Mini-Review: The Overspent American by Juliet B. Schor

I mentioned this book in my last blog post on decluttering, but I wanted to say a little more about it here. This might be the most significant book I’ve read in months; I wish there was a revised update with survey data for this decade (I’m reading Schor’s more recent book Plentitude next, so we’ll see what it contains). I was stunned to see the drastic increase in ‘ideal’ desired income from the early 80s to the mid 90s among those she surveyed, for example. Increased cost of living plays a role, obviously, but I can’t help but believe that the 80s lifestyle also perpetuated upscaling and ‘feeling poor without X’ amongst middle-class families.

Schor explores the challenges of descaling (how it impacts socializing, self-image, and personal interactions) as well as the relentless cultural messages to upscale (live like people on tv/ co-workers/relatives who make more money) because you ‘work hard, so you must deserve a nicer home, clothes, a vacation, etc.’ I’ve fallen into that trap before, buying fancier lunches because it’s depressing to brown bag when you’re an adult, a perk-me-up latte, ordering books, especially when I was working longer hours or tired. It’s scary how pervasive that feeling is when you’re blue. Schor argues persuasively that many people were living paycheck to paycheck as a result of these pressures. And this is all in the pre-Internet/smartphone era!


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