Less is More?

Dutch Downshifting
Could less be more?

Door Martine Zeevaart

Downshifting is a worldwide concept that has been broadly discussed in social media. Mainly, it is discussed among mindfulness themes, since downshifting is considered to be a mindful practice. But what is downshifting exactly? It can be seen as a way of living, for example; leaving a job that is well paid and difficult in order to do something that gives you more time and satisfaction, but could earn you less money.

In this article, I’ll elaborate on the outcomes of the work of Jeanine Scheursii, who has done her PhD research at the University of Maastricht and is now editor-in-chief of the Dutch magazine Genoeg. In her thesis she raises the question: ‘What lessons can be learned from downshifters?’ The paper discusses results of a qualitative and quantitative study of downshifting in the Netherlands. In her study, downshifters are people who live with less money than they did before, regardless of whether the change is voluntary of involuntary.

In 2007 a survey was conducted among the readers of the Dutch magazine Genoeg. The survey covered 1106 participants who were categorized in three groups: the voluntary downshifters (consisting of 461 participants), the involuntary downshifters (consisting of 280 participants) and the non-downshifters (consisting of 265 participants).

Positive and negative aspects of the voluntary downshifters came visible during the survey. I’ll discuss them all. First, voluntary downshifters scored high on the following positive categories:

1. Financial effect; living with less contributes to increasing savings, debt reduction and the possibility of being able to afford special purchases or to support one’s children’s education.

2. Personal growth; becoming more creative because of downshifting and developing particular skills or gaining particular knowledge.

3. Post-materialism; becoming less attached to material possessions while, at the same time, increased value is placed on what someone already owns.

4. Social effect; changes in social contacts because of living with less, such as meeting new soul mates and ending other relationships.

5. Quality of life; represents having an increased appreciation of life and is corresponding with reports of less tiredness, less stress, more free time and/or having a more adventurous life.

6. Better citizen; spending money more consciously allows someone to contribute positively to the environment and/or makes you more compassionate toward the underprivileged.

Secondly, voluntary downshifters also scored high on the following negative categories:

1. Immediate family; discussing expenses with close relatives and friends can lead to protest, critique, and arguments.

2. Poverty; too little money to sustain themselves or being unable to buy essentials.

3. Sacrifice; material or immaterial items that are no longer affordable, as well as activities which are considered to be too costly and are therefore neglected.

4. Criticism/incomprehension; the comments and lack of understanding that someone can receive from their social environment.

The article states that there are more positive experiences among voluntary downshifters than among the involuntary downshifters or the non-downshifters. However, it seems that voluntary downshifters experience more negative social reactions and more positive individual effects. In the beginning of the text the following question was raised: ‘What new insights for sustainable living may be concluded from the results of this study?’. The research of Schreurs et al gives three new insights and a clear answer to this question:

* Firstly, the insight of financial behavior; downshifters tend to be conscious, careful spenders.

* Secondly, the insight of eco-friendly behavior; downshifters handle their possessions consciously and carefully.

* Finally, the insight of personal wellbeing and happiness; downshifting may increase quality of life and therefore contribute to feelings of personal wellbeing and happiness.

So downshifting can become an improvement of quality of life and could promote sustainability, but someone has to make the step of downshifting on a voluntary basis.

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