Many people today, particularly those living in OECD countries, live in what you could call a ‘consumerist society’. Cultures driven by self-indulgence and materialism – the more material items you own, the higher your perceived status. But does the possession of material items really increase happiness? Research suggests otherwise. In fact, studies have found that it is experience that leads to greater happiness rather than the amount of “stuff” one owns.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I worked a part-time job and spent every single dime I earned on material items – new clothes, jewellery, shoes and so forth. I would buy a new party dress every other week, sometimes only to wear the dress once and never again. The idea of materialism was a social ideal that had been projected onto me and engrained within my mentality from a very young age – the bigger the house, the bigger the garden, the more ‘things’ someone owned, the better. It wasn’t until I began working overseas, had to pack up my life into one suitcase and keep only the necessary and essential items, that I began to ponder over the topic of minimalism.
While I may not be the utmost dedicated minimalist, the past three years, I have definitely adopted a more minimalistic lifestyle. Being a student, I don’t really have any other choice. What I have learned, is that I actually prefer this lifestyle. I like knowing exactly what items I own and that I could easily pack up my life into one suitcase if I needed to, I like not having clutter. This lifestyle has also changed the way I consume – when I go shopping I no longer feel the urge to splurge on material items. For instance, if I see a jumper I like, instead of impulsively going ahead and purchasing it, I stop and ask myself “I already own four jumpers, they all serve the purpose of keeping me warm, so do I really need another one?”.
Embracing minimalism has also allowed me to analyse and apply this concept to other areas of life. One thing I have learned over the past few years, is that human beings tend to passively go through life without questioning what it is they are doing and why. Here, I will provide three examples of this – engagement, weddings and homes. Unfortunately there is the social ideal that the more money one spends on an engagement ring, the more moral value it possesses. Personally, I find this to be an absolutely absurd concept. A man that can only afford to spend $200 on a ring, could love their partner just as much as someone who were to spend $20,000 on a ring. At the end of the day, the amount of money a person spends on a tiny circular object that sits on your finger does not represent how much you love that person or how committed you are to them. The same applies to weddings. To break it down, the average human lives 788,400 hours, and the average wedding lasts four hours and costs $35,000 NZD. Therefore, the average person spends $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of their life. While this might sound cliché, there are millions of people in the world that struggle to afford food and shelter, every single day of their lives. To spend $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of a life would surely seem unfathomable to these people. Furthermore, another interesting finding is that in many OECD countries home sizes have dramatically increased over the past decade, despite family sizes becoming smaller. One study found that on average, a family that owns a large home (approx 2000 square feet) will make use of only 68% of the space, with some rooms going almost completely unused.
I suppose the main point of this post, is to encourage you to think beyond the social ideals and to question everything you do. Could your money be spent on something of more personal and moral value rather than purely material value? Ask yourself – when you come to the end of your life, would you feel more fulfilled reminiscing over all the material items you owned, or how you used your finances on something more meaningful/on someway to give back to the community and contribute to the world? Research has found that splurging on material items leads to only temporary satisfaction, so instead, why not splurge on purposeful and meaningful experiences that will leave you with lifelong fulfillment.