Scarcity Culture

Is the gas tank half full or half empty?


Originally posted in May 2013, “Scarcity Culture” has become one of the most popular of my web posts.

Have you heard the phrase “scarcity culture”? It seems to be big right now – something that’s regularly popping up on blogs and my Twitter feed. As I understand it, our living in a scarcity culture means that we’re always focused on what we lack rather than on what we have.

It’s ironic, right? We Americans who have so very, very much are completely focused on what we’re missing. I think we’re all guilty of this, though maybe to greater or lesser degrees. I know I can be quick to complain that I just don’t have enough time when I’m asked to do another volunteer job or pick up a snack for Youth Group at church when I’ve already done the weekly shopping. Could I have done it in the thirty minutes I spent noodling on Twitter? Sure, I could. But I didn’t.

But that’s not really the point I want to make about this idea of scarcity, otherwise I’ll be writing yet another article about how to budget your time wisely. You can Google time management if you’re looking for advice about that. I can tell you; there’s a lot out there on that particular subject.

No, my thoughts on living in a scarcity culture when the reality for so many of us is luxury have little to do with fixing problems that might lead to scarcity thinking – problems like time management or money management or stuff management. My thoughts have much more to do with changing how we’re thinking about our lives and what’s happening in them. As I’ve considered what I’ve read about scarcity culture, I’ve realized that it’s really a kind of pessimism. It’s an eagerness to see the glass half empty rather than half full.

Though I succumb to scarcity thinking some of the time, I’m naturally an optimist. It’s a family trait, passed down from my dad’s family. I once overheard a conversation between the in-laws at a family reunion. They were discussing how annoying it could be that this family was so darned cheerful and optimistic all the time, so unrealistic! And yet, there’s much to be said for counting one’s blessings.

May is my birthday month. As I embark upon this newest year of my life, I’m making a resolution. In this culture of scarcity I’m going to redouble my efforts to notice the incredible amount of luxury we have. For the next year I’m going to try to notice the things that I have more often than I notice the things that I lack. It’s easy to try to do six fun things on one weekend and fail because there really, truly isn’t enough time. It’s harder, but oh so much more rewarding, to do one fun thing in a weekend – to be really present, to enjoy every second. That’s my goal, to focus on that one fun thing, and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll have time to give the bathroom that really good scrubbing it’s been needing. And maybe, when I’m finished with that, I’ll feel good about that, too.

My Oldest Sweater

my-favorite-sweaterOne of my first blog posts ever, updated in 2015.

I try very hard not to be sentimental about things. Things get broken or lost and, to use a cliché, you can’t take them with you. Nonetheless, I have a sweater that I love. It’s off-white acrylic. I think my mother bought it from the Sears Catalog 30 years ago. It has real wooden buttons, interesting cables, and pockets for tissues. At some point, maybe 20 years ago, I managed to trade my mother another sweater for this one.

This sweater’s certainly seen better days. It’s covered with pills. The cuff near my Velcro watchband is particularly fuzzy. The top button’s been missing for 19 ½ years and though there’s a spare button sewn into the seam, I never seem to find time to fix it.

I don’t wear it in public. When I go to school to pick up the kids or out on errands or appointments, I swap it for something more respectable. But it’s always hanging there waiting for me when I get back home.

I’m not sure exactly why I like it so much. I think it’s partly because it was my mom’s. She laughs every time she sees me in it. “Are you still wearing that sweater?” But wearing it is rather like getting a hug from Mom whenever I want. Maybe I love it partly because it’s been with me so long: through planning our wedding, buying our first house, nursing babies in the wee hours, hours of solitary writing, leaf fights in the yard.

I could make a replacement. I’ve knit more complicated sweaters. I could buy some wool, copy the cables, re-use the buttons. A wool sweater would be warmer. In winter in our chilly house, an acrylic sweater doesn’t do it without another layer over or underneath. If I made a new sweater, I could wear it to school pick-up or to a friend’s house for coffee. But that sweater wouldn’t cradle me in memories.

So I’ll take credit for my sustainability: using things until they wear out, keeping things out of the landfill, and being generally frugal. But really, to be honest, it’s my security blanket. To me, it’s perfect as it is.

Do you have a security object?

Updated on April 2, 2015

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

This picture is terribly misleading. This was last year’s beachy vacation. Only one day at the beach for us this summer.

I grew up reading about the dreaded “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. It seemed nearly every character in the middle grade and young adult novels I read was stuck writing such an essay at the start of the school year. So much so that I eagerly anticipated the year that it would be my turn. (Don’t judge. When you’re the youngest child, keeping up with your elder siblings means eagerly anticipating even the worst eventualities because having endured them might just mean you’re finally old enough to be taken seriously.)

Somehow I never had to endure that particular rite of passage in school. I guess that my teachers didn’t think so much of the tradition. Nevertheless, I continued to think about it and contemplate what I would write if asked. It’s not that I would have had a great deal to report. My family did not take exciting or luxurious vacations, and as I grew older I had very mundane summer jobs, but somehow I still wanted to write about it.

It wasn’t until several years after college that I got my chance. A job I applied for required a writing sample, and rather than pull out some dusty Religious Studies paper out of the basement file box marked COLLEGE, I wrote a “What I Did for My Summer Vacation” essay.  In February.

I don’t have the faintest memory now what I wrote, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t keep a copy, but perhaps because I’d been musing on the form of what I would write for so long, I got the job. And perhaps because the idea’s stuck in my head, or maybe because my one attempt was successful, I still  tend to approach summer with an eye to remembering, at least until the following summer, what interesting and noteworthy things I did when school was not in session.

Now the kids are back in school for another year and I’m thinking back over the summer days. I won’t write an essay this year, and I’m sure to avoid the more mundane details of my summer life, but I thought it would be fun to post a record here of my summer vacation 2016.