“My space is small. My life is big.”—Graham Hill


That was the closing line in Mr. Hill’s recent Op-Ed piece.

Graham Hill

Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger.com

And the entire article (see link below) resonated with me. After accumulating a ridiculous amount of STUFF by the time I was fifty, I have spent the last eighteen years simplifying my life. When I was fifty, I had just left a senior executive position with Ralph Lauren making a hefty sum of money—which I had managed to spend in the accumulation of all that stuff.

Like Mr. Hill says in his article, stuff doesn’t bring happiness. But it does bring stress. I thought of that article yesterday when the cashier at the Big Y asked me to put my email address on my receipt and enter the raffle for a chance to win a free iPad. I thought about it for a second and realized that I don’t need an iPad. I have enough electronic devices (iPhone 5 and MacBook Pro) that work perfectly well. A third would just complicate things.

I am reminded of the old adage, “If you have only one pair of glasses, you always know where they are. If you have four pair, you never know where any of them are.” So what about Mr. Hill, the founder of TreeHugger.com and a few other highly successful ventures? He seems to have discovered the secret. Although a multimillionaire, his article began:

I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.

I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ’90s, when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets.

Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual (not everyone gets an Internet windfall before turning 30), but my relationship with material things isn’t.

Stopping by my warm and cozy little home on a winter evening

One of the smallest homes in my Borough, it is over twice as large as Mr. Hill’s studio. But I continue to simplify my life. Like Hill, I have zero CDs or DVDs.

I know exactly what he is talking about, and I always think of the famous quote by Henry David Thoreau, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” Not only does all that stuff take over your life and cause you stress, it greatly reduces the amount of time and energy that you could be devoting to something meaningful—with Earth shattering results.

In my case, if I had continued the multiple homes, globe trotting lifestyle of my past, I would never have found time to discover my life’s major definite purpose, invest 10,000 learning about it, writing a book and publishing almost 800 blogs in the past two years. I would’ve spent my senior years seeking leisure, trying to extend my health and figuring out ways to save taxes on the money that I would leave to my heirs.

In short, I would’ve taken care of myself but would have done absolutely nothing when it comes to helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of the human species. As I have written before, there are three things about us humans that threaten our future as a species:

  1. Our numbers. In a mere blink of history, we’ve gone from one billion humans in 1804 to seven billion today and continue to add 200,000 to our population every 24 hours—about 8,000 per hour. Well on our way to 10 ten billion.
  2. The way we live. Big houses, large lots, spread out subdivisions in the boonies, too much pavement, importing food and “stuff” from thousands of miles away, too much stuff and too much waste.
  3. The way we eat. Our western diet requires at least ten times as much land, water and energy to support the same number of people—as compared to a whole foods, plant-based diet. It’s also killing us and the resultant cost of “disease care” is bankrupting our nations.

Stuff 2The Bottom Line. All three of the above are a huge problems standing between our species and living in harmony with nature and our fellow Earthlings. And all three will take a long time to correct.

But I would argue that #3 would be the easiest and the quickest change of the three. The first two will take multiple decades, if not centuries to correct; whereas the third one could change dramatically in less than a decade. All we need is powerful leadership and a few billion dollars to spread the word.

Graham Hill’s article focused on #2—the way we live and all the “stuff” that goes along with it. And even though we all seem to want more stuff, it really is not what gives us joy. As Hill mentioned:

Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.

My focus is on #3, The Way We Eat, and that focus is bringing me great satisfaction that comes with making a difference. That meaningful work has already led to rare experiences and relationships that have also added to my overall quality of life. Like Mr. Hill, My space is small. My life is big.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. Leveraging his expertise in making complex things simple, he is now seeking corporate clients who are interested in slashing their cost of health care. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, where he also sits on the board of directors.
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5 Responses to “My space is small. My life is big.”—Graham Hill

  1. CJ says:

    Nice post, Jim, Graham is onto something, but I’m with you that it all starts with the food… it makes sense to put “food first” because of it’s transformative process in helping us to wake up to food’s implications for our own health and wellbeing, and the world around us. We were at The Living Desert yesterday (www.livingdesert.org) and were again saddened by the fact of all the beautiful animals which are going extinct all around us due to development and climate change… mainly by our food choices. We were also saddened that most parents and families around us just walked by and didn’t read the brief display descriptions that spoke to the plight of these species, many of which no longer exist in the wild. Most just looked at the animals and consumed the “cute animals” experience like they were on tv.

    Another nauseating example of how we are as a species: we relentlessly mow down million-year old, life-giving rain forests with countless ecosystems to grow food in polluting, industrial ways to ship overseas burning more fossil fuels to feed enslaved factory farmed animals… many of whom end up dead and further polluting our environment:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/22/dead-pigs-chinese-river-rises

  2. Joanne Irwin says:

    Can I ever relate, as well. My goal, over the years, has been to simplify. At times, it’s been difficult given my life’s choices. Still, I keep reaching for that goal!
    Years ago I was greatly impacted after reading “In the Absence of the Sacred” by Jerry Mander. His book still holds a prominent place in my library. Written in 1991 Mander stated, “We are in the midst of “an epic worldwide struggle” between the forces of Western economic development and the remaining native peoples of the planet, whose presence obstructs their progress. The ultimate outcome of this conflict is not hard to predict given that the technological juggernaut inevitably chews up the societies that warn that this path will not work. “Worst of all,” Mander concludes, “these are the very people who are best equipped to help us out of our fix, if only we’d let them be and listen to what they say.”
    Sadly, we haven’t learned from the simplicity of many indigenous cultures. Rather, we accumulate, store, hoard, imbibe, feast, and gobble each and every technological gadget. We are a culture that can’t do without……without the latest phone, computer, television, without the latest new food fad or diet. But standing amid a mountain of things, mankind often feels alone and afraid of the stillness. Why? Because his focus is on the external and not the Sacredness within.
    Mander’s book is as relevant today as it was in 1991. When the Sacred is deleted from the living and non-living, we set ourselves up for addictions, sickness, emptiness, and fear. We become the walking dead, unable to embrace what it means and feels like to be fully human and fully alive. Accumulating becomes our god. Graham Hill’s message is prophetic. We have a choice – to listen, learn and grow, or amble along as one of the Stepford children.
    That said, accumulation in itself is not bad or wrong or evil. It is what we do with things that make a difference. Are they a vehicle to serve others or our own egos? Do we make choices for our own self-aggrandizement or for the greater good? Do our things serve us or others?
    Let’s acknowledge – there are those folks (and I know some) who live in tree houses, who escape this culture and live in Third World cultures, who still no knowing about serving, about using their gifts and talents to make a difference, and no nothing about truly belonging to people.

  3. Susan Sasek says:

    Your blog really strikes a cord with me. In 2008, my husband and I “downsized”. Our three boys had left for college and we no longer needed our big family home. Our vacation home had only been used a few days a year since they entered high school. So we sold them both, left our country club, gated community and crammed ourselves into our new “small” home of 4500 sq ft surrounded by protected open space. Half the size of our previous home, no golf course out the back door, no prestigious address. We purged and purged, and felt cramped and squeezed, but…..as time wore on, we found it freed us. We were no longer slaves to our home and after 5 years we realize that this home is way to big as well. We too were victims of the Silicon Valley boom and like kids in a candy store we wanted it all, but found that all of it owned us, not the other way around. About the time of our move, I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. Many of my friends started doing walks, decorating bras, attending galas. Since we had taken a step back, I was able to do research and take Dr. Campbell’s course. We started a WFPB diet for health, but now we are so aware of the many ways it allows us to do less harm to our planet as well. The friends in our old neighborhood can not imagine how we survive in our small little home with all the land and wonder why we do not use it up with guest houses and swimming pools. They can not imagine giving up their wonderful gourmet meals, with rich sauces and exotic cheese. We have been told they would rather die. It seems to me they are making just that choice, but by a very slow and painful route.

    • Dan Liess says:

      I FEEL THE SAME WAY AS YOU DO…THE OLD LIFE STYLE MIGHT BE GREAT…BUT LIVING WITHOUT CERTAIN LIFE STYLES AND IN CLEAR AIR, I HAVE MADE IT…LOST 40#, AND HAVE TAKEN UP WALKING QUITE A BIT. THINGS ARE BETTER
      HOPE YOU FIGURE OUT THE SAME AS I DID…LESS IS MORE

  4. selftalk1 says:

    This makes good sense.

    ________________________________

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