Do you want everything, all at once, right now?
Many of us would say yes. If there was a way to have it all right now, the majority of us would take that offer up. How many people would prefer to wait, delay receiving the things they want, or money, or fame? Not many.
I have thought about this for some time now, and realized we are all addicts. Yes, each one of us. We all want our goals to happen now, we want our fruits of labour before we put in the labour, and we want to enjoy it all right now. From emergency funds to retirement funds, toys and houses, travel and food, we want to experience it all right now.
I looked at our history, in a general sense, and saw a trend. We are all addicts! How could it not happen? Looking back to the times where the oldest living generation would still remember what it was like, there was always a trend for more. Have more. Do more. Need more. Scarcity reigned as people lived with less, lost more, suffered more, and worked harder.
In the late 1920s, North America experienced the Great Depression. Unemployment rose drastically, and world demand for products fell, causing prices, and in turn, profits to plunge to new lows. In the early 1930’s, 30% of the labour force was out of work. Can you imagine a time where families relied on one income, and one in three families was not able to find employment? It would be disastrous by today’s standards. We hear of the mortgage rates increasing by 0.25%, and the foreclosure hawks start circling, looking for their next target. (FYI: that’s $2.50 per thousand dollars. At a half a million-dollar mortgage, that’s an annual increase of $1,250.00 or $104.16/month.) Imagine no employment for one third of all families. That would be the epitome of less.
The Great Depression was felt until the beginning of the 2nd world war. In 1939/1940, unemployment disappeared as men were sent to work in factories, and others went to war. That time was not spent being idle; as families were responsible to maintain households without the men, and as the war continued and conscription called more and more men to war, women left the households to work outside the home. Everything changed: we heard of rations, lack of products that we, today, take for granted.
I cannot imagine ten years of not enough employment, struggling to feed your family and find a roof to keep your head dry at night. I cannot imagine the stress felt, only to turn into a time of war, where families lost their head of the household, brothers, fathers, sons did not return, and moms, sisters, aunts and daughters were working in factories that even men may have declined at an earlier time. Throughout this time, scarcity was a major theme. There was not enough money, time, food, support, etc. The average person did not have extra.
It wasn’t called minimalism back then, it was the way that life was.
1950s and beyond
Businesses and new start-ups really took off after the end of the second war. Opportunities and ventures were possible once again, and the rise of the automation and instant gratification took hold. Inventions to simplify life became the rage. Keeping up with the Jones’ became a way of life, because everyone wanted the house with the picket fence, the new car and 2.5 children. The more that people bought, the wealthier they appeared.
And yet, the poorer they became.
Here they are, in a time where food is plentiful, transportation has became a cheap alternative, work is available, and yet a shift happened. Once upon a time, people worked to live. Introduce all the things that people had to have to show progression and advancement, wealth and acceptance from others, and we became people who lived to work.
Manufactured products started arriving from other countries, promising cheap labour and even cheaper prices. This created a new heightened experience: people could purchase whatever they wanted, cheaper than ever! (Even if they only lasted half as long as the old one, that was okay because people were starting to need new, bigger, faster, fancier replacements long before the old one would have expired anyway.) We, as a culture, bought more, threw away more, replaced more, consumed more, worked more, and had less.
What? Less? How could we have less than before?
We traded face to face conversations with the telephone. We traded imagination for television. We traded time for money. We traded our dreams to match those of the Jones’.
We traded our dreams to match those of the Jones’.
I repeated myself because this, this is where we are today.
I can’t really blame society for morphing into the addicts that we are. Imagine if you were a child in a candy store, denied candy every day for months on end. The first time you were left alone in the candy store, you would likely take a handful. Imagine if you were allowed to enjoy as much as you could eat! You would stuff yourself, your pockets, and anything else that would hold candy.
Isn’t this what we did? We had years of deprivation, scarcity, and feelings of not being enough. We suffered through loses, and celebrated all kinds of successes, simply to feel better. Then, someone said, it’s ok. The deprivation is over: go forth and enjoy life.
Story of Society and Becoming an Addict
This is the story of our society. We see times that are tough, and prior generations scaled back and rationed. Then, the times were amazing and abundant with gifts for all, and we enjoyed every moment. We hoarded everything. When times got tough, life as we knew it would end. We would realize what a mess we were in. Some would fix it. Some would not be affected. Others lost everything.
Recently, I read The Year of Less, by Cait Flanders. Motivated by the want for things, the need for acceptance, and the lack of self-esteem all of this wanting has brought many of us, she spent money she didn’t have, spent time in abusive relationships, and spent her health on short-term fixes, like binging on alcohol and food. She embraced her own dreams, removed the material things that no longer gave her joy, and she focused on becoming her most authentic self.
I cheered her on, as she left the destructive behaviour behind, and as each milestone was met, it occurred to me: we are still obsessed with stuff. We either obsess about how much we have, or how little we have. What we chose vs what we can choose now. We obsess about ourselves: how we see ourselves, and how others see us, how much we are liked, and how much we like or do not like others.
Addiction: Something we all struggle with
It’s a scary world we live in, where much of our behaviour appears to be motivated by want, need, and greed. I fall victim to all of it myself – I have debt from spending more than I could afford. I have eaten my share of indulgence, and I have wanted it all. I still do. I am no role model in the ways of being satisfied with what I have, because I am as scared as the next person. I fear there will not be enough for us when we are older. I worry about the ways of the world, and the changes we are seeing, and I worry about the next generation, growing up without the skills to handle the hardships that technology advances will likely bring about.
We are all addicts who obsess over more or less, and we no longer listen to what our own personal dreams are. Can you really picture yourself living in a home with six bathrooms, two kitchens, four garages and being house-poor? Do you see yourself cleaning a house that big, or do you think you will hire someone when you get there? What will you put in the three living rooms? Where will family gather? Is there family? What will you do when it’s just the two of you, and how will you spend your time? Unless you have a very large family that lives with you, it’s likely you only inhabit one or two rooms at a time. Do you really need that much house?
We do not need that much.
When I adopted my first dog, I was in my early twenties and my then-partner and I lived in a small place. I had asked if he wanted to get a second dog, as every dog needs a friend, you see. He said there was not enough room for two dogs, never mind the one we had. I thought about that, and realized one very important factor: whatever room I am in, so is my dog. Whatever couch I sit on, so does my dog. It doesn’t matter if we own a mansion or a tiny home – whichever room I am in, so is my dog.
A house is a home, not a museum. We are people, not curators in a museum. Let’s start by taking stock of what is really important to us, and go from there. Find your own dreams, clear your own space, and it is likely you will really notice you have more than you thought.
Let’s stop the addiction. Let’s do it now.