Crash, burn, rebuild

Initially, I observed the recession from afar, watching as it became clear that the housing market—which peaked with record sale prices in 2006—wasn’t experiencing a “correction” but, rather, a full-scale crash and burn. From there, it got worse as the sub-prime-loan debacle revealed a banking industry built on risky loans and companies laid off employees in mass numbers, miring the nation into a pool of economic anxiety.

Still, it seemed abstract. My husband and I tried to be smart with money, after all. We saved diligently and put off vacations, home upgrades and big purchases to pay off unexpected bills. We had life-insurance policies and 401Ks, for chrissakes.

That perspective changed, however, after I was laid off in 2008. And again in 2011 when we sold our house in a short sale. In the years between, there were myriad financial emergencies and setbacks. It felt like, at times, that we’d never catch up, much less prosper.

We weren’t alone. Times were tough all-around. They still are, of course. Even as housing and job numbers show signs of life, it’s clear we exist in a new economic reality—one that has, in turn, inspired a new resiliency.

In the last few years, in fact, we didn’t just cut back and cut out to get by, we rethought that which we held important—that which was necessary. We planted gardens and bought secondhand, we traded vacations for day trips, big parties for backyard potlucks. We learned that sometimes less really can be more.

For Corbyn Hightower, the author of this week’s feature story (see page 18), losing her high-paying job didn’t just mean she and her family were forced to downsize their life—something that included selling their car and scavenging for food—it meant the chance to rediscover personal ideals, redefine happiness and rebuild a better, richer life.