When less is morePublished on November 26, 2007


Depending on when you're reading this column, you may have spent the last few days battling hordes of crazed fellow shoppers at the mall, unwrapping gifts or trying to figure out where to put the singing fish plaque you received at the office Secret Santa party.

After being bombarded for two months by ads urging you to buy more, more, more, do you find yourself craving less?


It's an almost revolutionary idea these days. After all, magazine editor Bonnie Fuller had a hit last year with her book The Joys of Much Too Much. And gob-smacked viewers can't seem to get enough of "My Super Sweet 16" - a MTV reality show in which rich parents shower their teenaged offspring with convertibles and diamonds.


But are ever-larger piles of stuff really making us 21st-century Westerners happy? It's debatable.


A series of studies by the National Opinion Research Center shows that the proportion of Americans who describe themselves as "very happy" has stayed constant at about one-third for the last half century, despite the fact that per-capita personal consumption expenditures in the U.S. have almost doubled.


Perhaps that's why a growing number of people - from environmentalists and "voluntary simplicity" advocates to Buddhists and empty nesters - are now urging shoppers to value quality over quantity. Their reasons are compelling. One well-made, classic sweater will probably outlast five shoddy, trendy knockoffs. It requires fewer resources to manufacture, takes up less shelf space and, eventually, clogs up less room in a landfill.


Sure, if you enjoy shopping, buying one sweater instead of five also offers much less instant gratification. As Wilma Flintstone could tell you, few things in life match the thrill of plunking down your credit card and crying, "Charge it!"


But be honest: how many of the clothes in your closet do you actually wear? If you're like me, you probably gravitate to a few pieces each season, leaving many others to hang unworn and forlorn.


The argument doesn't apply only to clothes. Think of those CDs you rarely listen to, the abandoned kitchen gadgets, the knickknacks gathering dust. Then think of all the time you spent buying this stuff, carting it home, learning how to use it, arranging it and keeping track of it.


In 2000, an association called Professional Organizers in Canada emerged; today, the nationwide group has more than 500 members. We have so much stuff, we need an army of de-clutterers to help us deal with it.


If my spare room is any indication, organizers across the land are sifting through piles of saggy leggings, badly designed electronics, unread books and shoes that don't quite fit.


There has to be a better way.


Perhaps William Morris, one of the founders of the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement, said it best: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

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