Hope you didn’t miss Graham Hill’s March 9th NYT column, “Living with Less. A Lot Less.” The founder of treehugger.com and other internet start-ups announces: “I live in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.”
He contrasts his earlier lifestyle, when “flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets. Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me.”
Think about all the time we spend selecting, maintaining, cleaning, protecting, storing, and organizing all the shit we cart into our homes every week from Target, Costco, the mall, the bookstore, Amazon.com, wherever. Think about the money and time that’s invested, and then consider the resultant movement of the needle on our happiness barometers.
Perhaps there is a momentary blip from the high of so-called “retail therapy,” but at the end of the day, we’ve merely collected yet more stuff, and all of the real-life issues that really matter are still waiting for us when we come down. Hill: “There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true… Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.”
And all of this “stuff” is not innocuous. Aside from being a colossal time- and resource-suck, focus on material possessions tends to “crowd out” the emotional needs that consumerism is meant to support. Who has time to stroll through the woods or the art museum, visit with friends, share a coffee with dad, or pop by school to take one’s child out for a special lunch break when one is dashing around town in pursuit or protection of things? We’re all guilty of it, but Graham Hill’s experiences suggest it’s worthwhile to stop now and then and just ask ourselves why?