The economic tremor caused by the Chinese yuan situation has been weighing heavily on my mind this week. I recall quite vividly the last time the world markets were on the eve of a fall. The latter part of 2008 was just that moment. I found myself alone in a small, rather dingy apartment with an almost- two year old child and a husband deployed to the Middle East. We were taking the beginning steps to repairing our financial situation, earnestly paying down debt, and living as frugally as possible to accomplish our goals. The general air of the economic downturn left me a bit frightened, being the first economic crisis I had witnessed in adulthood.
My fear was not misplaced but allowing it to control my life would have been. Instead, I turned the nervous energy into action, read numerous books on alternative economic theories, and learned a variety of new skills that serve me well to this day. Sourdough bread making, the beginning baby steps of gardening, cooking from scratch, preserving food, and investing in high-quality goods to make my endeavors and general life comfortable with these new self-provisioning and energy-saving choices in mind. All seemed reasonable and natural after two years of breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and organic baby food making.
As the years ticked on, the economic need for say, thrift store shopping and gardening declined, but my interests only grew. I took up vermicomposting, canned 500+ jars of food every summer, and purchased a grain mill & dehydrator. A clothesline joined the arsenal in my backyard and herbal medicine books came to line my bookshelves. I experimented more in the kitchen, made my own cleaning supplies, and raised a child in a home without television where entertainment was ours to make. Soon I found myself riding a bike with trailer was my primary mode of transportation and owning a tiny capsule wardrobe to get me through my clothing needs.
Truth be told, one of the appeals of requesting my husband’s Korea assignment was learning to live with less and “make do” in a society different from my home culture. Here I live in a high-rise apartment and learn to conserve home energy in a new way. I have no dishwasher and must wash dishes by hand. The bulk of my laundry I dry in clothing racks. My feet, subways, trains, and buses take me everywhere I need to go. Where my favorite tee shirt once read, “pump tires, not gas,” a current edition would read, “charge transit cards, not electrical assist motors” ha! I cook with different foods and have learned a variety of new cooking techniques. I frequently experiment with Asian cooking techniques and New World ingredients, conjuring up interesting new combinations that speak to the cultural fusion that my life currently is. And near daily I witness first hand how people live with much less than I do and how they, too, have meaningful lives. There is a life outside the American Dream and people enjoy their modes of living just the same as Americans do theirs. It’s a lesson I expected before I arrive but all the more interesting to witness firsthand.
Some of the latest adaptations in my life came as a result of circumstance. I am back to kneading all of my dough by hand, for example, as my Kitchen Aid mixer was among the kitchen appliances that would not work in my new home, even with the aid of a transformer. More positively, I have been able to live without a/c for much of the summer thanks to crosswinds and living on a floor low enough to avoid the harshest sunshine. Both were new discoveries and corrections to my ignorance, and both demonstrate well the realities of life with less.
I think about all of these lessons now, as the markets grumble in pain once again, and the situation in my own country continues towards what will likely be the Crisis as predicted in generational theory. Our infrastructure is rotting. The number of children in poverty rises every year. Educational reform has failed to straighten the path of our failing educational system. Living in a world with less, either due to peaking resources or a rising demand from the BRIC nations, remains swept under the rug with everybody in a tizzy to point fingers and pretend that the 2016 election cycle is something other than an amusing circus, funded by the corporate overlords who have bought and paid for our government. It seems their imperative to keep Business As Usual afloat no matter who gets into the White House.
I realize my last paragraph sounds dark and cynical, but I assure you my mind is in no dark, dreary, conspiracy theory place. Quite the contrary, in fact. Accepting these lessons has proved comforting in its own way and shown me the importance of questioning Business as Usual and the Way We Are Supposed to Live. Living simply and differently has proven enriching to me, not only in my bank account, but in my general life. It’s empowering to know I can feed my family well on little and that I possess the physical strength to pedal my bike plus 100+ of child and cargo up a daunting hill. It’s a good feeling to be entering year #6 of homeschooling and having a child who is old enough for some of the fruits of my labors to be blossoming, bit by bit. Knowing that change isn’t scary, that it can bring some different but better, is a beautiful bit of knowledge. It makes me feel cautiously optimistic. Come financial crisis or whatever, we can have a good, noble, beautiful life if only anxiety and fear can be channeled into positive avenues and used for good.