My last two years have been riding this sew saw of truths and myths. I have come to understand more about not only the past, but our present. Things I thought were Hollywood-ized, often were. Yet, things I didn’t even consider appeared and myths turned out to be truths and truths myths. Let’s just say it has been a roller coaster of a year, but a good one. A roller coaster one chose to ride again and again (though I hate heights and would never actually ride a real roller coaster, buy you get the idea).
I have come to many realizations during these past two years. As a matter of course, when one approaches each day as a new set of tasks to undertake, lessons to learn and realities to discover or dispel as myths, one is certain to have little epiphani (I am assuming that is the plural of epiphany). In other words, I have many ‘ah-ha!’ or ‘Oh…’ moments. Today this moment came to me in the realization that Yes we did have it Better back then as far as Middle Class compared to today. Yet, I am beginning to see that much of it is not due to any specific things changing in our environment so much as how we live and perceive that environment.
In the 1950’s houses cost less. It is very much a fact that many of the bad decisions and rampant freedom the Government/corporation (You try to separate the two, I can’t seem to) lead to our over inflated real estate bubble. Yet, 1950’s houses also cost less because they were SMALLER. I know we have talked about this before, but it really hit me today that this is just one thing on a list of things that have changed that could easily be changed back. Obviously, we cannot alter the property values of our area, but we can move to a less expensive area and/or downsize the size of our house/apartment. It was not uncommon for a family of 5 or 6 to live in a 2-3 bedroom home with one bathroom. This was the middle class.
The amount of money spent on food is often higher today despite the fact that food WAS MORE EXPENSIVE in the 1950’s. Many people often like to say things such as ‘Oh, back this food item only cost such and such’. As an example eggs cost around .80 cents a dozen. Well, adjusted for inflation that is over $6.00 today. Things such as entertainment was less expensive though, such as movies and even the cost of paperbacks are equal to about 1-2 dollars in today’s money, while today they cost over $7.00.
I think the revelation is that what we considered the “good life” back then, may be more in keeping in what is considered below par today. Such as less bathrooms, only one car to a family, most meals at home, treats usually homemade or only an occasional candy from your allowance. Even the constant drinking of soda today, though it can be had cheap, still eats up the budget not only in food money spent, but dentist bills and also medical as well.
Think of the latest gadgets today. There isn’t a day or week that something ‘new’ isn’t coming out. Video game machines have a life of about 2 years and each game is over $50.00. Add to that the increase in electricity to run all the computers in our homes, charge cell phones, run multiple TV’s. The cost of gas is also greater as is its consumption for the average middle class family.
While children, for the most part, had to entertain themselves this cost was usually quite low. A once a week trip to the movies was not unheard of for the kids, but these were much less expensive. Yet, we have the option to watch endless movies today online for free, but these are often accompanied by endless adverts, which of course encourage more spending.
So, really, to live a 1950’s middle class life, a family today could actually do it quite easily. If one were able to get hold of the highest expense, that being housing and healthcare, then the rest could also fall into place. Even if one wanted to shop at places like Wal-Mart for cheap clothes and food, it could be EVEN CHEAPER, as you would remember, you would have LESS clothing. There would be ‘play clothes’ that you put on after school to save your nice clothes longer. You would have a few nice clothes a good suit for Sunday and other events and that was really it. Shoes, most likely nice dress shoes for school/church/functions and sneakers/trainers for play. But, they would be inexpensive converse shoes that you would wear out. Not endless new designed large white monstrosity’s covered in names and gadgets that cost $100.
It just really dawned on me how far we have come from then. Really the current form of consummerism was born in the 1950’s but that adult generation did not grow up with endless print and TV advertising. There was no pressure to be ‘cool’ or ‘understood’ by your parents. Young people were taught to aim towards adulthood. Teenagers were merely young adults preparing for their own families. Today, it seems, we are never shown or given examples of adulthood. Things like savings, citizenship, practicing for job interviews, home and building skills, repair skills, all things relevant to a middle class life in any home are either not given or simply scoffed at as old fashioned. Thus, teams of unprepared children go out into the world, are handed their credit cards at the college door and away they go, buy buy buy.
I know I have talked a lot about consumerism this year, but it has only been lately that I am beginning to see how much we could get back that old 1950’s family life of savings and responsibility. Most families would be met with hostility from their teens based on their friends cell phones, games, cars, clothes and over all lifestyle. But, are they happier? Teens today are expectant mothers more, depressed more, have less aims and goals that are realistic or tangible and often end up back at home after college with mounting debt. Meanwhile the parents themselves are also under considerable debt and really a misunderstanding of how to run a household budget or get happiness out of life WITHOUT buying it.
I guess in a way my message isn’t new, but it is hopeful. With some work and honest to goodness thinking and planning, we can recreate the ‘glory days’ of the 1950’s today. It goes against the over all spending consumerism we have come to accept as ‘normal’ but you can’t make a cake without breaking a few eggs, as they say.
I think when we really start listing and realizing the things we love about the past and how we would like to improve our lives, we can make a change. The Vintage life does not have to be about Marilyn Monroe poster, vintage dresses and Elvis records. Frugal living, more hands on living and enjoying the plastic life we can make with what is already created is part of that. We need to realize to be ‘green or frugal’ doesn’t mean we have to wear hemp shirts, not shave, and go barefoot (unless that is what you are looking for) It is just as green to wear a vintage dress and petticoat be impeccably groomed when one has made or re-used clothes from the past. A wonderful local meal can also be 1950’s themed and colorfully fun, its all about where you source your ingredients and making more yourself. Flour, butter, milk, eggs, and sugar make a plethora of items, you’d be surprised as you begin to break down what you eat into its component parts, especially when you begin removing the chemicals. Even the concept of needing to buy an expensive coffee everyday or even lunch or a muffin, we don’t realize how this adds up. This also is almost an act of rote as opposed to a fun or special event. We become numb to things that were once ‘treats’ when they are simply repeated. Therefore we end up with less money and are overall less happy about it. We might say things like “Oh, God, I need my Starbucks everyday” well, then, good. I hope you also need less money in your account, enjoy more time working and are prepared to work way past retirement age. An age, it now seems, that will be pushed even further away than at present.
Today I made myself a caramel ‘latte’ that was wonderful. The caramel sauce was homemade. I made it last week and it is in a mason jar in my ice box. The latte was a cup of home brewed coffee and half a drinking glass filled with milk steamed in a pan on the stove. It was better than I get at Starbucks. In fact, now whenever I eat anything out (which is not very often) I can quite literally taste the preservatives. It is odd how your palette begins to recognize it. Even the caramel sauce, when it is store bought, I can literally taste the preservative.
Let’s look at what was considered a ‘good working family’ of the time.
I also truly wonder if a modern family DID take on the ‘normal’ expectations of the 1950’s middle class, could the wife cease working? If housing was made cheaper (if it is too expensive where you love, move. I know it sounds drastic, but you have to live somewhere for the rest of your life, ask yourself WHY you live in the area you live?) Less spending overall on food, entertainment, toys/electronics. One computer for the family. One or No TV only used in the evenings for 1-2 hours. One phone for the family. Not everyone had phones back then and we all seemed to do okay. It really would be a good experiment to see the difference.
What do you think, as a modern person, you do that was not done by your counterpart in 1950s. This means even if you are a single working woman, how do you live differently from your 1950’s counterpart? I think it would be interesting to find out what you may think after you do some thinking and list making of your own life.
It isn’t for everyone, but I get letters all the time from people who wish they could ‘change their life’ or ‘bring back the old days’. Well, I think we could bring back a considerable portion of the good of it, only it takes some work and family meetings. But, as a family, you are a team. Though we often are separated in different rooms, looking at our own computer screens, cell phones, i-pads, if we come together and help one another out, the overall quality of life can improve.
So, let’s share, come one tell me how you think you are different or the same to your 50’s counterpart and do YOU think we can ‘bring back the good ole’ days’?