Most of us exist and thrive under the illusion that we need to do more, to be more, and are always be looking for ways to become bigger and better. If we're not constantly searching for the next promotion, a bigger house, more money, it feels as though we're not following the right path. Simply being happy and satisfied with our current lot, and valuing relationships, craft and the environment over all else, is definitely not the norm.
Often, the realisation hits that this ongoing desire for more only increases our stress levels and leaves us burnt out. Our health and wellbeing suffer, as we work harder, work longer hours and continue to make sacrifices - whether consciously or not. But this realisation doesn't necessarily mean anything will change. In her Guardian article, Madeleine Bunting argues that "Small is beautiful is the cry of the romantic idealist, and there seem to be none left": she appears to be right.
Modern society dictates that bigger and better is the norm. If we're going to be able to afford our own home and go on holiday and just exist comfortably, there's no other option than to keep aiming for this: there is no apparent alternative, because we cannot exist without money (although this man definitely tried), so we must make more to achieve our goals.
But what if we changed the goalposts? What if instead of having to go big or go home, we could change what we wanted from life, and as a result, reduce the necessity to be reliant on more? I'm not suggesting that we give up on becoming homeowners, or never do anything spontaneous or exciting, but that changing our small goals, our stepping stones if you like, could be the key to still achieving what we want, without spending all of our time grinding through life. There are always sacrifices to be made, but it's our choice what these sacrifices are. The question that must guide us through life's choices is not how much more do I need? but what is important to me here?
Let's say you wanted to reduce the number of hours you work a week, so that you can spend more time with your family, because relationships are what you've decided are important to you. This goes against the grain, because you're actually aiming for small rather than big, and often working part-time (or anything less than a 40-hour week really) is viewed with derision, but why shouldn't we want more time for ourselves and our loved ones? The only problem arises when you realise that you can't afford to reduce the number of hours you work. So you have to make a sacrifice.
Your options are:
- Sacrifice your time (and possibly wellbeing) and stay in the same position you are now.
- Sacrifice something else, by making something else smaller in your life. Perhaps it could be the amount you spend on food, or the number of times you drive when you could walk? It could be something more impactful, like downsizing your home (the Tiny House Movement is thriving!), or giving it up entirely. Your 'sacrifice' needn't be all that terrible: look on it as an adventure, an opportunity.
If you want something badly enough, there will be a way to achieve it, and it doesn't necessarily require a bigger investment. To work less, aim for less. To escape the cycle, change what you're aiming for in life. It's not easy, it won't happen overnight, and you'll still have to work hard. But surely, in our world of conglomerates, of billion pound deals, and of ever-expanding commercialism, a small, simple life that separates itself from these things, and values all living beings over pounds and pence, is worth striving for?
Eleanor is obsessed with stories. She writes for a number of online spaces including This is Your Kingdom, edits Creative Countryside, curates #aseasonalyear and teaches at Chalk House. In addition, she is currently studying for an MA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing. You'll find her roving the fields of the Lincolnshire Wolds or planning her next rural adventure.