Photo by: Stuck in Customs
Over the last couple of months I’ve written some lengthy posts on various economic issues such as how money is created, housing bubbles, the credit crisis and debt. I know some people yawn and switch off to talk of economics, so today I wanted to talk about why I find these economic issues fascinating and why they are so relevant to living a frugal and simple life.
For me, downshifting (or voluntary simplicity) means working towards living a simpler and more meaningful life by making conscious choices to leave materialism behind and move to more sustainable living. It does not mean simply cutting back and trying to live the same life with less money. Downshifting requires re-prioritisation, an adjustment in values and a totally different mindset.
While saving and frugality have always come easy to me, the impetus to really downshift came only in the last 18 months or so. There were a couple of factors which triggered this shift in me, the first being a move from Australia to the USA. There is nothing quite like living in a foreign country to get you out of your comfort zone and really make you challenge the views you hold about the world.
The second prompt was to experience the downside of the global financial crises. I had invested in the stock market since the age of 16, and at the time of the collapse I was very heavily invested. As with many people in a similar position, I watched my holdings evaporate before my eyes. I would lie awake at night and worry about when the next margin call might come and whether I would have the cash to pay for it. It was not a fun time. Eventually I sold everything and got out of the market completely. I sleep much better now.
What followed was a whole lot of soul-searching. I had grown up in a generation where the future seemed huge, where we had unlimited opportunities and where we believed that all we needed to do was put our money into investments and then wait a couple of decades for them to make us financially secure. The crash of ’08 was a shock to my generation. We had never been through a recession before and although we’d heard our parents talk of such things, to us it was not a real concept until it happened to us.
Even though the financial pain was very real to me, I’m not the type of person to live in regret or lament about my losses for too long. I wanted to understand how and why this had happened. So I started reading and the more I read the more I started to understand that the way we view the world (and money in particular), is fundamentally flawed. The reason I’ve been writing my World-Changing Wednesday articles is so that I can communicate some of these issues to others.
I now understand that money is not real wealth. Money, as we know it, is so easily controlled by a few powerful people. Once this is understood, it seems crazy to spend so much of our life energy in the pursuit of it. Due to the nature of our economic system, growth must be maintained at all costs. In a world of finite resources and delicate ecosystems, this perpetual growth is destroying lives, both human and animal. Understanding the economy is the first step to understanding where the system needs to change if we are to start living lives that are truly prosperous.
Fresh air, clean water, abundant and nutritious food…..that is real wealth. Having family and friends you can rely on in times of need…. is real wealth. Working at something you love, which enriches your life and is useful to the world in which we live…. is real wealth.
Personally I’m very grateful for the wakeup call.