The Wisdom of Wanting Less

This new year of double numbers seems to have provoked thoughts of wanting less, or at least of not wanting more, in many people. Wanting less just seems to be in the zeitgeist. Here are four people who have expressed those thoughts in just the last week or so.

Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and Tribe of Mentors, recently wrote a blog post titled “Finding the One Decision That Removes 100 Decisions (or, Why I’m Reading No New Books in 2020).” The theory behind his decision to not read any new books this year is the challenge to find a single decision that will remove or eliminate many other decisions.

Reading no new books seems like a very daunting prospect for many of us but we can apply the challenge to other parts of our lives. Here are some thoughts on making one decision that eliminates many others: for urbanites, deciding to wear only black clothes; for those with bulging closets, to not buy any new clothes for the year; for those who want to eat better, to eat breakfast and dinner at home on weekdays; for those who sit too much and never get to the gym, to get out for a 30-minute walk every day. What would your decision-to-eliminate-decisions be?

As Jennifer Szalai explains in her review by of Kyle Chayka’s new book The Longing for Less, there are ”two kinds of minimalism: sleek lifestyle branding and enforced austerity.” Chayka admits to being a minimalist, but only “by default,” and explores why the idea of “less is more” keeps resurfacing. Szalai says “the book itself is like an exercise in decluttering, as Chayka cycles through different ideas in order to find those he wants to keep.”

Pointing out much of the excess in our world today, Chayka hopes minimalism might provide an antidote or a balm. It’s encouraging to think of getting rid of stuff, attempting a turn toward minimalism, might be a corrective to the state we’re in now. Is decluttering a balm for you?

In a Here to Help column in the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman responds to a question by a reader who writes that an Amazon search for ‘Women’s Tops’ yielded 20,000 listings over 400 pages and laments the resources used to create such excess. She asks if we consumers can do to try to “force” manufacturers to be more responsible.

Friedman says if consumers want to force the issue with manufacturers, the way to do that is to buy less. She suggests buying better clothes, wearing them more often, and taking care of them by cleaning and repairing them on a regular basis. I think most of us are guilty of buying cheap clothes and then replacing them often. My challenge would be: Can I resist a “bargain” and spend more on quality clothes? Who wants to join me?

In a Critical Shopper column, Jon Caramanica explains that selling your things online is part of modern life. We can all be retailers now. He writes of his selling experiences:

“What hole deep inside me all of this fills isn’t totally clear. What I do know is that when several layers of life seem unpredictable, or unwieldy, it can be gratifying and motivating to sell something, pack it up tight, take it to the post office and know that in short order its going to be put to better use. The benefits are ethical and environmental, and also financial, but mostly psychological.”

I love his list of the benefits of getting rid of our stuff: ethical and environmental and financial and psychological. In what other ways does getting rid of our stuff, selling it online or dropping it off at our local thrift store, provide solace for us?

It’s all part of the wisdom of wanting less, part of working towards owning and caring for less, and part of seeing that our stuff can be used to help others.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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