Monday, December 10, 2007

When less is more

In the spirit of my Vegan Thanksgiving post, here are my thoughts about the holidays. I believe that a greater focus on people, experiences, and the world around us truly embodies the spirit of the holidays. When it comes to material goods, less is more.

As Americans, we're taught about the American Dream - a home, two cars in the garage, and an endless lawn for mowing on Saturday afternoons. That's reasonable, but every year the definition of "must have" is expanding. In just my lifetime, the American Dream vision has grown to a McMansion, a television in every room/home theater, appliances suitable for a major restaurant, and trendy designer furnishings. Watching television ads, it's clear that the must have holidays gifts this year include a Nintendo Wii, diamond jewelry, and expensive fragrances.

Malls become chaos, shopping becomes a contact sport, and traffic rules are tossed out the window. By the time the holidays are finished, we're so exhausted by the process that we need a vacation.

This year, I'm trying something different. My family and I are reducing our "stuff" by 30%. We're going through every closet, the garage, the attic, and the basement, analyzing their contents. Sealed boxes from our last move go straight to charity. If we have not touched an item in a couple of years, it goes into one of three piles - eBay, charitable donation or recycling.

We're regaining a knowledge of what we have, and why we have it. The end result will be a simpler lifestyle for all of us. We'll have an inventory that looks like:

For me, my black business wardrobe, my outdoor hiking/climbing gear, my Japanese flute, my Ubuntu laptop and my Toyota Prius hybrid.

For my wife, her New England crafted linen clothing that lasts a decade, her art supplies, and her MacBook.

For my daughter, her personally stylish but non-designer clothing, her iMac and her books.

In common, the early 1900's mission oak furniture that we've gathered for 20 years.

No massive caches of collectibles, no designer products, no need for a rented storage facility for keeping endless amounts of stuff. We'll be able to get the car in the garage, have more spacious rooms, and be able to find anything we need without searching for it.

But most importantly, we'll have the gift of time. With every purchase you make, there are are two costs - the cost of buying it and the time cost of maintaining it. Without having to polish the silver, buy containers to neatly store collections of clutter, and run around the malls to ensure we have the latest designer products, we have time for each other.

We'll have time to talk, to think, to read, and to recuperate from all the increased project workload at the office that the end of the year always brings.

Thus, for the first time, our gifts to each other will not be influenced by advertising, peer pressure, or the next door neighbors. We'll have a net reduction in the material, giving us the time we need to focus on people, experiences and the world around us.

How far can this go? Just as the journey from supersized obesity to healthy vegan was phased and incremental, I expect my efforts at living simpler will be incremental. Here's an article from the UK which describes a vision for the future. I'll report back how it goes!


Unknown said...

Here here! My wife and I were just discussing this the other night, specifically the time it takes to maintain living in a cluttered environment. Is there a good resource to find out about where to take 'stuff', and how to dispose of 'trash'? I know there are services like 1800-got-junk, but I've heard these can be costly.

Unknown said...

I know this is off subject, and kinda opposite of what you are talking about, ie. eliminating stuff. I was just wondering if you were going to give the OLPC / Give 1 Get 1 thing a try. They look like fun little laptops, especially to play with.

The community hacks to the Asus EEE pc look nice too.

John Halamka said...

I live in Wellesley, MA which recycles over 80% of its solid waste. Our Recycling and Disposal facility (RDF) has bins for community exchange (reuse), 36 different kinds of recycling, and charitable donation.

Unknown said...

For a minute there I thought you were giving away your Prius and the laptops, and I was raising my hand here and saying "I'lll take the car, give ME the car." Darn. I'm carless and I could REALLY use a free car, too. Relying on the Ride to get me from my home to the hospitals is unbelievably stressful. Oh well... good for you for getting rid of stuff. It is a great feeling to pare down to the bare necessities when you don't need to. When you do, it's sort of sucky.

Bernard said...

Good for you. Do update us from time to time on how you do.

We're so blessed here in the US, that it's easy to believe that we need more stuff on a constant basis. Heck, we're even told how important it is for the economy for us to constantly go out and buy, buy, buy.

But I'll swap almost any consumer item for an evening on the couch chatting with my wife and laughing about the fun and frustration of raising our children. As the ad says - priceless.

On a practical note. If you're trying to give stuff away check out Freecycle. You can probably find a local group where you can post stuff you want to give away. It's a great way of keeping things out of landfills.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

What a great post and it is something I've been thinking about also. The endless shopping that surrounds Christmas is just not rewarding, fun or inspirational. It is so easy to get sucked into it. We'll join you.

Dr. Val said...

Great post, John. My family is focusing on relationships and gratitude for what we have - no purchases/gift exchanges. Just exchanges of love and ideas. :)