After retrieving only a few of our 10 or so Rubbermaid bins from storage at my brother’s attic, it quickly became apparent that we have too much stuff. This is after selling half our stuff at yard sales and on eBay prior to leaving on our trip. During our travels over the last year we have lived out of large backpacks, nothing more. The experience made us realize we don’t need all this stuff and it’s rather frustrating to own it now. We admit, we wouldn’t have realized how little we really needed if we didn’t spend the last year backpacking.True enough. And this is their final philosophical reflection:
We aren’t shocked, but we are more aware of the culture in the United States and it’s quite different from those living in Central and South America. We are grateful for the opportunities this country has given us, but we aren’t so proud of the way we live in it. Now is the time to change and live with a little less, actually much less. Less stuff and less stress, we believe.But let's "unpack" this for a moment (my students hate me when I say that). These folks have been living out of a backpack for months. Is their new conversion to simplicity to be found suddenly in the magic of the lives of Latin Americans? I would pretty much argue that their conversion comes from their own lifestyle, and not from some perception of Latin America as the pristine native-child, a land of noble savages and Chief Seattle's waiting for daily communion with Gaia. Backpack across the Unites States and Canada and you're going to make that conversion to simplicity as well.
Admiring the genius of Latin Americans that do a lot with a little and create miracles under difficult circumstances is an understandable approach. I would urge some caution, however, if the next stop on that train is to say that the wealthy and the leadership in Latin America don't need to undertake any sort of reforms for the general welfare of the population. Sure, you might say, Hugo Chavez can run around wasting the petroleum wealth of his country on strange schemes while the urban poor experience massive housing shortages in Caracas - because those Latin Americans just don't need that much. Hallelujah for Calderon for his money-pit war on narcotics in Mexico, because focusing on the welfare issues of citizens that DON'T directly affect the suburban youth of the United States is a waste of time - those Mexicans can do so much with so little. I once had a conversation with a retired norte americano that had stables as part of his sprawling complex. He sure would like to pay the stable hands more, he said, but to do so would just drive the cost of living up for the workers because then they would expect more out of life. "They are so good at doing without - I'd hate to ruin that for them." That, and his other retired friends would lynch him for driving up the cost of labor. It is an interesting dynamic. It reminds me of Gilbert Osofsky's arguments about the Harlem Renaissance: there was no need to carry out reforms in Harlem or improve the lives of working class African Americans because, after all, they were a "singin' race" - they could just sing and dance their cares away.
In sum, emulating the resourceful creativity to do more with less of the working, middle, and poor classes of Latin America is a good idea, but don't lose track of the point that if a family could stop using their chest of drawers (found in a local dump) as a baby bed, a dinner table, and a work bench that they would do it in a heart beat.