Yesterday, Sherry Petersik, blogger at the wildly successful DIY/Design blog YoungHouseLove wrote the unthinkable in modern day America. She and her husband John are cutting back on posts and projects. For those of us who have looked forward to their posts and their inventive use of painted ceramic animals and feather finish concrete, this comes as no surprise. The Petersiks are cursed with an excess of talent. There’s something demonic about it. I mean, it’s like they’re not even trying. (Um, actually, it seems like their “Hey, why don’t we put on a show!”Andy Hardy-esque enthusiasm might be wearing them out a bit.) And yet, even though the rest of their world has been throwing project after project at them and probably littering their email boxes with offers to turn them into the biggest commercial successes since Martha Stewart, they’ve decided to pull back and NOT be rich and famous.
Well, it could be the recent addition of new son Teddy or that they want to spend more time enjoying the quirky charms of daughter Clara, and Burger, their chihuahua. Check out this post of the anti-super super couple for a better idea of who they are:
But something tells me that the Petersiks, who abandoned successful careers in advertising in New York City for a more provincial, slower life in Richmond, VA, are making a statement about who they are and what they aspire to be. They’re about making things work with what they have, finding beauty and art in inexpensive things, and turning down those lucrative business propositions for something more grounded. They are saying they don’t need to be rich to be happy and they don’t envy the oligarchs. Really, you Davos, champagne swilling set, they don’t want to be you.
Without even realizing it, I’ve started to adopt a YoungHouseLove philosophy to my house as well. Like them, I bought a fixer upper last year and I’m really delighted with it. I just renovated my kitchen for less than $5000, but if it had been solid construction like the one in the Petersiks’ house, I might have just painted the sucker instead of replacing everything and spent much, much less. We do have the same faux brick floor, however, but mine doesn’t have gouges in it like theirs. And like them, I decided not to replace it right away. I made it work.
I also started filling in the empty sunroom that I needed to have rebuilt last year (it was an eyesore. The neighbors are giving me tons of positive reinforcement about it and the garage door). But I’m shopping my own house for stuff to put in there, like an old camelback sofa, the wicker chair from my bedroom and the area rug that used to be in the kitchen. It turns out I have more stuff than I realized and I can repurpose it with a little bit of imagination and paint when necessary. I’m about to chalkboard paint the walls in the tiny half bath downstairs and leave a cup of colored chalk so guests can leave their “for a good time call Jenny” graffiti on the walls. Why not?
I’ve been noticing that it’s not just the Petersiks that have decided to forgo the McMansions and the high stress jobs. The Tiny House movement is amazing with its emphasis on sustainability, debt free lifestyle, inventiveness and living with only what you absolutely need attitude. For example, I could be quite comfortable in the 210 square foot Minim house. The layout is genius:
Then there’s Lorde with her message of not being impressed with all the trappings of fame and success. Her songs are about her friends and hanging out together and having an interior grace that is independent of gaudy, modern Versailles externalities. What you have does not define who you are. I was impressed with her decision to not to tour with Katy Perry. She could have cashed in big. She decided that wasn’t what she was about.
What’s disconcerting to me is the uncomfortable feeling that the marketing industry may already be furiously calculating how to capitalize on this stripped down, anti-materialistic trend. “Less is more” means the moneyed class has less control and they’re not going to like that. Picture the screaming, flailing swamp monster on fire, refusing to die without a fight. But more seriously, in the long run, it’s not good for the American economy if everyone cuts back, repurposes and sustains, even if it’s great for your mental health and physical well being to forgo the stress for a more hobbit-like lifestyle. It would have been great if this country had focused on more social and forward looking policies like less oil dependence, better health care policies, affordable education and family friendly initiatives. But the bonus class appears to be committed to a short term, eat the seed corn working model and is determined to extract every last penny of disposable income from our wallets and bank accounts.
The return to living within you means is a reasonable and self defensive response from several generations who no longer want to be considered crops ripe for harvesting the minute they start to make a living. It’s not opting out. It’s exercising personal agency and making a choice. We don’t want to be treated as an exploitable resource anymore or the anonymous, depersonalized set of data by which other people become irresponsibly rich. We’re not interested in 40 years of an insecure employment environment, a measly 2 weeks of vacation per year and no time with the kids. It’s stressful and unhealthy for us and the environment. Life is too short to be slaving away for ungrateful rich guys who appear to lack the consciences to invest the money they are extracting to make the world a happier place. Giving up the best years of our lives so they can sock trillions of dollars in tax free profits in offshore accounts is increasingly unpalatable and we’re not interested.
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