Less is More & The Pursuit of Happiness

In my first post, The Mark of the Baby Boomers: The Internet and Drought, I confessed to being a boomer myself, and to having a joint responsibility for the state of the planet. I promised to share ideas about ensuring the survival of the planet. This is what I hope to do here, but first another confession.

When I read all the other posts on this website, I feel out of depth. If you are indeed a ‘first worlder’, then you are way ahead of us in technology, compared to how we live in South Africa. I am privileged. I have a 3500m2 wild garden mostly given back to nature.

A kilometre away, people live in a shantytown they cobble together from anything they can find. From time to time, the government breaks up these squatter camps, leaving behind piles of rubbish blowing in the wind. The policy is to replace these with one-room starter houses. We have porous borders and an exploding population. These houses in Soweto may never catch up.

South African Shanty Town: Matt-80
South African Shanty Town: Matt-80

Property Ownership, and How It Has Become Almost Unaffordable

Matthew Jaster was correct when he commented on my baby boomer post, ‘Perhaps if the boomers hadn’t caused rampant inflation in the housing market I might be able to afford to buy land and live that way too.’ George Fulton was on the button in blaming ‘the design of our money system in general’. However, I believe there is more to it than that.

In the early 1980’s, we bought a fixer-upper, 1944 vintage 3-bedroom house. There was only one bathroom and we ate in the kitchen like a farmhouse. There was also only one electricity point per room. We repaired the worst with our own hands and made a tidy profit (after inflation) when we sold it four years later.

Our next home was a new two-bedroom townhouse in a fashionable development. It had all the modern conveniences we missed in the house, but none of the spaciousness we enjoyed in our farmhouse kitchen. The builders had poured their money into luxury instead, in a belief that ‘more is more’. I will return to this concept in a moment.

Woodbridge Island: A3alb
Woodbridge Island: A3alb

Property has become more expensive for four reasons that do not join up. We want to keep property affordable, yet we must take the pressure off the planet despite some green materials costing more to produce. Other factors pushing prices are the ‘necessary evil’ of inflation, technology creep, and the cost of money.

Life Would be Perfect, if I Could Just Have a Little More …

I would like to add a fifth reason, and this time, one that is in our power to change. This is the Madison Avenue – dare I say it – propaganda that ‘more is better’, ‘more is more’. Marketers bombard us with seductive images of bigger and bigger flat screen televisions, faster and faster computers, and motor cars capable of obscene speed.

Walmart Super Centre: Cool Caesar
Walmart Super Centre: Cool Caesar

Our food stores reflect the lust for ‘more’ with designer display cabinets filled with perfect vegetables without a blemish. Tinted lights over meat make it seem fresher than fresh. These designer foods travel large distances from centralised processing warehouses. Fertiliser and transport costs are making this unsustainable.

Towards the Belief that ‘Less is More’

Money, and the getting and spending of it have overtaken religion with the promise of eternal happiness. If we can just have that lounge suite then life will be perfect. One more detox will restore my youthful beauty. This materialistic clutter is suffocating our planet. If we have not reached tipping point, then surely we must do so soon!

The English poet Robert Browning penned the expression ‘less is more’ in a monologue to an artist friend where he pleads for the more efficient use of canvas so that both the body and soul have their place. The minimalist school of architecture re-imagined the concept in the 1960’s, with buildings stripped of any adornment, and open plan bürolandschaft offices that did not work out the way we hoped.

The 1960’s were years of scarce resources, and we had to make do with what we had. I believe we should start looking for ‘less is more’ in everything we do again. We need to reduce the layers of luxury with which we surround ourselves while we have breath.

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