It is staggering to run the numbers on our recent past. In America, total consumer debt has reached $13.8 trillion and individual debt per household tipped over 130% of disposable income. Family income dropped, but the cost of healthcare and higher education skyrocketed.
What is beneficial about all this is self-reflection. Big questions like, "What are our values and goals? What changes do we make as businesses and consumers?"
Consumers have recalibrated and are starting to consume less. Buying and using less, however, is easier in theory than practice. It helps to have a framework to guide you. Faithful anti-consumerism isn’t a realistic or sustainable solution for all of us. Instead of extremes, we need balance.
I see that balance in the concept of Enoughism from British journalist John Naish’s book Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More. This is fueled by concern for where consumer society has taken us and offers action that is both realistic and sustainable – cut back, use less, focus on quality, seek out environmentally aware companies, and where possible, buy local products. How much is enough? It’s a personal answer, and the power of change is always personal. I see Enoughism as basic business principles: operate within your means, be responsible to your community, and focus on the health of your company and the happiness of your employees.
The popular phrase “Less is More” has a ring to it, but Milton Glaser, the celebrated designer, says it makes no sense at all. With a Persian rug, for example, “every part of that rug, every change of color, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success”. Less art in society is not more. His alternative has relevance far beyond design: “Just enough is more.”
For consumers how much is enough? Reducing our footprint should not also dilute the value of a product, nor should it limit your own ambition.
Think Warren Buffett. While among the richest men in the world, he lives in the same house he bought for $31,500 in 1957. He makes investments that deliver value and doesn’t invest in companies he doesn’t understand. Buffett has a common sense approach that keeps him grounded and in touch with the world. Know yourself, your core value, find balance over the long-term, and you can change the world.
Think Lionel Poilâne. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve likely eaten his bread. He was criticized for not baking baguettes, but his loaf of sourdough baked in a woodfire oven one at a time won over critics. Poilâne’s relentless focus on quality, locally sourced, made pain Poilâne the staple of Paris with some 15,000 loaves delivered a day. His bread is a lesson about basic business creating sustainable value.
We know we’ve got ahead of ourselves and we’re cutting back. How we do that over time is fundamentally about balance. Enoughism frames your choices and translates concern for the planet into action. Always aim high, but reconsider what is enough. Adopt Buffett’s relentless focus on value and Poilâne’s relentless focus on quality. Simply asking “how much is enough” may yield extraordinary results.