I consider myself to be politically aware but not astute. It’s a conscious choice actually. Both my parents grew up in the 60’s, are very liberal and verbal about their views. I am liberal too but I try to stay on the sidelines, watch but don’t participate. My focus is on my family and the actions I can control. I try to make careful choices and live my life in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others. Otherwise I stay out of it.
So it has been interesting to watch, out of the corner of my eye, the Occupy Wall Street et al movement. It is not news to me that changes are needed in this country. I lived overseas for 8 years and stayed as long as I did for two reasons: 1) the cost of childcare and 2) the cost of healthcare. Both of these were very affordable overseas but astronomic in the U.S. I was able to work at home and have a full time, live-in nanny for around $200 per month. The cost of bearing my daughter in a hospital was just over $1000. Yes the wages in the Dominican Republic are low but I paid very fairly and I earned on their economy. In fact, the wages were not the issue as much as the inflation rate and devaluing of the national currency.
For me, it was the only way I could raise children and work a professional job. That was out of the question in the U.S., especially as a single parent.
But in order to get the benefits of affordable childcare and healthcare, I sacrificed a lot of luxuries. Now that I’m back in the U.S. and following this Occupy movement, I wonder if Americans would be willing to make the changes necessary to get what they say they want. My impression of the U.S. from living overseas is that we Americans want it all — a capitalist society where the sky’s the limit as to potential earnings yet socialist benefits such as affordable healthcare, less corporate control. Agreed — things are out of balance but are we willing to share the burden of bringing the balance back? Just pointing our fingers at the big banks is not going to change much, after all, it wasn’t just the government that made them so wealthy, we are all complicit. In fact, I think we forget our independent roots which formed this country in the first place.
In my humble opinion what needs to happen for real change, not just a bunch of rhetoric, is for us Americans to make some lifestyle adjustments. Here are the things I think we can do and I’m sure you have heard these before but will help you OCCUPY: YOUR INDEPENDENCE. You will see that some items are repeated. That is because making these changes impacts your lifestyle in many ways.
Our culture is by it’s nature self-sufficient which means we take care of ourselves first. While that is admirable when it comes to honoring our independent spirit, in recent times it has become a “all for me” attitude which is selfish and exclusionary. Just about every home could do with a streamlining — we all have more than we need — but that is just one way to give first:
- Donate your things you don’t need — programs like Goodwill are great but consider gifting direct to the source. Is there a small community thrift shop or even a family you know that needs help? Try to be conscious of how you can help others at all times.
- Volunteer your time/skills — this is hard in our busy lives, I know but pick something you really care about and help in any way you can, even if it is once a year
- Practice giving to other before you take your share — the best way to change lifestyle is to teach our children to be different from those before them. Teach them to take pleasure in giving and sharing and practice it yourself.
Explore New Cost-Saving Solutions
Instead of shopping at major retailers like Wal-Mart, consider other ways to save money. I’m not saying that you have to boycott all major retailers (I admit I have a passion for Target) but don’t spend all your money there. Consider other ways that don’t put money in the pockets of big corporations.
- Buy bulk — I found this site bulkfoods.com which is a great way to save money
- Spend Local/Independent/Small Business — explore farmer’s markets, ethnic markets and other independent businesses. The perception is that small is more expensive but that is not always the case
- Barter — Sites like Craig’s List are a great source for bartering. You’d be surprised how many things you can trade.
- Cook Your Own Food — Between eating out and buying packaged/processed foods, Americans spend an inordinate amount on food, most of it unhealthy. Cooking even one more meal at home will both save you money and improve your health.
- Make it Yourself — I know that not everyone is obsessive about making things like I am but everyone can make things. There are great sites dedicated to making simple gifts which both save money and are more meaningful than store bought.
- Cut One Expense — We tend to accumulate monthly expenses without being conscious of what we really need. Consider cutting one of them whether it’s switching to DVDs instead of cable or removing your landline — think carefully what you really HAVE to have.
Improve Your Health
There is no simple solution to the healthcare system. Many people (myself included) simply do not have healthcare. Others can’t even afford the deductible. While we wait and hope for a solution, the best thing we can do is improve our health so we are less in need of healthcare.
- Walk/Run/Bike instead of Drive — simple things like parking farther away from the store entrance will encourage you to walk but try to take it a step further and get to where you are going without needing gas, at least once in a while.
- Cook Your Own Food — cooking your own food helps you control your portions, nutrition and saves you money
- Eat More Vegetables — it is sad that some people never grow up with vegetables so they don’t like them but never say never! There are so many wonderful vegetables out there and so many different ways to cook them that there is bound to be some that even a non-veggie eater will enjoy. Rule of thumb: go for color first — green, orange, red, yellow or purple.
- Spend More Time Enjoying Life — easier said than done I know but if you can carve some time for the things/place/people you love then your stress level goes down, you sleep better and you are healthier.
- Express Your Physical Love — physical expression of love which includes all forms of touch: hugs, kisses, massage, as well as sex are more than just pleasurable, they are healing. We are often too busy, too wrapped up in our lives and problems to make enough time for hug, the kiss or the romantic night. Even if we do we are often not really present in the moment. Connecting with those you love has benefits to your heart, metabolism and overall wellbeing.
Consider the Environment
These days you don’t have to be a ‘tree-hugger’ to consider the environment. It just makes sense that as we are running out of our natural resources, we need to make changes.
- Reduce Your Dependence on Resource-Draining Energy —with all the incentives out there, it’s more affordable than ever to invest in solar power. But even if you can’t do that, try to minimize your energy dependence where ever possible.
- Reuse — before you throw something out, consider if you or someone else can use it.
- Recycle — if you aren’t recycling by now you are way behind the times. These days it’s more than just paper or plastic, it’s electronic devices, batteries, all sorts of things.
Strive For Independence
Let’s light the spark of our independent spirit that seems to have been forgotten. The more independent you are, the more control you have over your own future.
- Reduce Your Dependence on Resource-Draining Energy — not only does it make environmental sense but alternative energy like solar power can take you off the grid, or at least reduce your need for it. Being in control of your own energy production is empowering.
- Be Your Own Boss — starting your own business isn’t easy but if you want to control the money you earn and the financial direction of your life, there is not surer way then being your own boss.
- Spend Local/Independent/Small Business — frequenting local/independent/small businesses allows your money to speak for you. Sustaining these businesses gives us greater options against the big corporations.
If we as a people can try making small, incremental changes in our lifestyle over time, we can create a dramatic shift in the cultural dynamic. One way to start is to balance the value of family time versus earning time. These ideas may seem like a sacrifice at first but if you try them they can improve your quality of life.