DH and I got talking about the craziness of modern life and how in the old days only one person had to work in a household. (As usual we were bemoaning our busy lives and wishing for more time to get things done at home and just relax).
So we started listing out what people MUST have nowadays that not only weren't necessities when we were growing up, but were nonexistent. So we came up with this list, which I'm sure is incomplete:
- Cell phones
- Cell phone service (which is incremental to existing land-line service which most people still keep)
- Cable TV service (when our old 3 channel system was free over the air)
- Internet service
- Stereo system, CD player (instead of a "record player")
And of course, when we were really young, people didn't have clothes dryers either. They hung the clothes out on the line.
And, as a result of all the additional appliances, we use more electricity, which costs more, and then we need more money to pay for it.
Thus the vicious cycle starts. You need two salaries to pay for the additional necessities of life...and make more money...and then start thinking maybe it would be a nice idea to buy a bigger house, since after all, you're both working and you deserve it.
Thus was born the idea of a "starter house."
Back in the day, people bought a house, and lived in it until they died or retired and went to Florida. For instance, my in-laws are celebrating 50 years in their small, 1957 split-level house. It's a nice little house, with three small bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths, and a nice yard. They only had one child, my husband, so there was no need for a bigger house. They have lived very happily in it for lo these 50 years.
But nowadays, if a couple had owned a house like this for a few years, they would soon be "trading up" to a bigger house. A better house. A house with 3 full baths, a 3-car garage, 4 or 5 bedrooms, a "great room," and more. "Good enough" is never good enough anymore.
Another side effect of needing two salaries and having both spouses work, means there is no time to do all the things my father-in-law always did for himself, and my mother-in-law always did, since she stayed at home. Thus, today's two-salary families also need:
- Multiple cars (one for each spouse, and perhaps for the oldest teen child, who of course HAS to have a car...lord forbid they walk anywhere these days).
- Cleaning service
- Paying to have the car washed (my father-in-law always did it himself, in the driveway).
- Lawn service
- Dog walker (since no one is home during the day to let Fido out or take him for a walk)
- Child care
- Dishwasher (who has time to do the dishes when there are two people working till 7 p.m.?)
Which results in still more money being spent, on electricity, gas, and services that people in the old days did for themselves.
Other things people pay for now that they didn't do then include:
- Hiring tutors for the kids' SATs
- Multiple TVs so each kid has his or her own set;
- Multiple computers so each kid has his or her own.
- Video game systems, video games
When I was young, toys were basic - they didn't come with electronic components and they were not all that expensive. Chatty Cathy was about as high-tech as we got. And of course, we had Betsy Wetsy and Tiny Tears, dolls that used water to make them more "realistic."
I had those dolls, plus Lincoln Logs and wooden blocks. And I remember being thrilled getting new books to read at Christmas.
Are kids nowadays happier than we were then, with all of these state-of-the-art toys? I don't think so.
Coincidentally, I found Loren of "In a Dark Time...The Eye Begins to See" discussed the same issue a couple of days ago, and included additional insight I'd like to share with you. From "In a Dark Time":
"Klodt’s chapter “The Leisure of Abundance” sounded strangely reminiscent of a conversation another birder and I had at Nisqually the last time I was there, two old guys wondering why cheaper goods didn’t result in people having to work less. After all, when I was young, way back in the old days, the dream was that modern machinery would free man from having to work, or at least work so hard or so long.
As Klodt points out, this dream has largely been sacrificed in the name of consumption:
'To be sure, the emphasis on efficiency in the workplace has resulted in tremendous increases in productivity. Yet productivity gains have not been translated into increased leisure but have instead gone into increased consumption. In her excellent book, The Overworked American, Juliet Schor notes that if Americans today enjoyed the same standard of living they had in 1948, they could work every other year or take six months off. Today we have a variety of “labor-saving” devices and entertainments unknown to earlier generations. In 1948, Americans didn’t own dishwashers, home air conditioners, microwaves, or automatic dryers. They didn’t have televisions, computers, compact disc players, or VCRs. Fewer Americans owned their own homes, and the typical single-family dwelling was smaller (roughly the size of today’s three-car garage). Yet we could well ask if the material: things and comforts we have gained in the last fifty years are worth six months of the year, or half of the time of our lives.
At the very least, we should ask how things might be different if we had opted for more free time rather than greater consumption. It is pretty clear what things we wouldn’t have, but what would we have that we don’t have now? Would marital relationships be stronger? Would our children be better cared for and feel more secure? Would we have greater opportunities to express ourselves creatively? Would communities profit from increased participation in their social, cultural, and political life? Would we feel relaxed and enjoy the simple things of life more fully? Would we be friendlier and take more interest in our neighbors? Would we be healthier in body mind and spirit?'
Obviously, all we can do is speculate about what might be if we weren’t driven to consume so much, but what better time to think about our values than amidst the Christmas season which increasingly seems dedicated to Mammon rather than to Christ?"
I urge you to go to Loren's site and read the rest of this excellent post on this subject.
Of course, I am part of the problem; it would be hypocritical to say otherwise. Would I give up my computer and Internet access? Would I want to go back to only 3 television channels and forego watching "The Daily Show" or HGTV? Of course not. Consumerism is an addiction; once you start buying more, you can't stop.
But when we went to the Adirondacks a couple of months ago and were generally out of the reach of the phone and the Internet and had no television, it was very peaceful, very relaxing. And it makes me realize most of the stress we have today is something we have bought and paid for, and continue to pay for, every time we lament our lack of free time.