I know that I’ve been a little quiet lately (except for my Pits and Peaks and Yarn Along posts), and it’s because I’ve been reading. Yes, indeed!
At the recommendation of fellow lurkers on some of my favorite internet haunts (cough reddit cough cough) I took a couple books out of the library and checked out some online essays, and I’ve been unable to get my face out of them since. What I’ve been reading has been giving me lots of ideas, and not all of them are fully-formed, so I apologize in advance if this post seems fragmented. Mostly I just want to share my thoughts and see if anyone else is thinking about similar issues.
I mentioned last week that I picked up the book Stuffocation and it wasn’t that impressive. It continues not to amaze me, but the other book I got has been much more engaging and though-provoking: The End of Growth.
The book deals with the fact that our global economy simply cannot keep growing on a planet where resources are finite, and discusses reasons it seems that we are reaching the point of the end of growth. There are a few different paths we can take at this point – accepting the end of growth could cause us to find ways to live and thrive in a circular economy that no longer grows. Not accepting is and plowing full-speed ahead is a recipe for disaster, but seems to be the way we are going.
I’m only halfway through the book, but the author presents well-researched, thoughtful, and in-depth arguments for why this is true.
I also read my way through a series of essays on degrowth and how other environmental and post-capitalist/post-growth movements interact and build upon the degrowth movement. What captures me most about this worldview is its focus on time sovereignty and sufficiency instead of efficiency.
Finally, all of this reading called me back to a book I read last year after hearing about it through Mr. Money Mustache, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. In this book, I now realize, the author basically makes the argument for degrowth. As humans, we are living in an age of unprecedented plenty. It is time to shift our focus from growing, from getting more and more and more, to focusing on meeting the needs of all and freeing up time we would spend chasing More to build communities and encourage creativity.
The Bottom Line
It seems to me the overwhelming conclusion of all of these readings, from the kind of rosy Plenitude to the rather grim The End of Growth is that it is time to stop focusing on More. I think we all kind of know why. Our constant quest to consume more
- Doesn’t make us happy
- Stresses us out to the point of having real health effects
- Degrades the environment on the production and discard sides of the equation
- Is rapidly becoming an impossible quest
- Is creating a deeper and deeper division of wealth between the richest and the poorest
All signs point to: stop! And perhaps not for these reasons, perhaps for our own other reasons, we in the financial independence community have already done just that.
As we all know, frugality has lots of benefits beyond saving money: learning new skills, making new friends, being stronger and healthier and more self-sufficient.
After all the reading I’ve been doing, I think that the way we are living is the future. It seems we can reach it in two ways, either by choosing to live with less and realize that our needs are fully met, and real joy comes in the form of creativity and cultivating relationships, or we can be forced into it by global shortages, natural disasters, and failing economies.
The Future Is Frugal
I’m actually kind of excited about the future. Minimalism, DIY, and ZeroWaste are already gaining popularity amongst my peers. When I tell people I’m making my own soap, or planning to live in a van for a year, they say “That’s awesome!” and “I need goals like that!”
Living with less is becoming cool, and that’s a good thing.
The way I think of it, we have a unique opportunity right now to decide what kind of a future we want to build. Personally, I want to try to build a world where sufficiency – that is, meeting basic human needs – is at the forefront, and once those are met, relationships, creativity, and community come next. Not consumption and excess.
I guess it sounds kind of rosy, a bit hippie, maybe too idealistic. But without an idealistic goal, how are we going to reach the realistic future that’s as close to ideal as possible?
Despite the grim forecasts for failing economies and the end of our way of life as we know it, I think the future is bright. I have a lot more thinking and reading to do on these topics in order to really get my thoughts in order, but this is where I am now.
The realization that one has enough is a huge privilege. The realization that one has too much is even more so. Most of us in the Global North fall into that second category and are enormously privileged in the course of human history to actually have way too much of everything. That realization can free us up – it can free us to give away what we don’t need, to consume less and do more, and most importantly, it can free us to look at all our neighbors, locally and globally, and make sure they have enough too.