We made the choice to step off instead of stepping down, but is it an equally harmful sort of materialism, cruising the aisles of thrift stores in search of the perfect used bathing suit?

I've been observing the trappings of our era of affluence as things fade and even gain a nostalgic patina. Like the preserved fifties in Cuba, we have visible reminders of an epoch now passed. The laptop has lost long stripes of pixilation; its hard drive spins and creaks and grows hot and shuts off. The gen-1 iPhone won't accept the latest software updates. The memory-foam mattress is stained and sagging. But there are Cubans who keep their faded, fifties-era American cars running all these years, and we are trying to minimize the effects of our own trade embargo by fixing things, caring for what we have, and ignoring the frustrations of planned obsolescence.

It's time to confront the next step in our downwardly-mobile lifestyle. We have been waiting since last December to receive a preschool tuition grant so I will be free to seek full-time employment, though I'm limited by carlessness. And yes, I will have to cut off my pink hair. Right now, it would be nice if we could be financially steady enough to afford a window-unit air conditioner for the many days when the temperature tops a hundred degrees. Lipsticks are all melted in this house. The library, Target, and the mall have grown tedious as locales for free A/C day after day.

Oddly, we miss cable and Internet far more than the car. Being "forced" to walk or cycle feels like being in on a joyful secret, and has genuinely added to our quality of life. It's disappointing to not be able to drive a couple hours to the coast, or to visit friends and family. But we also never have to deal with filling up a gas tank, making a car-or insurance payment, finding a parking spot, transferring car seats, sitting in traffic, or getting a ticket.

The neighbors let us share their WiFi signal when we can get a connection, which sounds perfect until you discover it's only possible about twenty percent of the time, and never on the creaky laptop, just on the even-creakier desktop behemoth.

It's hard "sharing" when you feel like a yawning chasm of one-sided neediness. We've taken to bringing bags of our homegrown apples down to the park where the homeless folks gather, and making things for our friends out of odds-and-ends (still have a lot of those) to let them know we love and appreciate them.

Things can't be too bad when you still enjoy the luxury of excising the bruised places from your nectarine. This was not a sudden downshift; we have been ratcheting back in increments for years, subsidizing our lifestyle with savings for a long time. The era of acquisition was long ago and short-lived. We polish old stainless steel and build new things out of broken, trendy furniture. We keep the cobwebs off these dusty possessions and we are grateful for them.




Corbyn Hightower is living a life of joyful simplicity in the Sacramento suburbs with her three children and her sassy, ill-behaved husband.