At Postconsumers, we generally try to avoid and discourage the use of the phrases “living with less” or “learn to live with less.” We know that, at the core of it, letting go of society’s addictive consumerism and the consumer media is about having less stuff that doesn’t matter. But we like to think of the space that you clear by getting rid of “stuff” actually being filled by intangibles like satisfaction and joy. That said, we know that when you’re in the throes of being absorbed by consumer culture and wanting to find your way out of it, you have to start somewhere. That somewhere is about learning what stuff you don’t want or need in your life. And, yes, that means less stuff. But the truth of the matter, and another reason we try to stay away from talking about “less”, is that less can mean different things to different people. Today, we’d like you to think about what it really means to you.
First, We Have to Acknowledge that Less Isn’t a Negative Term
From the earliest days of elementary math, we’re taught to think of “less” as losing something. A minus sign on a grade is not as good as a plus sign. Even the little kids on those awful AT&T commercials know that “more is better.” Sometimes, more is better. More money when you don’t have enough to pay your rent is better. More fresh strawberries are better. But as with all things in life, it’s not that hard for a good thing to turn bad. More becomes too much quickly in today’s world. More is better if it’s making you happier or giving you something that you need. But less is better if it’s making you happier or giving you something that you need (like savings income or less stress). The world is rarely black and white. Stop thinking of “less” as meaning that you’re giving up something. Stop thinking of “more” as meaning that you’re gaining something. Think of them both as states of being that need adjustment from time to time.
Secondly, We Have to Acknowledge that Less Is a Continuum
A second problem that people often run into with the concept of less is that it’s often presented as though less need to mean as little as possible. There are reasons for this. Some of the reasons are good and some are bad. For example, part of the reason that you hear such extreme messages about living with “less” is that the most vocal voices about the concept are often the most passionate. And passionate people often push limits. However, most of us want to live with less but may not be driven by the same passion as a die-hard minimalist. Both viewpoints are fantastic. There’s room for both. The challenge is finding common ground with people who are trying to let go of the consumer media machine while also not feeling as though you need to give up almost all of your possessions.
Some reasons for promoting such strong extremes of “less” are simply (believe it or not) marketing reasons. It’s difficult for a publication or TV show to get viewers or readers interested in “middle-ground” topics. People want to read or hear about amazing feats or crazy actions. But, much like Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy probably wasn’t much like any pregnancy you’ve ever seen, most lives lived by people who make it into mainstream media attention aren’t anything like your life.
So, begin by understanding that what you think of as being “less” is influenced by the same media machine that created your view of “more.” And that machine has agendas that come from both good and not-so-good places.
What Is Less for You?
Now that you really understand that your definition of less doesn’t need to be driven by what other people tell you that it should be, it should be easier to determine what “less” means to you. We think a great way to get to that point is to ask yourself what you want more of!
Do you want more disposable income?
Do you want more free time?
Do you want more stress-free time?
Do you want more peace of mind?
Do you want more uncluttered space?
Then ask yourself what will help get you to that place. Maybe it’s as simple as cutting down on buying shoes or technology upgrades. Maybe it’s as drastic as going entirely off grid. Maybe it’s as simple as clearing out one cluttered closet. Maybe it’s as difficult as learning to untie status from things. Less can mean any of these. And it can mean them in various degrees.
When you learned about “less” in grade school math, you only saw that after you subtracted a number the original number was smaller. But there’s a finite amount of matter in the universe. When you subtract something, it gets added somewhere. The trick is to determine what “less” and how much “less” will add to the areas of your life that will make you more satisfied and joyful.
We encourage you to take some time today to think about “less” and your definition of it!
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