Reframing scarcity to abundance
Last autumn I spent three wonderful days in nature during a ‘Primitive Survival’ course by the Dutch organisation ‘Bosbeweging’ (Forest Movement) which was all about surviving with nature, rather than in nature. The days were overwhelming and it was especially good to experience once again how little we actually need to live.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous about the adventure. As a real city person I feel quite alienated from nature and even the connection with my inner nature is more often lost than found. And so it took a while to acclimatise to being outside and survive without my soya latte, iphone, hot shower and busy day schedule. But I got over the cold feet and took a dip in the stream, which turned out to offer a fine alternative to the morning shower and a refreshing start of the day. Other group members were able to survive with even less. The slept without a tent, in a hammock or self-made shelter and some did without their shoes, which did not give them less, but more, like a direct connection with the soil, the earth. During these days I had many trips down memory lane to a backpacking travel adventure twelve years ago. Nine months with a backpack filled with only the bare basics, a wonderful time in which almost all I needed, was in that one bag.
But after a few days I had to return to my house, the city, the daily reality. I stared at all the heaps of seemingly useless items that were stashed up to the ceilings behind shop windows we passed and felt disgusted.
But I realised quickly that I was part of all of that abundance. I am not above it, not better than those buying or wishing to own those items. I am addicted. We are addicted.
Addicted to the concept of scarcity. I am part of the Big Consumption and guilty of buying something without needing it. To feel useful for a moment, doing something tangible or as a feel good booster. To feel happy for a brief moment about a new acquisition. It is so easy to be seduced into thinking you really want or need something. Once I seriously considered upgrading the interior of our family house completely after a visitor determined that our house looked very student-like. But after some consideration I decided it was a choice, that it is not our priority to live in a ‘home decor magazine house’ and therefore expensive interior design is not something we like to spend all our money on, especially not just to look good to visitors.
Abundance and scarcity
Abundance. The opposite of scarcity. Scarcity. The central concept of our economy. A concept that represents the need to make choices because we cannot fulfil all of our needs simultaneously. A given that seems less and less true these days in which we live in luxury. However, we still experience a chronic shortage of everything. Stuff, but also time, attention….we work super hard to earn money we can spend on relaxing. But, let’s focus on the material part; goods. If we look around us, we’ll see that everything is already there. Our houses are full of stuff, shops offer everything we never thought we’d need, public space is jammed with private cars, we have access to an endless pool of knowledge and information through the internet, a plethora of music and movies, more theater, dance or other entertainment options than we can ever enjoy. We are rich of choices in studies, experiences, jobs, leisure activities. The world is our oyster, more than ever.
In every keynote or workshop about the sharing economy, I discuss the controversy of scarcity and abundance. I focus on the idle or excess capacity, knowledge or space. The past century ownership has been very important. This was not only related to the status ownership gives you, but also to the fear for a moment of needing something and not having instant access to that. If you think about this logically, it is an absurd reason for owning a lot of goods. A drill is being used only 6–12 minutes of its lifetime, a car is standing idle for 95% of the time. But look at it this way: we want milk, but don’t own a cow. Is that because we can buy milk so easily? And when it comes to knowledge we prefer to re-invent the wheel than tapping into knowledge already out there. We seem to mistrust that information and knowledge ‘not invented here’.
The sharing economy
The sharing economy makes it easy to access all sorts of things without owning them. You can rent your neighbour’s car, get a healthy home cooked meal from a stranger, lend a ladder to someone in your neighbourhood, rent a dress in a clothing library, or rent out your company’s meeting room to an organisation close by. Sharing economy is often called collaborative consumption, which stands for the idea that we do not consume as individuals, but as a community. It is not only an antidote to our excessive consumerism, but it also strengthens neighbourhood ties, social cohesion. Since I started using sharing platforms my neighbourhood became a more friendly area, with more familiar faces, new connections with neighbours through their car, cooking skills or our lightweight chairs.
People often ask me if the sharing economy only works because of the economical crisis that forces us to share resources. Time will tell, but I don’t think so. Much more is going on these days. People want the gain, but not the pain of ownership. Priorities are no longer with owning stuff, it’s your phone or amount of followers giving you more status than your car. Less is the new more, visible also through the decluttering movement let by guru’s like Marie Kondo.
Of course, there will be always things that you will want to own. Even if you use them only occasionally. I enjoy having a coffee machine in my own house, even if I have a coffee place across the street. But a lot of other things I use in my house, like the hover, tools or even the washing machine, I’d be happy to share with the neighbours in my block if I could have easy access to them.
We have a choice between consuming or creating. If we change our strategy around our excess goods and capacity, we create opportunities for other people to borrow, rent or tap into that. If we would utilise all that surround us optimally, we’d have to produce less. Let’s try to think about abundance and try alternatives before we buy.
For me personally, I am going to challenge myself to act differently when it comes to shopping for clothes. A tough challenge for a woman who likes a large wardrobe. But maybe that wardrobe can be filled with items purchased in second hand stores or marketplaces or with temporary items borrowed from a clothing library. I am going to check out how that works.
It’s time to let go of our fear of being short of something. Time to think and act from abundance rather than scarcity. Let’s trust that there is enough and that less is often more.