Saturday, January 10, 2009

Getting Back to Basics


Things are definitely changing. Unwittingly, unwillingly, and even surprisingly, people all across this country (and I suspect even some enlightened souls abroad) are recognizing that there is something seriously wrong with our post-modern culture. The go-go 90’s that begat the unsustainable excesses of post-9/11 Western (or was it strictly American?) materialism is now firmly in our past. All that remains is a massive hangover full of unnecessary debt, ballooning deficits and an unforgiving foreboding that will remain with us for years to come. Has greed have finally crushed the spirit of American exceptionalism once and for all? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I chuckle at how Wall Street, via Madison Avenue, is claiming the emerging culture of simple living as its own. Check out Allstate’s new ad, ironically entitled Back to Basics:


Corporate hypocrisy aside, one positive byproduct of this historic economic implosion is the sudden realization by millions of people that the “things” that we generally rely on for our own sense of self-worth are ephemeral and finite. In this new world order, your job is expendable. If your job is expendable then, by extension, anything that your job finances is, likewise, expendable. Indeed, that nice house in the suburbs, the Mercedes you are still paying off, your fancy clothes, and those extravagant Caribbean vacations can all be gone in a blink of an eye. Even those of us who could never afford the monthly payments on that Mercedes have been forced to rethink the meaning and value of wealth. For better or worse (I think better), this economic hurricane is showing millions of people that unmitigated consumption can be a trap almost as debilitating and claustrophobic as a prison cell.

Here’s just a little teaser of what I am talking about:

"More young people pursuing simpler life"

The party is over, my dear reader. It was fun while it lasted. The only thing we can do at this point is handle this massive hangover as best we can. Remember to drink lots of water and take some Advil before getting back under the covers. Stay in bed as long as you can. It’s brutal out there.


Jerry Critter said...

Who would have "thunk" that you were setting the pace. Way to be in the lead.

Srividya said...

This recession is certainly forcing people to rethink their priorities. It would indeed be nice to see a less materialistic culture evolve out of this. The question is, will it last or will people go back to the excesses once the economy turns around?

Me said...

It's nice to know we are all part of a movement but I have one thing that motivates me more then anything...

It's not any expensive vacation I took (those just cost a lot of money), it's not the over whelming materialism I was once a part of (hence my basement and dumpster blog), and it's not the nice paying job I had before (I was still stressed for time and barely saw my kids)....

It's the one time I was sitting in my grandma's kitchen at her little farm in Kansas watching her wash her ziploc bags and foil she used at dinner... Me being young asked her why she was washing all that stuff? Why not just throw it away and buy some new stuff to use?

She told me, "Because when I was growing up we didn't throw anything away we could reuse again. We didn't have any money and the little things we did have we cherished."

She was born in 1919, lived through the Great Depression, and raised a family right to the east of the Great American Dust Bowl...

I've since been fascinated by this era... the true FIRST generation to ever truly recover from a sense of doom to become prosperous. I've read about the Voluntary Simplicity movement a lot, and really enjoy being a part of it in many ways... but sometimes I find reading history books can motivate me even more then the guides available today. In our history, we really got back to basics... and history always repeats itself... :-)

Jack said...


That's kind, but the honest interpretation is that I am but an example of a much larger social phenomena. I am one of those millions.


I think people are people and will come back to what's comfortable. On the other hand, the great depression generation maintained their values throughout. Maybe this generation will learn; it will be up to them to inculcate their values on their children so that no one will forget.


You are just reinforcing my last point. Your granda is my hero.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

I've been debt free for nine years now. Have been unresidented for four...It's interesting that simple is becoming trendy. I may just have to declare myself a lifestyle coach to help these poor souls find the way.

Anonymous said...

The recession is forcing a lot of people who wouldn't have considered cutting back to rethink their priorities.

One note: The dateline on "More young people pursuing simpler life" is from 2004 (it appears to be an AP story), when things were not as grim as they are now.

I do know many younger people who are living with less, but they're also struggling with unemployment or underemployment. One very bright one woman I work with accepted a cut in hours not because she wanted it but because that was her only option besides unemployment. It's not always a choice.

Anonymous said...

Many many people have been living the simple life. It doesn't take a taste of the opposite way of living to know its sweetness. On one hand, I am glad more and more people are writing about it. It will inspire many to make changes. On the other hand, many are forced to live simpler because of the economy. I wonder if they will continue that way of life should things turn up financially for them.

Moti and Amanda said...

Corporate hypocrisy, sure -- but somehow I totally love that commercial. Not only because it's an effective piece of sentimental manipulation, but because it's going to bombard those in the mainstream (the ones with televisions) with an important message (of simplicity, because the irony of a company built upon the need to insure mounds of stuff suddenly preaching simplicity is going to be completely lost on the masses). Anyway, a little brainwashing about enjoying the simple things is probably a good thing, and will hopefully help more people re-prioritize...

Jack said...


Sign me up!


Good catch. Forced simplification is not the ideal. But maybe one good, inconsequential scare may wake some people up.


I think many people will not change in the end, but maybe some will benefit from what we are all going through at the moment.

PurestGreen said...

Hi. Enjoying your blog - good luck with all your simple adventures. I have noticed in the UK that many people seem relieved about the credit crunch, and even relieved to have less. Finally an excuse to just...stop. So much of the pressure to spend spend spend for no reason, has been lifted.

I don't own a home or a car but I also have minimal consumer debt, which makes me happy.

Want a cheap holiday with a chance to learn a whole new way of life: try WWOOF. :)

Here's to a new age of contentment.

rachaelgking said...

Agree re: Jerry, and well done, my friend. It's going to be an interesting decade/quarter century/rest of my lifetime, that's for sure.

Jack said...


Kudos to brainwashing for the right reasons, though it would probably be better if everyone was aware of the brainwashing from the get-go. You could then be reminded of simplicity and not lose your sense of self.

@Purest Green,

Nice recommendation. Saw a link to that organization when I was researching intentional communities. Stay simple and take care.


Interesting indeed. Let's see where it gets us.

Anonymous said...

"The question is, will it last or will people go back to the excesses once the economy turns around?"

The answer to this question hinges upon another question: When do we reach peak oil?

Jack's dream of traveling the world will be in jeopardy if we reach peak oil in his lifetime and he isn't making big $$$ to pay for (oil-intensive) air travel.

We certainly will NOT go back to excesses if oil becomes less and less readily available. Demand is down now because of the massive global recession. Will demand for oil rise when (if) the recession turns around? And if demand begins to rise, it will certainly result in increased prices for oil. What will increased prices do to the recovery?

Look around everything in your home got there because of oil. Everything made of plastic is made from oil. The food in your fridge was produced with oil. (industrial farm fertilizers are oil derivatives, and farm equipment runs on oil)

My opinion: Move to a city where everything is within walking distance and railways can deliver supplies.

Anonymous said...

Ted Koppel interview, talking about China.

"9 million new cars hit the road every year in China"

What does that mean for the U.S.? In ten years, we can't live the way we lived ten years ago. There aren't enough resources to go around. Maybe we can still burn oil for our airplanes, but we can't burn oil to run to the corner store for a carton of milk, or to visit aunt Ethel on Saturdays.

1sttimedad said...

I think the shitty economy and uncertainty will alter the way many people think about always striving for the promotion, making the 'big' bucks and killing ourselves at our desks, while missing out on the things that really matter in life.

Because, y'know what, shareholders don't give a flying crap about how hard you work when they're millions of dollars in annual earning begin to dry up.

I'm a middle manager and have just let a good, young person go because of cutbacks, and it makes me sick. I don't know how they sleep at night.

Jack said...


All interesting points. But not ready to move to that place just yet. Will tempt fate across the world for a while longer.


That's pretty scary stuff. There is such a thing as unsustainable development.


The bottom line is that there are some serious flaws with capitalism to begin with. Maximizing shareholder value does not = the best thing for our country, our families and our culture.

carissashanti said...

Google "The Story of Stuff." A great short film.