Family having a picnic

What is More Life, Less Stuff About?

Published on May 30, 2024

Every day, an inundation of advertisements pressures us to buy more. These advertisements are well-devised. They play on our need to fit in, feel good about ourselves, not miss out, make life easier, and enjoy life's finer things. However, all this stuff comes with hidden costs that, in the end, might not be worth it. 

Everything we buy impacts people and the environment because of the labor, energy, chemicals, and resources used to make and deliver it. Manufacturing uses a long list of resources to produce every item, from materials extracted from the Earth to energy used in production and all the pollution emitted and energy used along the way. 

Every step of producing our stuff leads to waste, and eventually, our stuff itself becomes waste, causing additional costs. Not everything can be safely recycled and composted. Instead, it ends up buried in the ground or, worse, burnt and released into the air, or sent to countries without an infrastructure to manage waste. Then, the people who live around landfills, waste dumps, or incinerators are disproportionately burdened by our stuff - through air and water pollution. 

Every purchase also sends a message about our values. Do we value the people and places where the raw materials are grown or mined, or the places where the products are manufactured? Do we value the communities that host disposal facilities where the waste is buried or burned? 

We all share a responsibility to right-size our consumption and minimize harm to the world and the life it sustains. It's not just about our individual choices but our collective commitment to a healthy future. 

Our current economy thrives on consuming more and more stuff, leaving us with the question, "How do we use less stuff and not tank the economy?" Maybe the question should be, "How can we have an economy that supports health and life?" rather than one that requires mindless consumption. We should ask ourselves, "Is all the stuff worth it?" And the answer is no—it's often not worth it, especially when it's single-use, fast-fashion, or excess.  

We can also use less and not tank the economy. Part of circularity is to shop locally whenever possible. Local artisans and businesses are vital to a sustainable economy that uses less while thriving locally. Shopping locally, especially for locally made items, reduces the transportation miles the food or items travel to get to you. Reducing the miles stuff has to travel helps reduce both pollution and resource use from transportation.   

In a linear system, the premise is take, take, take until there is no more to take. But we have the power to change this. A circular system is about keeping and saving instead of only taking. It's about values-based spending, where our resources, money, and time are used in ways that enhance our community and our lives for the better. By transitioning to a true circular economy, where we design things to be non-toxic and reusable, we can keep finite resources in use as long as possible, ensuring a sustainable future for all. A circular system is a path toward a better, more balanced world, and it's within our reach. 

We also know that stuff - once we have met basic needs and have provided important security - doesn't make us happier.  Over the past five years, studies have shown that we live longer and happier lives when we connect to our communities. Time spent together and time spent in nature strengthen our mental health and recovery. When we connect with our family and friends, we are happier and healthier. 

This contradiction between what advertisers tell us we need to buy to be happy and what science tells us will make us happier and healthier has spurred the More Life, Less Stuff campaign. In an affirming way, the More Life, Less Stuff campaign helps shift our focus away from all the stuff and toward all the life experiences. We can inspire one another to seek out experiences instead of seeking stuff. We can foster community connection and break free from our stuff. 

Throughout the past year, we reached out to the Ann Arbor community to hear what others thought about waste, consumption, and alternatives to all the stuff we accumulate. People had a lot of ideas, but threaded through those ideas was the desire to seed reducing waste as a community value and a subject of mindful conversation and to watch it grow around us into a movement that betters our lives and strengthens our connections. More Life, Less Stuff is about connecting and inspiring us to make a difference.