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The Illusory Freedoms of "Off-Peak" Living


At Real Life magazine, Linda Besner examines the growing trend of “off-peak” living, in which savvy individuals follow an opposite schedule from the rest of society—they work at night, or visit museums in the middle of the day, or go to the grocery store first thing in the morning. The motivation behind this, writes Besner, is to avoid the bustle and stress of modern life, and to live more cheaply and simply. But as Besner points out, off-peak living is only possible in an economy where jobs have become more “flexible.” In this way, off-peak living tends to reinforce or even extol precarity rather than challenge it. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The thesis of off-peak evangelism is summed up by one of Mr. Mustache’s calls for a rejection of conformity: “In our natural state,” he writes, “we are supposed to be a diverse and individualistic species.” It is natural, he argues, for individual schedules to vary — why should we all expect to eat, sleep, work, and play in lockstep, like members of a militaristic cult? Standardized schedules create waste and clog infrastructure. Off-peak evangelism proposes a market value to individuality and diversity as mechanisms for repurposing humanity’s collective wasted time. While not a formalized movement, people who blog about off-peaking often seem to feel that they’ve discovered a secret too good to keep to themselves — something that was right in front of us the whole time, requiring only that we recognize our own power to choose.

Off-peaking is the closest thing to a Platonic form of subculture: its entire content is its opposition to the mainstream. As an economic approach, the solution off-peaking proposes can seem unkind — it’s a microcosm of the larger capitalist idea that it is right to profit from the captivity of others. And yet off-peakers only want, in effect, to slow time down by stretching the best parts of experience while wasting less. The arguments for off-peaking have centered on both the economic and the social advantages of recuperating unexploited time, like a form of temporal dumpster-diving that restores worth to low-demand goods.

The disruptions of the tech sector have contributed to the rise of a gig economy and decline of standard employment, along with the standard workday; paradoxically, as more and more of us are unintentionally turning into off-peak people, off-peaking is in danger of becoming an antiquated technology. As time breaks with its 20th-century patterns, what happens to the value of the off-kilter life?

Image via the blog of Mr. Money Mustache, a fervent promoter of the off-peak lifestyle.