Do I really need it ?

 

“Simplicity is the essence of universality.”, Gandhi. In this age of consumerism and creature comforts, austerity is a concept that is often not even comprehended. Gandhi proved that Living a simple life has it benefits because it keeps you focused on your purpose.

As a child growing up in small town in India, I remember my mother sending me a shop to buy loose grocery from the local shop. We will have to go carry our containers to carry it back. We have a milk delivered every twice in a day by a milk man on a bicycle. He would have two large containers on each side and he will deliver the milk in our containers. We will have recyclable items such as papers, clothes collected from our house and in return my mother will receive a small utensil or a pan while person collecting will be able to sell this to local recycling shop in exchange for money.  Left over food would be either collected in the evening or my mother would send us to nearby farm to feed it to cows or dogs. Size of the bin in our house of four was less than 5 litters and that would go to the nearby farm which will use it as a compost.  Plastic bags were considered precious and would never make it to the bin and there was hardly any packaging for the items bought from the shop.

Fast forward this today, my basic need for family of four in London has not changed much, compared to the needs my parents.  I could walk out of the supermarket with the handful of bags with lots of things (many I could have managed without). In the Friedman fuelled economy, where organisation’s sole purpose is to increase it’s profits, consumption is good indicator for growth.   Even before Friedman, economics was driven by Homo Economics and ‘Utility function” that can mathematically express the preference of the invisible Economic Man what he wants.

In the book Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein claims that our brains are dichotomous. Too often, our impulsive, myopic, unreflective reptile half seizes the levers of choice from our resolute, farsighted, thoughtful human half. The upshot: we are more Homer Economicus than Homo Economicus. And, since Homer Economicus fails systematically, can be manipulated. Movie houses, for example, could insert a fleeting ‘‘Eat popcorn’’ message and boost popcorn sales without moviegoers even knowing they were being manipulated. Except now, the science of manipulation is more sophisticated.

Kahneman and Tversky explained dichotomy between two modes of thought which they called System 1 – fast, automatic, intuitive and System 2 – slow and analytical where reasons dominates the thinking. Due to these differences and conflicts between these systems, people are often subject to making mistakes that are the result of widely occurring biases, heuristics, and fallacies such as Anchoring – putting too much emphasis on one piece of information, Availability Heuristic – tendency of relying on recent and readily available information, Representative Heuristic – underestimating or overestimating random processes or as Nicols Taleb refers it as fooled by randomness, Unrealistic Optimism – could be good and bad, Loss Aversion – people feel bad about the loss than they feel good about the win, State of Arousal(mood) – when feeling very hungry food could taste better than feeling less hungry, Peer Pressure – This could be negative or positive.

Being aware and setting up a ‘nudge’ has made positive difference in many scenarios. One of the data suggests that in England plastic bag usage dropped 85% since introduction of 5p charge.  As a result of various ‘nudges’ on recycling,  over last twenty years in the UK, recycling rates have gone up from 12% in 2001 to 39% in 2013.

So, why should I care ? Well, for me answer is summed up in one formula. According to WWF, in 2017 we have used 1.7 planets equivalent of resources bringing forward overshoot day to 2nd August meaning rest of the year would be on credit. (overshootday.org)

Personally, I have started the journey (to focus on my purpose) and go back to the same level as my parents if not exceed by a applying ‘nudge’.  my expense bank account which asks the question every time I make a transaction, ‘ Do I really need it ?’

May be Gandhi’s  “simple living and high thinking” philosophy is what sustainability is all about and I need to continue my journey on that path.

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4 thoughts on “Do I really need it ?

  1. I really enjoyed your blog and your message of do we really need it is so true and in many instances the answer is no – then the joys of peer pressure (either real or designed by the marketing guru’s) attempt to change our perspective. So an area I find of interest having travelled to many countries is why do those moving from developing to developed then see success as having all the material outcomes and abandoning their simplified approaches and hence contributing to the 1.7 earth issue. How do we get this message across that you can be a developed country just without all the added plastic ? As many of these countries have such a large population base we need to work out how to get this message across before they arrive into the newly developed shopping malls and see the plastic bags as something just to carry extra things home with.

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  2. I very much enjoyed reading your post and reminded me to a certain extent of my own upbringing in the depth of the countryside in the South of France within a working class family. France is not India but the philosophy of your mum reminded me of mine.

    My parents never gave us tons of toys for Christmas (unlike some of my friend’s parents) partly because they could not really afford it but also because they did not wish to. My mum would recycle and upcycle all what she could. We would never throw food away and had to finish what was on our plates. Looking down on other people less well off than us was not tolerated. Living in an agricultural area with very strong values, the emphasis was put on other things than consumerism: work ethics, honesty, education, altruism etc…

    This is why nowadays, although I could afford so much more than my parents did, I decided that I did not want to and a bit like you ask myself before I buy something whether I “really” need it. I have made a conscious decision that I do not want to keep up with the Joneses. Also, I do not want my children to be brought up thinking that high consumerism is the way forward and would rather transmit the values which I was given by my parents in order to prepare them for life.

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  3. I also really enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve lived in several developing countries and share many of the same emotions and intentions with respect to seeing how a simpler de-cluttered life brings many benefits.

    However, working in central London and passing tempting shops most days of the week I find it an enormous challenge. There’s always something I want or ‘need’ and the lure of beautifully curated windows, advertising and constant new trends is a strong pull. I’m often amazed at how much I buy into being the consumer that the world (and Friedman) wants me to be; I don’t read fashion magazines, I’m not really into fashion and I don’t have loads of money to burn. But I am human and it still gets me!

    I’ve subsequently often wondered why the advertising and marketing industries never seem to be implicated or even referred to in sustainability debates (or maybe I’m just missing them!) Big brands get regularly bashed for their role in fast fashion. They clearly play a role on the supply side, and they certainly contribute on the demand side; but brands and retailers alone are not solely responsible for consumer behaviour and preferences.

    Who else should be lobbied, and how, to slow down fast fashion…?

    And as onebirthdayatatime flags, this is, or is going to be a massive issue for emerging markets. I regularly travel to China and India and among the wealthy and middle class elite (which is eye-popping numbers of people) there are virtually no outwardly visible signs of behaviour other than wholesale adoption of the hyper consumerism of the west…

    And finally – I love your personal ‘nudge’ idea, I think I need to try this for myself!

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  4. Very interesting blog, thanks for posting.

    I’m also interested in nudge theory and its potential to encourage more sustainable lifestyles. The insight into how we really make decisions, as opposed to how we think we make decisions, enables policymakers and business to design policies that make a tangible difference to sustainability.

    Thaler cites the example of smart meters and how simply letting people know how much energy they are using leads them to use significantly less energy. Furthermore when people are told how much energy they are using compared to their neighbours their energy use falls further. This speaks to Kahneman’s findings on the importance of giving people feedback on their decisions and also the tendency of people to follow accepted social norms. Such insight has the potential to be applied across a whole raft of areas including pensions, energy contracts and water usage.

    The role of social norms is particularly important. It has been noted how climate change does not feature in people’s everyday conversation. People rarely talk about the issue in the pub, restaurant or bus stop. This leads people to believe that no-one else cares about the issue and so they themselves dismiss it in their mind. That is, acceptance of the seriousness of climate change is not yet a social norm. For those of us committed to action we shouldn’t shy away from talking about climate change in the course of our everyday conversations. Indeed we should talk about it as often as possible in order to encourage others to engage with the subject. By each having such conversations we can slowly, in our own small way, help to establish climate change as a social norm and in doing so create momentum for change. I’m aware of someone who has made it their mission to talk to at least one person everyday about climate change. Far from people avoiding him he finds that people quickly engage with the subject. He’s made new friends along the way too. Perhaps this is an idea we should all ourselves consider.

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