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Downsizing isn’t a dirty word – the pandemic taught us that

July 15, 2021
By Tanya Singh

Workers are embracing flexibility. Image by antiopabg from Pixabay.

As someone who studies human behaviour, it amazes me how quickly we adapt to circumstances that seem extraordinary at the outset. In the beginning of 2020, we were living blissful (well, less miserable) lives untouched by the virus. A few months in, and we were in a totally different reality, refusing to leave our houses for fear of contracting a disease we knew next to nothing about. But we adapted – we worked from home, changed our schedules, home schooled our children, (unsuccessfully) taught our grandparents to use Zoom, and got on with life. Although the pandemic is slowly receding and things are inching back to normal, we know that the “normal” we will return to won’t be the same.

For one, how we work has changed. More and more employees are considering jobs that provide flexible working hours. Also, how we think about work has changed. The pandemic forced some of us to rethink our priorities, and embrace flexibility, leading to an increase in gig economy workers. Although the pandemic unfortunately resulted in many people being laid off, some workers are also choosing “downshifting” or reducing their hours at work, to achieve a better work-life balance and focus on their families or hobbies. These changes are especially significant in a society that has fetishized being overworked.

The pandemic saw a rise in minimalism. Image by nhadatvideo (flickr).

We can’t deny that the pandemic has made a huge dent in our social lives. Over the past year, the struggle to survive (quite literally) left us little time to catch up with our friends. When we did speak to friends, conversation remained limited to the number of cases, vaccine development, and hope for things to go back to normal. That’s understandable, the uncertainty and limbo of being in a global pandemic made it hard to have a normal conversation, to talk as if everything was ok. As we emerge from the pandemic, we may have fewer close friends than before the pandemic struck. It’s natural to feel sad about losing friends, but a downsizing of your friend circle isn’t such a bad thing. In his bestselling book “Predictably Irrational”, famous behaviour economist Dan Ariely writes that humans have a tendency to engage in social comparison. Comparing ourselves to others usually leaves you feeling worse about our own lives. Having fewer close friends also means fewer social comparisons, which may lead to greater well-being.

Having fewer friends can have an upside.

The pandemic has also spurred the growth of minimalism as a movement. As the pandemic catapulted climate change into the spotlight, many were motivated to reduce waste and lead more sustainable lives. Some of us just wanted to alleviate the chaos in our houses and gain a sense of control over our lives. So, we “Marie Kondo’ed” our houses – decluttered, disposed and turned to simple and clean décor. Minimalists often claim that they felt “burdened” by their possessions and that adopting minimalism gave them “freedom”. Researchers who study minimalism claim that choosing to live with less provides a sense of agency and autonomy. Turning to minimalism during times of uncertainty like the pandemic makes sense, since these events threaten our agency. Some found that having less things also meant less time spent cleaning and organizing. Minimalists claim that their family lives improve by owning less – they tend to focus more meaningful experiences, rather than finding meaning in possessions. Research has repeatedly shown that experiences (rather than possessions) remain more deeply embedded in our memories and provide more happiness in the long term. It makes sense that a renewed focus on sharing experiences would make you happier.

So, as we emerge from the pandemic remember that there is an upside to having fewer friends, fewer clothes, and fewer things – less can be more!

About the author

Photo of Tanya Singh

Tanya Singh is a doctoral candidate in Marketing at the John Molson School of Business. Tanya holds a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor’s in Engineering in Biotechnology. Prior to starting her PhD in marketing, she carried out research in genetics.

Tanya leverages her interdisciplinary background to study consumer decision making. She examines the consequences of putting off choices on consumer behavior. Her dissertation examines how putting off decisions can have significant impact on subsequent consumer decisions. She is the recipient of the Howard Webster Award for Graduate Excellence. She is also involved in developing and delivering a data analysis workshop at targeted towards graduate students at Concordia University.

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