The current economic malaise has changed people. As a country, Americans are saving more and spending less. When they do spend money, they're seriously thinking about creating experiences or memories rather than buying more crap for a house that's probably too big. This blog post at Alice.com highlights that.
Motivated by the movie Up in the Air, frequent traveler Peter Shankman decided to simplify his life. He wants less clutter.
I don't know how your new year's resolutions have been going (or went), but I get the sneaking suspicion that 2010 may very well be the year that all of us kicked the sh*t out of our lives. This could be the year we realize what's truly important and get rid of what we don't need.
Whether it was a layoff or gas prices creeping higher, a spiritual revelation or a sober assessment of what matters, I'm willing to bet that at some point in the last 12 months, you've decided to live differently. Maybe you read a Michael Pollan book or decided to take a look at your (plummeting) 401k. Perhaps you decided that stopping at Starbucks every morning really didn't do anything for you or there was no good reason you bought an entire CD each time you wanted to hear a certain song.
External forces (bosses, the stock market, the housing slump) joined up with internal forces (your emotions, a religious motivation, personal priorities) to bring you to a place where you decided you didn't need it any more. You didn't need 18 pairs of pants. There's no reason to pay for cable when you watch everything on Hulu. Who needs entire albums when there's Pandora?
What would happen if you sold all your books and had $300 in your pocket? How much could you save by lowering your thermostat? What if you rented your house? Sold your car and took the bus because 90% of where you need to drive is accesible by public transportation? Spent less on groceries by finding online coupons? Went for a walk instead of ran on a treadmill at a gym?
What if you rediscovered yourself by getting rid of everything you thought you needed to define you? What if you connected better face-to-face and signed off of Twitter for a week? Is this the year you decide you'd rather stay in close connection with a dozen friends instead of knowing only a sliver of the lives of 600? Maybe you'll leave your cell phone in your car at dinner next week and amaze yourself at how free you are to talk when you're not looking down every eight minutes to see if someone emailed you.
The very dirty trick is that gadgets, things, and the notion of ownership imply that they will let us be free - free to save time and do what we love. But in the end, nearly always, we find ourselves trapped by the things we buy, indebted to a life of jobs we hate and obligations we loathe in order to afford a life we think we want.
If you haven't been in a place like this, I don't know what external or internal factor will bring you there. I only know that when you face that opportunity, you'll live like you never have before.