Even though this is changing slowly, the Baby Boomers are still running the world. And they came up in a time when resource scarcity was, understandably, less of an issue. Jobs were plentiful, resource scarcity was not part of the public consciousness, and the growing movement towards trading time for money had reached full-steam status for the first time in history, meaning for most people in The West the only limiting factor to one’s ability to ‘get ahead’ was their interest in doing so and the amount of time in a day they could be productive if they were willing. If you were willing to work, you were a part of the middle class. The American Dream. And so it went.
In fact, things were so ‘good’ that people who didn’t complete high school were able to buy houses before they turned 20 DESPITE interest rates being as high as 21% by the 1980s, which is when the Baby Boomers were starting to buy houses and make babies. Some of them, like my parents, paid off their houses before the time they were 30 – one salary went to day-to-day life and the other’s salary went to paying the mortgage. My dad is a truck driver and mother is an administrator. They’ve always done well, but they didn’t hold elite jobs with elite salaries to be able to pull that off back then. Could you imagine what a mortgage would look like right now with a rate like that? Even 6% seemed far beyond the horizon a few years ago, yet now it seems just around the corner.
But today, resource scarcity and pollution and the impacts of our full-steam status are much more prevalent in society (though not nearly as prevalent or as acknowledged as they should be I would argue) and there’s no excuse for us to go on consuming at ever-increasing rates, far beyond what is sustainable for the current population let alone future populations. Our actions have always been global, but now we can finally see it. Tony Robbins says that “change comes when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing.”, and I think that we will reach that pain point before too long. We should have reached it 20 years ago.
Here’s the other catch – it’s not making us happier. Just like the ‘happiness’ of individuals doesn’t increase much after a certain amount of income is reached, beyond a certain level of affluence a society doesn’t become much more better off as it continues to try to maintain the acceleration rates of the past. However, if we could just slow down for half a second and stop outsourcing our unnecessary waste to the developing world, we would see that what we’re doing is entirely ludicrous.
There’s a lot of things we’ve learned (or at least started to) that were not worth the convenience. Preservatives in processed foods (think microwave dinners and all its packaged offspring), the waste . As a whole, we could never return to a hunger-gatherer existence or even to anything resembling the agricultural era, but there are certainly particular things from the past that we could employ again in order to create a better present and future. We have spent the last 60 years working to earn money to pay for convenience to free up more time for us to work. It is a demented cycle, but it has worked for a long time because the jobs were there and the cost of convenience (and other staples) was adequately low. But that’s not that case anymore. The jobs and wages are drying up and the cost of everything is increasing. This demented little cycle is breaking and people like you and I are wondering what new model can we adopt in order to carry us forward into the future.
I would argue that for the most part we have been chasing maximum earnings which, by the structure of the model, requires us to reduce our level of satisfaction in life and have moved us onto a path of quite virtually ruining the planet. I would also argue that there is a new way of thinking about money that is emerging – one that I am trying to share with you here – that can allow us to be happier and healthier while at the same time helping the planet and moving us onto a path of sustainability that we so desperately need.
There’s a million and one tangible, real-world things we can do to reverse this brainwashing and change some of our own habits that before just seemed so commonplace that they may have even seem pre-ordained. Consider using rags instead of paper towel or a reusable Swiffer-esque mop rather than the reusable Swiffer design itself when cleaning. Consider making a pot of beans from scratch to the flavor of your liking and keeping them in your freezer rather than eating the canned version. And so on and so forth. The point is to learn to enjoy the bit of extra time it takes to do these things rather than loathe them. This will be easier when you don’t have to rush off to work 8-12 hours per day in early retirement. If you still don’t see how you could possibly learn to enjoy such things, consider putting it this way: would you hand wash a few rags per week and spend a few hours more cooking in order to be financially independent and not ‘forced’ to work another day in your life?
Maybe now you have found the motivation?
Mindset is everything. As they say, ‘it’s all in your head’. Slow things down. Use technology and new ideas to optimize parts of your life, sure, but also consider unoptimizing other parts. The good parts. The things that we realize life is all about when we are on our death beds and coming to terms with the fact that we can’t take our money with us. There is endless value in slowing down and enjoying things like food, coffee with a friend, or a morning walk. If you enjoy the simple things which provide and endless fountain of happiness and satisfaction, you need less the expensive things that provide a passing and ephemeral glimpse of happiness before leaving you wanting the latest and greatest version. It’s really quite simple and it’s all within reach. It may not be easy to get started but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
So what convenience-based technology have you discarded or what have you adopted from the past that has slowed down your life, saved you money, made you happier and helped the planet? Let me know in the comments.