We’re bombarded with the message that the more we have, the happier we will be. Marketers want us to believe that we would be happier if we had more money and more stuff. However, I’m sure that deep down, many of us realise that more is not necessarily better. This realisation is increasingly being backed up by research. Numerous studies (summarised nicely here and here) have revealed that as soon as your basic needs are met, the benefits of ‘more’ plateaus. As you add more material possessions, wellbeing actually decreases.
In case you need convincing that more is not necessarily better – here’s a few reasons why less is more.
Less is easier to manage
I’m probably stating the obvious here, but the more you own, the more you have to manage. Do you really want to spend your life sorting, storing, organising, searching, fixing and cleaning? Having less meaningless stuff to manage, allows more time for meaningful activities.
I own far less now than I did a few years ago. As a result, I spend a whole lot less time cleaning and tidying.
Little Eco recently recognised that less is easier to manage. We moved into a rental property that had enough rooms for her to have a bedroom and a playroom. Both rooms were almost always a mess and I was continually reminding her to tidy her rooms. Eventually in frustration she complained “It’s too much to keep tidy”. I told her that she didn’t have to use both rooms and she promptly moved out of the playroom. She now manages to keep her one bedroom (mostly) tidy.
Owning less forces you to choose what truly matters
Having less isn't about deprivation. Living with less is about deciding what truly matters or is useful and foregoing the rest.
As I’ve simplified, I’ve questioned the importance and usefulness of most of my belongings. Despite selling or donating many of my possessions, there’s not one thing I regret letting go of. These belongings no longer clutter my space and are hopefully now being used and appreciated by someone else.
Owning less helps you appreciate what you do own
In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben tells the story of a boy who loved his toy car. He took it everywhere, always played with it. Then his grandmother gave him 10 toy cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether. Having more caused him to love what he had less.
Just because something brings you happiness doesn’t mean that you’ll be happier with more. In all likelihood, having more will only lessen the joy.
Little Eco’s soft toys, dress-ups and dolls have always been limited to three modest suitcases. She understands that she can't have more than what fits in these cases. She knows that buying something new may mean that she has to donate something that she already has. These old cases help her appreciate what she already has and have helped her resist buying more on many occasions.
Less is kinder on the planet
Our quest for more is not only costing us money and reducing our wellbeing – it’s trashing our planet. Each and every thing we buy has an environmental impact. Even ‘green’ or ‘eco’ products come with an environmental cost. The production, processing and transport of products requires the extraction and use of natural resources such as fossil fuels and water.
By choosing to have less, you are choosing to be kinder to our planet.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 7th April 2014.