We Can Do Better

do-better

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” ― Tom Schulman

Nobody really believes it. Nobody really believes possessions equal joy. In fact, if specifically asked the question, nobody in their right mind would ever say the secret to a joyful, meaningful life is to own a lot of stuff. Deep down in their heart, nobody really thinks it’s true. Yet almost all of us live like it is.

From the moment we are born, we are told to pursue more. Advertisements from every television, radio, newspaper, magazine, billboard, and website scream to us on a daily basis that more is better. As a result, we spend countless hours comparing our things to the person next to us. We measure our family’s success in life by the size of our home. And we end up looking for jobs that pay enough money so we can spend our adult lives purchasing the biggest homes, fanciest cars, trendiest fashions, most popular toys, and coolest technologies.

But we all know it’s not true. We all know happiness cannot be bought at a department store. More is not necessarily better. It’s just that we’ve just been told the lie so many times, we begin to believe it—without even noticing.

As a result,

  • The average American cardholder carries 3.5 credit cards.
  • The average American household carries over $15,799 in credit card debt.
  • The average U.S. household debt is 136 percent of household income, which means the typical American family owes more money than it makes in an entire year.
  • The number of shopping centers in the U.S. surpassed the number of high schools back in 1987.
  • Women will spend more than eight years of their lives shopping.
  • The average size of the American home has more than doubled over the past 50 years. Still, one out of every 10 households in our country rents a storage unit to house their excess belongings.

We live in a world that loves accumulating possessions. And while nobody would ever admit that they are trying to purchase happiness at their local department store, our calendars and checkbooks tell a different story.

But we can do better.

There is a better way to live life available to us. One that intentionally recognizes the empty promises of advertisements and consumerism. One that champions the pursuit of living with only the most essential possessions needed for life. One that champions generosity. One that boldly declares there is more joy in owning less than can be found in pursuing more.

Minimalism is, in many ways, an invitation to this new way of life. It can not be forced. It can not be mandated. It may never become entirely mainstream. But it is willing to embrace all who accept it.

Minimalism removes unneeded possessions and reveals newfound freedom in life. It changes the way we spend our hours, our energy, and our money. It changes how and where we focus our attention and our minds. It changes the way we think. It impacts the very foundation of our lives.

It frees us up to pursue the things in life of lasting value. And it may just line up with everything your heart has been telling you all along. Because deep down, we all know, we were designed for something better.

As a society and as individuals, we can do better.

Image: jenniferphoon

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am a whole-hearted advocate of minimalism – without minimalism my options were limited. I was stuck in the rat race with no hope of getting out. I couldn’t even imagine myself without any debt or travelling long-term. The obligations of paying off debt and keeping on going kept me tied down to Toronto. Now, with the power of minimalism, I am debt-free, and I am travelling down to South America with Thenix for 1 year… Without minimalism, that wouldn’t have been possible at all. I hope everyone can find it in themselves to try it at least once. You will never regret it.

    • says

      Great to hear such a positive story BrownVagabonder (great name too!! ;-).

      What an excellent article J.B, no wonder your website is going from strength to strength (over 200,000 reader p.m…..way to go!). I really can feel the beginning of a strong, mainstream movement against consumerism. People are beginning to wake up to the fact that stuff does not = happiness. Friends, flourishing as an individual, good health, leisure time (away from screens) are the things that make people happy and best of all those things don’t cost money, unfortunately you’re never going to see a billboard or watch an advert before the movies telling you this….because simplicity doesn’t sell!
      A couple of years I decided to start a journey path towards a life of minimalism, a life of owning less stuff. I soon stopped desiring the latest
      must-have gadget/clothing and begun to enjoy the comfort of realising that no
      one material possession will make me happy and that happiness will
      come, almost as a sub-benefit, of redirecting your previous consumerism
      led free time to more fulfilling activities.

      If you want to enjoy reading an inspiring blog about how to live a simple, frugal, debt-free, minimalist life then please check out my website, http://www.thedebtfreeminimalist.com.

      My latest blogs include:

      Haven’t you got something better to be doing with your life?
      (A tale of the endless pursuit of stuff)

      Are you a clutterist? Take the 5-a-day challenge (and i’m not talking fruit!)

      The duvet which made a difference (a tale of giving)

      Is the iPhone such a smart phone?

      A tale of opportunity cost (and the effects of compound interest)

      Thanks for looking.

  2. says

    “The average U.S. household debt is 136 percent of household income, which means the typical American family owes more money than it makes in an entire year. ”

    Scary. VERY IMPORTANT message Joshua. I hope that people will wake up to the fact that consumerism enslaves them to jobs and lifestyles that do not bring long term fulfillment or happiness.

    Dan Garner
    Zen Presence – Ideas for Meaningful Living

    • Cameron says

      My dad gave my two pieces of advice when I was growing up: Everything in moderation and that the key to happiness is to SPEND LESS THAN YOU MAKE.

      I am 23 and my only debt is my car, which my father co-signed with me and which I will be happily paying off ahead of schedule.

      I look at my recently graduated and indebted peers and can’t, for the life of me, understand how they are making sense of their decisions to over-borrow student loans to pay for TVs and cars and /stuff/ without a second thought. Let alone the fact that they went through college focused on partying rather than personal growth, professional networking, and establishing themselves as a useful commodity in their field.

      • says

        It really isn’t that simple, Cameron, and it’s unfair to judge an entire group of people assuming they were all “focused on partying rather than personal growth.” I have a substantial amount of debt and it isn’t because I was ever a “consumer”. I’ve ALWAYS lived minimally, but that was no help in this economy. Here’s my story:
        https://medium.com/better-humans/e354484d3d9c

        • Harmony says

          Let’s look clearly at your story Saul, and this is in no way to demean you in any way – you chose to get in debt to attend Burning Man and to purchase a video camera etc totally acknowledging that you do not ‘need’ these things. This makes you a consumer and it wasn’t the economy that caused your purchases. Sure, you probably aren’t buying 60 inch TV’s and surround sound systems and luxury vehicles, but you are living beyond your means, which is exactly the point that Cameron was making. If one spends more than one makes, and one puts themselves into debt for ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’, then one’s priorities is driven by possessions. I thank you for sharing your story because it is one of delusion that the majority of the population lives under – “it’s okay to be in debt for this and the other so that I can have short tern happiness from my toys, I’ll pay them off and then i’ll be truly happy”, but then we believe that illusion and propagate it continually because human desire can neer be quenched. The actual trick though is to find the happiness within other aspects of our lives and become in touch with ourselves.

          • Janet says

            I think you hit the nail on the head, Harmony. If Saul or anyone else wants to accrue debt and does so for things that they feel are worth it, that is their prerogative. And who can tell someone else what is worth it or not? But it has nothing to do with the economy – it’s a personal choice.

          • Laurie J says

            I agree completely with Harmony and Janet. No judgement of Saul’s personal choices–in fact, I agree it is worthwhile to invest in oneself, and while I avoid debt myself, I would also agree not all debt is ipso facto “bad”. But to assign blame to the economy for the personal choices he outlined is to avoid personal responsibility for those choices.

  3. says

    The problem is that most people that read your blog are already on board with minimalism. Hopefully they will start sharing these type of posts and spreading the word to those that really need to hear it.

    Dan Garner

    • joshua becker says

      We actually get a pretty broad audience here. I’m very thankful for all the support of those who share these posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. For that reason, the invitation to discover minimalism is one important theme of this site and will continue to be so.

      • laura m. says

        Thanks Joshua for keeping this blog/website going as not all of us are involved with/choose to join Facebook or Twitter. Some former blogs and free newsletters have gone to social media only, and this cuts out lots of folks who choose to avoid social media for various reasons like limited time, personal privacy, to incl computer security.

  4. Rastaman says

    Most of my debt is from student loans — from undergard and law school. It’s a catch 22; can’t afford quality education without going into debt, and then working the rest of your life to pay it back. That’s why reforming student loan debt should be priority for congress, as advocated by Senator Elizabeth Warren.

    • Janet says

      I think everyone I know has a story about themselves or their children that reflect yours. But there is another way to get an education. Community colleges can slash the cost of the first two years dramatically. Then work full time and attend school part time. Most people do not graduate in four years anyway, full time school or not. I think it’s 25% or so of freshman who actually do that. Reforming the ability to get into debt will not eliminate debt.

  5. says

    “◾Women will spend more than eight years of their lives shopping”

    I hate that. I hate the way mainstream media depicts women who love “shopping”. Any that “shopping” is a hobby. Why, why? Shopping is not a hobby!

    Sorry. that just really annoys me,

    • Char says

      MOST of my friends shop “for sport”….(I’m 50something) and the first choice for any of them when they want to get together is to “go to the mall”….Shopping IS a hobby for much, if not most, of the country! Especially frustrating because I KNOW that none of my friends can afford to be frittering money away on the crap that they buy to amuse themselves. Cha-ching….charge it! (and it’s NOT just women….men do it too, but their shopping addictions lean more toward big-ticket stuff from Best Buy). A sorry state of affairs, to say the least!

      You’re right, it’s annoying, but true!

      • Betty says

        Char, I agree with you. I don’t like to shop and only do it out of neccesity. I’ve been on trips where people only wanted to shop instead of seeing the priceless sites.
        we are a consumerist society. obviously, we’re lacking something and trying to fill it with ‘stuff’.
        can’t say I’m 100% minimalist but I’m damn sure trying to be.

  6. says

    Do the “eight years of shopping” include online shopping? I’m not sure the article even mentioned online shopping, so this means only the actual trips to the mall counted. It would probably make a ridiculously large number if you would include the time browsing websites like amazon, wouldn’t it?

    • says

      Jessica,

      I share your skepticism about the survey and reporting of the findings in that article Joshua linked to. It was a bit sensationalist, but the takeaway message for me is the same regardless of what the stats are: women (and men) spend far too much time shopping for non-necessities.

      I’m personally not going to count the time I spend at the supermarket or farmer’s market as “discretionary shopping.” But window shopping – physical or digital – would definitely fall into discretionary shopping time in my book. My bottom line is that I’m trying to focus on the boarder picture (while controlling my shuddering at the implications of some of the other research headlines Joshua links to).

    • Cameron says

      So, I would consider myself a primarily online shopper. I’m also a guy, so this accounts for my life expectancy. According to my fancy browser tools, I spend about an hour a week browsing and online shopping.

      60 minutes per week * 52 weeks per year = 3120 minutes per year or 2.2 days per year

      So, 2.2 days per year * 66 years per lifetime (assuming that I don’t shop online until I’m at least 10) = 145.2 days of online shopping per lifetime or almost 21 weeks

      Ok, so maybe I’m just not that much of a shopper, so let’s say that you shop online for an hour a day:

      60 minutes per day * 7 days per week * 52 weeks per year = 21840 minutes per year or 15.2 days per year

      15.5 days per year * 66 years per lifetime = 1023 days of online shopping per lifetime or 2.8 years per lifetime

      Now, that’s a lot, but it’s not as bad as 8 years. Online shopping takes away the pressure to stay in the store. Malls are bad because they drag you from one side to the other just to get a pair of pants and a shirt. If you know your way around the internet you can even use browser extensions to aggregate the best prices in microseconds instead of having to walk/drive from store to store, which in my experience of shopping with my mom as a kid as 80% of the shopping trip.

  7. says

    I don’t know too many minimalists in my life so it sometimes feels weird that I’m the only one. I’ve never tried to convert anyone to minimalism before because it’s attacking their lifestyle. It’s like saying, “You’ve been living wastefully and wrong. Let me show you how to live.”

    How do you approach this without being condescending?

    • joshua becker says

      I think the condescension comes in when we approach conversations with words and attitudes of “me vs. you.” On other hand, when we approach our interactions with an attitude of “us” and “we,” it communicates that we don’t think we have everything figured out… that we are all in this together.

      For example, you’ll notice in the article above that I speak entirely of “we.” “We can do better.” “We have bought into the lie.” “There is a better life available to us.” This sounds far less condescending. But more than that, it’s true. None of us have it all figured out. We’re all journeying together just hoping to share the lessons we’ve learned with each other. This then, is not condescending… it is inspiring.

  8. Sarah says

    After spending a week in Uganda where the members of the family owned at most 2 pairs of socks and hand washed them each day to have a clean pair and I came with 5 pairs. To recognize our muchness and how much we really have despite being told constantly “we don’t have enough.” Do we really have any idea what we need vs what we want?

  9. Thomas says

    Thanks for this article. Apart from the generalisation of habits (for examples) the message is true. There is a sentence describing this assumption very good: If you own something, you are someone. If not, you’re a nobody. The equation says: you are your possessions. The opposite is the case. When you take off all your physical possessions from your being, then you can discover the true richness of your life.
    Everything in the world changes all the time, nothing can be taken as guaranteed. What could be more crazy to equate your precious life with the things you own?

  10. says

    I’m working on living minimally. I have boxes and boxes of things in my parents house that I just tried to sort through and there is so much that is just.. not needed! The rest of my stuff lives half a country away with my in Vancouver.

    Oh money. Luckily my boyfriend has a much better understanding of it than I do and paid of his 16 000 in school debt in the 12 months after he got a job. Hopefully he will be helpful as I try to embark on a more minimalist lifestyle!

  11. Sowm says

    I grew up in India. When I hear about the first world problems in the United States, it just cracks me up. It’s like they buy more stuff, then buy stuff to keep this stuff in, more storage, more space and then ultimately more stuff. I just don’t get it.

  12. Natalie says

    I’m a mother of 3 daughters and recently came to the realisation that I was spending on my kids as though it was really necessary for them to each have xxxx pairs of jeans, or to have tickets to an upcoming concert or stage show and had to have “everything” that other kids were getting from their parents. This resulted in my eldest, for example, developing an attitude where she expected the best and was disappointed when she did not get it. On the other hand, my middle child had the attitude of “mum I don’t care if I don’t have a huge birthday party, I just want to spend it with my best friend”. These two different behaviours were part of a huge wake up call for me, and one thing led to another and I ended up “stumbling” upon minimalism. As they say, when the student is ready the teacher will teach. I have started sharing what I have learnt with other friends via Facebook, and if only one of my friends gets something out of what I share, then I think we have all done our part. Well done on an excellent blog!

  13. says

    Great article…..One little thing though, it makes women sound like we spend way too much time shopping. If you click on the article you see that much of the time is spent on shopping for groceries, gifts and clothes for our children and our spouse. The article ends with this sentence. “So perhaps the best Christmas present British men could give their wives or girlfriends this year would be to do their fair share of the shopping.” Hmmmmm

  14. Scarlett says

    I’ve just recently stumbled upon the idea of living a minimalist life and loved this post. I’m 26 with 2 small children and I’ve never been a huge shopper and hardly ever felt the need to acquire things until my early adulthood. In the past few years I’ve become SO unhappy, with so little self-worth; I believe this stems completely from comparing myself to others, more specifically what we own and the money we make. I’ve endured years of self-induced stress from spending money on things I don’t need rather than paying off my bills and enjoying the EXPERIENCE. There just seems to be such freedom in only needing to keep up after what you need, rather than the excess. I want my children to live that freedom and deem charity a priority and I believe minimalism will be a contributor in how my husband and I accomplish that. I look forward to reading and learning more and implementing small and steady changes in my real life. :)

  15. KC says

    Sometimes the path to a minimalist lifestyle sneaks up on a person. After losing my husband a few months ago, I purchased a smaller house. Yep, paid for. No mortgage, ever. I donated, gave to relatives or sold most of our extra clothes and “stuff.” Recently, I decided to stay in a rather low-paying position (that I love) instead of busting my butt in school and getting a position with greater pay, but much greater stress. (At almost 50, I don’t need more stress!) My food mainly comes from Bountiful Baskets, the grocery store and I aren’t as close friends as we once were. None of these changes were done in a purposeful pursuit of a minimalist life, but it appears that is where my path is headed. :-)

  16. says

    Enjoyed reading the range of comments here. I’m into simple living now and celebrating/enjoying things for the value they offer but not worshipping them or thinking they are the source of happiness. :)

  17. says

    I’m something like a minimalist. But as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in between loads of audio equipment in a homerecording studio (this is where my computer is). For me, the important thing in stuff is: Does it enable me to do things that I feel I want to do? Because after all, doing what I want to do makes me happy. The other stuff that just sits around in a corner never being used can simply go away. But one question is: Do people learn to be happy with doing what they want to do, not with what they are buying? Do they really have the need to be free and want to do something? Do we even want them to be happy without buying? After all, we’re talking about growth of the economy all the time, and economy can only grow when we buy more useless stuff, because all the stuff we need we’ve got already.

    For me, all of this is a side-effect of our so called western world. Money is priority #1. We sacrifce a lot for getting more money. Then we try to buy happiness with that money. Well, we could also have happiness on #1 and money simply as a means to an end.

  18. 2pts says

    Been reading this blog for quite a while and I must say becoming a minimalist has been the biggest life changing epiphany I ever had in my life so far.

    I unplugged my TV, gave away/sold my DVD collection, and other items that created noise or diversion away from stuff that really mattered like spending time with family, travel geographically and spiritually, etc.

    I am still trying to cut down on browsing aimlessly. This makes me vulnerable to impulse purchases of items that will end in the back of the closet. And of course 50% off sales that seem like too good of purchases to turn down.

    With that said, I don’t necessarily live like a monk either (people will have their own interpretation of minimalism). I was and still am a basketball shoe fanatic and jersey collector. At one point I had 19 NBA jerseys hanging in my closet!!! That may not sound much but think about it, how many opportunities would a non NBA player have to wear even one? Not that many let alone justifying keeping 19 of them. With the shoes it’s worse especially with Jordan retros. Those shoes are the most stolen sneakers in the world and people will shoot each other for them.

    The rant above just shows how much materialism takes up time and space in my home and in my head. I got rid of a lot of those jerseys and shoes. I downsized from 19 jerseys to just 2 (heck I may even cut it down to zero). I owned at one point 15 pairs of sneakers with different color ways I would rotate so I could look fresh and impress my peers. Now I only one pair that I use to play basketball.

    Once I got rid of the shoes and jerseys, I felt 1000 tons lighter. There was no more of cleaning them. No more outrageous laundry cleaning of 19 jerseys. I truly feel free.

    Thanks for reading.

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