There is something that has been bothering me for a while, something I haven't been able to put my finger on. Minimalist Mum touched on it last weekend, which got my cogs turning, because it was just as I finished a fantastic book, Confessions of an Eco Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes From, by Fred Pearce. Then I just saw an online ad for income protection insurance and it crystallised the problem:
You can't always maintain your current lifestyle.
Life and income insurance are marvellous products - we have both - but something sat wrong with me while we were getting quotes and more information. I had always assumed that if something happened to my husband, I would pay out the mortgage with the existing insurance on my husband's superannuation, sell and move somewhere smaller, work a few days a week, and get by with support from my family and church. If I lost my husband my whole world would be turned upside down: I know, because it happened to our family when I was a child. But life insurance is sold as a way to safeguard your current way of life. It is recommended to have enough insurance to replace the other person's income for equivalent years as if they had remained alive. We have enough insurance to cover the remainder of the house, and a year or two of income until we found our new normal. You can't always maintain your current lifestyle, no matter how an insurance package is sold.
Fred Pearce's book was a very thought provoking book. My husband commented that it must have been good, because I took so long to read it. Pearce travelled the globe in search of information about the sources of his food, clothing, and general goods, as well as the working conditions of the people producing them. I was inspired to use less stuff, as my innocent purchases had big impacts on the lives of other people, often less fortunate than myself. But his conclusions were that we just need more sustainable solutions. Much of the 'green economy' is about that - you don't have to give up anything to live an ethical or environmentally considerate life, just choose 'natural', 'eco-friendly' products. A lot of these products are fantastic, and green is better than not green, but I'm not convinced that is on its own is the path to environmental sustainability. You can't always maintain your current lifestyle, no matter how much you are 'greenwashed' into thinking that you can.
I am not in paid employment. I spend my days at home with my kids. I haven't gone back to work because we see huge value in kids having a parent home full time, and we are able to make do on one income. There are many, many families who can't manage on a single income. But there are families like my brother-in-law and his wife: he earns more than my husband, but she has put her young children into childcare to work part-time because money is always so tight. Not because their needs are great, but because their wants are great. Going back to work isn't a bad thing in and of itself - sometimes it is a necessity, but it isn't always. You can't always maintain your current lifestyle, no matter what the Joneses and their kids have.
Before our last Federal election there was much talk about ideal population size for a 'sustainable Australia'. Both sides of politics sprouted policies that would mean growing our population without sacrificing the Australian lifestyle. How? Won't we run out of space if we keep expanding our cities outwards? Developers put in lots of green space and walkways, but all miles away from amenities so we are still car dependent. You can't always maintain your current lifestyle, no matter how shiny the bureaucrats can make it look.
Lifestyle, I've realised, is codeword for stuff. Lifestyle is having the spacious house, the second car, eating at nice places, holidays, upgraded TVs and Nintendo DSs. Lifestyle is not giving up what is comfortable. Lifestyle is keeping up appearances.
Change happens. Sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Sometimes it is good, sometimes not. Sometimes we have to be willing to change our lifestyle to go along with our voluntary, or involuntary, life changes.
A simple lifestyle seems to me to be far more conducive to change and flexibility. Whether it's a positive change, like a growing family or looking after our planet, or a negative change, like losing a family member or a job, a lifestyle of needing less stuff means a lifestyle more adaptable to having less stuff out of necessity.
I know what lifestyle I want to maintain.