Reading: “Enough” by John Naish

John Naish Enough book cover 1

“We drown out the big questions by marching behind the brass band of infinite ambition. It’s a march that apparently need never end: today’s idea of success increasingly involves attaining unprecedented levels of health, power, and celebrity.”

This quote is from 2008. It resonates with pretty much every time frame from the late 80ies to today. But while the consumer culture of the last century was too analog to even imagine, John Naish would probably never have imagined how manifold one could present one’s infinite ambitions on today’s social media nightmares like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We are drowning in everyone’s opportunities. We are drowning in various ways to buy happiness. We are drowning in unwanted goods we don’t need any longer because we found something much better. This is as true in 2020 as it was in 2008 when John Naish wrote and published his book Enough – Breaking free from the world of excess.
In eight chapters and one afterword, John does his best to analyze the various ways our capitalist and consumer culture defines the meaning of “enough.” He covers as diverse topics as Enough Food, Enough Information, Enough still, Enough Options, Enough Work and – being the ADHD anxiety depression freak that I am – my favorite, Enough Happiness. You could read this book just like any other, or you only read the topics you’re most interested in, leaving out others you don’t care about. Still, you find a thorough investigation and analysis of how we came to where we are now (or rather were back in 2008).

Information Overload

Take for example Enough Information. Back in 2008, TV news reports were one of the most important news sources the majority of people turned to whenever they wanted to see what was going on in the world. Two years before, amid my mental health tour de force, I quit TV news for good and never looked back. Apart from a short stint in New York where I watched a local news channel due to a minor terror incident I haven’t seen TV news footage in more than a decade. Naish argues similarly, stating that TV news coverage focuses only on the absolute worst while a focus on local news will prove that the world isn’t that bad. He also never owned a TV (I ditched mine in 2012) because, well, absolute overload. Today, with Facebook, Twitter and newspaper apps offering push services, it’s even harder to escape the flood of solely negative 24/7 news coverage.
But ‘information’ doesn’t start and end with the news – even though Naish, who (still) works as a journalist in the UK, could have focused solely on this part of the problem. He also includes the fact that we’re getting much too much information per se throughout our days, be it a text message, WhatsApp, E-mail, or a mention/retweet/like/reply on Twitter/FB/Insta. Even more than in 2008, thanks to our phones we are available 24/7 – and people expect us to be. Have you ever had a discussion with someone because you read their WhatsApp but didn’t reply immediately or within the next hour? Ever had a friend who was angry at you because you didn’t instantly reply to their FB message even though he could see YOU’VE READ IT so why didn’t you reply?
Like what the actual fuck?
Naish covers this topic too, though more regarding text messaging (oh the good ole days without blue ticks when you had to pay good money for verbal diarrhea) and E-mails. He underlines the fact that constant interruptions are not a way to function, work, or live productively:

“It takes about 4 minutes to recover from an electronic interruption and regain your train of thought. So if you have 30 e-mails a day and look up 30 times, that’s 120 minutes of recovery time.”

Think about it. Two hours every day just because of your phone vibrates. It need not be an e-mail. It could be any messenger, Instagram, TikTok, anything no one really needs but your FOMO keeps you alert and active. It costs you valuable time. When I want to avoid distraction at all costs I usually put my phone in flight mode. Actually, I use flight mode rather regularly and it’s one of my favorite features because it keeps the world out and helps me relax and focus on my work, my play, and my life. Do you remember the times 10, 15 years ago when you could use your phone as an alarm clock as well and still TURN IT OFF? Not anymore in the era of smartphones in which your phone keeps you on edge 24/7 while at the same time invading your privacy and possibly even influence your mental health, depending on how well you cope with the overkill of news and social media.

All work and no play …

But enough of digital gadget bashing. Naish has a broader focus regarding how much enough there is on this world – today even more so than 12 years ago. In Enough Work Naish analyzes how we developed from doing our best to sustain ourselves, earning and working only as much as we needed to see the acquisition of stuff we don’t need as more important than time and personal freedom. A society that creates the illusion of consumerism as the main way to express one’s personality and execute personal freedom will never value the luxury of having more than just a certain amount of free time at one’s hands. So people who do not work full-time but prefer to have less money and more time – people like me, depending on my freelance projects – may be seen as traitors by some. We don’t work 8, 9 hours a day so we are not valuable members of society. It’s a scandal we are allowed to take vacations at all. Naish emphasizes this change in perspective regarding work when he writes

“[…] Many people chose to earn only as much as they needed to pay for basic food, clothing and shelter. Why go to work on Monday mornings if you don’t need to? That balancing act was thwarted when consumerism successfully persuaded people that what they really wanted was not more time, but more material goods than they already had.”

The problem is that personal freedom only goes as far as you have sufficient funds. When part-time work earns you enough to sustain a living – which may be the case depending on your education and work experience – then this concept works well. But the moment children, mortgage, credits, cars, and other issues I can’t think of right now entering the picture, it may be less about consumerism as a practice of personal freedom and more about pure survival. So while I personally agree with Naish and have a rather unconventional work biography (which is also a result of my mental health issues), we should never forget that a lot of people all over the world don’t have enough personal freedom to decide how they want to work.

How much is too much?

Still, consumerism is the source for a lot of problems we have been facing for some time now. Enough Stuff and Enough Options both deal with how consumerism and its consequences don’t make our lives any easier in the long run. Too many options cause anxiety in regard to fearing we make the wrong decision and can, therefore, be highly counterproductive. This is not limited to shopping options. Before I decluttered my wardrobe (four times so far …) it often took me up to an hour to find something to wear because I simply had too much. Nowadays, with a much smaller closet, it can also take quite a while because I can be a moody dresser; still, I’m much faster now that I don’t have so much stuff anymore. This may sound familiar to some of you. No matter what, more stuff and more options don’t equal more happiness. It only means you spend more time deciding on something and/or taking care of your things. And it also means you have to work more hours to earn more money to afford more stuff and options. Naish provides a wonderful quote in this regard that I want to share with you to conclude this paragraph:

“Shopping gives you a sense of choice and power which is often absent from the rest of your life.”

One of my favorite chapters is Enough Happiness which deals with the happiness and self-improvement industry that flourishes on the premise that feeling down is a vice we need to get rid of. Don’t get me wrong: I suffered from depression due to my anxiety issues and I still get very VERY low from time to time. I suffer from anxiety and can spend hours imagining the worst outcomes of the most basic situations. I am all for working on the self and not giving in to every little bad vibe that grazes on my frontal lobe. BUT this also became a very lucrative industry. Furthermore, it is simply not realistic to be happy and content all the time. You would either be on drugs or out of your mind to not go through some lows from time to time. That is fine. It is still healthy, even if it doesn’t feel like it. And it’s human. There’s nothing wrong with you. One woman’s pleasure is another one’s plight – that’s life. Naish taking on the happiness industry and its mantra that it will bring you never-ending happiness is an interesting and entraining read. Even more important is that he broaches the subject at all. More often than not this industry exists as a sort shadow society that everyone knows about but hey, as long as no one is hurt, let them improve themselves and don’t talk about it. And that may be right. But it is still important to tackle the topic, to point out that everlasting happiness is a fairytale and that certain lows are indeed just fine. But if it gets worse you should not just go and buy a book and a sound bowl but maybe consider seeing an expert to get professional help – not for eternal happiness, but mental health.

While reading this book I got the impression that Naish was ahead of his time. While 2008, 2009 saw a growing awareness of the dark sides of capitalism thanks to the financial crisis, a lot of his arguments that refer not only to consumerism but also sustainability and environmental issues have become more urgent and therefore present in the media and politics. So even though when reading about the growing distractions caused by cell phones made it clear that some time has passed since this book was published, overall it has lost none of its relevance and poignancy over the last 12 years. So if you want to enjoy a critical reflection on our society of never enoughs, riddled with a charming British sense of humor, get yourself a copy of John Naish’s Enough and find out for yourself when you may want to reach your personal point of having, being, feeling enough – and enjoy it.

John Naish Enough book cover 2

Oh the temptation! – A spontaneous Low Buy Update

Since the start of my Low Buy year on January 1st, I haven’t been to a lot of shops except when I know exactly what I need. My main reason is not so much avoiding any temptations but rather the fact that I don’t need anything so there’s no need to go to shops in the first place. Why waste my time in places I got nothing to do except standing around?
This week a dear friend of mine returned from her six-week trip to New Zealand and we celebrated our reunion, going out for lunch and strolling through the city. She was looking for a pair of pants and I needed to get another insert for my traveler’s notebook. Thus, I took her to a shop where we could get both – and more.

I went to get my notebook while my friend asked the sales assistant if she could show her some trousers. All the while I didn’t think about looking around because I knew I wouldn’t buy anything apart from the notebook. Yet this changed when my friend found some amazing pants that looked great on her and were exactly the sort of pants I’m always on the lookout for. Stylish yet comfortable, with a loose fit and of great quality – oh how I felt the temptation …
So much so that I tried on several different colors and styles myself until I had found a pair of pants I loved. However, as I was standing in front of the mirror, I realized that I already have at least two pairs of black pants that look exactly the same. Three months ago I would have said that one could never have too many black pants, 50 % off was a great bargain and so forth. In the end though, this was about WANTING and not NEEDING something. It would have been classic impulsive shopping – just the behavioral pattern I wanted to change.

drawer full of pants

Obviously I already got some pants …

Rules for fools?

I’ve set up some low buy rules to get me through this year and I was about to ignore them for the sake of satisfying a sudden urge that would probably vanish after a few hours (it did). While getting dressed again I gave this thought some time to sink in and I hated it. Every time I go somewhere to buy a gift for a loved one or something I need to replace, I’m always so happy that I stick to my plan. And all of a sudden in the heat of a fleeting moment I wanted to cheat myself out of feeling good about myself for no other reason than WANTING something?

Long story short of course I did not buy those pants. I got my notebook and waited for my friend to continue our afternoon stroll through the city. At the risk of sounding narcissistic and arrogant, I was proud of myself and I felt relieved I did not give in and buy those pants. I may be a fool but at least I stick to my rules (fingers crossed) …

Rules and Reality

“Any fool can make a rule” – I chose this title (which is actually part of a quote by Thoreau) for a good reason. Every time I start walking down some unfamiliar paths, I fear that I will make a fool of myself one way or another until I get some practice or expertise. Inspired by my YouTube playlist full of great advice on low buy, no buy, and minimalism, I established my rules. Yet despite my optimism, I knew it could get tricky at some point. Hence the ironic title and a premonition that it may serve me and this plan of mine well someday in the future.
Well hello – this day has arrived and I did pretty well. By writing about it here, by putting it out there somewhere, it feels like I’m making a confession even though I did nothing wrong. I was on the brink of doing something stupid, but I didn’t do it. Though it may sound ridiculous I thought about how I could explain a new pair of pants to Wonderguy, who would have noticed at some point. Maybe not immediately – after all, he is not the warden of the wardrobe – but he would have recognized it. Knowing about my low buy challenge and being highly supportive of it, there is no way I could have justified buying yet the same black pants again. He might deny it but he has a sixth sense for my guilty conscience purchases – which makes him my perfect supporter.

Cats on bed

Cat content – always a good idea. Even more so when in dire need of some positive vibes.

Get inspired again and again

So if you ever set out to embark on your own low/no buy adventure, make sure to talk or write about it. Hold yourself accountable by making your intentions known to the people around you. In doing so you will feel like shit if you break your own rules. Be vocal about your plans and they will haunt you!
(Re)Watch inspiring videos to motivate you again, read about how others handle their low buy and no buy journey on blogs. Connect with fellow low buyers/no buyers and support each other through all the temptations and difficult moments that might arise. Be it a shitty day at work, anxiety, life or something else that usually triggers you into buying shit you don’t need – reach out to others who share your path. Reddit is a good place to look for kindred spirits, as is YouTube and Instagram (I’m not on Facebook anymore so I don’t know about that). Let’s support each other and be serious about this whole endeavor. Because in the end, it’s not just about each of us, it’s about how we interact with the world around us, learning to cope with what life throws at us without running away into the open arms of the next ATM or online shop.

I did it – for the first time and (very very) probably not the last time.
You can do it too 🙂

 

‘Less is more’ – my Low Buy January recap

This Friday the first month of my low buy year ended and it’s time to look back on these 31 days of NOT shopping. How was it? How does it feel? How am I? Could you do it too?

It was great. It feels great. I’m doing great. Yes, you can (if you want to)!

four book covers

So many books … still not enough time?

Spending time not shopping

As most of you who went on a low buy or no buy challenge know, the moment you ditch your compulsive shopping habits is usually also the moment you suddenly have A LOT more spare time at your hand. Surprisingly though, at least for the first 31 days, I had no trouble at all filling new found time slots with projects and things to do.
For one, I read much more. I signed up for a reading challenge on Goodreads and I’m already three books ahead! Right now I’m reading four books — one non-fiction, one for research purposes, one of my beloved Jessicas, and a self-improvement book — which is less than ideal in general and for someone like me in particular but in the end right now it’s ok for me because I feel like a kid on summer break — the world is my oyster and so are my bookshelves!
Having so much more time also enabled me to FINALLY get back into a proper research mode, usually spending my afternoons writing or reading some papers and actively working on my dissertation again. It’s still not ideal but it is far better than it has been just two months ago, so I’m heading in the right direction. Besides, one thing I’ve learned over the years working as a (freelance) writer and copywriter is that it often comes in waves — one day two, three, five pages are no problem at all, other days every line you accomplish seems almost impossible. So maybe ‘ideal’ is whatever works best on any given day, as long as I just keep working.
I also got crafty again embroidering my Kanken and already planning some design for my other backpacks. I created some rather fancy bullet journal spreads, doodling my way through February and some other collections and lists I started. So overall, January was a great start into a year in which I plan to explore and establish new paths, ideas, and ways to handle my stuff.

Kanken Embroidery

I tried something new and embroidered a Kanken.

Spending time shopping

Apart from being the newly (!!) reformed compulsive shopper that I am, I still spent more than enough time ‘shopping’ things I needed. First to mention are groceries, of course. Thanks to meal planning I only have to get groceries about twice (three times at max) a week, but that’s still more than enough.
And then there are those everyday items you never realized how regularly you need them. How often do you buy laundry detergent, toothpaste, or soap? We’ve adapted a lot of our cosmetics and household product to sustainable and/or low waste options, but you still have to get that stuff from time to time — something that does not become obvious until you only go shopping when you need something…
Additionally, apart from buying only what I needed, I also shopped locally most of the time. Instead of ordering an item online just because I could I now took the time to look for shops where I could buy what I needed. So when my gran asked me to get her a sustainable alternative for her plastic straws, I did not order them online but first went to the local zero waste store to see if I could get stainless steel straws there — of course, they had several different versions! When needing yarn for my embroidery project I also went to three different shops until I finally found what I had been looking for. This took some time, but also gave me a new understanding of how to act more sustainably and buy more consciously, using the resources I had all around me — sometimes just five minutes away. After all, this is how I shopped until just about ten, maybe fifteen years ago. Ordering online was an option, but just one of several. It was not the main option and my first choice — and so one could say I’m on my way back to the future that looks surprisingly similar to a not so long ago past.
Admittedly I also spend half of my book budget for January on Amazon, so those tiny steps I took pretty much amortized itself with this act, but since I would have had to order those books anyway, I decided to do it on my own without the hassle of interpersonal interaction (after all it’s called The Merry Loner for a reason)

Because I completely forgot about my tuition fees which were due in January (as every year but bless this mess that is my brain …) it was not a successful month regarding my saving plans, BUT it could have been much worse. I plan to do my best to undo some of the ‘losses’ in February by taking a close look at upcoming financial obligations before they take me by complete surprise thereby planning accordingly to not end up frustrated at the end of the month.

Room for improvement

January was an overtly social month. We went out for dinner with friends three times and I had three lunch dates, which is definitely more than I and we usually dine out in a month (we are literal homebodies). This is something that did not go according to my plan and rules and I want to change that in February. As I don’t want to rebuff my loved ones when they ask me or us out, this may become a true challenge over the months but sometimes it’s also a question of timing: I hadn’t had a single dinner date (meaning going out for dinner paying for it myself) in December, only to have a surprise visit from friends and family on different weekends in January – something like this can come up and when it does it depends on how you want to handle it. I decided to give in and spend time with people I love, but you could decide to instead invite them over to your place and cook. You could also do something completely different to appreciate your loved ones without having to spend additional money. This is why low buy rules may sometimes be prone to bending at the edges according to what is within limits. Yes, I overspent on eating out BUT at the same time I didn’t use up my whole January book budget. One does not amortize the other, still it is a way of bending the rules without having to feel like a complete failure.

February low buy — what lies ahead?

According to what I wrote earlier, I will do my best to calculate upcoming expenses. February 5th is my mom’s birthday and I will spend some money to get her a gift. We have a sort of town festival coming up which may add some additional costs, but not that much. I have to pay my train tickets for an upcoming holiday and the annual fee for an app I decided to keep. Apart from that, I hope for some smooth sailing and fancy saving my book budget for the month because this idea of ‘rediscovering my bookshelves’ works surprisingly well, so I may stick to it for now without adding anything to my collection.
I’m not a big planner and I won’t ever become one but trying to keep an overview of what’s coming up this month hopefully is sufficient for my low buy life and also gives me a sort of grown-up vibe (again) that is 15 years late. In the end though it’s about what works for me which may be different from how others handle their life (and low buy). We are here to share, support, and inspire each other — let’s do exactly that! 🙂