The baby boomer generation grew up in times of prosperity and economic growth. We often reflect on how different our childhood was from what young people are experiencing today in terms of materialism and lifestyle. Conversely, boomers had so many more advantages than our parents, most of whom grew up during The Depression and carried that experience with them throughout their lives. They instilled in us the value of thrift, recycling, and saving for the future, but we didn’t exactly practise what they preached. Now that we’ve been locked down for a few months, we’ve had time to think about what they tried to teach us, and perhaps, like me, you’re finding these lessons creeping back into our daily lives.
I’ve been reflecting lately on my parents’ lifestyle while I was growing up in the fifties and sixties as I find myself readjusting my thinking to accommodate the changes enforced on us by the current pandemic. I’ve become aware of certain behaviours I’ve adopted that would make my parents proud. Think of the comparisons between how we spent our time and money B.C. (before COVID) and after. It’s like we’re reliving our parents’ lives several decades ago. Consider these lifestyle changes we’re now experiencing:
- Growing up, we rarely ate in restaurants. It was cheaper and perfectly enjoyable to eat at home or go to a relative’s house for Sunday dinner. As adults, boomers embraced fast food and considered eating out a right, not a privilege. Once again, we’re cooking and eating at home and finding it quite lovely. Think of all the dollars we’re saving.
- On the subject of dollars, my own group of friends has noticed a significant increase in our bank balances because we’re not out haunting malls and frequenting expensive restaurants. This is obviously not good for restaurant owners, but we’re building up our savings accounts for genuine emergencies, like now.
- Our parents were savers. They allotted a certain portion of their weekly paycheque to be banked for emergencies and ultimately for retirement. They bought Canada Savings Bonds through payroll deduction and stored the bond certificates in old cookie tins for the entire ten years without cashing them in. Very few of our parents’ generation had generous company pensions and benefits. They knew they were responsible for their own welfare and planned accordingly. We’ve now realized that life has reverted to the realization that we’re responsible for ourselves. Job security is a thing of the past and companies are increasingly hiring employees as contractors which means no supplementary benefits or pension plans. We’re responsible for our own future.
- Less is better. Boomers have accumulated an incredible amount of crap over the years. What we’re storing in our basements, garages, and even paying to hide in storage units is shameful. Yet, until March of this year, we kept accumulating more. Now we’re reevaluating our possessions. How much do we really need? Our closets contain more clothes, shoes, and accessories than we’ll ever need for the duration of our lives. We’re afraid to even go down into our basements and face the horror of our possessions. The more virtuous among us have probably already done a major cleanout but most of us can’t face it. It will be a nightmare to deal with all this stuff when we try to downsize into a seniors’ condo. Or we can wimp out and leave the nightmare for our children to sort through and dispose of after we’ve gone to rock n’ roll heaven.
- My parents never took a foreign vacation. Did yours? Unless you consider that year they took my brother and me to Santa’s Village in the Adirondaks. We took a Coleman stove and cooked our breakfasts and lunches along the way. Boomers feel cheated if we don’t manage at least one trip each year to a warm climate or overseas. Now that we’re house-bound and cannot travel, we’re no longer spending vast sums on travel or exposing ourselves to viruses and gastric disorders that accompany the food and sanitary conditions of airplanes and foreign food. I absolutely miss traveling to foreign countries but I do not miss the accompanying stress of airports and lineups. Naturally, I was so disappointed that I couldn’t attend the writers’ retreat I’d signed up for in Paris this past June, but I survived. First world problems for sure.
- Food waste is a colossal problem today. Our parents saved bacon fat, made entire meals from leftovers, and rarely threw anything away. Bones made soup. Home gardens provided us with potatoes, carrots, and other food for an entire winter when we were growing up. We never bought dog food; our pets ate our table scraps and managed to survive quite well. We’re far too dismissive of the availability of cheap food today and regularly let vegetables and fruit rot in our kitchens and refrigerators before it gets used. Now that it’s dangerous to go to the grocery store any more than necessary, we’re learning to bake, repurpose pantry items with creative cooking, and stretching our meal plans, just like our parents used to do.
The good old days weren’t all that great either
Our parents’ wardrobes were spartan but adequate for their needs. If they had a family car at all, it was only one and they saved until they could afford to pay for it. They usually had only one telephone hanging on the kitchen wall (often sharing a party line with neighbours), one television, one radio, and one small refrigerator. They would stick a sliver of used soap onto the new bar so none was wasted.
I’m definitely not suggesting we go back to the way things were in the fifties and sixties but do we really need a vehicle for every member of the family? Our parents often grew up sharing not only a room but a bed with two or three other siblings. Most boomers now have multiple guest rooms that remain empty and unused for most of the year. Expensive waste of real estate. We could easily eliminate the extra bedrooms except we’d be whining that we needed the extra closets for all those clothes we never wear.
When I consider my own lifestyle, I’m embarrassed to think about my bounty. Fortunately, I’m retired and some of those lessons my parents imparted did stick. I saved and planned for my retirement which means I’m comfortable. I’m thankful for my Canada Pension deposits each month. Forty+ years of contributions have now come home to roost. I could absolutely live much more modestly than I do but we’re never sure how many years we have left to enjoy life so we’re each enjoying it in our own way while we can. All those years of long hours and years of stress associated with working are being rewarded.
It will be interesting to see how our lifestyles and attitudes have changed when things return to what we call normal. I hope those lessons my parents drilled into me as I was growing up aren’t forgotten and it’s not too late to pass them on to younger generations. Not only do I plan to be more frugal and practical but I also plan to be kinder, more considerate of my fellow human beings and our environment. I resolve to think twice before making impulsive purchases and try to rein in consumerism. As soon as the charity bins and consignment shops reopen, I have work to do. Just as soon as I give everyone I know a great, big hug.