Imagine: Less is more — escaping the grip of ‘affluenza’

We are trying to buy our way out of misery, but paradoxically, getting more stuck than ever. I am sure you will remember your childhood when old sofas were refurbished, furniture repaired, clothes passed on from older to younger and everything used until it was threadbare and turned into dusters.

Last week my daughter and I went for an unusual expedition, shopping for a saree for her ‘grad party’, her farewell dinner in school. I was really thrilled at the idea of this outing as I could not have ever imagined my football-loving, ‘only shorts and T-shirts’ daughter growing up one day and requesting me to take her out for saree shopping. Though on the one hand I recognised it as a sacred rite of passage, on the other, I realised that what was needed was something glittery and not my typical traditional collection.

So, with much excitement, we set off and entered a highly recommended shop where we had spotted a pretty, ‘floaty’ saree on the display window. The shock of hearing the price must have shown on my face as the salespeople, with a hint of smugness, immediately piped up, “Our collection starts from 20,000 and most girls buy their farewell sarees from us.” We got out of there quickly with “thanks, but no thanks”, but I could not shake off the unease that stayed with me for some time. I wondered how many parents under the pressure of “this is what everybody does” ended up buying their daughters’ sarees from shops like these that would be worn only for one night and then dumped in a corner.

We are part of the disposable culture where stuff is bought and discarded without much thought. Mall culture, online stores and the credit card companies have convinced us that happiness is at the click of our finger and we have let ourselves be lulled by this fake propaganda. Every occasion and celebration is being co-opted, packaged and sold to us and we think we need it. But we do not realise that it is taking us away from the elusive happiness that we are seeking and making us feel more wretched and miserable.

We are trying to buy our way out of misery, but paradoxically, getting more stuck than ever. Now we even have a name for this malaise – ‘affluenza’, a concept made popular by the book Affluenza, The All Consuming Epidemic where the authors describe it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

Overload, debt, anxiety and waste — these four problems somewhat summarise all that is wrong with our society right now (I would add power to it, but maybe I will leave that for another time). And painful it sure is, for us, for our earth and definitely for our coming generations, this restless pursuit for material things. “Earn more, want more and spend more” is slowly becoming the mantra of our urban society riding high on the wave of easy affluence. The middle-class never had it better materially. In the world of ‘if you have it flaunt it’ we live in manicured gated communities, wear branded clothes, own latest gizmos, and yet experience more mental health problems than ever before. We try to escape it by getting more, better, sleeker, faster stuff to sink deeper in the toxic landscape that is infecting all of us.

World Earth Day: Kids can influence parents to make a difference

And we are passing on this mad consumerist pursuit of  happiness to our children. Sania was six when she started a quest for possessing every kind of Barbie that had ever been designed. Her father travelled overseas often and returned with the latest line of Barbies, and its accessories every time. However, her parents were bewildered as rather than making her happy it was making her more and more miserable as she always had her sights on a doll that she did not own. Ten-year-old Shiv proudly told me he always had the latest models in iPhone, Xbox and Mac Air! It is easy to shrug these children as being part of “gimme generation”, but we need to remember that they are just reflecting the adult world they live in.

I am sure you will remember your childhood when old sofas were refurbished, furniture repaired, clothes passed on from older to younger and everything used until it was threadbare and turned into dusters. A memory I most cherish is sitting next to my grandmother while she slept, just a few days before she passed away. As I caressed her silver hair, my fingers suddenly reached for the embroidery on her pillow – for decades I had seen her use these with such care just like everything else in her room. These were not things she had bought on a whim, each and everything was picked after a lot of care and thought (and bargaining, if I know her well) and then it occupied a place of value and respect in our home and family.

What if we started doing that? Cherishing the old, threadbare, rusty, chipped, stained stuff we own. Wonder if that will help us be comfortable with our own selves and not constantly seek shinier, glossier illusion of joy? What we are satisfying by shopping is not our need but our addiction — stuff we have to buy as we feel that somehow it will make us prettier, happier, cooler, organised. But apart from an initial high, it hardly makes a difference, does it? All that it is doing is cramming our cupboards, landfills and oceans. The industries are thriving, but the cost to the earth is too much to ignore.

It is wonderful to see how people across the world are taking to minimalism, stoicism and downshifting. ‘Less is more’ is becoming a mantra for many and de-cluttering a religion.

Hats off to all of you who are already on this path, and for the rest there are these three things that I try to be mindful of:

‘Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life’

I read this quote somewhere, and it has become my mantra of sorts. The easy choices we make sometimes give instant joy but they might end up having a lasting impact on our emotional wellbeing, our planet and on our coming generations. Hard choices are tough, but they are liberating too. As an experiment, for a year, I decided to stop shopping clothes completely which despite the occasional yearning,  freed so much of my mindspace, pocket and cupboard.

Enough!

Most of us own enough stuff to last us for decades if not our lifetime. What if we believed in our ‘enoughness’ rather than lack. Our clothes might be a little frayed, our home a little scruffy but we would be enough, our lives a little easier and our heart a little lighter.

Roll out the Rs

So rethink your choices, reuse everything, refuse single-use, refurbish old stuff, recycle as the last option and most importantly reduce consumption. Simple.

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