More “Lemons Into Lemonade”: Thrift Intersecting with Sustainability

In the looming retirement-income crisis, I also see a silver lining. The economics of aging is forcing millions of us to live more frugally and to redefine what is enough. We’re cutting back, downsizing, and rethinking how we live, work, and play. But the problem right now is that, to most of us, downsizing looks like deprivation and loss. And we hate it. Small is not beautiful. It’s living in a shoe box without windows or Wi-Fi and paying $1,800 per month for the privilege.

Nobody wants that.

But what if we could flip the script? What if we could take the economic turmoil of forced downsizing and come out better—not because we accommodated the chaos but because we used the chaos to go where we needed to go in the first place? I call this idea “smalling up,” and it’s where the retirement-income crisis and the sustainability movement intersect. …

In other words, if we’re going to have to downsize, why can’t we “small up” and do more with less as a path to a more sustainable way of living? Why can’t we have more beautifully designed, space-saving homes and furniture made of eco-friendly materials? And why can’t they be affordable and available in the mass market?

The economics of aging may well force us in this direction. But isn’t this where we should be heading anyway to secure our futures and those of our children and grandchildren?

— Elizabeth White, in 55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal: Your Guide To a Better Life (Simon & Schuster).

I stumbled upon this quote today, in Ms. White’s book, which I just today started reading. Stumbling on the book was itself a serendipity; I had never heard of this bestselling title til today.