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!