Ever noticed that the world we live in is one where the people who have more are the most admired? We’re all supposed to want more, want the new smart phone when it comes out (even though our old one is fine), want new clothes in line with the new fashion (even though our old clothes are fine), want to eat at the trendiest restaurants, and the list goes on endlessly. Why is this so? Is it simply the result of rampant capitalism? Is it possible to imagine a world where having less is considered cool, where people who have the least things are the most admired? Sounds difficult but let’s give it a try.
The “having stuff” merry-go-round
Where does all this desire to “have stuff” start? If we think about if for a while, it doesn’t make sense. Why would anybody want something they don’t need? But we seem to be caught in a merry-go-round and there’s no way off. The merry-go-round can work like this;
- in order to have enough money we have to have a good job
- the company that we work for has to have increasing revenues and profits (growth) to be successful
- these companies need to sell you more and more stuff, even if you don’t need it
- the companies that sell you the most stuff you don’t need are the most successful (as far as investors are concerned)
- to help sell their stuff, these companies use advertising and marketing to convince us we need more stuff
- we, the simple workers, are caught up in the advertising and marketing and start to want more stuff
- we get a mortgage and a hire-purchase on a car and start buying more stuff
- our credit card gets maxed out
- now we need to earn more money to get by
- we need a more important job helping a company sell more stuff
- and the cycle goes on and on (note that I’m not preaching here – I have been and am caught in this cycle)
Even though we seem to be successful in our careers, we never seem to have everything we want (need?) and we never seem to have quite enough money. There is no end in sight.
Doesn’t something seem wrong about this? Have we ever considered the merits of having less?
Consumerism can have only one ending
This ideal of wanting more and more stuff cannot keep going. The only place the stuff can come from is from Earth, and that’s finite, there is a limit. Once we’ve used up all the stuff the Earth has to give, there’s really nothing left. And the Earth isn’t meant to be used up. Nature works in cycles. Everything in Nature is reused in some way, nothing is just discarded. Our ideal of buying, discarding and buying again is unnatural and unsustainable.
This whole concept is very nicely described in this video – The Story of Stuff. It’s really worth the time to watch this short video.
Doesn’t something seem wrong about this concept of consumerism? Have we ever considered the merits of having less?
What if having less was cool?
What if the people in the world who had the least physical stuff were considered the coolest? Sounds weird, but why not? What if it was admirable to shun physical stuff in preference to having lots of internal stuff, like peace of mind, love and joy. Hmm. Wouldn’t that be nice? In today’s world, it’s quite possible that most people mistakenly think that getting more stuff is the way to get to a peaceful, loving, no-worries, happy world.
How mistaken we are. This path of having more stuff only gets us onto a merry-go-round we can’t get off. If having more stuff is the path to a happy world, then it’s only a happy world for those few that have, and not for the rest. There’s no way this can be a truly happy world.
When we think of having less we probably think of monks in Tibet, nuns in convents observing vows of silence, or “nutters” living in tree houses in forests. I’m pretty sure most people would say “no thanks, that sounds really boring”. I must admit, that’s my first reaction as well, however having lots of peace, love and joy sounds pretty good too. Luckily we don’t have to go that far. It would be good to just start reducing what we have and what we “want”. Reducing our desires and giving away some of our things could have a profound impact on our lives.
Living a life of having less could be the path to satisfaction and happiness, as strange as it may sound. It doesn’t need anything or cost anything to be happy.
Abundance in a world of having less
Now imagine that the idea of having less became trendy. All the people that have lots and lots, the rich, highly admired people, would actively start wanting to give away some of there stuff. If this caught on, imagine how much stuff there’d be in the world. I’m sure there’d be more than people wanted overall and companies would have to stop making new stuff, because people wouldn’t want it.
What would happen to the world? Would it collapse? I doubt it. It might be hard to adjust to and economies might disintegrate, but new economies would emerge and, most probably, the world would be a happier place. It’s quite possible that a new economy based on sharing would emerge. Sounds crazy but it really could be the strongest and most stable economy the world could have.
An economy based on sharing
Today we have an economy based on consuming. Tomorrow we could have an economy based on sharing. Consuming versus sharing. When it’s put that way, sharing certainly makes more sense.
What happens inside a family? Does every family member just want to consume everything that’s available to the family just for themselves? Or does the family generally share everything they have available for the good of the family? For the overwhelming part, families are sharing environments.
What if this was extended out into the world? The world could be amazing.
In fact, we already have a partial economy based on sharing, through charities. When some people or part of nature is in trouble, the rest of the world decides to send some of its abundance to them. This is the best use of abundance. Whenever there is abundance somewhere, the best and most natural thing to do with it, is to share it. Where there is abundance, people still have plenty, but many others benefit as well.
If we had a full economy based on sharing, then there would most certainly be abundance for everyone. We’d be happy having less and sharing all of the Earth’s gifts with everyone.
I feel that one of the first things we have to tackle in our progress to a better world, is the consumerism ideal that having more is an important aim in life. A better place to find mentally is one where having less is considered cool.
I’m sure many people will be thinking this is very idealistic and the world could never actually work this way. All I ask is that you think about it, consider it a little. Imagine a world where having less is cool. Imagine what would happen if sharing was the way in which the economy worked. Imagine if you had nothing to fear because if you ever got into trouble, the world would share with you and you’d be ok. Just imagine it and give it some thought. Nothing ever happens without imagination and thought.
Having Less – Related Links
- 21 Benefits of Owning Less
- The gift of giving
- The Real Cost of Cheap Stuff
- Minimalism isn’t quite what I’m talking about here, but it’s similar. One interesting website to look at is The Minimalists.