Am I really a Dinosaur?

(This was a bit stream of consciousness and therefore a tad rambly, apologies for this!)

dinosaur bones

I was late to the blogging game, I fully admit. By the time I got here the days of high profile blogging were already long gone. Meaning that today, in order to get “seen”, you have to exceedingly special or, in some cases, brave, in order to be heard above the crowd. Is it OK to be average? Is that allowed?

I once worked for a woman who constantly reminded me that it was alright to be ordinary. In her view, to underachieve was disrespectful to one’s self, while overreaching expectations could be disrespectful to one’s colleagues. This was difficult for a here-to-fore overachiever to wrap her head around. Wasn’t perfection always the goal? Since when was mediocre ever OK?

While I still don’t fully agree with this “tall-poppy”-ish, zero-sum type stance, I will concede that age has taught me a few things about perfectionism and persistence. Mainly that they are relative to your particular situation, and a few other things:

  1. Perfection does not exist. Full Stop.
  2. Comparison is everyone’s Achilles Heel. Even if it’s comparison with yourself in a different time span.
  3. Persistence will be exhausting. Expect it.
  4. Persistence will (almost) always pay off.
  5. Being “average” but persistent, will usually yield better results than being “perfect” but lethargic.

So here I am, hanging on. In a sea of bloggers, all vying for our voices to be heard. Me, without any videos or fancy fonts. Thinking average thoughts and writing about mediocre things. An average middle aged woman with an average day job and an average family.

And I am SO grateful for all of these things (including my lovely readers)!

Am I really a dinosaur (i.e. old and irrelevant)? Probably, but I am learning to see these wrinkles as the reward for a life of effort.

Thanks for listening, stay cozy!

The New American Dream, Part 2: Status Symbol

pocket watch, sands of time

Many of us are products of the 80’s and 90’s and can recall some of the items that were popular back then. Certain shoes, cars, and electronic gadgets were considered a sign of wealth and social status (or good credit) at that time. Owning things brought prestige and envy, especially amongst peers and colleagues. The phrase “he who dies with the most toys, wins” was coined.

Fast forward twenty-five years, through 3 recessions, a housing bubble, the healthcare crisis, and crippling student debt. In each case, we have learned something about handling money (or how not to handle it). We have also been awakened to the fact that the economy in most countries, but perhaps particularly the United States, is a living, breathing thing. It is a beast that can both make and ruin people, financially and otherwise, as it waxes and wanes.

For most of us though, through all of the perambulations of the market, there has been the constant of employment. A vocation to pull us out of our student loan obligations and afford accommodations whether they be our own, or rented from someone else. Work, a perceived cornerstone of our nation, and something that we are all taught to pursue passionately. After all, where would all our “things” come from without some form of paid occupation?

flea market stuff

Not to mention that those “things” come with costs aside from their purchase price. It can be alarming to consider that everything you own, you are still paying for (hence, the idea of being “owned” by the objects one has acquired). Ultimately, any “thing” that you possess requires some type of residence, whether that be your abode, a storage unit, or your parents’ house (although those costs may be more intrinsic), and this will usually be something that you have to pay for. These items have physical costs too, such as some form of maintenance, or, at the very least, the time and effort it would require to rid yourself of them.

So, we toil for someone else in order to acquire possessions, we continue to work in order to pay for the said items’ housing and maintenance, and oftentimes must physically use or care for an item to keep it operational. While we usually look at this equation in terms of monetary cost, it could be argued that the largest and most valuable expenditure here is not of dollars, but of time.

wristwatch

Although it’s true that we all get at least some time, it is lamentable that we don’t always get to spend it the way in which we desire. Those fortunate enough to have surplus wealth, however, get the side benefit of utilizing their hours as they choose, rather than for another’s cause.

Accordingly, having “free” time has become a sign of wealth and means. This could be true either because the owner actually has a healthy income, or simply because they are adept at budgeting, and choose time over objects. In any case, the freedom that an individual has due to their possession of spare moments is becoming associated with greater social status, rather than ineptness, as had been the stigma in decades past.

clock tower

Now that seemingly everyone is operating on someone else’s schedule, those that are allowed to function according to their own agenda are seen as the new elite, having escaped the so-called “rat race.” The value of currency is becoming more associated with its ability to grant chronological freedom than the accumulation of commodities. Time, and the freedom to dictate it, are becoming the new signs of prestige, in a nation that has brandished its 40 hour work week as an ideal for so long.

*This article is the second of the New American Dream series.

Stay cozy!

The New American Dream

small houses curaco

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.

Housing

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.

Jobs

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?”)

minimal office

Minimalism

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.

small house in the snow

In conclusion…

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.