More Than Money
Issue #27

Lifestyles of the Rich and Simple

Table of Contents

“Consumption Country - Breaking Out of the Mold”

I LIVE IN THE HEART of Consumption Country. I live more simply than everybody in my Los Angeles neighborhood, but I am measuring myself against a distorted standard. Several years ago, I went to a premiere where there were a lot of paparazzi. One said to me, "Oh, you wore that dress the last time I saw you!" My first reaction was to feel busted. But then I said the truth: "I don't own a lot of dresses, and I don't own a lot of stuff." I felt pride instead of shame. When I go to those kinds of events, I have five dresses I wear that I've rotated for the last ten years. I don't go out that much, and it's just fine.

When my husband and I moved into our house, we got used furniture instead of buying it new. It took more effort to read the want ads than to just go to a store and buy new furniture, but it was much better for the environment. My father, who is in his seventies, also gave me some things. He was downsizing and had so much stuff we couldn't even take it all. What was the point of having all that stuff in the first place? Last month, I tried an experiment. I bought only necessities, like food and soap; no dresses, magazines, or cosmetics- nothing I simply wanted. When I first made this decision, I panicked. "What if I need something, like a new pair of shoes?" Then I thought, "I already have enough," and I felt relieved. That's indicative of the culture I live in. I have 23 pairs of shoes and if most women looked in their closets, they would find the same thing. It's ridiculous that I feel I need them all-different-colored shoes to match different dress colors. I'm trying to get out of that pattern, but it's not easy. I've noticed that it takes more effort to keep stuff from coming in than to keep it from going out. My husband and I don't give material things much any more, because most people don't need more stuff. Instead, we'll give a massage or yoga classes, or maybe we'll dedicate a tree to someone. Rather than having gifts at our wedding, we asked people to donate to a charity.

I don't tell anyone else how to live. For example, two of my friends recently bought SUVs. I don't say to them, "You shouldn't have done that." They have different ethics than I do. Everyone has their own lines they draw. My brother's an environmentalist. When he started out, he was preaching all over the place. I got defensive and didn't want to hear it. When he became softer and more open about it, I started listening. I do a lot of things to protect the environment, like driving an electric car, composting, and recycling plastic, but I also do wasteful things. I still use those styrofoam containers when I have frozen yogurt (though I do bring my own spoon). I do the best I can. I've found that the most effective way to create change is to start with yourself and really make a change. Other people see it. It's not about talking about how you live; it's just doing it.

-Based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff

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