Our departure from London to Cornwall (as mentioned previously in “Let’s get personal etc.…) may have seemed impulsive even precipitous to a casual observer – one minute we’re living in yuppiedom and the next hotfooting it to Cornwall, doing a downsize, and in the process shedding lots and lots of our possessions. In retrospect, I realise that my mental “back-room boys” had been making a few observations and coming to some conclusions all on their own. I do remember thinking that the people who lived in the great big houses in Wimbledon, and for whom we often did renovation work, didn’t seem any happier than the woman who lived in a council flat and came in to do my ironing. I know very well I’m not going to get any prizes for making that observation. We’ve all heard “Money can’t buy you happiness” along with “The best things in life are free” countless times, but in our modern lives we are constantly bombarded with the opposite message and, as we know, many of us opt to take the advertisers word for it and ignore the folk wisdom.
So can we put “Have fewer things” on the GLP list? It would be tempting to let that one slip through without further examination but that would be cheating. Remember the aforementioned criteria? Science, common sense, intuition. I think I could safely say that my intuition does, and did, tell me that curtailing my materialism would be a good idea and so it would seem that the idea passes at least one of the criteria. That’s not enough to get this on the list though. GLPs do not exist by intuition alone.
So what does the science say? There have been a great many studies relating to materialism over the years, the conclusions of which have led materialism to become a bit of a dirty word. There is an interesting study, carried out in 2003 by Profs Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich which concludes that people who spend their money on experiences (I am assuming that means holidays, days out, activities and so on) are more likely to be happy than those who spend their money on material goods. (For more on this, go to http://www.spring.org.uk/2008/01/experiences-beat-possessions-why.php)
According to Dr Steve Taylor, Senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, in relation to materialism in the developed world “Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn’t driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent.” I don’t want to flood this blog with borrowed quotes, but I don’t think I could say this better so I’m quoting Taylor again. “We look to external things to try to alleviate our inner discontent. Materialism certainly can give us a kind of happiness – the temporary thrill of buying something new, and the ego-inflating thrill of owning it afterwards. And we use this kind of happiness to try to override – or compensate for – the fundamental unhappiness inside us.” For more – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201203/the-madness-materialism
It is hard to find any research that suggests that owning more things equals more happiness. Of course, that only covers the science as it relates to the individual. There is a whole other side to owning less that is perhaps more important still. Let’s not forget our groaning environment. Even if you don’t consider yourself an environmentalist, it is very hard to argue that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is a good idea. There are thousands of articles, blogs, scientific papers and more that say, in a nutshell, we’re using too much stuff and we need to stop that NOW. So “Have fewer things” ticks another box.
As for the common sense arguments for minimising our possessions, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that, left unchecked, the pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of material possessions leads to a never ending cycle of buy, little boost, big come down. We haven’t even addressed the issue of debt (there’s a GLP lurking, surely?).
I’ve always liked the quote from William Morris “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” and I’ve used that as a yardstick by which I measure the ebb and flow of the material objects about our home and a handy way to live with this particular GLP.
If you think that paring down the things you have in your home and the way you approach buying is difficult, I recommend reading the brilliant blog by Joshua Becker – http://www.becomingminimalist.com/becoming-minimalist-start-here/
So here are my final words for today. I think we’ve pretty much got the science, the common sense and the intuition covered but there is one other thing that needs to be mentioned here. It’s simple – Clearing all the unnecessary stuff out of my life has truly made me more contented, and happier, and less stressed. It has left me more space to think not of what I want to buy next, but what I want to do, and even more, what I want to be. So “putting to one side the ethical and environmental considerations….” it makes for a nicer life. (Oh, and the dusting is easier too).