8/3:Economic crisis and Voluntary Simplicity - Joyful Low income living - in the '1st world'.

Economic crisis and Voluntary Simplicity - Joyful Low income living - in the '1st world'.

With Greece in the headlines struggling to keep its people afloat through the challenges of ‘austerity’ – I have been pondering the trend of media commentators (and therefore the majority of ill-informed people!) to blame Greek people for the crisis coming as a result of their ‘laziness’. This, after-all, is the easiest response – just blame poor people because they’ve obviously been ‘living it up’ for too long.  It’s a trend that is repeated around the world as the welfare lines grow and the number of homeless people in ‘rich’ countries like Australia and the US sky-rockets (despite there being plenty of empty houses available).

As usual, things are not so simple – you can’t just blame poor people for not working hard enough. As explained by Helena Norberg-Hodge in her recent article on the subject (link); “The economic problem in Greece is the product of a global system that puts the needs of corporations and banks ahead of people and the planet’. 

My deep feeling is that the crisis being felt in Greece right now is already being felt (and has been felt) throughout the ‘third world’ for many, many years and is about to hit us all as the myth of ‘infinite economic growth’ crashes against the wall of reality.

There are glimmers of hope emerging from the ongoing crisis in Greece including the strengthening of people to people connections, an emerging sharing/helping economy and a new appreciation for small scale, sustainable agriculture, which may offer us all a new vision for the future.

At the end of the day, the way we live is a result of our own personal choices. In my case, I’ve felt an instinctive rejection in following the mainstream mantra of ‘get a good job to make lots of money, buy a big, new house (with a big mortgage), give your kids lots of stuff, etc, etc and chose to direct my energy and education to trying to make the world a better place. Now - focussed on raising happy, healthy, resilient children on a low income while living in a very rich society - sometimes causes stress. We don’t fit in the mainstream very well and sometimes I feel that people misunderstand our life choices.

The questions go something like this (and they are rarely spoken directly – but I hear them through friends of my Mother, or husbands of curious wives, or maybe just from my own imagination!):

How do you do it? How do you survive without a well paid, fulltime job? How can you bring up your kids and support them in doing what they love on such a small income? What do you actually do?

Well, for decades now, I have chosen to do what I believe in over earning a high income. It is a challenge at times – but it has meant I have been able to give more to others and to the planet over the years. For much of the past 30 years I have been a fulltime volunteer managing international projects and campaigns to save forests and support communities. I do less of that now and find myself spending almost every moment being ‘present’ - for my children and supporting my Mother – it’s been quite an adjustment and sometimes, honestly, I do feel ‘lazy’sometimes (have I finally become a ‘Sloth’?).

But, somehow we are surviving - I earn around $200 per week through writing (blogs) and assisting an international environmental organization. The income from our rented-out self built eco-house helps pay the rest of the bills.
Mostly, we ‘do it’ by living very simply.
We don’t go our to eat, we rarely go to the cinemas, I don’t buy coffees, or smoothies or snacks for the kids – we bring our own food and water to drink wherever we go.  I cut my own (and Pacha and Yani's) hair. We don’t buy ‘new’ things. We don’t live on credit. We prioritise what funds we have to support the kids in doing what most love (surfing) -  spending money for surf competitions and travel -  while letting go of being able to pay for lessons in other pursuits they’d love to do (music, dance, marital arts – the list goes on) like other people around them.  
Pacha is sponsored so she doesn’t have to worry about buying clothes, and many of the costs to do with her surfing passion. She’s been rewarded for her hard work, great attitude and beauty – which can sometimes be confusing, but which, somehow, is just the way the story is unfolding.

Anyway, I guess I’m writing this because there seems to be a wave of right-wing, controlling, judgemental, conservative mindset saturating current mainstream media – the trend is to blame the poor (or refugees, or muslims, or anyone getting any government support, or anyone generally not 'following the rules') for the world’s problems.

Everyday working people are encouraged to feel hard done by because they pay tax and some of this contributes to government help for the unemployed, the disabled or those on very low incomes. We get distracted by these issues and seem to forget that the richest individuals have all the tricks to avoid paying any tax at all; corporations regularly shift their immense profits offshore to dodge their tax obligations and the current government priority on military spending far outweighs the cost of helping people.

I encourage people to embrace voluntary simplicity. It is s challenge - especially in the first world where judgement is rife - but I think it may be a better preparation for survival through sharing, connection, relationships and community.

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