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What to Do Instead

Posted on 13 March 2009

By Hope Harris

What is wrong with this country?! With us? What led us to believe that each one of us could have anything he or she wanted? What made us believe each of us could own a 40,000 square foot house, or a $40,000 car or write a great book or be a great artist? Our culture makes every one of us famous for a day and tells us we can own and be anything we want. And for the past ten years, we’ve been borrowing money and thinking we never had to repay it!

And look what happened!

But the irony is that unlike people in the rest of the country, we turn out to be luckier than most. While the financial meltdown has affected everyone to some extent, Manhattan and The Hamptons have not been hit hardest. Granted not many houses are selling or renting, but conversely, very few owners are in foreclosure or have declared bankruptcy. There are no long lines for food stamps or jobs. Some people did get “Madoffed,” but they’re not entirely wiped out. Sure, some second-home owners would like to sell their houses, but not if it means taking a tremendous loss. Owners would like to rent, but if they don’t get close to what they’re asking, they’ll use their second homes themselves.

In truth, what’s happened here is that, unlike others, we’re in Park. Not Neutral. Not Reverse. Park. We can turn off the (real estate) engine, park the car and do something else until the market shows renewed signs of health. It might be two years, it might be longer, but very few people in our unique and (still) moneyed area, will go under. This is not Ft. Myers or Phoenix or Detroit.

So, if we can hold on; all of us—brokers, teachers, police, first and second home owners, retailers (not Ralph Lauren and Tiffanys—we know they’ll make it through), restaurateurs, pharmacists, car dealers — we’ll be OK, and might, in the interim, learn to live differently. On less.

We can sit down, take a deep breath, and think. We can stop running and think. About what we’ve always wanted and wanted to do; about helping people less fortunate; about spending less and enjoying more. We can stop shopping. We can clean out our closets and give the clothes we never wear to people who can use them. We can eat at home. Volunteer this new time we have. Turn down the heat. Read more books. And for God’s sake, we should turn off the television and the media which is working overtime to scare us to death. Daily. Hourly. Weekly. Monthly. Maybe for years to come.

We can try to learn to live without “things.” “Things” is what got us into this mess in the first place: every new gadget, cars and houses and things to put in our houses; trips and clothes and fancy restaurants, and big parties, and bigger cars and then bigger houses and before we knew it, we were all in over our heads. The mortgage companies gave mortgages to people who couldn’t afford the monthly payments and credit cards gave us unlimited funds. Didn’t we learn anything from the Tech Bubble? How long can everyone have everything he or she wants?

So let’s just leave the car in Park, get out, look around, take a walk. Re-think who we are and what we truly need to be happy. Let’s all hope the answer isn’t money because—for a while anyway—there isn’t going to be a lot.

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One Response to “What to Do Instead”

  1. Jeffrey says:

    How is the mortgage crisis, and free fall in home values, likely to be fixed if individuals can not get a new job? There are a large number of people which previously lost their homes to foreclosure and many more will unless the USA starts generating something more then excuses. It’s time to change the trade policies with China. For heavens sake, our primary trade partner is communist!


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