While I wasn’t around for the depression, and I don’t recall with any clarity the recession of 1990, or the collapse of the “tech bubble” in 2000, I do distinctly remember the subprime lending disaster of 2008. I remember watching the IRA that I had established a decade earlier get pummeled in the markets. I remember wondering if it would ever recover, and if the economy itself would ever recover (not to mention the international exchanges that suffered).
It seems eons ago now, what with the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) cresting twenty-one thousand and the demand for housing appearing to ceaselessly increase. It’s hard to recollect just how worried I was back then, maybe because I believed that this was such an unusual instance of lack foresight by a government, or simply such a rare and isolated occurrence that no organization could have predicted it. I have learned a lot about economics since then.
Several articles in the last few years have pointed out how these economic disasters have shaped the manner in which the younger generations (specifically “millennials”) perceive and interact with the world. Though, I would argue that it’s not just millennials who are experiencing a paradigm shift. Almost all age ranges in the U.S. have shown an interest in downsizing both budgets and possessions, for economic, as well as aesthetic reasons.
So what is the new American dream?
Basically, it’s smaller. After the consumerist, disposable culture of the 80’s and 90’s, the current millennia has ushered in a new way of thinking. We are beginning to realize how possessions don’t largely contribute to our happiness, and that living within our means is not only absolutely necessary to our financial future, it’s also kind of sexy.
After the housing bubble imploded in 2008, many folks lost either their home, large amounts of money from their retirement accounts, or both. While the housing market appears to have rebounded (quite handily, I might add), the persistent lack of housing in the U.S. has caused prices to rise steadily in most markets, nudging out buyers with less buying experience or income.
Enter, the tiny house! I must admit, I have been fascinated by these miniature dwellings for years now, ever since my first episode of “Tiny House Nation.” Even the most “expensive” tiny houses cost no more than a fourth of the average home price in my area. I am enamored, and I’m not the only one; tiny home communities have sprung up all over the country in the last few years. They’re not just geared to millennials either, as this AARP article suggests.
If you’ve been lurking on blogger sites recently (not that I do, *ahem*), you’ve probably ran across the term “digital nomad” at least once. A new breed of occupation is among us, it would seem. While conventional work-at-home jobs have been around for a while, waxing and waning with corporate demand, “digital nomads” are often individuals who work for themselves, either through their own, personal business, or via freelance endeavors (or “gigs,” as they’re often referred to) .
While these entrepreneurial enterprises offer a lot of freedom, there are some plausible downsides, such as isolation and economics, as outlined in this Huffpost article. Still, the siren call of escaping the “rat race” and architecting one’s own agenda is powerful. (I wonder at how many millennials and Gen Xer’s, like myself, who write blog posts outside of traditional business hours, are secretly hoping to make this our primary “gig?”)
It does seem a bit trendy right now, but, to be fair, there have been brilliant people throughout the last several decades who have been praising the benefits of a lighter life. I’m not sure how many folks actually achieve their personal version of minimalism, but with all the buzz, it appears that many are trying, and for good reason. When I observe the ratio of items that I actually touch and use within a day, versus the total number of items that I own, I am often sick to my stomach. Then, I consider the time and money that it requires for me to keep and maintain all of those items that I never touch in a day, and perhaps not even in a year (ergh, more queasiness).
Many insightful souls have written extensively about minimalism in recent years (Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and Leo Babauta, to name a few). They have inspired myself and many others, of all age ranges and socioeconomic backgrounds, to ditch the extra weight and focus on what is really important. My favorite resource for all things minimalism, as of late, has been The Minimalists. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus talk intimately about not only the physical operation of shedding superfluous articles, but also the internal processes that occur alongside it…to the tune of 20 million people, according to their website.
The new American dream is lighter and leaner than its predecessor, grounded in fiscal autonomy and economic sustainability. A pragmatic approach to living, and a focus on the simple necessities to facilitate life, pervade. Excess is loathed not because it seems haughty, but simply because it lacks functionality. Time is prized over possessions, and liberty above all.
How do you see the new American dream? Are you a digital nomad or a tiny house dweller?
Thanks for reading. Take care, and stay cozy.