Recession prompts Americans to embrace the simple life

It has taken a recession for people to realize that they don't need as many things as they once thought they did. According to a USA Today article, Americans have been prompted to pare back their lifestyles to match shrinking paychecks and rising environmental concerns.

The 2009 MetLife Study of the American Dream found that 47% of consumers, almost half, say they already have what they need. This as compared to 34% of consumers polled in November, 2006. A Gallop Poll in April notes that a third, who say they are spending less, intend to keep that habit even after the recession has ended and 27% say they are saving more and want to continue saving.

Pastor Eric Dykstra, of Crossing Church, in Elk River, Minnesota, read a book by Julie Morgenstern, called Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life, then found a blog by Dave Bruno of San Diego called the "100 Thing Challenge" where he encourages people to pare down their personal possessions to only 100 items. Bruno says he reduced his own possessions to fewer than that.

Dykstra started to encouraged the members of his church to follow Bruno's example, and people began donating a lot to charity, including boats, furniture and snow blowers, until they had filled a warehouse. He, himself, went from five suits to one, and from a dozen ties to two.

The Northwest Earth Institute in Portland, Oregon offers "voluntary simplicity" courses and enrollment is up 50% in the past year. A 20-minute film called The Story of Stuff has been shown in hundreds of schools and been seen by 6.6 million people online since December 2007. The film shows the environmental costs of consumerism. Websites on living close to nature are also getting more traffic.

People are freeing themselves from the notion that owning a lot of stuff equals happiness. They are realizing that it's people and experiences that bring real contentment to their lives. The recession has forced the realization that true riches don't come from things. At least something good has come from these trying times.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes ideas and tips for home decor using only items from the dollar store.

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