BY: JESSICA BEUKER
In 1975, the average size of a house in Canada was 1,050 square feet. Only 35 years later, in 2010, that number nearly doubled, with houses reaching an average size of 1,950 square feet. Similarly, in the United States the average home size was 1,660 square feet in 1973, up to 2,687 square feet in 2016. This also comes with a decrease in the average number of people who are living in a household.
As people are having less children, family size continues to shrink. But while families get smaller and houses get bigger, the amount of money that people are spending on housing also increases, and it’s increasing faster than the average income. This means that we’re basically spending money that we don’t have on space that we don’t need.
According to the Globe and Mail, Canadians reach peak spending age by 46 years old, whereby spending starts to decrease as they begin to save for retirement. If enough money isn’t saved for retirement, many will turn to downsizing their homes, which means less upkeep and extra money.
It’s a vicious cycle, one that could perhaps be avoided altogether if we all just bought less to begin with.
Minimalism, or living with less, is the process of ridding life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important, so that you can find happiness, fulfillment and freedom. It’s a phenomenon that many people – especially young people – are turning to these days as they struggle to keep their head above water in today’s economy. Not only does living with less help out your bank account, and subsequently your stress levels, but it also has been proven time and time again that living with fewer things will ultimately make you happier.
Let me start by pointing out that our number one most basic need in life is something that cannot be bought. According to a 75-year-long Harvard study on adult development, those who had the strongest personal relationships lived longer, healthier lives. Even when some participants climbed up the socio-economic ladder and others fell down it, the consistent measure of health and happiness remained the same – strong bonds with family, friends and community.
Economists have been dissecting and scrutinizing the links between income and happiness across nations for years now. Yes, people with higher incomes are, in a broad sense, happier than those who struggle financially. This is likely due to the fact that financial struggle often goes hand in hand with poor mental and physical health. But according to the Wall Street Journal, research suggests that wealth alone doesn’t provide any guarantee of a happy life. What matters more is how people spend it.
Typically, giving away money or donating makes people happier than splurging on themselves. When people do spend money on themselves however, they are happier when their money is spent on experiences, rather than material goods.
There are many reasons for this, but perhaps one of the most prevalent ones is our habit of “hedonic adaptation”. In other words, we adapt to things, and in particular, we adapt to objects much quicker than we do experiences. A new phone or a new pair of shoes provides a brief thrill, but that feeling is fleeting as over time we adapt to these purchases and they no longer bring us joy. Experiences on the other hand are harder to adapt to. Attending a concert or going to the beach will never get old, as each time the experience is a little bit different. Experiences take up space in our long-term memory and they meet our psychological needs as well. For instance, that trip you took with your best friend is something that will bring you joy, even years after it’s over.
These findings are a major factor in the growing societal shift towards minimalism. People are opting out of mortgages, owning a car and downsizing everything from the amount of physical items they own to the actual size of their living spaces. Besides saving you a ton a money, living in a small space has been proven to have a lower carbon footprint and utilizes far less resources. In the age of rapid climate change, our environment should be our number one priority, and living with less helps to alleviate the severity of these issues, while simultaneously making us healthier and happier human beings.