Books: The new poor lore

Christina Hardyment samples the good life, 1990s style

Getting a Life: the downshifter's guide to happier, simpler living

by Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones, Hodder, pounds 9.99

Getting a Life, the first homegrown publication in support of the fashionable US trend of downshifting, couldn't be more different to the last lifestyle manual to sweep the board. In 1973, Shirley Conran's Superwoman told us how to outdo the Joneses by a mixture of short cut and bluff. Getting a Life tells us we need to shift in the opposite direction.

Smilingly, we must shake hands with the Joneses, and offer to take their recycled trash to the tip in exchange for a few spring greens from their allotment. Me is out. We is in. For more, read enough; for rights, responsibilities. Barter is back: you scratch (or maybe aromatherapeutically massage) my back, I'll take in your washing.

Superwoman was a superficially frivolous, pragmatically brilliant bluffer's guide to looking richer than you really were. Getting a Life has fewer jokes and blurs over practical detail. It is, frankly, less fun, though well suited to the high moral tone of the new age. Downshifting, explain its authors (who have done it themselves) involves rethinking your existence in terms of quality rather than cash earnings.

It is close kin to the ascetic ethic of voluntary simplicity: a rejection of the endless scramble for goods in favour of finding time to be much nicer, to yourself, your community and family. It is not to be confused with downsizing, which companies do, although it may be that rapid downshifting and involuntary simplicity will be your lot if your own company is downsized.

Downshifting is of course only possible if you had upshifted first, but it is bound to catch on because it marks the renaissance of the long-lost virtue of thrift.

Cushioned for a couple of decades by soaring property values, aspirational ABs are now in a serious bind. To keep up with the Joneses both husband and wife must work; to get ahead of them, they must forgo kids altogether. Families are trapped between the present Scylla of children's expenses and the prospective Charybdis of a home for granny.

An ethic that gets parents off the hook by making it positively moral not to go to Toys R Us and Tesco, and which sees part-time work as an ideal rather than a second-best embraced only by oppressed womankind, will be generally welcomed. Aghast at the haemorraging of our hard-earned incomes, we are all more than ready for a glowing aura of virtue to be erected over flexible working, holidays in Britain, two-bike families, borrowing rather than buying, shopping communally, a decline of "easy payments" and "flexible friends" and the return of saving up for things.

The book has its weaknesses. It is almost evangelically eager, occasionally school-marmy, frequently naive. The first few chapters are thick with eco-myth and dubious statistics: "Between one in 20 and one in four Americans are believed to have opted for a simpler, more balanced lifestyle in the past ten years or so". Precise or what? The life stories have a certain fascination, but also terrible echoes of the awfulness of the age of lentils and dirndls, Self-Sufficiency and Food For Free.

But it is, ultimately, genuinely inspiring, a can-do New Testament with a host of useful references to other books and an excellent directory of organisations that are already doing their own downshifting thing with gusto. It may be a book to wield rather than to read, but it is a passport to freedom from the crazy must-have world wished on us by media images and shopping malls. Every home should have a copy.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect