At an existential level, climate change is surely one of the greatest challenges we face as a species. And surely, our modern consumerist culture has to shoulder a big part of that blame.
At a more basic level however, there’s a greater but less visible problem that modern consumerism engenders, and it is affecting our ability to both thrive and live to our fullest potential. What’s that, you ask?
Problem Statement: We simply have too much to deal with
Too many things, and too many distractions.
If you’re not convinced, let’s start off with a few observations:
- We have so many things to keep track of, that we end up keeping endless to-do-lists.
- We are finding it so difficult to live in the present, that we read books and take courses on mindfulness.
- We’ve got so much to do, that we need countless apps to aid us in the area of productivity.
- We’ve got so much we WANT to do, that we turn to time management apps to help us micro-schedule our day.
- We’ve got so many choices and options available to us, that we constantly suffer from paralysis by analysis.
- We are consuming so much by way of things, entertainment and food, that we have to ‘declutter’ our homes, our minds and our tummies.
In a span of less than two centuries (a blip, historically speaking), we have gone from having too little, to having enough, and now towards excess on many fronts.
The Problem with Having Too Much
Earlier this year, Netflix aired an original series that took the world by storm and sent everyone into a spring cleaning frenzy. The premise of this series was simple — tidy up your space and change your life.
Following the airing of the first episode, social media circles and various media outlets worldwide exploded with reports of individuals suddenly throwing out things that did not ‘spark joy’ within them, with further photo evidence of piles of neatly folded clothes arranged sequentially by color. Thrift stores were suddenly flooded by a wave of donations, and it could yet be brisk business for them for a while to come.
That series is none other than — yup, you guessed it — ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’.
But Marie Kondo is not the only person advocating paring down your belongings in order to lead a happier life. The hosts of one of my favorite shows, ‘Tiny House Nation’ have been singing the same tune since 2014.
In every episode, a family downsize from a normal-sized home to a smaller, haulable custom-built abode usually no larger than 500 square feet. In the process of downsizing, every family on the show has to consolidate their entire family’s belongings such that it fits no more than one or two large boxes. Usually, it is this task of deciding what to keep and discard that couples going tiny struggle with.
Fortunately, ‘Tiny House Nation’ host John Weisbarth is always there to guide the family on this pivotal exercise. He describes the process best here:
“The best way to do that is to identify a few things that you truly love, the activities that feed your soul but you never have time for, like music or art. Figure out what those things are, then get rid of everything else. Congratulations, you just created room in your life to do the things that bring you happiness.”
In a sense then, there’s nothing that Marie Kondo can teach that these tiny homeowners don’t already know.
What are we to make of all this, exactly? Why is it that we are now trying to live ‘smaller’ and have less as opposed to more? What could the KonMari and Tiny House movements be hinting to us about the way we are living our modern lives? Why is having too much a problem?
Chances are that we are all aware of the leading causes of stress including money, work and health issues. Increasingly though, there are studies that point to an overlooked but significant source of stress and anxiety: our clutter.
Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter explains that “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important,”.
She also warns that creativity and productivity can be curbed as a result of clutter, which “[invades] the opens space that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve”.
Given that the average household has 300,000 items in it, that is a lot of clutter as well as stress to contend with.
Unfortunately for us, household items, while traditionally the source of clutter, is not the only thing of excess we have to deal with.
There’s all forms of entertainment from video games, television, Netflix, YouTube, social media and in general the black hole that is the Internet.
Imagine how many things are competing for your limited attention at any one time. There’s always more to watch, to view, to read. Is it then such a surprise that attention spans are getting shorter; goals are getting harder to reach; we are becoming more forgetful and just can’t seem to focus?
Guess what though, the amount of noise out there is just going to increase. Consider these numbers:
Every year, there are over 30,000 new products introduced, more than 1,000,000 new published books (including self-published books), and Netflix alone produces original TV series in the hundreds.
Each day, there are in excess of 2 million new blog posts.
That my friends, is the kind of consumerist world we live in, and there must be something we can and should do to ensure that we don’t drown in our own junk or get lost in the escape from reality that entertainment offers.
Perhaps in addition to junking things, we can also Marie Kondo our way out of entertainment.