no longer needed, I became aware of an interesting evolution in American consumer culture. In the early 90’s we had E-Bay.com! It was name your price and higher. Soon after the dot-com bust, the preferred favorite became Craigslist.org , where a deal could be had by all and where price gouging and bidder wars were a thing of our gluttonous past. Now, in 2009, after the massive economic meltdown hitting all sectors of our population, the new choice of the masses is swiftly becoming Freecycle.org, items not for bid, not for bargain prices, but for free! This downward spiral of consumerism is not only ushering in a simpler time, but a smarter time where waste and unnecessary spending are seen for what they are–unnecessary. For us, Freecycle became the quickest and easiest way for to unload many of our no longer needed household items and move them into better homes. Even my houseplants found good homes through Freecycle with just a simple one-line posting and a phone call. Quick, easy, free, responsible, and win-win for all!
Yes, simpler, smarter times were in order for me, but I had no clue as to how deeply these changes would end up manifesting. Shortly after I moved in with my daughter, the three of us adults living in this new Roseville home were all unemployed. It was an uncanny joke, but we were not laughing. We were all part and parcel of the daily news; we were strung together with most every other American, rich and poor. No one seemed to be left out of this current state of affairs.
On the other hand, I found the first month of these dramatic changes actually a refreshing opportunity. I cleared out my boxes of unfiled paperwork, sorted my belongings into only the bare essentials. Unemployment was a blessing, giving me the much-needed time to rewrite my book and work on all of the other time-consuming publishing and networking details I never had the time to deal with. I also cherished this rare time with my grandson, feeling blessed every day I heard his sweet voice and saw his precious smile.
Into the second month, it was clear however that things really had to change, which further stimulated my analytical mind. I made a firm commitment to use only the resources I already had, both from a business and personal perspective. I reveled in just how many resources I actually had without having to go to the store. I had a good supply of bulk foods and office products and those little one-time use shampoos and lotions from years of traveling. I had time to cook for the first time in years. After decades of mandatory budgeting for a family of five under my belt, the creative know how to make a meal stretch was a happy challenge once again. Nevertheless, I did continue to purchase my $7.00 bottles of wine for my nightcaps, fair-trade organic coffee, and organic vegetables and fruits.
At the end of two months however, savings running lower, and the publishing date for my book kicked out further than anticipated, I began to see more changes were in order; more scaling down was needed.
With every weekly trip to the grocery store—finding myself living in the isolated suburb of Roseville, miles from my friendly and economical Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op of downtown Sacramento—I had to be honest. Deeper change was in order, even if it was temporary.
Trader Joes completely replaced the Food Co-op, not because of price—the prices are comparible—but because of gas prices and the environmental consideration of driving for 1 1/2 hours compared to 30 minutes.
Things continued to evolve when I discovered one day that I was out of Earl Grey, a necessary part of my afternoon ritual. Okay, it was time to use all of that green tea I had been saving for THIS rainy day. Reluctantly I sucked it up, drinking in THIS abundance. It reminded me of that phrase from the old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tune, “If you can’t be with the one you want, love the one you’re with!” I rekindled my appreciation for green tea that I had never actually lost, I just liked Earl Grey more.
As time passed, every consecutive weekly trip to Trader Joes became another lesson in this evolution of simpler times. I began seeking $5.00 bottles of wine, then $3.00, and finally, I realized I had hit bottom when I became overjoyed at the discovery of a $1.99 bottle of wine that actually tasted decent! (It is obvious my taste buds are also changing with the times.)
This downward evolution in taste has become even stranger when it comes to beer. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I would settle for the budget beer in a can that my son-in-law had been drinking for years. How could he? How could I?
Then, while on a camping trip with my daughter in the fall, I observed that she too had been changing her ways. I remember how thrilled I was when I found out she had actually brought beer on our trip, something I hadn’t had the heart to add to my budget at the time. I didn’t even think twice about drinking that beer in a can or consider how it tasted! I was grateful to have it at all! When she told me she got it at Trader Joes for only $2.99 a six-pack, I was floored because in recent months passed, I had become acutely aware of how expensive beer really was. This felt like the deal of the century!
I have to admit with pleasure, that since the beginning of this newer, simpler time, I have gone back to my roots. Waste and overspending has always been unnecessary in my book and I have always been thrifty, but now, even my thriftiness has taken on a new depth. The only places I really have no discipline when it comes to shopping is in bookstores or fabric stores. Now, I stay away from those places too. I have a box filled with sewing projects I am vowing to complete before I buy any more fabric. I actually made a dress last week, sewing something for myself for the first time in years! As has been my preference for a while, I only buy a book when I know it is a must and I wait for the price to go down first. Though I don’t know if I have the heart to wait for Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, The Lacuna to drop in price. Perhaps that will be my Christmas present to myself! When it comes to my own book sales, hopefully, this trend in thriftiness doesn’t affect them—but I suspect it will. (For this reason, I DO have a special temporary price reduction while I can offer it because I know everyone is counting pennies, not just me!)
Today,the three adults in our household actually have temporary employment to get us through these times, but the budgeting, the simpler view of what we can and cannot live without is sticking with us. My husband enjoys his new business much more than his former one in Sacramento. He, too is impressed with how much happier he is living with less and how much less complicated his life is today.
I still buy organic spinach, tomatoes, and some fruits. I still insist on organic fair trade coffee, but I have had to compromise when it comes to sharing with my family. I eat what they cook, which means I am eating more meat than I prefer, yet they eat what I cook, which means they are eating more vegetables than they prefer (especially my son-in-law). They now see the simple and healthy value of oatmeal in the morning for the little guy and the security of a pot of beans in the fridge. I now accept a hot dog now and then as a trip down memory lane, instead of a scandal.
I have learned to live without a few movies every weekend and am spending more time reading and writing as a result. Thank goodness the affordable and health promoting walk is ALWAYS available. I have actually lost weight due to this natural portion control and I am in better shape than I have been in years because exercise is free!!!!
Though, there is one challenge my son-in-law and myself are still mulling around: along with the challenge of getting through this winter without buying any new clothes, my son-in-law (with British roots) has exhausted the black tea in the house, and my green tea is almost gone as well. This is where we both draw the line! Neither he nor I are interested in drinking the large container of assorted “caffeine-free” herbal teas in place of our black or green tea!
Is there anyone out there open to a trade? Herbal for caffeinated tea bags? Our zip code is 95747! We even have Echinacea we are willing to forego for the taste of black-any type of black tea! Leave a comment!
That is my story. These signs of simpler times may not be the best for economic growth, but actually, maybe more environmentally responsible and economical deals of the century for basic staples should be considered for manufacturing instead over the wasteful, unnecessary products of the past! As taken from Chapter 16 in my new book THE NEW PHYSICS OF CHILDHOOD: Replacing Modern Myths with Simple Strategies, “When consumers have more options to purchase responsibly made products, they will be more likely to invest in them.”
Some may argue that this all costs too much, but if we scale back on what we don’t need, we will have more capital, creativity, and energy to design, manufacture, and purchase what we DO need!
I still shop at my favorite Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, just when I am in town about once a month. In time, when I am living closer, it will become preferred store once again, mainly because almost ALL the produce is organic and locally grown with the location of the grower on the product label above each tasty in-season treat. This store is one of the best reasons to live in Midtown or Downtown Sacramento! Until then, Viva Simpler Times Lager!
WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU MADE DURING THESE SIMPLER TIMES?