How To Want Less

We are addicted to consumerism; all the more so, as we fail to recognize it as an addiction.

But it is wrecking our lives. We keep consuming to compensate for our 9-to-5 grind. And we keep working to buy more meaningless toys. It’s the perfect vicious cycle.

What’s the way out?

Read on to learn how to want less and why minimalism will lead to a more exciting life.

The Disease of More

Most of us suffer from the disease of more. We want more money, bigger houses, faster cars, finer clothes, and all kinds of other luxury goods.

There are two reasons for that. One is internally and the other one is externally motivated.

The Shopping High

The first, internal reason is what I call the “shopping high.”

It’s that burst of euphoria you experience when you drive that new car off the dealership or unbox your new iPhone. It’s wearing a new dress for the first time or putting on our new designer sneakers. You feel giddy with pleasure.

Unfortunately, just like a drug high, the shopping high wears off. The longer you own the thing, the less you get excited about it. Around the two-week mark is usually when sobriety kicks back in. Now you need another fix.

Status Signaling

The second, external reason we keep consuming is status signaling.

As a society, we judge the success of an individual by how many costly things they own. The guy in the Jaguar with the trophy wife gets VIP treatment, wherever he goes. The bum gets ignored or yelled at.

Hence we keep accumulating luxury goods we don’t really need — we want to let other people know we made it.

There is, of course, a strong sexual undertone to this.

Men use the insignia of wealth to attract women. It says, “Look, I am resourceful. If you get with me, you will wallow in luxury.”

Women use the display of luxury goods to raise their own perceived value in the sexual marketplace. It says, “I am something of high value. To get with me, you must provide.”

Keeping up with the Joneses is another expression of that. We can’t stand the idea of people we compare ourselves to being more successful than us. We would rather go into credit card debt than admit defeat.

None of these behaviors are necessarily conscious. We really might think we like Jaguars or Louis Vuitton handbags. But we were animals before we were thinkers.

It has to be said that status signaling is more permanent than the shopping high. You won’t intrinsically enjoy your new expensive grill after a few weeks. But showing it off to your neighbor in the backyard? That never gets old.

The Problem With “More”

What is so bad about wanting more stuff? Some people like riding horses or collecting stamps, while you enjoy shopping. What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal. On a global level, it is killing us. The production of consumer goods accounts for about 42 percent of greenhouse gases. We are overheating the planet, so we can drive to Walmart.

On a societal level, consumerism makes sure you remain a good corporate slave. Because we hate our 9 to 5 existence, we have to excessively consume. At least in our free time, we want to indulge. But these indulgences in turn keep us chained to our corporate jobs. Credit cards don’t pay themselves off. It’s a vicious circle.

On an individual level, consumerism is a gigantic time-sink. For hours, we research what computer we are going to buy or what e-bike should get. We drive to shopping malls and outlet stores. We carry our purchases home only to return them shortly after.

Then there is the maintenance. Getting your iPhone repaired. Driving to the gas station. Dusting off your toy soldier collection. And finally, you have to sell or dump your old stuff, so you can start all over again.

Consumerism might provide easy thrills, but on closer inspection, it is a tragedy. Thus, we must learn how to want less.

What “Less” Does and Doesn’t Mean

People mean completely different things when they talk about “How to want less.” Let’s untangle this.

“Less” as an Excuse

“Less” is sometimes turned into an excuse.

When I’m talking about wanting less, I am referring first and foremost to physical things. We shouldn’t be so fixated on owning more stuff.

However, some people take this in another direction. To cover up their own laziness, they will say, “I don’t need to become more than I am. I am already enough.”

“Less” is not about making peace with the status quo. It is not about rationalizing your lack of drive. We should always aim to develop ourselves, to become “more.”

“Less” as an Economic Concession

Next, there is “less” as a conscious form of self-restraint.

We all have to make do with limited resources. We only get so much time, energy, and attention to spend in one day (or one lifetime, for that matter).

With these limitations, it makes sense to pick one area of life and focus most of our resources there. Otherwise, you will just spread yourself thin and accomplish nothing. Trying to win the Olympics, the Oscars, and a Nobel Prize is not feasible.

So, “less” becomes a regrettable, but necessary economic concession. To excel in one area of life, we must reduce our energy expenditure in other areas.

However, this is different from materialistically always wanting more. Consumerism is inherently bad — self-development is not.

Theoretically, if you lived forever, you could win the Olympics, the Oscars, and a Nobel Prize. And if you did it for the right reason — self-actualization — that would be a noble endeavor.

“Less” as an Enabler

Consuming less is not an end in itself — it is a means to an end.

When you consume next to nothing, you can exit the rat race. You can work less or quit work altogether.

This injects more quality into your life — more time with loved ones, more energy to spend on learning, and more attention to the world around you.

You start to live consciously, instead of having life pass you by. In this way, less results in more — more, better experiences.

Experiences are really what we should be after in life. They determine if life was spent well.

I will never forget sitting on a balcony in Cairo, looking out over the pyramids. I will always remember hugging a certain person on a bridge. I will always cherish those late nights writing my first short stories.

But what shoes I wore when I was 13 or what car I drove when I was 26 — it might have seemed important at the time, but in retrospect, I couldn’t care less.

“Less” is about addressing a disbalance. By curtailing consumerism, life can finally come into its own. That is the real meaning of less.

How To Want Less — A Training Program

Here is how you can condition yourself to want less.

1. Think About Past Purchases

Whenever you are about to make a buying decision, remind yourself of past buying decisions. The excitement that you felt back then about a certain item — do still feel that today? Of course not. It never lasts.

Once that realization sinks in, saying “No” to your next purchase becomes much easier.

2. Shut It All Out

Consuming is all about temptation. For example, if fast food is readily available, chances are, I will end up eating fast food. But if there is no fast food around, I won’t eat it.

Therefore, create an environment that is free of temptations. Go monk mode and shut out all media channels. No ads, and you won’t know what you are missing.

3. Be Grateful

When you are overly ambitious, it can be helpful to remind yourself of all the good things already in your life.

For me, this works best with health. The simple fact that I am strong and healthy is already a reason to celebrate, especially when I think back to the times when I was sick.

To be clear — I am not saying that ambition is bad. You must have goals and you must strive. But don’t let it eat you up.

4. Despise Status

Wanting more stuff is really about status. The things I own are a tangible expression of our success.

That is why so many people are reluctant to become self-employed. For a year or two, they would have to tighten their belt. This bothers them, not because they would miss the luxuries, but because their status score would go down. They would feel like failures in the eyes of the world.

It is insanity — we would rather suffer decades of 9-to-5 misery than a temporary loss of status.

You must overcome this. And the best way to do so is to observe this status dependency in others.

The middle-aged guy in the Ferrari, trying to impress the hot girls. The trophy wives flaunting their jewelry. The high school kids all wearing the same five brands.

Come to abhor it (the principle, not the people). Really expose yourself to the underlying neediness. You will soon want to have nothing to do with it.

5. Study the Rich

I know people who make less than $30,000 but absolutely love what they are doing. And I’ve met people who make $ 3,000,000 but are miserable.

Happiness correlates with your experience much more than with what you own.

Therefore, it can be a good exercise to hang out with rich people. Provided you can look past the appearances, it will help you to get your priorities straight.

Wealth is like seawater; the more we drink, the thirstier we become.

Arthur Schopenhauer

6. Throw Stuff Out

The less stuff you own, the more you will come to enjoy the benefits of it. More time. More clarity. Fewer money worries.

To experience these benefits, you must go extreme minimalism. Get rid of your stuff, most of which you never use anyway.

Here are a few tips:

  • Initially, make a list of the few things that you want to keep. This is much easier than asking yourself for thousands of different items, “Does this spark joy?” Make one decision upfront, done. Everything else goes.
  • Prefer dumping stuff over selling or donating it. The latter two quickly can become excuses to postpone the process, as they require more preparation.
  • If all of this scares you, do a test run. Put all the stuff you would throw away in moving boxes. Then try out living like a minimalist for four weeks. Once you understand it’s not that big of a deal, throw your stuff away for real.

7. Understand That the Desire Will Pass

Whatever thing you want so badly right now, it will pass.

Today you want a guitar. Tomorrow you will want an iPad. The day after tomorrow you will obsess over a designer leather jacket.

Our material desires are like clouds — they come and go. Wait for long enough, and the desire will dissipate.

8. Remember Your Mortality

We all pretend to ourselves that we have all the time in the world. Thus, we think there is no harm in wasting it on pretty things.

But the opposite is true. Life flies by. Wasting your time on accumulating stuff will one day soon make you weep with regret.

Remember your mortality and save yourself that pain.

9. Learn To Love the Game

Status addiction is outcome addiction.

When I started training in BJJ, I soon realized there were types of people — those who wanted to get a belt or stand on a podium; and those who loved the game, the act of training itself.

If you obsess over the result, nothing will ever be enough. But if learn to enjoy the process, the struggle itself, every day will be filled with joy.

Experiences over outcomes. Doing over being.

10. Explore Meditation

Meditation is the practice of stepping outside your mind and returning to a state of oneness (I realize how new agey this sounds).

The few times this has happened for me were pure pleasure. I keep comparing it to a drug high, but it is even better (and scarier).

My point is — once you have gone there, the kick of buying more stuff will pale in comparison. You will want more of the real thing.

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