Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Let’s Talk About Stuff Baby

Yesterday LifeEdited founder Graham Hill had an op-ed published in the NY Times. The autobiographical essay entitled “Living with Less. A Lot Less” tracked  his progression from late-20s, flush-with-dot-com-cash, consumer extraordinaire to minimalist exponent. He writes:

My success and the things it bought quickly changed from novel to normal. Soon I was numb to it all. The new Nokia phone didn’t excite me or satisfy me. It didn’t take long before I started to wonder why my theoretically upgraded life didn’t feel any better and why I felt more anxious than before.

At present, the article sits atop the NY Times most emailed and most read lists. Like the TED Talk Graham gave almost exactly two years ago–a talk that has received over 1.7M views to date–the message of living more with less is clearly on peoples’ minds.

Rather than transcribing Hill’s piece, we dug through the comments, highlighting and commenting on some of the major themes.

Desertwaterlily writes:

My son, daughter-in-law and their baby live in Brooklyn in a 700 sq. foot condo. It’s very crowded and not functional. They know it can be made functional but they don’t (as yet) have the money or resources to do anything. I agree with you about living close to the bone, but it takes more than wishing to move walls, build new working kitchens, electrical, shelving, etc. Sometimes it takes money to live a “simpler” life.

Desertwaterlily check out 8 Tips for Editing Your Life that Work for Any Budget. While it’s true moving walls cost money, there are a ton of things to simplify your life that require little or none.

Sonja writes:

I’m 82 and live on and with the barest of necessities, for the less I have, the better I feel. I regularly go through my small house wondering what else I can get rid of. Minimalism is soothing, aesthetically appealing. I sometimes fantasize about living in a cell like a monk – a cot, a table, and a window.

Knowing what I know now, if I had my life to live over, at the age of 18, instead of sitting around devising plans for a cluttered life, I would put a knapsack on my back and with my dog I would leave the house and just start walking.

Thanks Sonja for showing that this is not just a young man’s game.

MJones writes:

Most of the people responding to this article appear to have no children….I think it’s hard to live in small places with other people – children and adults – without separate sleeping rooms for them. Old people snore. Children are distracted by adult activities and truly need their own space to develop fully in western culture. A baby can sleep in the corner, but as they get older and play sports or pursue their own interests, they need space for their stuff and friends.

And Larry L also writes:

I noticed that the author does NOT have children and is NOT married. His life choice is highly unlikely to be replicated under different circumstances.

The “you-don’t-have-kids” argument comes up a lot. Neither Graham, nor anyone at LifeEdited suggest that everyone should live in 420 sq ft. Nor do we suggest the needs of a single person are the same as a family’s. Living with less might look like having ten toys instead of fifty or living in 1200 sq ft instead of 2500. And yes, this is written by someone with children.

MGM writes:

Great. If the one percenters stop buying lots of stuff and stop building lots of big homes where will that leave the rest of us? Our economy is fueled by overconsumption. The middle class cannot do it by themselves!

We’re not sure if MGM was being serious, but this argument does occur to many as a potential problem. First, we’d respond by saying that if we destroy our environment, there will be big problems for every class. And because domestic manufacturing is almost extinct, most consumer dollars flow to top heavy corporations and overseas producers; this situation has been thwarting the American middle class for decades now. What if Americans started buying less stuff they could keep for much longer at fair market value? What if our stuff was made by skilled, well paid workers (foreign or domestic)? We don’t want to overstate our economic chops, but we think it’s fair to say the current system is patently unsustainable and we are due for another model.

imadeamesss

That’s a nice article and all but I still want the Omega single auger juicer. It is a thing that I want.

Please, keep your juicer. No one is saying get rid of all your stuff. But what if we cared about everything as much as imadeamess cares about his/her juicer?

Sam93

I believe your insights resonate only with people who have money and who are capable of owning stuff. You have come a full circle with consumption and then simplification. You are still financially capable to accumulate stuff. Thus, it is no longer a thrill for you. For people who are working hard, owning stuff(e.g house, car, etc) is an indication that they have arrived at a certain stage to acquire what they wish. It is not always easy when one couldn’t afford something other people discard regularly.

Sam93 brings up a very good point. In many articles that focus on Graham, he is often charged with “easy-for-you-to-say”–that most people don’t choose less, but are forced into it.

There are certainly many people who cannot afford even basic items and no one is trying to minimize their plight. However, as Graham tried to convey, the stuff issue–as well as the inflated home one–affects those with even very small incomes. Big box stores and 99 cent stores and cheap housing, fueled by easy credit, have made torrents of stuff and space available to almost any income level.

What Sam93 says about stuff-as-status is astute. We live in a culture where consumer goods are used to demarcate success–even if they undermine our happiness and wealth. Whether the mainstream will every “choose” less–rather than being forced into it–remains to be seen, but we’re optimistic!

en D

I realized how little meaning “stuff” has when our house was on fire and my husband and I were frantically trying to save the lives of our pets. I realized later that neither of us had stopped to try to rescue a single thing: not jewelry, not computers, not even money itself. Only life mattered. That was over 15 years ago, but the message remains as vivid to me as it did that day.

Well said!

Image via Shutterstock.com

Comments via New York Times

  • luckymama

    Regarding the “you-don’t-have-kids” argument, we are a family of 5 living in a 1200 square foot house. That is approximately 240 feet per person. Our 3 kids participate in sports (the equipment takes up a lot of space), but we compensate by not buying junk we don’t need. The kids each have a special drawer to save precious mementos and school projects, and they have learned to eliminate clutter to make room for treasures. For Christmas and birthdays, they ask for college money instead of toys, which quickly break or become boring. We love our simple lifestyle. I think kids are happier and healthier when they aren’t focused on consumerism.

    • Jessica

      In addition, when I was in larger cities in Asia, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 generations of family members in a small space.

      It really just depends on what you’re used to. Especially if you live in the city, where most of your time is spent outside anyways.

  • djrr55

    Is stuff-as-status any different from or more pernicious than thin-is-beautiful? Both are ideas that we’ve bought into as defining self worth and neither could be further off the mark. I do wonder what would happen if people did consume less, given that we live in a consumer-driven society. How is the economy measured? In “consumer confidence.” My household income comes from an industry that keeps stuff moving — and if consumers aren’t buying, the stuff won’t be moving. Given our highly specialized society, it would be nearly impossible to return to a subsistence economy. Most people would be unable to feed themselves. Not that I think there’s any danger of this happening any time soon. Consumerism is firmly entrenched.

  • Setter Rob

    Recently I spent two months in Dover, NH, in a neighborhood of Victorian houses. Ours was one of the smallest, and yet had been divided into two units. Some of the really large Victorians had been remodeled into six or more units. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same happened to the McMansion a decade or so down the line, eight thousand square feet housing eight families instead of a pair of empty-nesters.

  • http://mauishopgirl.com/ Tania Ginoza

    Thank you Graham for sharing your story on NY Times. I’m 44 and have overconsumed most of my life but have been working on a personal project to let go, live with less and be more mindful about my purchases. I read the comments on NY Times and it is so discouraging to me not only on your article but on many that some readers cannot embrace a nugget of information and apply to their own situation. As soon as they discover the writer or subject of the article is not exactly like them (kids, income, etc.) they shut down and get defensive.

    I’ve never felt that you advocated everyone living in the same size space that you do. You’re in NYC. I live in 800 sq feet and feel that it’s small but understand in NY it is quite a bit of space. Of course the right size space is dependant on location, neighborhood and family size, you never impled it wasn’t. For example, I don’t have a moveable wall like you do but I did put in a long narrow walk-in storage in the middle of my space that separates living/dining versus sleeping/writing. That is not very different from your concept or many others that divide the room with storage/function ideas posts I’ve seen on sites like Apartment Therapy. This is one example of how I have learned from others without complaining that I cannot do the exact same solution that was presented. My point is I can still learn from you and others can learn from me if we look at the concept and how it can be applied in our own situation.
    Regarding the income level. There is an in-between range of poverty and high income in which many of us reside. How many people who make a moderate living are also living paycheck to paycheck in a house filled with stuff and rarely go a week without being just the pure necessities? Many. One look at youtube “shopping hauls” vlogs and a peek into other shoppers’ carts at any big box or warehouse store and you will see much more than necessities. As far as the economy? If we bought less say, apparel, but spent more on each purchase for US made goods, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. We’ve become a disposable fast fashion economy and that is just one industry, I’m sure there are many more examples.

  • jottman

    I think there’s a difference between “stuff” and “waste”. We all have stuff that we treasure, and then there’s the stuff that we don’t treasure, making the resources and energy, the time it takes to store, maintain and eventually move it a “waste”. I started a blog and website to explore these issues, and to help all people regardless of their family situation, or whether they live in the city, suburbs or on a farm, attempt to prevent all forms of waste in their own lives. It’s called, http://www.WeHateToWaste.com Like LifeEdited.com, we believe extra space — that needs to be cooled, heated, cleaned, etc. is a waste. But if you’re putting it to good use, than by definition it’s certainly not a waste.

  • Jenifer

    I also struggle with the whole “you don’t have kids argument” — because we do have a child and we live in 480 sq ft. It’s awesome! Is the space super-fantastic modern like the life edited space? no. It isn’t. But it works and it’s great. :) and we love it. So we’ll stay like this.

  • Anne Purvis

    I get up @ 5:30 am each day
    and while I’m sipping my bath-tub sized trough of Earl Grey
    I sketch small home designs to gear up for my day…
    (vs reading a paper,flipping on the TV, or surfing the web)
    I really love problem-solving design
    Graham’s apt. oozed the essence of that notion.
    Some readers have commented on how the apt. works for a single person,
    not a family…
    or how it’s easy to let go of stuff
    once you’ve had the experience of having HAD all ”the stuff”….etc etc
    all those perceptions are valid.
    I want to commend Graham for his personal awareness-es that have transpired from his life journey, but I also want to put forth my observation w/ his lifestyle.
    I noticed no elements of nature connection in his chosen dwelling.
    Forget about not having one single potted plant by a window…
    I, personally, would go nuts w/ out being able to walk out my small-footprint home and not be able to step onto a gorgeous piece of land to wander, grow food and essentially connect to the one constant in life: nature.
    Maybe the author has a weekend home to do this in a compartmentalized fashion…
    like i used to do when I lived in NYC:
    Ye Olde Weekend Home
    but after the bi-polar lifestyle of shuttling to and fro on 87,
    from Tribecca to the Catskills….I threw in the towel and chose the Catskills.
    My next possible shift..after having grown up in the ‘Burbs
    lived in The Big Baddass Apple
    the woods/Gunks of Ulster Co..
    and presently the mountains of Montana…
    is to co-house w/ friends on a beautiful piece of land.
    My dream.
    People living (somewhat) together…in nature connection..
    in, (of course) small, low-footprint homes.
    Our relationships, experiences together, meaningful work AND nature connection will be MY bliss.

  • http://twitter.com/CarmellaRayone Carmella Rayone

    Yes, a family can live a happy, simple life in a smaller-than-average space! We are a family of five – two adults, and three boys ages 13, 11, and 9 living in our newly constructed 665 square foot house! In our home, we have the things that mean the most (keep the juicer!), and have off-loaded the rest. This simple lifestyle is not one of deprevation, but of opportunity. Opportunity to find your identity outside the overindulgence of stuff. It has brought tremendous clarity and focus to our lives. It has silenced the ruckus that the “American Dream” has come to be. One of the best things I’ve heard my kids say? “This is the BEST house we’ve ever had!”

  • slash4dsliders

    I think the article ” living with less…” is amazing. Its actually life-changing. You guys at “Life-Edited” should start demanding money from every person that reads this article. This article has a hidden power within it to persuade people who read it to change their lives. I know it changed mine.

    Like Graham, I have no CDs or DVDs. I got rid of 80% of my books(I donated them to my favorite book store, in return for which they gave me a voucher for a good amount of money). I donated all my old clothes and many present ones that dont fit me any more. I sold all my old gadgets that I dont play with, including my laptop and PSP. I even got rid of many extra doubles I had, keeping the best one between them. I have edited a lot of my stuff since then, from the few razors I had to keeping and using only one, to the many earphones and headphones I had collected to keeping and using one each.

    Then I thought to myself “Why stop there?”. I have started living a healthier lifestyle, which includes keeping myself fit and getting rid of my body fat. I know Ill have to do some editing in my clothing section later but it’ll be worth it.
    I’d like to thank Graham Hill for this simple, yet powerful, article which changed my Life.

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