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  • Writer's pictureDeeDee Birch

What Do You Need? How to Live Well in the Age of Overconsumption

I have a complicated relationship with stuff. I went to college for sculpture, which is really just about making meaningful stuff. I work in residential interior design, doing procurement and project management, which means buying a lot of stuff for people all the time. And I’m a sustainable designer, so I’m constantly thinking about which stuff people should buy to lighten the load on the environment while knowing that the best thing for the planet is almost always buying no stuff at all.

What does all of this mean? It means that I spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about, looking at, and trying to understand stuff—how it’s made, who made it, what’s in it, why we need it, what its value is, where it goes after it’s been used. Almost all day, every day. This is where my interest in the relationship between sustainability, stuff, and human well-being is rooted. If there’s anything I’ve learned in navigating our affinity for things, it’s that we people need stuff. We cannot survive without it, but we also cannot survive in our current “stuff” landscape.

Sandra Goldmark, a repair connoisseur, professor, and pioneer in addressing our stuff problem, argues that our love of stuff is a deeply human condition. In her book, Fixation: How To Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet, Goldmark explores the role of things in our lives: “We bring these objects into our homes, and they shape our daily lives, the rhythm of our days. Your lamp lights your family dinner, your coffee maker marks your morning routine. The things around us create a story of who we are, and they impact our health and happiness and planet just as our food does.” Neuroscientists approximate that 90 percent of our thoughts are subconscious, which is to say that we move through the world and make decisions without pairing those movements and decisions with language and conscious effort. We don’t think, we just do. The objects around us play a central role in facilitating those subconscious actions day in and day out—more than most realize. They make us more aware of the passage of time and help us create grounding, coherent structures for our days.

Medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky’s salutogenic model of health examines the origins of health (versus the predominant study of the origins of illness). A salutogenic approach to architecture reiterates the importance of our objects in fostering what Antonovsky coined one’s sense of coherence. In salutogenesis, a strong sense of coherence makes us more resilient and increases our ability to endure stressful events in life, therefore making us healthier. The three major contributors to one’s sense of coherence are comprehensibility (a person’s ability to make sense of one’s life narrative and current circumstances), manageability (a person's ability to manage daily physical realities and activities), and meaningfulness (the foundation of one’s desire to live). Our homes—and all of our stuff— address all three facets of Antonovosky’s theory of well-being. Comprehensibility includes things like secure housing, the simplicity of use and form in our space, and easy wayfinding; manageability means having a home that is functional, safe, and encourages healthy habits; and meaningfulness manifests in our “stuff” by designing for pets, socialization, and our hobbies—the things that give our lives joy and meaning. Our stuff triggers actions, and each action we take positively or negatively contributes to our health.

Sarah Williams Goldhagen further emphasizes the role of our built environment in her text Welcome To Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives. She uses neuroscientific principles to show that our thoughts and choices are inextricably linked to our surroundings. We view our environment as a “living ecology of affordances” in which people sort and move through the built environment according to what an object or space offers to us (i.e. its function). Similarly, our surroundings are littered with “primes” (non-conscious triggers or stimuli in the built environment) that influence one’s thoughts and inspire action. Through both the salutogenic and neuroarchitectural lenses, stuff matters; it defines our day and pushes us to take action.

There’s more to stuff than just the actions they offer us, though. Through the repeated use of objects to perform our daily actions, we develop a sense of identity, and our sense of self becomes dependent on the things we use.

Goldmark suggests that many of us don’t notice the objects that help us perform our daily functions—until something breaks. When confronted with a broken or malfunctioning object, we experience a “sense of frustration, a lack of control, a perception of the precariousness of our many human-thing entanglements.” A broken thing is frustrating because it can no longer perform its utilitarian function (a coffeemaker that cannot make you coffee makes for a frustrating morning indeed). However, a broken object also forces us to confront our dependence on the things around us and the ways in which our object-driven actions foster a sense of self. While we need stuff to survive, its presence in our lives guarantees more than survival; it allows us to create a sense of control and fosters a sense of confidence in who we are and what we value. Goldmark writes that “this interruption to the flow of our daily life may threaten something even deeper: our sense of who we are…when an item breaks and interrupts the flow of our day, it also interrupts our sense of who we are.”

If the stuff we collect and surround ourselves with accumulates into a sense of self, then it it is essential for our health and well-being. Yet we live in a world obsessed with stuff for all of the wrong reasons. We produce and consume stuff at an exorbitant rate because we love stuff and we need stuff, but we’ve created a direct, causal relationship where there isn’t one. More stuff does not equal more happiness. In fact, more stuff definitely leads to poorer health and less happiness. While we do need stuff, the context, quantity, history, and quality all matter more than we realize. The effort we invest in caring for our stuff matters.

By examining the origins of human health and happiness, we can rethink what Goldmark calls our “stuff diet” in a way that is better for our individual and collective well-being, and a matter of life and death for our planet.

The World is Drowning in Stuff – And It’s Our Fault

Here’s the thing—our love of stuff has led us astray. Our way of making, owning, and using stuff has gone terribly wrong. We’ve made too much, gone overboard, and now the world is drowning in human-made stuff. And it’s (largely) America’s fault.

Here are a few mind-boggling statistics that highlight just how bad the state of our stuff-making has become and how it is the last thing our planet needs in the age of the climate crisis, courtesy of the brilliant Sandra Goldmark:

  • "The United States generates 150 million tons of landfill annually."

  • "The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste. If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.” And it hasn’t gotten much better since then.”

  • "In the past ten years, consumption by individuals in the United States has continued to grow steadily."

  • "Household consumption represents up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and accounts for between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use. This includes our houses, our cars, our food, and our stuff. Of that household total, stuff represents 17 percent of emissions, and is the second-largest contributor to the 'material footprint,' that is to say, resource and raw materials extraction. Put another way, by the US Environmental Protection Agency, 'The extraction of natural resources; the production, transport, and disposal of goods, and the provision of services account for an estimated 29% of 2006 U.S. anthropogenic GHG emissions.'"

  • "Stuff overflows our landfills, litters our beaches, and degrades into an enormous Pacific garbage plastic soup bigger than Texas. Manufacturing our stuff has been implicated in health problems in communities around the world, shoddy labor practices, and such tragedies as the Rana Plaza collapse—the deadliest garment-factory accident in history."

Those of us in the United States, particularly the wealthiest among us, are buying and consuming goods without anywhere for them to go. We have finite space on this planet, and yet we’re producing and consuming goods with virgin materials without limit. It fundamentally makes no sense.

Psychologists Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyumbomirsky illustrate an endless cycle of acquisition and adaptation, referred to as the “hedonic treadmill,” in their hedonic adaptation prevention model (HAP). The HAP model shows how the pleasure one derives from a new purchase(s) both diminishes over time and creates higher and more unrealistic expectations for future purchases. Continuously rising expectations and aspirations, paired with diminishing positive emotional returns, drives people to consume more and more. All of us have multilayered expectations for something when we purchase it, and the HAP model shows that these expectations become continuously more complex and unrealistic the more we buy. This mentality towards stuff is both dangerous and rampant in the United States.

The story of stuff does not unfold with people as its only protagonist, though. This uniquely human dependence upon the things we make holds enormous—and dangerous—implications for the environment and all of the non-human beings that need the environment’s natural resources to survive, largely due to the material ingredients we use in the creation of our stuff.

We’re making and throwing away too many things with nowhere to put them. Worst yet, most of our stuff today is plastic.

What’s In Our Stuff?

Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, polystyrene— they’re all forms of plastics derived from petrochemicals (oil and gas). Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier for companies to manufacture. But the long-term impacts of these materials are all largely unstudied and untested, and we’re just now seeing some of the fallout from decades of plastic-driven manufacturing.

Science journalist Matt Simon explores the impact of microplastics in his 2022 book, A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies. Researchers have long known that indoor air tends to be much more polluted than outdoor air (2-5 times more polluted to be exact), but Simon cites multiple studies that showed just how many plastic pollutants sit in our air. Simon refers to a study that tested the indoor and outdoor air at the California State University Channel Islands campus. Researchers found high concentrations of microfibers “suspended in the air indoors and discovered that microplastic fragments had become airborne as well. The more foot traffic the area had, the higher the microfiber count.” This is particularly alarming because people tend to put more durable materials in high-traffic areas, and these "durable" options are almost always synthetic. The study found “more than six times the number of microfibers indoors as they did outdoors: with little airflow inside, the particular suspend in the air, waiting to be breathed in.” Experts now estimate that each of us may shed a billion polyester microfibers into the air in a year just by moving around.

Microfibers come from our clothes, rugs, blankets, toys, and upholstered furniture like sofas and chairs. All fabrics shed - even natural fibers like wool, linen, and cotton - especially as they are used, washed, and worn down. We can be exposed to these microfibers not only through inhalation but also through ingestion of food and drinks, hand-to-mouth ingestion, dermal absorption, and breastfeeding or placenta transfer. When we have synthetic fabrics in our households, these microfibers are composed of microplastics. It should also be noted that there are countless other potential exposures to microplastics beyond synthetic fabrics, notably things like takeout containers, Teflon and nonstick pots and pans, and interior and exterior paints, among others. Furthermore, risks of toxic chemical exposures also lie in the widespread use of plastic.

Plastics—and by extension microplastics—are comprised of polymers that are made up of thousands of different chemicals. These chemicals have wide-ranging health implications for us and our environment, including cancer, diabetes, fertility issues, developmental and neurological issues, asthma and respiratory issues, allergy sensitivities, and immunology issues. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 grandfathered in thousands of untested chemicals used widely in our consumer goods; the EPA has only regulated a handful since then.

The Body Burden Studies originally published in 2005 found, “an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals.” These chemicals are the same ones found in the air quality studies mentioned above. Since 2005, we have found microplastics in human blood, lungs, and stool. We’re just now starting to understand how synthetics change our biology, but we’re already drowning in them.

And it’s not just us—the end users—who are impacted by the toxicity of synthetic materials. The mountains of stuff we produce originate in an extractive, exploitative system from start to finish. We extract raw materials from the earth that we cannot afford to give up. Then, we pay often abysmal wages to those in poorer countries to turn that raw material into a usable product, frequently in unsafe, dangerous conditions with even more toxic chemicals that pose serious threats to their health. Once products make their way to wealthier countries, they’re used for a small fraction of their useful life before ending up in landfills, leeching chemicals into the surrounding environment. The health and safety of the waters, soil, plants, animals, and people involved with and near both the creation and disposal of toxic products are jeopardized. After chemicals and pollutants make their way into our waters and soils, they infiltrate the food we grow and re-expose us to microplastics and chemicals as we eat. Consider the plastics in your home, and in your immediate surroundings. There’s a lot, right? Now consider how many homes there are and how much of those plastics will end up in landfills and oceans. If we’re drowning in microplastics, I can’t imagine how much plastic our planet—our oceans, rivers, swamps, ecosystems, our aquatic life—is negotiating.

Winona LaDuke, in the book Healthy Materials: Design Frontiers, suggests that, instead of trying to replace every unsustainable and toxic item that fills our lives and homes, we should recognize that “maybe we need a little less stuff.”

She’s right. She’s right for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that all of this stuff is not making us happier or healthier. Now that we know that there are major health implications involved in the creation and use of the enormous volume of synthetic goods we’re producing, we have to ask ourselves if it’s worth it. Are we any happier with all of this stuff?

My answer—and those of experts at the top of various fields—is no. What drives health and happiness is not stuff.

Sustainability has long been stuck with a narrative of self-sacrifice; of doing more with less. While there may be some element of truth in that, what our economic system tells us we need is very different from what we actually need to live happy, fulfilled lives. I’m not saying you should give things up just because the planet is in crisis (though this is a worthy idea all the same). Instead, I’m saying that the stuff that litters our lives most often is not making us happy.

Wealth And Whatever Constitutes The Good Life

So what makes us happy and healthy? The Sustainable Development Solutions Network publishes The World Happiness Report based on data collected by Gallup World Poll Data. The report focuses on identifying what drives human happiness and well-being by country, providing rankings, insights, and data on how to cultivate happy citizens. The 2022 World Happiness Report concludes that “the ethos of a country matters – are people trustworthy, generous, and mutually supportive? The institutions also matter – are people free to make important life decisions? And the material conditions of life matter – both income and health.” Institutional and community trust, freedom, and income recur as components of happiness come up time and time again in many areas of happiness and well-being research.

The World Happiness research also identified benevolence as a key component of happiness. Findings showed a “globe-spanning surge of benevolence in 2020 and especially 2021. Data for 2022 show that prosocial acts are still about one-quarter more frequent than before the pandemic.” Helping one another helps us feel good. In many ways, our current economic and social systems of living in this country have made us forget that we are an innately cooperative and community-driven species, that we are stewards and caretakers by design.

In one of the longest and most well-known studies on happiness published by the Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers found strong connections between social bonds and happiness; cultivating meaningful connections with others and finding a community contributes to improved health and wellbeing. At our core, we are social creatures that crave and depend upon community for survival. Our human need for social connection has strong evolutionary roots, and much of the happiness and well-being research echoes this Harvard finding.

Psychologists and scholars Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom explore happiness as an evolutionary mechanism in their respective works. Pinker suggests that happiness must be viewed as the output of an ancient biological feedback system. According to him, we are happier when we are healthy, comfortable, safe, provisioned, socially connected, sexual, and loved. In terms of evolution, the function of happiness is to goad us into seeking the keys to fitness. In this line of thinking, we cannot simply choose to be happy; it is a product of many physical, emotional, and environmental factors. Happiness comes when our needs are met. Social connections, for example, were critical for early humans to survive. Therefore, community makes us happy.

A phrase that changed my understanding of the relationship between people, happiness, and their stuff is Paul Bloom’s “pleasure is deep.” Bloom, in his text, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, posits, “first, that everyday pleasure is deep and transcendent, and, second, that everyday pleasure reflects our evolved human nature” and–even more importantly— “that they really matter.” Bloom’s research gives us all permission to pay attention to what gives us pleasure. Bloom argues that pleasure exists as an evolutionary mechanism underlying the objects and activities that make us human: “sports, art, music, drama, literature, play, and religion.”

The crux of Bloom’s argument is that people are essentialists and we derive pleasure from more than just sensory experiences or the utilitarian function of objects. Instead, every object offers us both its sensory experience that is colored and shaped by our beliefs about what we think that thing is:

“The enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is. This is true for intellectual pleasures, such as the appreciation of paintings and stories, and also for pleasures that seem simpler, such as the satisfaction of hunger and lust. For a painting, it matters who the artist was; for a story, it matters whether it is truth or fiction; for a steak, we care about what sort of animal it came from; for sex, we are strongly affected by who we think our sexual partner really is.”

Bloom’s work is important in understanding the human-stuff-wellness paradigm because he fully elucidates the layers of meaning our objects hold. If people believe origins matter and that everyone and everything has a unique essence that cannot be replicated, our objects have more than just their utilitarian values. As Bloom puts it, “substances can be duplicated; history cannot.” He looks to phenomena like the Endowment Effect (the longer a person owns an object, the more valuable it becomes) and the power of contact (where a famous or influential person owning or touching an object increases its value) as evidence of people deriving pleasure from the origins, essences, and hidden natures of things. The essentialist argument explains why people have superstitions like wearing the same socks every game, treasure family heirlooms beyond their economic value, and refuse to give away they used or owned in moments of personal significance or growth. People are also uniquely essentialist; we are the only species to have complex belief systems that shape our values and choices.

It’s easy for “stuff” to become synonymous with money, particularly in conversations about the health and happiness of countries and their citizens. It would be impossible to write about stuff and its impact on our well-being without acknowledging the connection researchers have long drawn between a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the happiness of its citizens. We’ve heard the same narrative for decades: more stuff = more wealth = more happiness.

However, authors of the 2012 World Happiness Report noted a strange finding in their research. The United States, despite significant increases in wealth in recent decades, was not experiencing significant gains in happiness. According to their data, “the world’s economic superpower, the United States, has achieved striking economic and technological progress over the past half century without gains in the self-reported happiness of the citizenry. Instead, uncertainties and anxieties are high, social and economic inequalities have widened considerably, social trust is in decline, and confidence in government is at an all-time low. Perhaps for these reasons, life satisfaction has remained nearly constant during decades of rising Gross National Product (GNP) per capita.” Clearly, there’s more to happiness than wealth and, by extension, stuff.

Economist Jason Hinkel explores the relationship between GDP and happiness in his book, Less Is More; How Degrowth Will Save The World. Experts have long touted strong GDPs as drivers in a country’s health and happiness; Hinkel argues that it’s a bit more complex than that:

“It turns out that the relationship between growth and human progress isn’t quite as obvious as we once thought. It’s not growth itself that matters—what matters is what we are producing, whether people have access to essential goods and services, and how income is distributed. And past a certain point, more GDP isn’t necessary for improving human welfare at all.”

Money matters to some degree when it comes to human health and happiness. According to Bloom, money buys freedom, which is very good for happiness and well-being. Wealth creates security, freedom, and the opportunity to focus more on the factors of life that matter more when it comes to happiness: social connections, hobbies and passions, benevolence, ensuring good mental and physical health through exercise, nutritious food, and safe living environments. When money simply funds more purchases that will end up in a landfill in a year, it accomplishes a lot less in terms of health and happiness.

In Hinkel’s view, it is the unequal income distribution of wealth, or inequality, that “creates a sense of unfairness; it erodes social trust, cohesion, and solidarity.” While he acknowledges it is true that nations with higher income often have higher life expectancies than countries with lower income, he cites robust public goods and fair wages as drivers of improved human welfare more so than a nation's GDP. Hinkel’s research reveals education and high-quality universal healthcare and education systems as drivers of human happiness. This includes things like unemployment insurance, paid holiday and sick leave, affordable and secure housing, strong minimum wages, and pensions.

Interestingly, Hinkel repeats the dangers of the hedonic treadmill laid out by Chancellor and Sonja Lyumbomirsky in the HAP model in his discussion about unequal income distribution:

“Inequality makes people feel that the material goods they have are inadequate. We constantly want more, not because we need it but because we want to keep up with the Joneses. The more our friends and neighbors have, the more we feel that we need to match them just to feel like we’re doing OK. The data on this is clear: people who live in highly unequal societies are more likely to shop for luxury brands than people who live in more equal societies. We keep buying more stuff in order to feel better about ourselves, but it never works because the benchmark against which we measure the good life is pushed perpetually out of reach by the rich (and, these days, by social media influencers). We find ourselves spinning in place on an exhausting treadmill of needless over-consumption.”

This is particularly compelling when considering the findings in the 2012 World Happiness Report. Today’s consumption is driven by our context, and our context in the United States is one in which many are poor, a select few are very wealthy, and many are slipping along a massive sliding scale somewhere in between. Our wildly unequal income distribution exacerbates the treadmill effect and drives more disastrous consumption across multiple socioeconomic levels. Goldmark, too, notes that our desires are shaped by our perception of what our peers do. While we cannot control the economic and political systems that shape our lives, evidence does show that our happiness and well-being is inextricably linked to our American stuff problem.

How To Design Your Life For Wellbeing

Because I am a sustainable designer, my favorite question is always: how can your home–the physical environment that carries the most meaning and over which you have the most control – play a part in in your health and happiness? If the story of stuff tells us anything, it is that there is a powerful connection between people and their things, and we all have an opportunity to leverage it to our advantage. Let’s go back to Sandra Goldmark’s revelatory study of stuff. Goldmark observes that “through our decisions (and struggles) about stuff, we build our homes around ourselves. In doing so, we create a story for and of ourselves—an identity—within them.”

The World Happiness Report stresses the role one’s built environment plays in health and happiness. Despite its emphasis on the development of trustworthy institutions and the ethos of a country, the World Happiness Report acknowledges that “many problems of mental and physical health can be prevented by better lifestyles (e.g., more exercise, better sleep, diet, social activities, volunteering, and mindfulness). We must also acknowledge that these lifestyle choices take place within social and physical environments – shaping these environments to make the “right” choice the easy choice is important, as we know that individual behavior change is difficult.” Our homes - one of our most critical social and physical environments - mold our health, well-being, and who we are. It is paramount that we pay attention to the

home and identity we construct for ourselves.

But how do you know what you need? Evolution equipped us with some critical foundational urges and impulses. We instinctively seek food and water, shelter, social connections, tools, keepsakes, community, mates. We need these things to survive, yet we hardly think twice about pursuing them. Our ability to locate and fulfill these fundamental needs is hardwired into our brains and bodies, and a product of millions of years of survival. But we all live in a time when we have to make decisions about countless things for which evolution did not prepare us. Do you need that new sweater? What about a new rug or throw blanket? Is an upgrade to your iPhone and Apple Watch crucial right now? Is there some kind of threshold where consumption becomes overconsumption? Well, not really.

Goldmark and Hinkel, among other scholars, say that our sense of appropriate consumption is dictated by those around us. It’s impossible for any of us to step outside our existing communities, cultures, and systems of consumption, but we can become more conscious of our consumption. We can mitigate our consumption, and make whatever we do consume healthier and more meaningful. The research tells us it is in our best interest to do so.

Chancellor and Lyumbomirsky, authors of the HAP model, include methods for getting off the hedonic treadmill. They point to the practice of gratitude, appreciation, and reminiscing as methods of finding joy in spending less. In terms of purchasing habits, they suggest using existing possessions in new ways (new software for an existing computer) and renting instead of buying (renting an outfit instead of purchasing) to prevent excess materialism. Much like the design of the built environment, people habituate more slowly to (and therefore take more pleasure out of) stimuli that vary; these strategies minimize boredom, help people learn new skills, and connect with others.

In a similar vein, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin writes extensively about the role in sensory experiences and mindfulness in creating a happier and more fulfilling life in her book Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World. She encourages people to tap into the physical world and to enjoy and pay attention to the physical, tactile experiences of moving through our environment. Goldhagen too, in Welcome To Your World, stresses the dangers of sensory-deprived spaces and reiterates the need to design a world with tactile materials, changing light conditions, and thermal and humidity temperature variations to engage people’s senses and positively impact their health.

Recall Bloom’s idea that people are essentialists, that origins matter. Bloom’s work is grounded in the “notion that there is more to the world than what strikes our senses. There is a deeper reality that has personal and moral significance.” Herein lies the connection between ritual and well-being. Locating, appreciating, and expressing the world beyond the sensory experience is a critical component of one’s well-being. Harvard Divinity scholar Casper Tu Kuile expands upon Bloom’s work and explores ritual as a means of connecting with ourselves, others, nature, and our uniquely human sense of the transcendent. He recommends creating daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual rituals to foster well-being, ranging from sacred reading and technology sabbaths to pilgrimages, celebrating the seasons, and creating community (think anything from book clubs to CrossFit gyms).

Goldmark, Antonovosky, Goldhagen, Chancellor and Lyumbomirsky, Hinkel, Bloom, Pinker, Rubin. All of these scholars have invaluable insights into what it means to live well. For all of us, as individuals, we must remember Sandra Goldmark’s words: “Have good stuff (not too much), mostly reclaimed. Care for it. Pass it on.” We can invest our time, energy, and money into our local communities, increase our sensory awareness, and practice our passions and hobbies. We go out of our way to perform random acts of kindness. We can create meaningful rituals, practice gratitude, and treasure what we already own.

All of these guidelines translate into design strategies for our homes. Home is the space in which so many activities play out, and we can create intentional spaces that will inspire actions day in and day out that support our well-being. Reinvesting in your local community may mean designing your home for gatherings. Increasing our sensory awareness becomes easier when our home is filled natural, tactile, and healthy materials (think linen, cotton, plants, wood, cork, plaster, wool, jute, etc.). Practicing your hobbies and pursuing your passions is easier when you have dedicated, functional spaces in your home to do so. Performing random acts of kindness happens more often when you spend more time in your front yard, connecting and chatting with your neighbors, or when the design of your home makes it easy and convenient to get chores done (doing the dishes for your partner is a lot easier when you have a dishwasher and don’t have to hand wash everything). For any ritual you’d like to embrace, own the objects that will enable it, whether that’s candles, favorite books, special kinds of tea, an espresso maker, or a cozy chair. Similarly, journaling and practicing yoga and meditation—all incredibly valuable for your health—depends largely on having a journal and a yoga mat.

Living well means embracing conscious consumption, and we all have an opportunity to do so in a way that improves the health of ourselves, those around the world manufacturing our goods, and the planet.

Citations & Further Reading

Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyubomirsky, “Happiness and Thrift: When (Spending) Less Is (Hedonically) More,” Journal of Consumer Psychology 21, no. 2 (2011): pp. 131-138,

Bloom, Paul. How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like

Goldhagen, Sarah Williams. Welcome To Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives.

Material Health: Design Frontiers

Handbook of Salutogenesis

Simon, Matt. A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies

Bloom, Paul. Psych: The Story of the Human Mind

Rubin, Gretchen. Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.

Environmental Working Group:

The Healthy Materials Lab:


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