I had a chance to tour Toledo's Old South End today with a group led by Dennis Wisebaker, who works with Viva South Toledo Community Development Corporation to revitalize the neighborhood and help provide affordable housing. This is one of the poorest of Toledo's inner-city neighborhoods, and there are obviously a lot of vacant houses and problems with graffiti and blight. But there also seemed to be a lot of cause for hope in the work the group is doing.
Some of the challenges seem like things out of an upside-down world created by Dr. Seuss's evil twin -- for example, the fact that a house can be abandoned by its owner and left vacant and unattended, but even if there is a willing buyer for the structure, the city can't force a change in ownership until the building is so dilapidated that it is literally falling down and in need of demolition. There are some gorgeous old homes in the neighborhood that are left to squatters and vandals as a result, when they could have been renovated to fill needs for decent housing. The corporation also builds new homes, but those often end up priced out of the reach of the people who want to live in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the system is set up in a way that favors landlords over would-be homeowners.
I really heard a lot today to make me think, and wonder how I can do more to make a difference in the world, or at least in my corner of it. I think that maybe the failure of a lot of the self-help, New Age, and even mainstream religious culture is that spirituality is something we pursue only for our own good. The Secret is a good example of this: Get enlightened so you can get better stuff. I think a better reason to work on our own personal development is so that we are equipped to help others. There are a lot of gifts that we each have that could allow us to contribute in some small way to making this world a kinder one.
Yesterday's post about simplifying some things in my life may have come out sounding gloomier than I intended it to. I feel like I made a conscious choice to live a less-cluttered life, and not just because I decided to leave my full-time job to finish graduate school. Both decisions are really a result of thinking about what I really wanted in life and trying to live more in line with my values. It's not that I'm excessively frugal, and in fact I still probably blow a lot more money than I should, but I'm trying to think more about the things I buy and what I really need.
On the way home from my trip to the Old South End, I was listening to an audiobook by Peter Walsh from "Clean Sweep" called It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. I need to drive around a little more before I can give much of a review, but I was struck by his discussion of the incredible boom in the self-storage business at the same time that Americans' houses are larger than ever before. Obviously, we have some issues with our relationship to our possessions, and it's interesting to me to think that maybe buying all that junk is a stand-in for a real search for meaning in our lives. I wonder, if we weren't bogged down with all of this clutter and the media-driven need for ever more things, if we might find some time and resources to address some bigger problems than the difficulty of finding the perfect pair of jeans. I think we might need to take our cue from pop-culture money princess Suze Orman, and think about "People first, then money, then things."