“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple.”
Global Consumption Snapshot
At the turn of the millennium, as a globe we required nearly 1.5 planets to support our consumption habits, and there has been no noteworthy reduction since. The throughput of physical resources simply cannot be maintained. Renewable (soil, wood, food) resources are being extracted at a rate far exceeding their ability to regenerate, and alternatives to our non-renewable (coal, oil, natural gas, precious metals) resources are not being sufficiently invested in. Waste and pollution that is created as a by-product of production, is filling sinks (ocean, land-fill) at a faster rate than can be safely and harmlessly metabolised. When you consider that global population is still growing, which will undoubtedly effect the expansion of the material economy, something will need to give in the near future in order to avoid catastrophic ecological overshoot. Enough is enough.
It is unquestionable that western society has developed an unquenchable thirst for material comforts. The latest technology, clothing, housing etc…. But how many of us sit back and really ask ourselves, at what point do I have enough? At what point will I be happy with what I own? It is this lack of self questioning that leads to a continuous cycle of unconscious compulsory purchasing, and fosters the subliminal urge to keep up with the Jones’. We become submissive to the consumer treadmill that requires ever greater natural capital to maintain. For an excellent short clip on these problems of consumption, see The Story of Stuff.
When Will I Have Enough?
So what does having enough mean? How can we decipher the code for optimal happiness and sustainable consumption? Well I don’t have the answer yet, but I have some experience in undertaking this process. Here are some of my tips if you are interested in beginning a process that assists your progress toward a more sustainable lifestyle and how much is enough for you. Hint: this will also make you happier!
Minimise and De-clutter – This was the first step for me in undertaking a more simple and sustainable lifestyle. Just take one room, closet, draw etc. at a time, take everything out and begin assessing the value each item brings to your life. If you have some items that you are 50-50 about, just place them into a box and see if you use them within the next 30-60 days. If you still haven’t used them, chances are you will not miss them if you remove them from your life. And then just donate, sell, or recycle all the items you no longer need. This process creates physical space in your home, but also mental space to ponder those things that really matter to you. It begins enlightening your soul as to what things actually make you happier, and what things are just totally superfluous i.e. how much is enough for you.
Delay Purchasing New Goods – Hopefully the process of minimisation will transfer to your spending habits, where you question each purchase as to the real value it will add to your life. But for those things that you think you really do want/need, put the purchase of that thing off for at least 30 days. You may find that the hype of purchasing that thing wears off, and you really don’t need it at all (I am currently doing this for the purchase of a new phone). During this process notice your general happiness levels. Are they significantly reduced because you don’t have this thing in your life? Or are you pretty much the same as always? Do you want it because others have it? It is important to note, that you will sometimes cave to these feelings and purchase the item (if you do, try and buy it second hand). But notice your feelings after you have purchased the item. Are you increasingly happier due to your purchase? Or are you generally the same happiness? Follow these feelings for at least a month to allow for the spike in happiness to wear off. Hopefully this reduces your overall consumption and brings awareness to the lack of real value and happiness most material things in the west bring.
Constantly Question What You Own – Don’t just minimise and declutter once. Do it on a regular basis. You will find how your interests shift and are constantly evolving, meaning there is always something you can reduce in your life to create space for new interests. This process brings more awareness to what really matters to you in every new stage of your life. You may find that your attachment to things that previously were too strong, may have reduced to the point that you can now let it go. Another way to decipher what is enough for you.
Hopefully these tips can help you in the process of knowing how much is enough for you. Since those of us living under the western capitalist system are living the most unsustainably, this simpler way of life is something small we can all do to try and stunt the growth of the consumer market, and disconnect our sense of self from what we own.