The Sikh faith has three core principles on how to live our daily lives – meditation (Japji Sahib), working and giving to charity
Last week, the West reached a new milestone. According to Steve Howard, the head of sustainability at Ikea, famed for its flat pack furniture and Swedish cuisine, “we have probably hit peak stuff.” He added “We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings.” For a senior executive at a company in the business of home furnishings to make such a statement was startling.
When I was growing up, my mother would always ‘make do and mend’. She’d fix a hole in a pair of trousers or a jumper with a needle and thread, and in five minutes it would be almost as good as new. She’d even make her own dresses and salwar kameez on her sewing machine. Most of us lack such essential skills today, and we no longer need the excuse of a hole in a jumper if we want to buy a new one. Thrifty living has simply gone out of fashion.
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics show that we Brits spent almost £45 billion in the retail industry in December alone. Admittedly that includes Christmas and the Boxing Day sales, but that’s still more than the annual GDP of Kenya being spent in a single month on consumer goods. We don’t necessarily buy things as essentials. The latest phone or a new car can be seen as a status symbol, a means of self-validation, of proof to the outside world of how successful we are in life, even if we feel differently inside.
This obsession with consumerism and flaunting wealth is nothing new. During his travels, Guru Nanak came across an ostentatious millionaire called Dunni Chand. He lived in a marble palace decorated with gold and precious gems, and there were seven flags outside his house to represent each Crore, or 10 million rupees, he had. The Guru was invited to a massive feast at the house, and at the end of it, the Guru asked him for a favour. He gave him a needle and asked him to give it back to him in the afterlife. The millionaire thought carefully about it and finally asked “How can I carry this with me when I die?” The Guru’s reply? “If you can’t carry something as small and light as this needle, how are you going to take everything else with you?”
Living in a consumer society brings a great deal of pleasure to many of us. It provides employment to millions, and the tax raised through our spending goes towards running the country.
But if those in charge of Ikea think we’ve reached ‘peak stuff’, then maybe we need to take a step back. The Sikh faith has three core principles on how to live our daily lives. They are to repeat God’s name, work hard and honestly, and share one’s wealth with others. Perhaps now is the time for peak sharing.