The modern world has achieved extraordinary progress in making some things smaller: mobile phones, cameras, and, of course, nanotechnology. iPods are so small they habitually end up in the washing machine. More pervasive in our hyperconsumerist culture, however, has been the unspoken assumption that Bigger Is Better. Obvious examples include wide-screen TVs (even though they make normal people look squashed and dumpy), massive SUVs such as the Hummer and Escalade, and supersized portions, from 20-ounce lattes to tubs of popcorn practically big enough to accommodate a bathing baby. The average home size in the United States in 2004 was 2,330 square feet, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970. Mega-malls, mega-churches, and mega-plexes are now par for the course.
And then there is the kissing cousin of Bigger Is Better: More Is Better. It has become almost a creed: more choice, more features, more power, more fun, more for your money, more bathrooms in the home, and more gadgets in the bathroom. Who in their right mind would buy—or try to sell—less for the same price?
Yet we are now increasingly aware that a lot of money, effort, and energy (of all types) has been squandered on Bigger and More. Most developed countries waste a significant proportion of the food that’s produced. In the U.S. about 40 percent of food produced is thrown out, according to the Department of Agriculture, while in the United Kingdom the average family discards an estimated £420 in food each year. Even with all that waste, there is still plenty enough consumed in those and other countries to have fueled a historic epidemic of obesity. In other words, people are buying way more food than they need, throwing lots of it away, and still eating way more than is good for them. Those bigger homes are all too often still too small to accommodate all the “stuff” people acquire; it either has to be moved “off site” to self-storage facilities, off-loaded in yard sales, or else thrown out, quite probably ending up in land-fill sites along with the discarded food.
Now that times are tighter and a new consumer consciousness is creeping in, people are realizing it makes more sense to think carefully about what is really needed, and buy accordingly. More and Bigger do not necessarily lead to greater well-being; in fact, the opposite often seems to be the case. There is real pleasure and satisfaction to be had in finding products and services that are just the right quantity, size, and power for the task. The watchword is no longer more bang for the buck, but rather better bang for the buck. Combine that with decluttering—eliminating unnecessary stuff—and you have the key elements of rightsizing.