“There is a downsizing and downscaling and re-evaluation of values,” asserts John Zogby, a pollster and author of The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream. “It’s not always taking people down to a 600 square foot apartment and wearing a loin cloth, quitting their job and growing your own organic food.”…
• A growing number of Americans are working for less, voluntarily or involuntarily — but mainly involuntarily. In 1991, 14 percent told Zogby’s survey that someone in their household was earning less. By 2007, it was up to 27 percent and it reached 37 percent last year. “Suffice it to say, there is a sort of enforced simplification. People can’t afford to chase that whole American Dream.”
• Upwards of 11 million Americans in the higher income brackets are saying that conspicuous consumption “isn’t what cracked up to be, it’s not producing the satisfaction that I want my life to be about.”
• Baby Boomers, who are coming of age, “are looking for a second act in their lives, those who can’t retire and those who want to make a difference. In effect, they’re saying I want my life to be about something larger than me. I call it secular spiritualism.”
• And the fourth source of this cultural shift, Zogby maintains, is the latest iteration of a tendency among Americans that he says doesn’t get enough attention: “Our tendency to sacrifice to a higher cause.”
There are a variety of reasons here, suggesting this isn’t a monolithic movement. Some people might want more but can’t afford it. Others have lived into middle age and want more. It is one thing to downsize because of economic scarcity or an economic downturn; it is quite another thing to do so because of “secular spiritualism.”
Zogby isn’t alone with this fascination with this trend. This seems to be a popular topic, particularly when contrasted with American materialism and consumption. In a country where people generally want more and the accompanying hyperbole about everyone wanting McMansions, SUVs, and super-sized meals, people who try to make do with less are often looked at positively, especially by vocal critics of consumerism. For example, see the coverage of tiny houses.