The water heater’s pilot light igniter crapped out yesterday. As I type, the replacement part is on the way. By this evening, Hubby will have installed it and we will have plenty of hot water for showers and dishes.
As I scrubbed myself with a washcloth and cool water at the bathroom sink this morning, all I could think about was how fortunate I was to have running water and how pleasant it felt to be clean as the apricot scent of the soap floated around me. All I have to do is turn on a tap and there it is.
I thought about how running water would be a luxury for a big chunk of the world’s population who have to haul water several miles a couple of times a day just to be able to cook, clean, and drink.
And as I pulled on my shirt and pants, I pondered a big question: when did being comfortable stop being enough? When did running water, utilities, a roof, and appropriate clothes cease to be plenty?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on that. Every generation had a little more, did a little better materially than the one before. Case in point: back in the 1930s, a woman usually had a good dress for church or special occasions and an everyday dress for the rest of the week when her life was focused on home and child care duties.The odds were pretty good that she’d made it herself since ready to wear clothes were pretty pricy. If she had one of the acceptable jobs for women back then such as teaching or nursing she might have another dress or a uniform, but little else.
Another case in point: portion sizes in older cookbooks frequently serve six decently. Nowadays, they would serve four. Another case in point: I bought a bag of organic sugar the other day. Not that long ago, a teaspoon counted as a serving contributing 15 calories to the day’s intake. The bag listed two teaspoons as a serving at 30 calories.
Between portion creep and not being as physically active it’s no wonder people run on the chunky side these days.
Be that as it may, after World War II the costs involved in production and transportation of material goods dropped and filled the market with less expensive offerings. Consumers made up for the austerity of the war years with a collective shopping spree.
According to my best recollection, consumerism leveled off in the ’60s and ’70s somewhat when the counterculture took hold. And then came the 1980s with faulty trickle-down theory economics, tax laws, and policies favoring millionaires and its obsession with affluence over comfort. Remember “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” And the oft-quoted line from “Wall Street:” “Greed is good.”
Uh, no, it is not.
It’s put the planet in peril and caused economic hardship for families who would have been in great shape financially back in the ’70s. It laid the groundwork to send jobs to China to produce even more cheap goods that end up in landfills.
What, then, can we do? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, but anyway…
1. Educate yourself. Currently I’m reading Bill McKibbon’s Deep Economy. It questions the perils of “growth” and “more” versus the desire for “better” provided by bolstering the local economy. Also check out Frances Moore Lappe’s EcoMind for thoughts on strengthening communities and coming together for the greater good. For more thoughts on consumerism, cruise over to Youtube and check out Chelsea at The Financial Diet. She’s barely thirty but she is one of the wisest people out there when it comes to financial education. Chelsea also draws on life experiences working at organizations frequented by the mega-wealthy to illustrate her points as well as showing that you can have a nicely appointed living space without mortgaging your soul to do so.
2. Practice lagom. Say what? Lagom roughly translates from Swedish as “just right.” Not too much, not too little. Just the right amount of whatever it is you are purchasing. Or not. Do you really need another white sweater when you already have five and several still have tags? Think about it…
3. Teach the young ones–and maybe the not so young ones–how to consume wisely. Not just durable goods, but media. Get them to question the goods and services being pushed in ads. Encourage them to ask themselves if they want to make a purchase because they really need it, or to fulfill some hip and trendy notion?
4. Think about your viewing choices. Especially when it comes to shows that normalize poor taste and dodgy financial choices. Like the one about the sisters whose last name starts with a K. And the train wreck known as “Sex and the City” where the main character is always in credit card trouble. Not even John Corbett and a Brittany could salvage that for me.
Apologies for getting off track. However, why do you want to encourage the production of that sort of dreck? Don’t. Get a good streaming service. You’ll be happier in the long run and so will the planet.
5. And finally, be grateful. Keep a gratitude journal. Again, I know I may be preaching to the choir, but it helps to open your eyes to what you already have.
Maybe what you have isn’t quite what you want, but if you look around, you might find that you have what you need.
Mick, if you and the boys could do the outro….