A month ago we said goodbye to one of our best pieces of furniture, a solid wood desk with an original spring-loaded typewriter table from the days when — well, when manual typewriters roamed the earth. It was the first piece of furniture we acquired when we bought our house. We got 18 years of use out of it before we decided to upgrade. The great thing about this original acquisition was that we only had to walk about 40 paces to shop for it, in the Alley Find Emporium between 34th and 35th Streets, and Nicollet & 1st (conveniently located next to Dumpster Diver City, right behind the apartment buildings on our block).
This week I heard about the 14th bank in the country that has closed as a result of the economy, and a whole town in Ohio that got laid off when the only employer closed up shop. We hear that consumer confidence is nil and so people aren’t buying things, that banks are waiting and seeing about the stimulus plan and so aren’t loaning money to businesses, and that overseas trade is grinding to a halt because of the first two problems.
In the Krueger South household (south meaning the lower end of the block bookended by others of our ilk) we’re not quite sure what we can do about the problem. Being skinflint kids of clergy, our contribution to U.S. economic activity is well below our share of one three-hundred-millionth.
What few spending sprees we’ve gone on don’t even register on the national economic charts. We haven’t been socially engineered to accept the culture based on a Substantially Unsustainable Vehicle transportation system. We bought a used house, at a fire-sale price (without the fire and smoke damage), have done most of the rehab work on it ourselves, don’t shop at upper-crust retailers (the best suits in my closet are from Savers), and we "think globally but dine out locally" (mostly Saigon Uptown).
Granted, we are now on our fourth new car, but our cars have been the most basic, compact four-banger models available, and we’ve run up the mileage on each into six digits (except for the ’94 Colt which a strong wind and a big tree branch totaled in ’96). We still wait to buy new socks until at least three toes poke through them, and set our thermostat to drop into the 50s when we’re away from home. And we have no problem with multiple generations under one roof — we’ve had four at several holiday dinners and two permanently reside here.
We’re totally redoing our kitchen and first-floor bathroom. "A happy kitchen makes for a happy house," as they say. It is the only room in our house, which has always been just not quite right for us — too cramped, too drafty, too dark (too, well, un-useful).
Yet, having bought in the days when big Lyndale houses were practically free, we cringe at the price tag just to dude up two rooms. In order to save on expenses to pay for the new kitchen, one idea we’ve floated is to reduce our dependence on oils foreign and domestic by ditching one of our two cars. (The other generation in the household isn’t going for that.) We had already cut back on cable, on magazine subscriptions, on third-lattes-of-the-work-day, all long before the current panic set in around the country.
Perhaps our home equity loan will more than trickle down for a few contractors to keep afloat during these trying times?
Anyway, to finally explain the title of this column — I have heard it used in the context of divorce lawsuits, wherein one party demands beaucoup bucks in alimony from the other, in order to continue in "the lifestyle to which the spouse has become accustomed." I reflect on our micro-economy and whether it contributes much to the lifestyle of the rest of our nation. As illustrated above, we never fit into the culture that assumes everyone has to keep consuming to keep the economy healthy.
One great thing about living in a neighborhood like Lyndale is that keeping up with the Joneses is more about putting out recycling along with the garbage and matching your block leader’s efforts with a few hours’ crime-watch walking each month than it is about gilding your lily-sunset trimmed house with outdoor hot tubs and Behemoth-brand barbecues. Our financials have never been about irrational exuberance (OK, we did wrack up our first credit card bill at Murray’s Steak House in 1987) and unsustainable growth. The Lyndale lifestyle to which we have become accustomed is based on neighbors helping neighbors, rather than scheming to make a buck off of them. We keep our community healthy by contributing as much or more of our time than from our money clips.
Maybe the rest of the country needs to wean itself off the lifestyle to which most have become accustomed — and not be so quick to kick the kids
(or the parents) out of the nest, or assume moving up to bigger houses with more rooms and more space for cars than people is the best way to achieve the American Dream? Maybe we need a divorce from the four-wheeled boxes that we spend more time in than our community and with our families and friends? Maybe a few years of downsizing will remind us of a time when community mattered, and it wasn’t every consumer for him or her self?