Simplicity has become big business in the United States.
Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine pointed me to Grist Magazine and Elizabeth Chin's essay, "I Will Simply Survive" (March 1, 2006).
After reading it, I knew I had to post at least a quote here.
"Enjoy" is not exactly the right word here, but read and think and consider, at least.
What is abundantly clear is that for the poor, access to most resources is limited at best, the result of a combination of financial limits and larger social disinvestment. While wealthier households struggle to balance schedules overloaded with activities and commitments, the poor often spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating basic needs. The limited nature of their consumer environment means that everyday tasks take much longer, and usually end up costing more. Given that low-income neighborhoods are unlikely to house large supermarkets, consumers are faced either with buying higher-priced and often lower-quality goods in local markets, or figuring out some way to travel the miles to the supermarket and back, often with kids in tow. Imagine grocery shopping for a family of four using only a bus or train. Distances become exponentially more important when relying on public transportation's service schedules, routes, holidays, and glitches. (Interestingly, while contributing far less than "their share" to problems like automobile emissions, the poor model at least one portion of a solution, being the large bulk of public-transportation users. What they teach all of us, however, is that it is impossible to rely on public transportation and manage, as many well-off families do, to be in nearly three places almost simultaneously.)
Powerful folk beliefs in the United States portray the poor as profligate, undisciplined consumers. In fact, those who have carefully studied the day-to-day purchases and economic behavior of the poor know better, and the poor know best of all how carefully their resources are managed, bartered, exchanged. Without access to the supersized reservoirs of credit that the middle class can amass through both property and little plastic cards, the poor are often laid flat by large expenses: a refrigerator, a car, a hospital stay. Savings accounts, retirement funds, mad money -- these are not options, not so much because the poor are incapable of thinking about these things, but because, as one anthropologist described it, "there's a lot of month left at the end of the money."
Consider this: many poor children have never had the opportunity to purchase a gift for a loved one. Whatever conflicts the affluent might feel about rampant consumerism, it is worth wondering whether -- and how -- something so seemingly simple as being able to buy your mother a present for Mother's Day might also be a powerful moment of self-actualization. The power to buy is, in this society, inevitably and fundamentally, the power to be.
[Owen James Frazer's birthday! ]