by Tara Lohan
Some people clip coupons, I save stories I see about people deciding that less is more. And lately, this hobby has been keeping me quite busy. In the last week alone I’ve easily read a half a dozen stories about folks who are opting for less stuff, smaller houses, no cars. Could Thoreau’s admonishment for us “simplify, simplify” finally be catching on?
Here’s one story from the New York Times. The Strobels had a two-bedroom apartment, two cars and full-time jobs that left them in a “work-spend treadmill.” So they quit. They donated their stuff, got rid of their cars and downsized to a 400-square foot studio. Mrs. Strobel whittled her possessions down to 100 items.
Their families called them crazy…at first. But it turns out their tale has a happy ending. They work less, they’re out of debt, they have more time and money to spend on vacations, and they’re just plain happier. The Strobels are not a statistically anomaly, either. The Times reports that new studies back this up — buying more stuff really doesn’t make us happier. And the AARP reports this in a recent story, too. Well, duh.
It looks like the fever is catching on. “According to retailers and analysts, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences than possessions over the last couple of years, opting to use their extra cash for nights at home with family, watching movies and playing games — or for ‘staycations’ in the backyard,” the Times article says. “Many retailing professionals think this is not a fad, but rather ‘the new normal.'”
This ‘new normal’ also includes something called the ‘tiny house movement,’ which I’ve been reading about at Yes! Magazine. Their latest story is about Michael Janzen, who began by rethinking his big house and big mortgage (along with its big risk.) Instead, he decided to build an 80-square foot house on a 7 x 12-foot trailer. His cozy pad sleeps 3 and has a small kitchen and composting toilet. It’s a lesson in minimalism.
While the articles written about Janzen and the Strobels focused on the financial savings and the happiness factor, there is also the ever-important environment benefit to think about. Buying less stuff, living in a small place, ditching your car — these choices all have incredible impacts on the planet. We need more, many more, people doing that right now. “Green” products are good to an extent, but they still represent consumerism.
And while I doubt all of us are interested in downsizing to such an extreme, there’s still a lot we can learn from these examples. How many possessions do you have that you really don’t need? How can you use buy less stuff? What 100 items would you save and what others would you give away? (Leave your comments below.)
Imagine the impact if we all started using less and doing more. I hope people buy into the tiny-house, less-stuff movement with a frenzy.
Photo credit: nicolas boullosa
Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet.org where she heads up the environment, water, and food sections. Her work has appeared on the websites of The Nation, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post and in Yes! Magazine.