The Voluntary Simplicity Movement and What is Your Social Class and Why?

August 3, 2008

Class is often defined by income level and the ability to control one’s reality. The vast majority of people label themselves as middle class. Not everybody can be middle class, so obviously many other factors are in play. Background is key. Personal values, dreams and desires, education, and social connections are all to some degree usually related to one’s background, but not necessarily directly derived.

The labels “upper,” “middle” and “lower” class are not so useful as they might once have been. For one thing, who wants to be known as anything other than middle class, except the upper class folks, but these are a very select few.

How about this chimney sweep?–working, middle or upper?

Do the shoes give him away? (smile)

There is a strong psychological component to how we identify ourselves. I listened to part of a Vermont Public Radio program on this topic. What is clear is that there is no consensus on class criteria, and it seems that ultimately, it comes down to how one sees oneself fitting in.

I guess if I had to distinguish just three class categories today, I would label them as ruling, working and poor. This will be flawed though, because it seems to be a hierarchy pegged to income and work. I am solidly middle class in my background and education, but working class in income and a chunk of my lifestyle. Then if there is anything upper or “ruling” class about me, I would say it is the sort of elitist taste in art and coffee, but that would be an elitism in the worst sense: a sense that comes from a big blind spot…for certainly there are coffee and art aficianados in all stations. Perhaps it is the pickup truck that discloses an upper class element. For it is well known that the most popular car of the rich is a pickup. In any case, it looks like how I see myself fitting in, is a good illustration of the models that show a real blurring of class lines.

In the 70’s when I moved to Vermont I worked on farms for a few years. From that I gained an invaluable identification with the working class, one that I hope I never lose. There really isn’t much risk of that, as long as I keep working three jobs. However, I make choices to live with less today, as any not-independently-wealthy artist does (de facto). A truly working class inhabitant may not have (or recognize) the same choices.

My own aspirations include more sustainability in everything I do. I’m no saint however. I still feel envious of friends who are in well paying jobs, have larger homes and a little more latitude in the sorts of entertainments that can be enjoyed. But having consistently made choices to keep my main focus on the art world, I shouldn’t sound like I am complaining!

Fortunately, one of my most favorite things to do is spend time in the garden. Even in a season with several times more rain than we normally have, this is paying off with important dividends: my freezer is filling up, I haven’t shopped a produce department since April, and I’m all the healthier for it.

Brag brag brag– I know… but there’s being poor, and there’s being poor; I am the former. Ha ha.ha haha…anyway, it’s okay to be poor, as one of the callers said on the VPR program. Hmmm… I have lots of education and have some options to take if I get tired of bumping along though. Not all do.

Thus far, the quality of life from my own “Voluntary Simplicity” wins out over the lifestyle with bad compromises on time and work values. I’m well along the way to the level of sustainability typical of the time during the peak of the Victory Garden movement, “…When American families grew 4o percent of the nations fruits and vegetables, helping to conserve food, fuel and money at a time of crisis.” — from a cool little youtube:

This Lawn is your Lawn.

After watching the video, you can sign the online petition demanding that the next president turn a portion of the Whitehouse lawn into a productive landscape to feed his own family and help support the local food shelf with “fresh healthy and environmentally responsible food.”

For a cool resource guide on living a more simple life, go here.


One comment

  1. Hey Karen I really liked this a lot. Its always a hard choice to make and honestly I consider myself damn lucky that it is a choice that I have to some degree. As I have moved a bit closer to the dark side by choosing to get a masters or doctorate, work within the system, and have the benefits that our society bestows upon those who attain that , I hope to not lose the sense of what is really important. I also think it is really important for all of us to acknowledge that simplicity (or poverty) is not always voluntary. Keep writing!!

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