Why Essentialism is the minimalist’s perfect toolkit


If you read my last post, you might have guessed that I’ve been reading Greg McKeown’s 2014 book – Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Less But Better

McKeown’s key idea is simple but powerful: Less but better.

That is, if we’re going to ‘operate at our highest point of contribution’, we should do only what’s essential.

This concept is seemingly so obvious, but requires some rigorous pruning of the things we choose to do with our time. It’s impossible to do justice to this thought-provoking book, so I have pulled out some ideas here but recommend you read it.

Consider the Essentialist approach to life

If you ever feel that you’re juggling 50,000 things and struggling to keep all the plates spinning, then read on. By adopting the Essentialist approach, McKeown argues that we can live more intentionally and really makes a difference where it truly matters.
Change your mindset

First, reflect

Take time out to ‘build quiet reflection spaces’ to enable you to focus on what’s important.

For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, make a list of all the small tasks that are nagging you. Highlight the most important and do the most difficult thing first. You’ll feel better if you do.

Recognise that there are trade-offs in your choices, so you have to discern what’s truly important.

Look after yourself

If you’re not eating properly, sleeping well or getting enough exercise and fresh air, you’re not protecting the only asset you have: yourself.

That means you need to edit out the things in your life that prevent you from being your best self.

Be selective

Find what’s key

Look for what McKeown calls the ‘lead’ or the most important part of something*. Keep asking questions until you understand the heart of what’s essential. Can you drill down until you truly know what’s important? Do this and you’ll be able to eliminate the noise and focus only on the absolute essential.

For instance, in work, think carefully before accepting a meeting request. Will attending help you achieve your key goal? If not, decline.

Say no with a smile

Learn to deliver ‘the graceful no’ to guard your time carefully. McKeown explains how the Latin root of the word “-cis” or “-cid” literally means to cut or kill. So when making a decision, we are cutting options. Edit your time so that you are intentional in how you spend it. Then say no with kindness and good grace.

For example, if someone wants you to help with a fundraising event, which cuts into time you have allocated to be with your family, tell them you’d love to help but that your family time is sancrosanct.

Make it happen

Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries to enable you to proactively ‘compartmentalise’ activities to protect the things that truly matter.

If you’re at work, be 100% present. As soon as you leave the workplace, you’re no longer on duty. Let the journey home be your time to unwind and to shed the cares of the day. So, as soon as you walk through the door, you’re 100% present there.

Build capacity

Create buffers in terms of the time you allocate to specific activities (allow an extra 50%) because things will always take longer than you think.

Oh, this is a good one! Things always take longer than planned. So, schedule an extra 50% of time for getting somewhere so that you arrive at your destination. Give yourself capacity to take more time over a particular task. If you don’t need the time, you’ve got some breathing space. If you do need it, you’ll be glad you made the time.

Start small

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so apply the Essentialist mindset as frequently as you can. Grab the low-hanging fruit and build on your success.

So, for example, when you get up in the morning, what’s essential right at that moment? I’ll bet it’s not checking social media. More likely, it’s getting yourself and the kids out of the door.

I’ll end as McKeown’s book begins. Do you agree?


– Lin Yutang

*In this, McKeown draws on a story told by the fabulous Nora Ephron whose book I quoted in this post.


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10 tips to put social media in its rightful place


Social media websites and apps can be wonderful tools. They enable us to share content, engage with others, lobby on a particular issue, express ourselves or simply take some time out from everyday life.

What happens, though, when the time spent on social media becomes so compelling that we fail to lose sight of what’s important?

Particularly for our impressionable teens, fear of missing out (FOMO) means that it’s hard to avoid the addictive nature of apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr…. and so on.

Here are 10 tips to help put social media in its rightful place

1. Be choosy about which apps or sites to use regularly

If people want to engage with you, that’s where they’ll find you. I’m on Twitter and use Instagram a little. I maintain a personal Facebook account to keep a virtual address list for far-flung friends and relatives, but I don’t have the app’ on my device and I seldom post.

2. Use one device

Only have social media on one device. I no longer use a smart phone, as I wrote about in my post, Digital Detox Trending. Instead, I use a tablet device for the apps I do use. Most of them are not social media ones; the most densely populated folder is entitled ‘Productivity’ and contains the apps I find most useful.

3. Set a timer

If you’re going to dip into your social media of choice, time yourself. When the timer goes off, stop scrolling.

4. Leave your device at home

Do you really need to take your smart phone with you everywhere? Walking the dog round the block? Just take your keys, dog and poop bags (of course)!

5. Manage others’ expectations

Let people know that you’re not all social media all the time. If they want to contact you, they can do it the old-fashioned way.

6. Agree house rules

Once good habits are established, you’ll be on a roll. So, no devices at the dinner table, switch off half-an-hour before bed and make sure the grown-ups model good behaviour!

In his book Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less, Greg McKeown suggests an excellent idea. This might work especially well with pre-teens:

Offer the kids 10 ‘tokens’ per week. Each token allows 30 minutes’ screen time. You can earn additional tokens by reading for half-an-hour, but once all tokens have gone, that’s it!

7. Confiscate the teenage phone when homework should be being done

This is a hard-to-enforce tip but well worth it. When homework is being done upstairs, the phone sits on its docking station downstairs. I’ve heard every excuse in the book, but I can tell you that no teenager needs his/her phone whilst doing homework. Indeed, the more focussed they can be, the sooner they can return to their virtual social life.

8. Set an example to your kids: Stop. Look. Listen. Be Present

I would urge you to listen to episode 143 of The Slow Home Podcast. There is a great deal of wisdom in the conversation that occurs between host Brooke McAlary and her guest Justin Coulson. The single most powerful phrase I heard during this episode was, ‘Be present‘.

How many of us hear what our kids are saying, but don’t really listen because we’re continuing to type/scroll/comment/like what we are seeing online?

During the podcast, Justin Coulson cited one of his children who asserted that he couldn’t really be listening because he had continued to do what he was doing when she had begun to speak to him.

Stop. Look. Listen.

9. Don’t multi-task

This tip builds on the above one. Sure, you can listen to a podcast while you’re doing the ironing. That’s what you’ll find me doing most Sunday mornings after our dog walk! However, you can’t be effective at a work task if you allow yourself to dip into social media. If this a temptation, choose the Pomodoro technique and focus for just 25 minutes in every half hour, then take a break.

10. Have a phone creche

Agree with your family to establish a ‘phone creche’. A bit like day-care for your phone, this can be a place where everyone’s device goes when the family is focussing on the important things in life. The phone gets charged and so does your familial relationships.

Further reading: 



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Should we unclutter people?


If you’ve been moving towards a more intentional life, then you’ll know that a big part of that is aligning your choices and actions with your longer-term goals.

The removal of excess stuff from your life is one of the first steps on your path towards a clutter-less life.

Excess stuff is bad for your health

Decluttering can help not only with your physical environment but with your mental wellbeing. Clutter affects numerous aspects of your life from sleep to anxiety.

Academics at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF)* discovered that clutter has a profound effect on people’s mood and self-esteem. In exploring the relationship between 32 families and the objects in their homes, the researchers took a deep dive into how middle-class Americans used the space in their homes. They considered how people interacted with the things they had accumulated over a lifetime and explored (amongst other things) the effect of what they called, “material saturation: mountains of possessions.”

One of the key findings was a link between high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in women and a high density of household objects.

Clutter makes us stressed!

Minimalism offers strategies for dealing with this problem. Check out my #Unclutter2017 series on the blog for some ideas if you want to get started.

Personal baggage

But what about other areas of our life that leave us drained, feeling low or just plain miserable? Personal baggage (check out that metaphor) or relationships that no longer add value to our lives may also need to be re-examined if we are to truly live an intentional life.

To be able to enjoy what The Minimalists call a ‘meaningful life with less’, you’re going to want to spend your time with people who build you up, who are supportive and who become the ‘wind beneath your wings’ not the ‘downdraught’.

Toxic relationships

If excess stuff is bad for your health, then toxic people must surely be poisonous.

That’s quite a claim!

It’s certainly more sensitive and difficult to deal with someone than with something.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ – Jim Rohn

There are things you can do to remove toxic people from your life.

I’m not talking about the closest relationship you have such as with a spouse or partner, but about people with whom you interract regularly. This might be individuals in a work environment, in a social setting, or in a situation in which you both have something in common (e.g. as part of a school community).

Take action

  • Be discerning in your use of social media. Block/unfollow/unfriend. Do it! Be bold.
  • Let a relationship cool off. Over time, a friendship that was once close can gradually fall away. You may experience a range of emotions, as you say goodbye to a period of your life that has ended, but you know the right thing to do.
  • Don’t be a water-cooler gossip. Don’t indulge in tittle-tattle, even on the periphery. Gossip is contagious.
  • Pull back without a fuss. Pursue the experiences (and relationships) that add value to your life, leaving less time for those from whom you want to create distance.
  • Be neutral and non-committal. You’ve just moved on. That’s it.
  • Seek out like-minded people whose company you’ll enjoy whilst also cherishing the positive relationships you have nurtured over many years. This is where you’ll want to invest your precious time.

The Minimalists are famously quoted as saying, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” By making intentional choices about who you spend time with impacts on your day-to-day existence, thus impacting on the overall picture.

If all else fails, remember this:

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog.” – Dean Koontz


* Details of the CELF study and its resultant book (Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century) can be found here: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/trouble-in-paradise-new-ucla-book


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Colour and the minimalist wardrobe


Further to my post on Colour and the Minimalist home, I thought it would fun to write about colour and the minimalist wardrobe.

A colleague of mine popped in to see me today. Inspired by the colours of spring, she was wearing a zingy yellow top and matching shoes. It looked fabulous.

Choosing great colours can impact on not only how you look, but how you feel. The ones that suit your skin tone will give you a lift (and you’ll be more likely to receive compliments). Those that don’t suit you may have a draining effect.

If, like me, you enjoy a pared-down, minimalist wardrobe, then considering your choice of colour can be very useful indeed. Here’s why.

The seasonal approach to colour

The seasonal approach to colour, made popular by Colour me Beautiful (CMB) first seeks to establish if your skin is warm-toned or cool. Test this yourself by draping a piece of fabric across your chest, so that it frames your face. First try white, then cream. Which is more flattering? Not sure yet? Try silver then gold.

Cool skin tones will radiate when wearing white or silver. By contrast, warm-toned skin will look best with cream or gold, making the eyes sparkle and the skin glow. Once you’ve established warm vs. cool, the seasonal colour palette then helps identify if darker tones are more flattering for you, or lighter ones.

If your skin tone is warm, then you’ll either be ‘spring‘ (lighter, more vibrant) or ‘autumn‘ (darker, more muted). If you have a cool skin tone, then ‘summer‘ (for paler shades) may be your season or ‘winter‘ if you can wear more vibrant, jewel-like colours.

Some online retailers, such as Kettlewell Colours, offer a fabulous array of colours in their product ranges. With Kettlewell, it’s even possible to shop by colour.

Curious to find out your season?

Take the Kettlewell quiz. In the interest of research, I took the quiz myself and found it aligned really well with face-to-face colour analysis..

So what?

If you know your colours, then everything in your wardrobe will mix and match.

That’s very useful for those who choose to have a ‘tiny wardrobe’.  If you subscribe to the seasonal colour palette idea, you can shop for colours that you know will suit you. Everything will go together so no matter what garment you pull out of the wardrobe, it will go with whatever else you have chosen.

Other options for a minimal wardrobe

If colour isn’t your key priority when it comes to developing your own, unique capsule wardrobe, what else might you consider?

  • Adopt a favourite colour and wear it all the time. This can be your trademark. Be bold; you don’t need to be old to wear purple!
  • Go for neutrals (black, navy, beige, grey) and team them with crisp white t-shirts and plain fabrics to have an ‘any time any place’ capsule wardrobe.
  • Have a signature garment or outfit. Think of Mark Zuckerberg and others about whom I wrote here. Each of them has a simple approach to what they wear, which minimises decision making and frees them up for more important matters.
  • Take the approach of Project 333 for whom ‘simple is the new black‘ and only wear 33 items every 3 months

First things first

If you haven’t decluttered your wardrobe, let’s get back to basics with my 4-step wardrobe edit, first published here: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/wardrobe-edit/

As you will find, you’ll end up with a wardrobe that contains only the clothes you truly love and that you’ll actually wear – whatever colour they may be.


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Colour and the minimalist home


Paul Klee via MetMuseum.org

Colour has long been a fascination for people who have studied and written about it from a variety of perspectives. Consider the great Impressionists whose shimmering, glorious paintings – aimed at depicting the changing qualities of light – were studies in colour perception.

As I love colour, I began to consider about how it related to a minimalist lifestyle, especially in the home.

A minimalist home

When we think of minimalism in the home, our mind jumps to images of sleek, white spaces, perhaps with a cool retro vibe. For inspiration, just type #minimalisthomes into Instagram and you’ll see what I mean.

In reality, every home will be unique, but those of aspiring minimalists may share some of the following attributes:

  • an uncluttered space
  • clear surfaces
  • everything in its place (most of the time!)

There’ll often also be a bag, drawer or box containing things to let go.

But what about colour?

Choice of colour

In the home, our choice of colour can have a huge impact. I was reminded of this recently when doing some decorating to refresh a space that hadn’t been painted in almost 5 years. In doing this slow and painstaking work, I realised how much our choice of colour had made a difference to our living space.

Paul Klee, whose painting features above, told his students:

To paint well means only this: to put the right colors in the right spot.”

How much more daunting, then, is the choice of colour for your home when the ‘spot’ you will be painting is one in which you live?

Colour and meaning

On her website, writer Judy Scott-Kemmis describes the meaning of specific colours.

If you have a favourite colour, check out yours but beware the good sides and the bad!

I love green, which Scott-Kemmis describes as “the color of balance and growth”. So far, so good. However, she then goes onto say, “It can mean both self-reliance as a positive and possessiveness as a negative, among many other meanings”. 

Colour and our home

When we first moved into our house in 2012, it was a very colourful place indeed. The walls of our family room were a sunny yellow; the curtains red (see below). Likewise, our little study was pink, with lilac curtains!


The Midlands Minimalist household summer 2012

Over time, we developed more of a blank canvas using lashings of brilliant white emulsion. Our goal was to create a greater sense of light and space, especially as we had come from a house (called a ‘sunshine house’) whose expansive and unusual corner windows were its key feature.

The family room

Our family room has evolved considerably, as you can see in the following photos. The image from 2012 (bottom, right) shows how much darker the room appeared with its heavy drapes and yellow paint.

Once the room was decorated (top right) and dressed with light linen curtains, there was an immediate sense of light and space.

The largest photo shows how the room looks today. Some of the furniture has been replaced and we’ve changed the covers on the sofa that you can see in the foreground. The room is also less busy. We have added colour with a picture and soft-furnishings but the rest of the space remains neutral.

We still use comfy throws on the sofas, not least because Ollie-the-cockapoo likes a snuggle with us; we are not so keen on paw-prints for sofa fabrics!

The impact

Creating this simpler backdrop for our lives has contributed to a sense of being lighter and freer – a positive trait of minimalism. Indeed, our use of colour has certainly contributed to our enjoyment of this cosy space.

We feel that our family room is relatively easy on the eye. It’s certainly simple to maintain. This is where we spend the most time; it is the heart of our minimalist home.

Does a lighter backdrop inspire minimalism?

I wouldn’t say that a lighter, more neutral backdrop has inspired us to become more minimalist. Rather, it has contributed positively to our overall goal to live more simply, to pare back and to focus on what matters. In our home, we have retained only those objects that we enjoy and which add value. The result is a living space can be enjoyed by us and by those who visit.

What about you?

What colours have you chosen and why? Would a change in colour create a change of mood in your home? Has the choice of a certain colour had an impact on you? I’d love to know!


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Reducing food-related waste in the minimalist home


Since adopting a minimalist lifestyle, I have become increasingly aware of the things that we are bringing into the home.

Extra ‘goods in’

For example, our daughter’s fundraising efforts, mentioned previously here, meant that we were recently given donations of items to sell. Happily, some have sold. Others have since been donated. It’s a little like the ‘one in, one out‘ approach, so nothing has been hanging around for too long.

Goods categories you can’t ignore

But what about the items we have to bring into the home? In a recent post, I talked about the way in which we shop online for food and groceries. We love this efficient method of doing our weekly shop, but when our order arrived yesterday, I decided to take a closer look.

Food packaging was my focus, as I reviewed the items that I had ordered the night before.

Food packaging and the scourge of cellophane

First of all, there was a lot of cellophane wrapping. Worse, the cherry tomatoes arrived in a black plastic tray (also wrapped in cellophane) that we are unable to recycle where we live. In addition, our bell peppers were not only wrapped in cellophane, they also had a polystyrene mesh ‘blanket’ to protect them from bruising. Is this really necessary?

I set about removing as much packaging as I could from the items we had ordered to consider it carefully.

Ironically, the dishwasher tablets from Ecover came in a cardboard box that could immediately be recycled but the tablets themselves were individually wrapped… in plastic.

Hmm. There’s a bit of a theme here.


Is there another way?

So, today, I decided to find an alternative way to buy the same sorts of food items but without any of the associated waste.

Enter the high street greengrocer

We needed to top up my fruit and vegetables. So, today we went to the greengrocer in town. As we had to go into town anyway, it was a chance to complete the shopping and see if I could find the things I needed.


I took my own large bag and placed the items directly into it. Although there were plastic food bags available, I ignored those. I managed to find everything I needed and (even better) chanced upon some raw beetroot that my online retailer did not offer. The only things I wanted, which did come in a plastic container, were some blueberries. I bought these, but as I can recycle the box and lid, I didn’t feel too bad about that.

Although this way of shopping presents a small inconvenience, I should see fewer items in the recycling bin at the end of the fortnight and a lot less cellophane in the grey bin (which goes to landfill).

So, what next?

We buy a lot of nut butter, so I’m going to buy this in bulk to avoid using multiple jars. The frozen fruits that my husband, Andrew, uses to make his ‘berry breakfast’ normally come in a plastic carton, with a cardboard surround and a cellophane lid. Instead, our local frozen food store sells frozen berries in plastic bags. I’ll buy these, then send the plastic bags back with our grocery retailer’s carrier bags for recycling that I can return via my delivery driver.

Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Rot

I’ve started reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life. So, I look forward to more inspiration.

Have you become more conscious of what you bring into your home?Have you been inspired to reduce food waste? What successes have you achieved? Where have the stumbling blocks been for you? Let me know!


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#FrugalFebruary – What we can all learn from The Overspent American


If you haven’t read The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need by Juliet Schor, then I would encourage you to add it to your ‘must read’ list.

Written towards the end of the 1990’s, Schor’s message is as true today as it was in the days before the global financial crisis. If you’re looking to simplify your life, the messages from this important book may resonate with you (as they did with me). I just wish I’d read it before.

In today’s post, I share some of the key tenets of Schor’s persuasive manifesto in the hope that they will help you on your journey towards a more meaningful life with less. In particular, I’d suggest that these are messages we’ll want to teach our kids so let me know if they resonated with you.

Beware ‘prosperous referents’

We’re all aware of the idea of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. In the case of our kids, for Joneses read ‘Kardashian’ (and consider the title of that celebrity family’s television show) and ‘Made in Chelsea’. Schor takes this notion further, describing the impact of widespread ‘upscale competitive consumption’ on individuals and society as a whole.

Schor suggests that we are now exposed to a much broader range of ‘referents’ (points of social and cultural comparison) than ever before. It’s hard not to compare ourselves to those we see on social media, on the television, at the office or in our neighbourhood.

We see others remodelling their kitchens and want to do it, too. We observe colleagues with the latest gadgets or we look on enviously as siblings book foreign holidays.

Yet, the truth is this: everyone’s finances are unique. If we aspire to buy what others have, we may find ourselves enmeshed in what Schor calls ‘a cycle of work-and-spend’.

Upscaling has undermined saving

There’s absolutely nothing wrong in striving to achieve [and save for] what we want in life, but remember this:

upscaling has undermined saving

When the urge to own what others becomes overwhelming, we find ourselves stretching budgets (or taking on debt) to pay for things that we don’t actually need.

We all need an emergency fund for when the washing machine breaks down or the fence blows over. Do we all have one?

Consider Schor’s manifesto

Here’s my 2017 take on Schor’s plan, which is aimed at both individuals and society. What do you make of these action points? Can you apply any of them to your own life? What would you advise your kids, especially teens for whom independence and adulthood is not so far away?

Control desire

Unsubscribe from email marketing. We can all do this individually or use a service such as Unroll.me. Recycle catalogues that land on your doormat.

If you do purchase something, buy the best quality you can afford so that it lasts. When own something lovely that adds value to your life, you stop looking.

Make exclusivity uncool

Consider what a difference it would make if conspicuous consumption were frowned upon, exposing competitive spending for what it really is.

So, be prepared to stand out from the crowd. Set spending limits.

This can be particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with children. By deciding to hold just a modest birthday party, for example, other parents may thank you for taking the pressure off.

For teenagers, try establishing a monthly allowance. When it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no borrowing from next month. This approach helps teens enormously; it helps them see that exclusivity is uncool when a single purchase can blow their budget and prevent them from using their allowance to enjoy experiences.

Embrace the sharing economy

Educate yourself about the brands you love. Consider the provenance of their products (about which there may not be a great deal of information). To what extent do the values of your favourite brands truly align with yours? Do you really need to buy a product with a label (when you will, in effect, become a walking advertisement)?

To build on this theme, become ‘ad-aware’ and more alert to the possibility that we are surrounded by subliminal messages encouraging us to buy.

Even better, find ways to share, rather than to own. Tool libraries are now emerging, but I’d wager there are many more things we could share in our communities.

For example, I think a ‘Spice Sharing Collective’ would be a fabulous way to have access to a range of unusual herbs and spices that you’d otherwise hesitate buying. Local friends, don’t go out and buy Fenugreek; come and get a teaspoon from me!

Avoid retail therapy

Spending, which can be addictive, may be a substitute for other activities or needs. The idea of shopping as therapy can make a situation worse, as debt and guilt add to the feelings that ‘retail therapy’ was designed to eliminate.

De-commercialise the rituals

See if you can avoid every holiday, festival or celebration becoming a shopping spree. Instead, discover the histories of the holidays you celebrate. If a particular ritual involves gifting, consider making something yourself.

Make Time

If you outsource, you buy time but have to earn to pay for it. That doesn’t really make sense. Consider how much ‘life energy‘ you’d have to expend just to pay someone else for a particular service.

Doing something the slow way is definitely cheaper and may be more eco-friendly, even if it takes more time. It may also bring you closer to those in your community, which is good for them and for you.

Break the work-and-spend cycle

Here’s where Schor addresses society as a whole, including those who can legislate for change.

If we tax larger vehicles, as we do in the UK, that may nudge us towards a different choice.
Likewise, the larger the home, the higher the domestic property tax.

Maybe these types of governmental controls will cause us, consumers, to consider if what we already have may actually be enough thus breaking the ‘work-and-spend’ cycle of consumption.

Mitigate the factors that lead to competitive spending

Here’s another one for government. What would happen if advertisements were no longer subsidised? Is more always better?

If, as consumers, we stopped believing the marketers who persuade us that buying a particular product could fill a heart void/help us look younger/slimmer, make us happier, we may be able to break the pattern of competitive spending. Keeping up with the Joneses would become a thing of the past.

Beyond a certain point, more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness

I think we all know this deep down, but a reminder now and again is no bad thing.

More stuff doesn’t make us happier. In fact, we know that more stuff equals more misery, more stress, more distraction, more debt.

A turning tide?

Schor concludes with a desire for balance, proposing ‘a decently functioning economy coexisting with a decent cultural and daily life experience’.

Almost 20 years on from the first publication of this influential book, I’d like to think that the tide is turning. I’d like to believe that this balance is achievable. A growing interest in minimalism and simple living makes me hope that it is.


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