And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
What the Grinch found out the hard way, people around the country and especially
in Eugene are realizing in growing numbers. Shop 'til you drop isn't good for yourself,
society, or the planet.
While the media criticized the recent uprisings against globalization and the rise of the anarchist movement as lacking a coherent cause, Baldwin says anti-consumerism was the uniting theme. "They knew exactly what they were doing," he says. "You're seeing the kind of angry mob-like reaction to [consumerism]--from the WTO protests in Seattle to the anarchists here."
UO economist Ed Whitelaw says Oregon, and especially Eugene, is a center of anti-consumerism. A large number of the population here have chosen to practice anti-materialism to some degree, simply by choosing to live here, according to Whitelaw. Salaries at many companies in Oregon trail 5 to 15 percent below the national average. Whitelaw says his analysis indicates that's because Oregonians have chosen to forgo higher income and the things it might buy in exchange for the region's better quality of life. "It's like, I'm going to exchange a fancier car for something I can't buy, like getting out for a hike in the mountains or watching the salmon run," he says.
Here's a look at a few of the plain folk here in Eugene, how they've lived a simpler life, and what they've learned from it.
Charles Gray, 75, lived for 16 years on a "World Equity Budget" of $100 a month.
In 1979, Gray says he decided the American lifestyle of consumer excess just wasn't right. "I just couldn't morally feel good living with such privilege compared with people in the third world."
So Gray calculated a World Equity Budget (WEB) based on an environmentally sustainable level of world consumption and income divided by the world's population. To get by on the budget, he moved into a 7- by 12-foot travel trailer, road his bike everywhere and bought almost nothing. Back then, the idea of going back to the land and simpler living was becoming more popular in Eugene. "A lot of the hippie alternative culture thing was a reaction against excessive materialism," says Gray. Many people started communes, Gray says. But he says the initial financial investment in such communities was beyond his equity budget, "I was more extreme."
Gray says he only had to work about 50 hours a month doing gardening, carpentry and other odd jobs to make his budget. He would only charge $1 to $2 and hour for his labor so he didn't over-earn. "It liberated my time for doing the things I wanted to do," says Gray, who became active in the homeless rights and peace movements. Many people now are working so hard they don't even have time to harvest the fruit growing in their own yards, Gray says. "In any reasonable civilization we'd probably have to only work about one-third time if we didn't have to generate all the crap we do now."
Gray says at times living the WEB was a struggle. At one point he remembers biking on a rainy winter day hauling a cart full of carpentry tools. He passed a restaurant and smelled the coffee. "I said to myself, damn, a few years ago I could have afforded to buy that restaurant, now I can't even afford a cup of coffee."
But Gray says he found happiness in living simply. At Christmas, he would have fun making his own gifts -- dried fruit, wood crafts, crochet. "It's so good to get away from the Christmas madness," he says.
Gray got off the budget after he got married. If they'd moved in together in the cramped trailer, "our relationship would have ended quite shortly," he laughs. He lives in his wife's comfortable house now, but still lives simply, biking and buying little.
When he sees frantic Christmas shoppers he thinks, "They're helping murder the planet," he says. "But I don't blame people," Gray says. With all the advertising, "We're so brainwashed into it."
Mary Ellen Laughlin and her husband bailed out of lucrative careers to come to Eugene and lead a simpler life. Motivated by the book, Your Money or Your Life, Laughlin says she and her husband decided there was more to living than their busy careers as a Realtor and running a veterinarian clinic. "We figured out financially how to drop out of the rat race," Laughlin says.
Laughlin says they figured out a budget to live off their savings and liquidated assets by doing just some part time work. They cut their budget by two-thirds, moved to Eugene three years ago, bought a modest house and furnished it from garage sales and second hand stores. "It was kind of funky, but fun," she says. Many of the family's clothes are now old or second hand, she says. "We all look like hell, but we're pretty happy," she laughs.
Laughlin says she's seen more and more people from her 50-something age group making a similar lifestyle change. "The whole simplicity movement is a huge great groundswell," she says. "A lot of people my age are really feeling that their lives aren't quite satisfactory."
"We haven't done Christmas as such with the crazy consumerism for many years," Laughlin says. This year, Laughlin says she and her husband plan to volunteer helping with a Christmas dinner for the poor and have a quiet dinner together by themselves. "We basically exchange a book and a calendar, something small, no big piles of presents," she says. "There's lots of joy."
Before, "I can remember how stressed out I was at Christmas time," Laughlin says, recalling all the time shopping for things people didn't really need or even want. "We probably gave horrible gifts to people and we received equally horrible gifts," she says.
"It's become so ridiculous," she says, before she goes to sit down, relax, put on some music and make balls of cloves tied together with a red ribbon for Christmas presents.
Marshall Kirkpatrick is a local anarchist. He likes all the controversy now over the city's decision to ban some Christmas trees in public spaces. "I'm kind of psyched," he says, noting the issue is sparking people to think more deeply about the meaning of the tree and the season.
Kirkpatrick laments "corporate fetishization of corporate products" and ingrained "crass consumerism" of everyday American life, especially around Christmas. He notes that while WTO protesters were trying to convey the dire social and environmental ills of globalization in Seattle last year, the media couldn't stop dwelling on the fact that the protests were disrupting downtown holiday shopping.
But he says he's not opposed to gifts. "The world is a sad enough and barren enough place that it's pretty understandable that people want to make their loved ones happy with the exchange of gifts." The problem is that "people don't have a lot of access to non-corporate alternatives," he says. Gift giving is a "potentially really healthy social impulse put within a very unhealthy context."
Kirkpatrick is also critical of liberal "Buy Nothing Day" protests and liberal calls for buying locally made crafts to "uphold the local hippie economy." The local crafts are too expensive for most people and buying nothing for a day "is really just something that's going to make yourself feel good" rather than make much of a dent in massive consumerism.
Kirkpatrick says he'd recommend "not buying a dead tortured bird to eat" as a more meaningful act. "What's one more overpriced piece of plastic in the heap of crap from Toys R Us?" he says. "A bird is a whole life."
Kirkpatrick says his Christmas this year will be fairly tame. He'll spend time with family and relatives, making small talk with people who don't share his world view. "I don't tell them I've been in touch with insurrectionists around the world trying to overthrow world industrial capitalism," he says. "I just sort of smile."
Hope Marston, 46, worked "20 years in the [TV] news business making big bucks" in Seattle before deciding to bag it all for the good life.
She got rid of her 2,000 sq. ft. home, sold most of her possessions to pay off her credit cards and escaped her 40- to 60-hour-a-week job. Now she works 30 hours a week as a secretary and uses the time off to volunteer for causes she believes in. She worked with the Nader campaign, the first major presidential campaign to challenge consumerism. The day after Thanksgiving she organized a "Buy Nothing Day" event on the biggest shopping day of the year. The event at a local church featured a used coat swap. Three hundred people donated coats for less fortunate people to have to keep warm.
Marston says getting rid of the TV was the most difficult and most important step she took toward a simpler life. The ad-driven "cravings" for buying went with the TV, she says. Noting she doesn't even have a closet now, she looks back at her former life and wonders, "Why did I need all those clothes? Why did I need the big house and the sports car?"
Marston sees a sign of societal illness in the boom of the self-storage industry. "People have so many possessions they don't know what to do with them," she says. "It's really sick."
"Love comes from spending time with people," not from madly shopping for gifts, Marston says. "It's a frenzy not born of peace and understanding, it's a frenzy born of promotion," she says of the droves of holiday shoppers now filling the malls. "People like me seem to be scrooge to people like that, but I have to say, I'm really happy."
Although anti-consumerism's call for simpler more environmentally and socially sound living may have a growing number of dedicated adherents here in Eugene and around the nation, the movement has a long way to go.
Ever-growing consumption, consumer spending and economic growth are seen by the mainstream media and society as universally good. A rising gross domestic product is the primary goal of the U.S. government's economic policy.
While some in Eugene call for living simply, many others are rushing to the mall. In a recent survey by the Media Audit, three-fourths of the readers of the ad-laden local daily are regular shoppers at Valley River Center. Thirteen percent of their readers consume more than five hours of television a day and another 7 percent eat fast food more than five times a week.
Dr. Seuss taught millions of children that "Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!" But now, even that message has been commercialized. Hollywood bought the rights to the book from Seuss's elderly widow this year and spun off a mall full of movie-related merchandise, from green-filled Oreos to plastic Grinch toys in Wendy's kids' meals. VISA is now the official credit card of the Grinch, with a heart two-sizes too small.