Downward arrows, shop window and reflection of Oxford Street, London.
What could you do with less? These days, many of us are asking ourselves that question.
While the family that sold their house and moved to a smaller one, using proceeds to help fight hunger in Ghana is laudable, one doesn't have to travel to Africa to find poverty. Vast pockets of impoverished people live in the United States and in most countries. Shockingly, in the developed world, the only place where poverty is worse than the USA is Mexico!
As a child growing up in the Southern United States, I saw plenty of poverty, particularly in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee. In all these states, many families didn't have enough to eat, much less adequate health care. They sent their children to school with ill-fitting hand-me-down clothes and often lived in squalid or substandard conditions, as that's all they could afford.
Poverty, ignorance and oppression are at the root of most of the world's ills. Education, in particular, is often unavailable to the poor and this, perhaps more than any other factor, matters. Without education, people are unable to think for themselves or rise above their humble beginnings. They're unable to better their environment or make wise choices that will inform their future.
In the West, we are spoiled. We have too many material things and we keep accumulating more. We're besieged with endless advertising and marketing, suggesting we're not good enough. So we scramble to purchase a particular dress, a designer handbag, a luxurious mansion that we've been persuaded might make a difference in our lives. But the truth is, none of it matters.
We are enough. Without the designer clothes, the flash sportscar, the expensive jewelry, the fancy address, we are enough. If we have been educated to think for ourselves, be kind to others and use our talents to benefit not only ourselves, but others, we can move mountains. There's nothing stronger than sheer will and determination as a powerful force for good.
Living with less so that others have more doesn't suggest we must surrender all our comforts. It means that we deliberate more, when making decisions about how to spend our hard-earned money. In my case, I've started selling some of the antique furniture and collectibles I've accumulated over more than ten years in Europe. I'm donating clothing, furniture and money to charity. I'm discarding many beautiful pieces of decorative art in favour of useful tools, i.e. camera and computer gear that will help me generate income.
I'm reconsidering the clothes and shoes in my wardrobe and giving away items that no longer suit. Instead of purchasing hardback books (I consider books a necessity), I'm saving money by buying ebooks for my Kindle (unless the books are MacMillan's, who insist on charging considerably more than other publishers, even though ebooks cost them very little).
While still frequenting brocantes and flea markets, I'm thinking twice before buying. Am only scooping up rare things that I know I can re-sell for a profit. But I allow myself the occasional purchase, if something tugs at my heartstrings. After all, no reason to be fanatical about living with less! But for every item that comes into the apartment, something else goes out. I've adhered to this rule for over two years and it's proved surprisingly effective.
I also donate my writing and photography skills to human rights work and political causes. Sometimes time and energy can be more effective than money.
Do you see signs of poverty in your city? Have you made any major changes in your lifestyle and spending habits?