Monday, September 22, 2014 • 05:27
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Less things, more life


November 26, 2013
I hadn't even bought school supplies for my kids and I was already hearing jingle bells. Christmas marketing campaigns used to be in camouflage mode in summer. Now brazen, they're in full-scale bombardment by early fall.

While visions of PS4 and iPads dance in kids' heads, parents are holding onto theirs wondering where it's all going to come from. After all, we need more. We are a culture of more.

Most of us were raised on little, and we didn't ask for much. Yet the notion of attainment was a seed that was planted and well fertilized. We have given advertisers our full attention, often unknowingly. And they have had their way with us.

I know how they work. For years, I wrote ads for nondescript products, propping them up as exceptional when the company and I both knew they were mediocre at best.

As a kid, I was captivated by television. I can still sing the jingles from commercials for McDonald's, Burger King, Coke, Pepsi, Almond Joy, Lite Brite and Oscar Mayer (both wieners and bologna, mind you). At some point, the thought that "happiness is having more" became a part of my psyche.

The older I get, the more I realize how outside-in that thought is. Perhaps we as Americans have a way to go to experience real happiness.

Apparently, the Danes have it figured out. Denmark is considered the happiest country on Earth, based on the "World Happiness Report," a 156-country survey conducted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The survey found Danes scored high based on large GDP per capita, life expectancy, lack of government corruption and the overall quality of life its citizens enjoy. Denmark has maintained this status for many years.

Canada took sixth place. Mexico was 16th, outranking the U.S. at 17th place.

I remember an Oprah show that was dedicated to finding out why Danes are so happy. Oprah interviewed a statuesque woman named Stine.

"Less things, more life," she said.

The Copenhagen apartment she shared with her husband and three children was surprisingly small, yet behind every sleek white surface was a model of organization and simplicity. Small spaces and fewer things are the norm, she explained.

Oprah met with a group of women to discuss Danish culture. They described it as one that focuses on values over money. Values like education, family and creativity. They choose careers that fulfill them, not based on how much money they will earn. They have shorter work weeks and an abundance of time off. Time with family and friends is paramount.

I couldn't stop thinking about this segment. Happy with less money, less stuff? Truly a foreign concept.

In Peter Walsh's book, It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living A Richer Life With Less Stuff, he writes, "We are at the center of an orgy of consumption, and many are now seeing that this need to own so much comes with a heavy price: Kids so overstimulated by the sheer volume of stuff in their home that they lose their ability to concentrate and focus. Financial strain caused by misplaced bills or over-purchasing. Constant fighting because neither partner is prepared to let go of their possessions. The embarrassment of living in a house that long ago became more of a storage facility than a home."

I know that more stuff makes me feel smothered. It's more to care for. More to look at. More to distract. It clutters not just my environment, but my mind. I believe it blocks us from being the best we can be — as individuals and as families.

This year, my husband and I told the kids they would get a few presents for Christmas, but what we really wanted to do was spend more time together. I was expecting to hear groans. Instead, they warmed up to the idea. They know they have everything they need.

I am now clear on my New Year's resolution for 2014: Less things, more life.

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