Monday, June 23, 2008

Affluenza

I belong to an amazing book group. It is comprised of a few of my friends. We meet monthly to discuss a book selected by a member on a rotating basis. The books run the gamut and have exposed me to different genres and books I would not have read otherwise. Last month, we read Affluenza: the All-Consuming Epidemic.

I admit that I did not want to read it at first. I felt that I just couldn't take another area in my life to work on. I already try to shop local, eat vegetarian, reduce my "stuff," consolidate trips in the car, shop only one day a week, aboid big box stores, etc. I told my sister that I just didn't need another person telling me how bad I was and that we are on a runaway train to oblivion.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is setup in two main parts - symptoms and remedies. The focus of the book is affluenza and the effects of consumerism on our culture and our lives. I found it to be a quick and engaging read. It is very similar to The Story of Stuff, which I also highly recommend. It made me further evaluate what we have and what we really need. It urged me to continue the self-analysis I am currently doing. What REALLY matters in my life? What do I REALLY want from my life?

The process for me has been ongoing, starting with a belief in simple living that I used to espouse to my friends in the mid-90s. It drove some of them nuts as I questioned why we "needed" certain things to prove our worth. At that time, I wondered what did I really need. Of course, I had a lot of "stuff" and spent quite a bit of money. I colored my hair, wore fashionable clothes, traveled internationally and went out a lot.

When D & I had our first child, I reduced my work hours and went back to work part-time. We were afraid to lose my income totally as I made significantly more than he did at the time. We decided part-time would be a gradual step in that direction without too much sacrifice. Our son would never have outside childcare, so we were all set. The cosmos had other plans as I was downsized when our son was 6 months old. It was a definite learning experience. We learned that we really didn't need much to live. We were able to enjoy our life on less than half of what the two of us made with me part-time. We laughed when people said they "had" to work (In fact, we still do).

Our income has gradually increased over time, but I recently realized that we still don't make what we did when I left the workforce. Yet somehow we survive. We spend more time together as a family just doing stuff. We have started camping. We take road trips to see our state and learn about our surroundings. We utilize Freecycle and Goodwill. We have belonged to several CSAs. We have our own garden. We don't have cable and never watch television (D & I do watch movies through Netflix occasionally). We have one vehicle. We really try to live a more simple life.

We have chosen voluntary simplicity, and we like it. Or so I think most days. Yet even with our changes in buying behavior, we have a lot of "stuff." I am continually donating or selling items we don't use or need. I recently discovered that one of my sons had 26 pairs of underwear. Granted some were slightly too small, but he had an overabundance. I was caught up in affluenza. I had found them on sale and bought several packs thinking we needed them. We don't. He now has 12 pairs and still has more underwear than any person needs. The kiddos also have too many clothes. Most has been thrifted, bought at the end of season on clearance or acquired through clothing swaps with friends. Most they don't need. My son doesn't "need" over 30 short-sleeved shirts (yes, I counted). I bought the items or accepted them from friends, because they were good deals - Gymbo, ON, Gap for $2/shirt who could resist??? This is where I have a bit of affluenza, and I am working on it. On some level, I still think we need stuff and I get some type of pleasure in securing the deal and acquiring more.

We really, truly don't. So, now I am trying to determine just what 3 children and two adults need clotheswise and possession-wise. I have some ideas, but I would love to get input on what you think a good wardrobe for a 5yo, 3yo, 3 month old, 36 yo and 37yo would be. What does a family truly need?

Some last thoughts/quotes on the book, since I missed our discussion:
  • I want to live "Consciously, deliverately and intentionally" (pg 182)
  • I want to remember and instill in my children the following when faced with a spending decision: "Do I really need it? Can I borrow it from someone else? Are the materials in it reusable and recyclable? How much time will I need to work to afford it?" (pg 213)
On to next month's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This is another book I highly recommend.

3 comments:

  1. I love the question about how long did it take to work for something. That was something I used a lot when I was younger and working but still broke. I also like to think about how often I will use something (mostly clothes--CPW/Cost Per Wear).

    The other thing I do consider now is that sometimes it is worth it to pay more for a better product--either because it will last longer and not need to be thrown out or if it is something that has safer materials or might be locally made.

    Now I feel bad that I am still 3 books behind.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dude, you are my hero!
    Leigh has 16 pairs of undies (I finally counted) and she still runs out 2x a week...

    Oh yeah, I am tagging you:
    http://loomweaver224.blogspot.com/2008/06/no-new-fangled-techno-gadgets-for-me-or.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm really enjoying your blog so far. I've read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it really opened my eyes in a lot of new ways. Part way through this post, I 'skipped' over to my local library's website and put a request in on the Affluenza book. Can't wait to read it!

    ReplyDelete