Why We Do Better

More than enough

I suggest that we hold funerals for the things in our closets to ease the process of letting them go. To continue with that theme, I’ve been thinking about the second challenge of minimal living, the challenge of accumulation. Doesn’t matter how ruthlessly (or gracefully) you eliminate your nostalgic cruft if you gather new things like a katamari.

The solution I’ve been flirting with is: every time you buy something for yourself, you buy a second and give it to somebody else. Want that new coffee maker? Buy two, give one to a friend. Want that perfect strapless dress? Buy two, give one to Goodwill. Or the first person who comments on your Facebook post.

Companies like Terrapass provide ‘carbon offsets’, funding projects that eliminate carbon as a means to offset one’s own carbon creation. Think of the buy two, give one strategy as a carbon offset for your own accumulation.

There are two convincing arguments for why you might test this idea.

First, it short-circuits the scarcity mindset, which tells us that we never have enough and that other people’s wealth threatens our own. When we feel scarcity we compulsively try to gather the largest pile of nuts because we fear that winter is coming. When we start to think about purchasing as a means to share with others, we build a bridge to a mindset of abundance. Not only is there enough for everybody, but lasting satisfaction blooms in the giving, not the getting.

Second, it will make you healthier. Not in an abstract way. Thirty years of research support the physical and mental benefits of giving, from bolstering immune function, to decreased risk for depression and longer life span.

As for me, the reason I like buy two, give one is that it compels you to examine the nature of your relationship with consumption. Initially, you might accumulate fewer things simply because the idea of paying double forces you to reconsider the value and necessity of the purchase. In time, however, it will deepen your appreciation for why you consider an object valuable in the first place. The idea of sharing something you cherish transforms the deed from an act of charity to an act of love.

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