Former US President Barack Obama delivered the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in July. It was a very special occasion as it was the centenary of Mandela’s birth. It was a great speech, but the words that really resonated with me were: “It is too much. All of us privileged middle class people have too much. Much more than we need. Much more than the planet can sustainably produce. Too much for us to be able to focus on what makes our lives meaningful.”

 Here’s one of my own examples of much too much: until a few weeks ago I had 13 jackets  (some wool, some linen) and 8 blue and white shirts (some striped, some checked) hanging in my cupboard from the days when I was a C.E.O. How on earth could I have needed 13 jackets and 8 blue and white shirts over and above the many other tops I had of different colours and designs? Thinking about it now, it seems ridiculous.

Acquiring possessions is an antidote to boredom for many people. For most of us it is a belief that possessions will make us happier. We believe that a new lipstick will make us look more attractive, new high heels will make us look sexier, and, in my case, a new blue and white shirt would give me more gravitas. All of this is fueled by advertising and the obsession of needing to look good on social media. Meanwhile landfill sites are full of clothes that have been thrown away because they are no longer in fashion or the material and workmanship was so shoddy that they could only be worn a few times. Where is the sense in having all this stuff? Could we go back to owning just a few well made, good things that last, the way our parents and grandparents did?

Research has proved that once you have a basic income level, the notion that possessions make you happier is simply not true. What can make us happier is experiences. (Kumar et al, 2014; Pechelin & Howell, 2014) After a while we “adapt’ to even the most glamorous and exotic of purchases, while the memories and retelling of experiences lasts way longer. So, if you need to feel better, rather than shop, go to a concert, have dinner in a great restaurant or, even better, save for a super holiday.

Why not have a look through all the areas in your life. As the designers say, less is more. What do you really need? What is just clutter? What is draining you? What is uplifting you? Try living a life of less. I am happy to say that my local charity shop now has a great range of blue and white shirts!




  1. Kelly Goffin

    I absolutely love this and totally agree! Lots of love Kel xx

    • Su Birch

      Thanks Kelly!

  2. Amanda Lancaster

    In the last twenty years I have moved a number of times and every time I get rid of possessions. Recently I gave away a tea set that I loved to pieces. I gave it to someone that I love, respect and cherish. It was such a powerful feeling to part with something that I thought was important and experience the joy of the receiver. I have truly learnt that giving is way better than receiving. So now I am moving again and giving away my “treasure” was just a start of it.

    I still have the thirteen jackets and the five cream blouses and four suits. There will come a day that I won’t need them anymore, but at the moment they are important because I believe that I need to set a standard where I work. Most people come to work in sloppy jeans, branded t-shirts and flashy running shoes. I want to be who I am until I walk out of the office door for the last time. I understand that day will come, but right now it is still relevant.

    I have started rummaging through the things that my mom has always thought that are important and every time I pull something out, she tells me the story behind it. So is it junk – or is it something that leads to the story of a life well-lived? That remains to be seen, but right now it needs it’s special place in the space that mom thinks is important.

    I once bought a pair of boots that were so excessive that I was embarrassed to take them out of the boot of my car for about a week. Now, thirty years later, I am sitting here with those boots on my feet and I still love them. I look after them and keep them in shape for every winter season.

    Where I work they allow people to “smous” their goods. I was walking past just to spy what people are selling and I saw what I have been wanting for a long time! A pair of black leather court shoes – classic – and would certainly go well with a number of those outfits I am hanging onto. I asked the lady what she wants for them. She said that she’s embarrassed to admit that they are not new, they are hers because she does not dress corporately anymore. I paid what she wanted and I love those shoes! On top of that I have made a new friend.

    So sometimes a little retail therapy turns out to be a good thing, but mostly what we spend our money on what we cannot replace what we really need. Mostly what we really need is time to reflect, to set our sails in a different direction and enjoy the time that we spend with loved ones. A simple lunch or a glass of wine with a new friend goes a long way and certainly beats an hour in a mall where the air-conditioning and music lands up exhausting you. Most of what we need is joy. So we should find every moment to find a piece of what really represents that special place in our lives.

    • Su Birch

      What great insights Amanda!


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