Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is living with less for us?

The essay in New York Times this past weekend - Living with less. A Lot Less - makes for a fascinating read. The writer, Graham Hill, got an internet windfall before turning thirty  only to give it up to pursue travel and a minimalistic life.

Many of us who have spent time in offshoring IT services can also relate to Graham’s thinking.  I too have been reflecting on the topic over the years. Not surprising given how my wife and I have relocated and lived and traveled across geographies.

Back in 2003, I had an apartment full of furniture, curios and odds and ends, accumulated over five years in Colorado. When I decided to experience the “offshoring boom,” I decided to move to Bangalore, which meant I had to sell my cars, discard or give away to goodwill much of my “worldly possessions.”  I didn’t consider shipping the bulk of my furniture or household items. All this was done in a span of weeks.

The cycle– of accumulating , choosing, buying , stuffing- only to give away to goodwill, friends repeated when we relocated to Toronto a couple of years later. The six months we spent in Switzerland was truly minimalistic to an extreme – we managed to live in a tiny furnished apartment in the heart of Basel by the Rhine.  The stint was intended to be short-term and a furnished apartment was much more preferable to buying and discarding furniture. What also swayed my thinking was the warning by the estate agent: it is especially hard and expensive to discard used household stuff and furniture in Switzerland, which forces a culture of reuse.

During my consulting days I would frequently travel on short term engagements spanning weeks, sometimes joined by my better half. During such travel to Anytown, USA, I had an opportunity to experience luxury end of extended stay hotels. The concept is interesting: one gets a furnished studio or one bedroom suite, complete with a bed and kitchen and basic utensils. The perks of living in this model include a clean room with a made bed one can come back to. Hot breakfast with the dinner and drinks in evenings is a big plus.

One could argue a home in much more than just furnished rooms;  it is an aboard with where one accumulates memories. Rightfully so, which brings us to a million dollar question: Why do most Americans prefer to stay 2000+ square foot homes with acres of land? Per the article, the average size of a new American home housing 2.6 people is 2,480 square feet! Of course, one can go on about the environmental impact of this lifestyle: larger houses need larger yards which mean larger subdivisions in suburbs, that require automobiles to commute to and from; requiring higher reliance on energy and gasoline. Graham Hill concludes his essay describing how he tries to lead a satisfying minimalist life as “the guy who started TreeHugger.com, I sleep better knowing I’m not using more resources than I need. I have less — and enjoy more.”

Amen to that…. But there again miles to go before rest of us chasing the “American dream” -house in a leafy neighborhood in suburbs and a consumerist, hoarding lifestyle – follow suite!