Even though Ivy and I realistically couldn't live in a big tent for months at a time in my parent's backyard (which I had semi-seriously proposed because it would save a LOT of money, allow us to see our parents a lot, etc), I hit upon something that's still valid to consider: that Americans should step back and truly ask "WHY" we live the way we do in regards to working extremely hard 50 weeks a year to generate a lot of money which is immediately spent on living at a level which everyone thinks is "normal" but which is actually rather excessive.
One of the benefits of traveling to different parts of the world is that you can see where Americanos are extreme (even compared to rich Western European countries) and don't even realize it: (i) living far away from where you work (i.e. suburbs) is an unnecessary, huge expense that requires families to invest in multiple cars and spend precious time commuting when you could be at home or with friends/family instead; (ii) not being able to walk to places, but having to drive everywhere--from friends' houses if you're a kid to the grocery store for adults--is very expensive and consumes a lot of money and energy; (iii) the size of our McMansion homes and cars is truly not necessary; we've gotten used to it, and we like it overall. But is what is "normal" for Americans the best scenario for Americans themselves and most people in general? I believe a hard look at what is truly most important would result in the following for many people: smaller homes & cars in exchange for more vacation time and time spent with families; less eating out & buying stuff and instead a focus on what matters most (to most people) such as time with family, serving others in one way or another, art, sports, books, church, music, learning, biking, walking, etc.
A specific example of what I mean is that Ivy and I would definitely be willing to live in a smaller home if we could exchange that for getting all of August off every year. And if we could get a second month off a year if we gave up a second car, we'd do that too! (Of course, we recognize that when you have a big family with kids, you may very well need a bigger house and a second car.) The bummer about the American system we view as completely normal and expected--with suburban living with no public transportation and mega-mortgage debt that forces you to be a debt slave for 30 years till you pay the house off that you "have to" have-- necessitates this lifestyle of Big Consumption and Big Production and Big Debt. For many people, this works just fine. But it's important to recognize that there are alternatives to this and many European people live with 2 months of vacation a year and a smaller house and love it. Overall, I've concluded I prefer that model. (Actually, the model I think is best is running your own business and living in two different continents for half the year--but more on that later.)
To sum up, over the past few weeks I've increasingly seen the importance that Americans should ask "why" we "must" consume a large amount of living space, gasoline and food in order to live "normally". I've also been struck by the fleeting nature of time and the importance of focusing in on what truly matters & adopting a lifestyle that promotes these values to the greatest degree possible. I of course understand that a certain amount of money is necessary to achieve whatever lifestyle you're looking for, but clearly many Americans are sacrificing what they believe is most important (e.g. time with family and serving God and others) in order to produce and consume what they truly don't need.