No doubt about it, the basics in our cost of living is getting more expensive. We can get a t-shirt or new cell phone for less these days, but a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, heating to keep our home warm, a tank of gas, health care, or a college education, those costs are skyrocketing. It’s no wonder so many folks are feeling anxious or angry about what’s going on.
Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet two people whose ages span several generations yet they share an insight about one thing we can do to reduce our eco-nomic stress.
The first was a retired doctor. When I told him I work with clients on their financial mental health as part of my counseling, he was immediately enthusiastic. “That is so needed right now,” he said. Then he went on to share his perceptions of why. “Most people are not at all prepared for life today and especially for what’s ahead,” he explained. “I’m afraid my generation has helped create this problem. I grew up on a farm. My parents survived the Great Depression. We grew our own food. We all worked. There were many daily chores. There was no time for play. But when we grew up we went to school, did well, made lots of money, and didn’t want that kind of life for our children. We created a world for them in which everything is provided for them. My daughter can’t put dinner on the table for her family without a microwave.”
The next day I met a young professional woman who’s married and just starting her family. When I told her about our desire to teach life skills courses through a Let’s Live Local program so our remote community can become more self-sustaining, she quickly volunteered to help. She said,”I could teach a lot of those skills! There’s so much we can do for ourselves and each other instead of paying others to do everything for us.” She admits she’s a throwback but prides herself on doing as many things as possible herself: cooking, sewing, gardening, knitting, cleaning, etc. Basic living tasks are fun to her. She enjoys them. Her husband suggested remodeling their home to accommodate a live-in nanny to take care of the house and their baby so she can work full-time. She can’t image doing that. “I’d rather earn less and do what needs to be done myself, than work all the time to pay for others to take care of our life.”
I asked how she developed these basic life skills and such a love for them. “From my grandparents,” she explained. “They had all these skills that my mother wasn’t interested in learning. But I was. Now my mother is getting older and I’m doing a lot of things for her she can’t afford to have others do. I’m not worried about the need to become more self-sufficient. That’s how I already live.”
Reflecting on my own life, I fall somewhere between these two generations. My mother is of the doctor’s generation. Her parents lived through the Great Depression and she taught me many basic living skills. But I was growing up in a different world where you were ostracized if you did things like wear home-made clothes or bring a homemade lunch to school. Canning? Repairing things? Maintaining your own car? No way! Though I learned how to do many of these things, I set that knowledge aside to pursue a full-time career and paid others to take care of the business of living. Now, one of my goals is to reclaim them and grateful to my mother for passing them on.
There is much our grandparents and older parents can teach us about how to live more simply and sustainably. Judging from my conversation with the young mother, when we get past the idea of needing to buy the basics of a simple, good life from others, these lessons are empowering and create a sense of enjoyment, security and peace of mind that’s fast slipping away for so many of us.