Has this recession prompted you to purge your stuff?
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The Great Depression changed a generation of free spenders into one of thrifty savers. Will the Great Recession permanently change us too? Futurist David Houle investigates the long-term ramifications of our current economics.
In an earlier column, I wrote about why this recession feels different from other recessions we have lived through. It is a historically significant economic downturn by almost any measure, and its severity has been quite painful. It has also unleashed an interesting and unique social development.

In the past 12 months, as I have traveled across America and Canada giving speeches about the future, there has been a verbalization of something I have not heard in my lifetime, or at least not with such frequency—"I have too much stuff."

"I don't need any more stuff!"

"I am getting rid of a lot of my stuff."

"Our family is getting rid of a lot of stuff."

And most significantly, "I am going to live with less stuff in my life."

It is very interesting that this recession has become the trigger for these realizations.

In the past 18 months, people have dramatically lowered spending, except on necessities. This has meant that they have decided to make do with what they have, and to do without. Instead of impulsively buying new items of clothing, for example, we are choosing to wear what we already have. This has made us look into our overstuffed closets and realize how much clothing we already have, some of which we have rarely worn. We realize that in our ongoing process of constantly buying more stuff, we have accumulated too much of it. Thrift shops have become inundated with our stuff in the past year.

This sense of "too much stuff" is combining with a strong uptick in thrift to create a different consumer mindset. As I have written before, "Thrift is the new cool; thrift is the new extravagance." This of course completes the cycle, and we start to shop at thrift stores. This whole dynamic kicks into our growing sense of environmentalism, going green and recycling, and we therefore feel good about this.

I have also noticed—and if you are a loyal viewer of The Oprah Show or visitor to Oprah.com, you have too—that there are specialists ready to help us get rid of our stuff and organize what we decide to keep. Our focus has shifted from acquiring more stuff to getting rid of stuff and organizing the stuff. This is largely connected to this long and painful recession of 2008???2010.

As we begin to move out of this recession, there is bound to be a rebound in consumer spending. People have postponed purchasing many items in the past year, so there is some pent-up demand. Once their jobs feel more secure, the first thing people will do is buy that flat-screen TV, or finally replace the old washing machine. This pertains only to those of us who are employed—there are still too many Americans who remain unemployed; until they get a job, they will not make such purchases.

That said, I predict that—for a large percentage of the population—making do with the stuff we have will become a permanent trend. Purchases primarily will be about replacement and necessity, and only occasionally about indulgence and impulse. We have started to save more...and we like that feeling. We feel good that we are using what we have. The simple process of organizing all our stuff makes us realize how much we have and therefore how little we might actually need. To some degree, the concepts of "want" and "need" have been separated more than in the recent past.

The 2008–2010 recession will be looked back upon as the "too much stuff" recession. Thrift will continue to be cool and will continue to feel good. When the value of your house drops dramatically, when you or someone you know loses a job, when you are caught with too much debt and economic conditions remain uncertain, caution and restraint will linger long after the recovery has begun. Debt will remain a four-letter word, something to either avoid outright, or at least be kept under control.

Many people all around the country have told me that staying at home more has increased their happiness because they are spending more time with friends and loved ones. This has reintroduced us to what is important in life. In the decade leading up to the just-ending recession, many of us got caught up in using our homes as ATM machines and feeling comfortable purchasing with credit cards. No longer! The "too much stuff" recession has changed that.

Have you cut back on spending? Are you saving more? Have you gotten rid of a lot of stuff recently? Are you happy with less stuff? Do you want to go back to accumulating more stuff? Please share your thoughts and join in the conversation here. I would love to hear from you.

David Houle is an award-winning futurist and strategist who has launched successful brands and is an in-demand speaker about the future. He writes the popular futurist blog Evolution Shift and lives his life slightly ahead of the curve.

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