Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Less Is More

You've heard all the slogans: Get Yours. Go For It. You Only Go Around Once. Live The Dream. You Can Have It All.

Together these convey one message: The more you have the better, the more fulfilled, the more admired you will be. Yet, in fact, owning less might make you much happier.

Lets apply cold logic. First: the more you have, the more you must store, keep track of, worry about, insure, pay taxes on, keep from getting stolen, buy accessories for and repair. So unless you really need something, just having more can be a royal pain. I knew a man who owned several boats. The first thing he did when he retired was to get rid of them. "Why?" I asked. "If I want one, I will rent one. I don't need all that worry anymore."

Studies have been done at all levels of income and just about everybody wants more money. Most believe that they will be happier when they reach the next level. It does not matter if they are making $20,000 or $500,000 a year. Samuel Brittan has written that there are numerous "opinion survey studies which suggest that increasing real income does not itself make people happier." In fact some studies have shown that marriages and families suffer when incomes go up because spouses are more likely to be unfaithful.

However, by less I am not talking about basic necessities. In the United States families need one or more cars, a home, health insurance, food, money for retirement and even cable TV. Yet you do not need a new car, for example, because late model used cars are actually a much better value (more about this in another blog article). And you do not need to pay for or worry about a huge house. Consider that the size of the average home in the USA has more than doubled in the last fifty years while the number of people living in these dwellings has gone down.

And when you have a lot of stuff you are often busy, busy, busy because there is so much to tend to.

Also the more you possess the more worry you have. In the movie The Comedians, a lowly paid official say something to the effect "The rich have a lot to worry about. They have a lot to lose."

And once you have acquired stuff it is almost impossible to go back. You get locked into a lifestyle. The best solution is to add possessions slowly as you really need them. This is because losing stuff you once owned is psychologically very difficult. Going down a notch feels humiliating and degrading, especially in a consumer society where we were all taught to climb the ladder of success and where we believe that we will be 'better off' as we get older.

And what do you gain by having less? You will have more time to begin with, time you could spend with your family, for example. Many reports state that Americans are over scheduled and over committed while their marriages and children suffer.

Or you could just go out on a clear afternoon and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon and think of absolutely nothing. Now there's a novel idea!

For another article about this read Less can mean more at The New American Dream web site.

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