It’s ok to be ‘money-driven’

“She’s chasing the money”

“He’s completely money-driven”

“They’re only in it for the cash”

As a society, we’re great at judging people for wanting to make money.

We talk about it in terms of displaying a lack of values. We insult them, directly or implicitly. These people are superficial. Shallow. Greedy.

We think of money-driven people as spending it all on fancy clothes, fast cars and big mansions. This is the most visible kind of rich person, so that’s what we associate with making money – a kind of vulgarity that’s created by their cash.

It can feel like a clash of values when we recognise our own desire to make more money.

When I take a long hard look at myself, I squirm when I realise that I work day-in, day-out to make more cash. It’s not the only reason I do what I do, but it’s the biggest driver – and it’s certainly the biggest driver on days where I don’t want to do it. Does that make me a money-grabber, too?

I guess it does – but it doesn’t mean I’m materialistic. In fact, I buy less stuff now than I have in years… probably since I was a kid. Not all people who want to make money are doing it for the shiny things in life.

Not being obsessed about money is a privilege that only the richest can afford.

Being focused on money means that you’re doing what you can to be able to stay alive in the society we’ve created. A society in which, if you run out of money, you’re fucked.

In cases like these, it’s driven by our desire for safety and security.

Being materialistic isn’t a reflection of how much money you want to earn. It’s a reflection of why you want to earn it.

So if you’re working hard to make money, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be conscious of why you’re doing it.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Is “retail therapy” actually bad for us?

Two days ago, I shared a post about how living abroad changed my concept of what I needed to be happy.

The response I got back has been loud and clear – the enforced minimalism of lockdown has led to lots of people feeling the same way. 

My friend Lu said:

 “In the first week of lockdown I craved wandering around TK Maxx looking for random stuff I don’t need. Now I’ve got used to lockdown and loving spending time making things and seeing so much of my local area I’ve never seen before.”

She wasn’t alone. 

There was an element of missing shopping, but some people were finding more fulfilling ways to spend their time as a result. In fact, David said:

“Life is more relaxed. I’m being healthier and I do more for me and my wife.”

Here’s the science bit

Looking into this a bit more, I was surprised to find that scientists have actually been able to back up experiences like these with research.

In a study last year [1], they found that people who shop compulsively are actually less likely to achieve their life goals. As well as spending money you may or may not have, you’ve also spent time on it, and taken up mental energy. All of that you could have been investing in something more fulfilling – like David.

So why do we keep shopping if it’s not good for us?

There are many drivers for why people shop, and not all are bad. However, it’s important to realise that the human brain evolved to find acquiring things to be pleasurable because it helps us survive. Shelter, clothing, and food, for example. The problem comes when our brain can no longer differentiate between the pleasure caused by buying something we need and that caused by buying something we don’t. Over time, and to different degrees, our brains simply learn that getting things feels good.

If you’re shopping to feel good, rather than to acquire something you need, you’ll never be able to reach an endpoint where you’ve bought enough to be happy ever after. The relief you might feel is like scratching an insect bite – it’s temporary. Once the initial high subsides, whatever was getting you down is still there. And whilst you were shopping, what else could you have been doing?

But let’s be realistic.

I believe everything I’ve written, but I also try not to be too hard on myself. Sometimes life is just really hard, and sorting out my big issues is just too much to deal with. It’s much easier to temporarily feel good by buying stuff than it is to reprioritise my life and fix all the crap that’s getting me down. So I’m not stopping buying things altogether – I’m just being more conscious of how much I buy, and asking myself some questions when I do.

  • Do I really need this?
  • Really?
  • Or do I really need to sort something out?

So next time you feel like you need a bit of retail therapy, stop and think – do I really need this, or am I scratching an itch? Because if it’s the second, perhaps it’s time to find a better treatment for whatever’s bothering you.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

References:

Müller, A., Brand, M., Claes, L., Demetrovics, Z., de Zwaan, M., Fernández-Aranda, F., Frost, R., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Lejoyeux, M., Steins-Loeber, S., Mitchell, J., Moulding, R., Nedeljkovic, M., Trotzke, P., Weinstein, A. and Kyrios, M., 2019. Buying-shopping disorder—is there enough evidence to support its inclusion in ICD-11?. CNS Spectrums, 24(04), pp.374-379.

How being forced to live with less changed my life

“Yeah, it’s a great property,” said my brother, Tim. “You know, as a starter home.”

I looked at the two-bedroom house and garden I’d recently bought in Manchester and thought, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I was in my late twenties, a first-time buyer, and this was a first step on the property ladder. A good buy, but a starter home.

I was on The Right Path™ – the path that British society sets out for us and tells us to be on. I had my home – which was to be the stepping stone to another. I could go out every weekend, buying a new outfit each time at an affordable price from some ‘fast-fashion’ brand. I could try a new cuisine every weekend, and once you’ve tried them all, someone will have invented a new ‘dining concept’.

It’s a path of accumulation, growth, and constant stimulation. 

A path of ‘property ladders’, with ‘starter homes’ that – in reality – would be perfectly enough for us until the day we die.

And then I left the UK. For South America.

The accidental minimalist 

It had been a long time coming. I’d been with my Ecuadorian partner for several years and I was dying for an adventure. We moved in 2015. 

The first time I went to the local store for groceries, I asked what kinds of cheeses they sold. “What kind?” the lady responded. “We just have cheese.” 

There was only one. And this was part of a bigger culture shock that kept on giving.

And it went further than the food. There were less clothes to choose from. Fashion wasn’t seasonal (in part because there are no seasons). There was less furniture to pick from. There were no night-time rollerblading UV-discos with gourmet cocktails and ‘dirty burgers’ – just a bar with drinks and music. How archaic. 

I loved the city, it was beautiful, but my options were limited. 

And I hated it.

Simplifying life can be complicated

“What the hell kind of country doesn’t sell cartons of orange juice?” I’d rage. 

And it didn’t end there. I’d buy clothes online, get them sent to my mum, and have her send them over via air mail. I’d ask for some of my favourite sweets and chocolates to be put in, while I was at it. I’d sit dreaming of an IKEA opening so I could get some decent-looking, cheap furniture. I’d enjoy going out dancing, but secretly look forward to being able to go out in a big city with more choice, a bigger club, with fancier lights and more fashionable people. 

Everything just seemed like such a pain. 

But slowly but surely, I started to get used to it. And eventually, to love it.

It turns out:

  • People make their own fresh juice because fruit is plentiful and delicious.
  • Because IKEA hadn’t got to Ecuador, there were still craftsmen on every street who would make furniture to your exact design without charging a lot of money.
  • It costs $5 to resole and recolour my favourite leather boots, and a dollar to fix my favourite backpack when it broke, so I didn’t need to keep buying new clothes as often as before.

I’d become more sustainable, buying locally and buying independently, eating seasonally and eating better. And, in the process, I’d become more satisfied with what I had.

By accident. 

In theory, I’d wanted all of this before – but confronted with my situation, my first feeling was that there was a lack of choice and a lack of convenience. Once I’d come round to it, something clicked in me. 

I’d realised that living on less was possible, and it was better for me and for the planet.

But it had taken forcibly removing my options for me to get there. 

And then, once I’d got used to it, all the options came back.

Coming full circle 

Fast forward four years, and life has brought me back to Europe. 

Now I’m in a city – Madrid – with a beating commercial heart. 

It’s a city full of those shops you only see in any Western country – you know, the ones that sell things that no-one needs, but for some reason people buy. Rubber cacti, a novelty carrot sharpener, a USB stick that looks like a piece of sushi.

So I’m back to where I started – with excess all around. 

The difference? Now I’m different. Now, I look back at the Adam who thought of the single biggest purchase he’d ever made as simply a stepping stone to another purchase, and I contemplate how warped our society has become.

But I can no longer rely on my surroundings to make me live with less. This is where Exploring Enough came from. 

It’s an exploration of how I can keep concentrating on what really matters, even in a world full of distractions. How I can maintain the calm I found by living with ‘enough’ instead of living to excess. It made me happier, and I want to maintain it. And hopefully by sharing my journey, it’ll help you find your ‘enough’, too.

Why ‘starting with growth’ is dangerous

  • Grow your business
  • Grow the economy
  • Grow your team

We hear phrases like this all the time. 

But none of them focuses on making a positive difference. All they focus on is doing more of something. More of anything.

When we start our goals with ‘growth’, we deprioritise purpose. 

What if we replace the word ‘grow’ when we set our goals?

It might look more like this:

  • Serve people better with your business
  • Fairly distribute resources in the economy
  • Care about the people in your team

Perhaps this is still a type of growth – but it’s growth driven by purpose. And surely that kind of growth is more valuable.

What do billionaires and hoarders have in common?

Hoarding can be defined as “excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”

A hoarder at home

The TV show ‘Hoarders’ shows this in all its horrific glory – quantities of things that people will never be able to use, with reasons for holding on to them that defy logical explanation.

These look like tragic cases because they are poor

A billionaire who is able to keep accumulating cars, houses, clothes, private jets, and cash is no less of a hoarder – they can simply pay someone to keep their unabated accumulation organised. And instead of pitying it, it is fetishized.

Amazon CEO and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos’ personal wealth has increased by $24,000,000,000 since the Coronavirus pandemic began. He is the only member of America’s five richest people to refuse to sign the Giving Pledge – a commitment to donate half of his wealth during his lifetime or in his will. 

Richard Branson has put his Virgin Atlantic staff on unpaid leave whilst asking for £500m of taxpayer money – equivalent to just over 10% of his personal wealth. If he kept his business going himself – as many others will have to do – he would still have so much money he would never be able to spend it.

Luckily some other billionaires – the Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffet’s of this world – do show us that it doesn’t have to be this way. So why do the Bezoses and Bransons still exist?

Stuffing an emotional void with cash

Although pitying these billionaires is a feat of mental agility of Olympic acrobatic proportions, this line of thinking does beg a question: 

“What is the emptiness inside that these people are trying to fill with money?”

And what would the world look like if they could fill it in other ways?

The ‘Enough Mindset’: What is it?

An ‘Enough Mindset’ is about understanding what ‘enough’ of something is for us, so we can know when we’ve reached our goals, concentrate on contentment, and put a stop to our endless quest for ‘something more’.

An Enough Mindset can be applied in all areas of life:

  • Do I need to up my salary, or have I got enough money?
  • Do I need to buy this food item/piece of clothing/thing for my house, or have I got enough?
  • Do I need to be the perfect partner/parent/child/student/employee/boss, or am I doing enough?

How could the Enough Mindset change us?

  • Becoming more conscious about whether we’re working towards goals, so we’re not working towards something we haven’t actively decided we need or want
  • Gaining more time to focus on the things that matter to us
  • Consuming less, helping the planet and other people
  • Taking better care of what we put in our bodies
  • Being kinder to ourselves 

Working ‘constantly wanting more’ out of my system

I first started exploring the idea of enough after moving from the UK to Ecuador, and realising the contentment I was finding in a society with more limited options. But, for me, it wasn’t simply about minimalism or renouncing things – living in Ecuador brought many challenges, it would be insensitive to idealise a situation where many live in poverty. I was in a privileged position of comfort, albeit one with less distractions and choices, and this felt good to me, once I got the ‘constant want’ out of my system.

For this reason, I don’t like the idea of thinking in black-and-white terms of “shoulds” – you should buy less, you should work less, you should eat less – how much we want to do something is a personal choice. ‘Enough’ does mean that we stop fetishizing excess, but it is only ‘minimal’ if you decide it is.

Enough is personal.

I’m working out my ‘enoughs’. And, honestly – as you’ll see in my previous post – I’m struggling with some of them too. This ain’t easy, so I’m gonna be working them out for some time.

How do you define yours?

I just realised I’m a workaholic. Now what?

When you believe in the work you do, it’s like a drug. Addictive.

Doing work I believe in gives me a sense of purpose that I’m lacking elsewhere. It provides positive feedback, and makes me feel needed.

And yet, somehow, no achievement is ever enough. I’m addicted to wanting more. Why? 

“Addiction begins with the hope that something ‘out there’ can instantly fill up the emptiness inside.” — Jean Kilbourne

In my case, I wonder – did I become so reliant on being praised for my work that I feel restless and unfulfilled if I don’t receive it?

And can I ever get enough?

Here I’m going to note down some questions to myself, to reflect on. I’m sharing so you can reflect too, if you like.

  • How can you do less of the work you don’t care about, and concentrate on the work you do?

  • How can you teach yourself to separate your self-worth from the work you do?
  • How can you figure out when you’ve done enough?

I don’t have any answers with this post. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment, and let me know what you think.

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

We need to display the integrity our politicians lack

So another round of climate talks come to an end, with another round of protests, and another set of deeply insufficient promises and targets in place.

Once again, political integrity is called into question. Worldwide, people like me are frustrated that they are not taking action. They aren’t doing anything – our political representatives.

And yet, I can’t help but think that part of that frustration comes from our own desire that they will solve our crisis for us; with solutions that will require little to no change on our part.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve always taken the view that there was little point in individual action when industrial polluters were able to continue unabated on a massive scale. That, whilst governments are still this level of destruction, my actions were not worth changing. But this year something in me changed. I admitted to myself that I was making excuses. Politics might not be changing yet – but I can’t use that as an excuse to not take any action myself. To do so would display a huge lack of integrity. A lack of integrity that I’ve never wanted to admit to before. A lack of integrity that would make me like them.

So, as we approach Christmas, I’m making more sustainable shopping decisions, and buying less overall. It’s not a perfect solution yet, but hopefully I’m starting to move the needle in the right direction.

We might not be able to solve the problem of our politicians’ integrity. But, by taking little steps towards making better buying choices – including buying enough instead of buying to excess – we can start by facing up to our own.