Wealth reduction and appreciating what we’ve got

This is just a thought that popped into my head so I’m going to explore it a bit and see what comes of it: people with more money buy more stuff. Yes, I know, a revolutionary thought, hey?

Well, though it seems blazingly obvious on the surface, I was thinking that money – however you come by it – breeds a type of laziness once you have a certain amount of it. Now, it may take a lot of effort to make the money in your work or career, and we all need to get certain essentials in life that cannot be acquired secondhand or made from scratch, but it seems that once you’ve hit a certain earning (and perhaps “busyness”) threshold, then if something needs repair or has “fallen out of fashion” or performs a very specific task that could be done by something else but we decide we “need” that particular tool for the job, well then we just go out and buy a new one.

For example, in the realm of repairing an item, I’ve seen it happen often that someone who can afford to replace an item will not bother mending a fixable item, but will effortlessly replace it. The earning threshold they have achieved has now put them in the mindset of “why should I bother to spend the time/effort to fix this (and it’ll look unappealing then anyway), when I can go out and buy a new/better one?” While this might be true of a well-worn item that you’ve had for decades and is overdue for a replacement, it often is the case with an item with only superficial repair needs, but it’s the time it takes and the effort required which determines the fate of this otherwise intact item.

It’s all a bit lazy and I think accounts for a lot of our society’s waste of resources (see the important and entertaining Story of Stuff for what I mean). That laziness, I believe, stems directly from that financial threshold that this person might have achieved from a number of reasons:

1) they may work so much that they claim that there is no time to spend on repairing something. They also have “better things to do” with their time
2) they have a status to maintain with peers so an aging or obviously repaired item will simply look tatty in amongst their swishy other stuff
3) there is a certain power or thrill in being able to wield this financial prowess at will. Picking a brand-new item fulfills our society’s need to buy and consume

To me, this all boils down to having too much money. You always hear stories of people who started small, living it tough but working their way to bigger and better things. While that’s truly honorable in some ways, it reflects our mindset in our society that success is all-important and we see those early days as a necessary evil en route to financial freedom, comfort and wealth. What I don’t understand is why those early days are considered a negative to get through as quickly as possible? It’s in those early days of honest labour and frugal living where we probably make our most genuine relationships, where we value every dollar we earn, where we respect others who are in the same boat as us and where we are anything but lazy. Take that ultimate goal of becoming wealthy out of the picture and just be happy living at that level all the time, and suddenly the mindset changes.

In terms of buying stuff versus fixing stuff in this context, the solution is to reduce our need for greed. If we realise that time for ourselves and relationships should come first, and with that extra time we will also slow life down to a meaningful speed, then we’ll time to do other things than just work. This will cascade to a lower income which will allow for less flamboyant spending. However, that appreciation for what we have will return, and we will be happy to repair something when it needs it as our focus will become less about our stuff and more about the increased time we will be able to spend with friends and our own projects. Our improved relationships with family and friends will lessen the need to supplant that part of our lives with stuff and a sustainable level of wealth more similar to your friends will negate the need for showing off as the relationships will be rich enough to overlook such trivialities.

Beyond that, due to our withholding from buying stuff we don’t need, our impact on the planet will be vastly lessened which will ultimately lead to a better world. Increased recycling of goods through hand-me-downs, selling secondhand goods and people just holding onto what they have longer, will greatly reduce the number of factories being built for new items, resulting in less pollution, fewer resources being used in production and lessen the waste of items going to landfills.

The sea of benefits of this type of sustainable living attitude over the selfish and wasteful attitude that seems to be gaining strength around the world seems to be obvious, but we are still hampered by our governments and money-hungry corporations breeding us into money-lusting monsters.

Within my own life, it wasn’t until I pulled back from this supposed allure of making as much money as possible and being seduced by the shiny new toys in the shops, that I realised how much richer, slower and more fulfilling life can be. And that there’s a great satisfaction in building or repairing an item over buying something new!

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