New Internationalist


January 1994

new internationalist
issue 251 - January 1994

Why less means more
Teeare Scarrott reckons cars make you
weak at the knees; there’s more fun
to be had from cultivating flowers and friendships.

Graveyard for refrigerators in Spain: resurrection not recommended.

Most people know that a great deal of money is wasted on things we could well live without. Portents for the future suggest we’re in for a prolonged period of belt-tightening until the world is living within its sustainable means. I say this not to spread gloom but to avoid it by adopting a lifestyle, in advance, which doesn’t depend on earning a high income. If high incomes do persist, despite all the signs to the contrary, then you will be in the happy position of having money to burn. Living on just $60 a week is an excellent exercise in getting rid of unnecessary items.

First of all you don’t have to have a house that is larger than your needs. The larger the house the more heating, cleaning, decoration, maintenance, furnishing and endless other costs there are. Most big houses are only for show anyway. If you’re prepared to pay the price of showing off, fair enough. But for someone who hates cleaning and decorating, small is beautiful. And you can’t count on a house being an investment these days – just the opposite.

Cars make you go weak at the knees from forgetting how to walk. Many people can’t even manage to get out of their cars when they call by for someone – they would rather sit tight and beep their horns. Cars make people allergic to public transport which is more economical, causes less pollution and congestion, and is more sociable. Cars too are designed for show – what other point is there in high-performance models on roads with strict speed limits? They have encouraged a huge increase in crime. Socializing is far more relaxing when you don’t have to worry about your car and, when you get used to using buses and taxis, much more fun.

The easiest contraption to live without is the refrigerator. Some parts of the world may be hot enough to justify its use, but in cool climates it serves little purpose other than to aid food and electricity marketing and encourage individual laziness. Refrigerator CFCs have punched a hole in the ozone layer. Meat, poultry and fish taste far better fresh than frozen and a few extra trips to the shops (more good exercise if the car has gone) leads to a far healthier diet than what you get from frozen junk foods. You are also less likely to be poisoned by salmonella.

Many labour-saving devices (emphasis on vices) such as power-driven lawnmowers (for lawns little bigger than postage stamps) and all manner of power-driven tools are pretty pointless if you then have to invest in an exercise bike.

I’ve lived without a washing machine for two years and I don’t miss it one bit. A mother with several children may find hand washing tiresome but scrubbing and wringing is fine for an able-bodied man. Soaking clothes overnight does just as well as any machine, without causing wear and tear to your clothes.

Unfortunately, I may be forced to renew my telephone connection. Although I can live without it – and I am modest enough to admit that the world will not stop turning because I’m not at the other end of a telephone line – few people seem able or willing to write letters. Like so many other tortuous instruments of progress we have wrapped our lives round the telephone rather than the other way around. In the home its intrusive habits put paid to most moments of peace, but if you take it off the hook all and sundry start complaining. Not having a number has become as bad as the ‘no fixed abode’ tag. You cease to exist.

Being trendy or fashionable is perhaps the biggest waste of all. Some clothes would last a lifetime were it not for frivolous changes in fashion. I would prefer to make a cult of wearing vintage clothes, without going so far as to rip them on purpose. Much furniture too could last a lifetime were it not for ruthless marketing ploys. The best way to deal with all trends – and trendy people too – is to proudly go your own way.

By ignoring trends and fashions and doing away with superfluous gadgetry you will not only free yourself from enslavement to earning and spending – you may also become a more interesting person. Working long hours for doubtful benefits leaves no time to enjoy the simple pleasures like flowers and friendship, which cost little more than the time it takes to cultivate them.

By learning to live with as little money as possible you are freed from the woes of economic depression. It’s a philosophy which hasn’t become fashionable yet but, unlike most fashions, one that lasts a lifetime.

Captain Teeare Scarrott is a Master Mariner who first went to Icelandic waters on a Hull trawler to at the age of 14. He worked on a freighter to India at the age of 16, and spotted and rescued a missing Sri Lankan fishing boat on his 25th birthday. His largest command was 130,000 tons. He is currently unemployed.

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This feature was published in the January 1994 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 251

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