Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Life Editing" and Happiness

This morning I happened to stumble across this video of Treehugger founder Graham Hill giving a TED talk on why "less is more". Obviously, that's not exactly a new idea, but I enjoyed listening to his take on the concept.

 I'm not sure I'd ever want to live in a 420 square foot apartment, no matter how well designed, but I suppose I do practice my own form of "life editing" as he calls it.

Our family of four does live in what I would consider to be a fairly large home (a 2 1/2 story double-brick, 87 year old place that's almost 2000 square feet). I have to admit I've been pretty astonished at how many people have remarked on what a "cute little house" we have. I find it alarming that anyone would consider our home small, but I guess 3000-4000 feet is considered standard space for family living by many people these days. I also find it pretty scary that even though the average home is now three times the size it used to be, storage units are a booming industry because people can't fit all their "stuff" in a house that size.

While we do like our home (even with all its fixer-upper challenges), more important to us was its location in an extremely walkable neighbourhood with lots of other families. Since everything from the grocery store to the bank, library, drugstore, coffee shop, hairdressers, wooded hiking trails, park, public pool and arena are less than a 10 minute walk from our house, we can easily get by with just one vehicle (in fact, for three years we didn't have one at all, but now my husband really needs one for his job). Also, since there are many other families in our neighbourhood and our kids' closest friends live on the same block as us, there is no setting up of playdates and shuttling around of kids - they happily meander back and forth from one house to another whenever it's convenient. Now that they are old enough, they can also take themselves to the swimming pool, arena and park when they want to play with their friends or when they have hockey practice or swimming lessons. I consider cars to be a ginormous hassle and expense and I really can't understand why anyone would want one unless they absolutely needed it. So we are very happily a one car family (and again, so many people have commented that they just don't know how we manage with "only" one car).

We are also a family that loves our camping vacations, and we usually go on one to three camping trips each summer. A lot of people are surprised that since we love to camp so much, we have not gotten ourselves an RV. Well, let's see: Our $200 tent is easy to store, requires very little maintenance, packs into our van easily (and we can even pack it on one of our bikes should we want to go bike touring) and we can set it up just about anywhere. RVs cost tens of thousands of dollars, need to be insured and stored somewhere secure, take a good deal of time and money to maintain, are a huge hassle to tow, and can only be used in sites specifically designed for them. Sure, they might be a *tiny* bit more comfortable, but honestly, for the teensy bit more comfort and shelter they provide, I just don't feel they are worth it considering all the drawbacks! And I really, really, really don't want the capacity to watch television while on a camping trip :)

As far as the smaller stuff goes, I try to think carefully about whether we really need something before bringing it into our home, and if we had something in the past and it breaks, I think about whether it needs replacing before running out and getting a new one. When our microwave died a few years ago, we decided we didn't need to replace it. It freed up a bunch of space in our modest-sized kitchen, and we haven't missed it one bit! When our ancient popcorn air popper died, we decided to start making popcorn in a pot on the stove and found we enjoyed it even better than air-popped. I also don't have a cell phone because I just don't need one (I'm rarely more than a couple kilometres from home, and since I usually walk or bike places I don't need to worry about having car trouble!). No one needs to get a hold of me that urgently that they can't wait until I've gotten back from wherever I might have gone off to - and personally, I like knowing that if I'm on an exercise walk or bike ride that I am going to have some nice peaceful time to myself without any interruptions.

We try to purge stuff pretty ruthlessly around here as well. My husband's office is in the same plaza as a Value Village, so it's super convenient for him to drop off items we're no longer using (I will often offer things on Freecycle first, but sometimes I just really want the stuff out of the house ASAP!). I'm pretty impressed with how easily my kids let go of things they no longer need - they tend to be better about it than I am, actually!

One "mimimalist" trend that I have not embraced at all is that of digitalizing everything (papers, photos, books, CDs, DVDs). Sure, you can convert just about anything to a digital file these days and I know that's definitely a space-saving feature. The thing is, I just don't like it! I really prefer to have a bookcase full of real books, and to hold a book while I'm reading it rather than an e-reader. I still also prefer CDs to wrestling around with organizing music on an Ipod. And I also love my filing cabinet full of papers :). I absolutely loathe spending time organizing digital files and also worrying about backing them up in case my technology dies.

My own form of minimalism in this area is to simply not own more than I need. I do have two bookcases full of books, but I purge them regularly. I only keep the ones I really need or truly love, and borrow most items I read from the library. We probably own less than 20 DVDs, only ones that are real family favourites that get watched many times. The rest we borrow from the library. In general, I feel most stuff that's for transient entertainment purposes, we don't need to own when it's easy enough to borrow.

As I think about the many areas of our life where we have deliberately chosen less "stuff" than other people, I think it has led to less stress and hassle, much less money spent, and more time to do the things we really enjoy.

What do you think? How much space and "stuff" is enough? 

(I think the answer is different for each person or family, but it seems pretty clear to me that a lot of people could benefit from choosing to live with a lot less.)


  1. Good post. Also, bought your book & it's great. I always figure if a book ends up saving more than the cost of the book, it pays for itself.

    1. Thanks Cathy! I'm so glad you're enjoying my book. It was my intention when writing it that it would save people much more than it cost, so I'm pleased you've found that to be true :)


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