Skip to site content

Why Too Little is Almost Always Better Than Too Much

Too little is almost always better than too much.

My children probably didn’t appreciate me mentioning it so much, but from time to time I would remind them of this.

That saying was not in harmony with the “Zeitgeist,” the spirit of the age, in which we were living then – or are living now.

In the United States, as in most of the “developed world,” the winds of capitalism have blown over the land so strongly that, fanned by the ubiquitous commercials on television, radio and newspapers, the desire of most people is for more and more material things.

Generally, people don’t like to think about or use the word greed, especially in referring to themselves, but upon careful analysis, it is hard not to think that that word is applicable to much of the consumerism rampant in capitalist societies.

Of course, greed means the excessive desire to acquire more and more, especially more material possessions, than what one needs. But the question is always about what is enough and what is, truly, excessive.

Compared to the vast majority of the people in the world, most of us middle-class people across the world possess much more than we really need.

And considering the sizeable portion of the world’s population who live in poverty, the middle class, to say nothing of the upper class, definitely have excessive possessions.

Of course, many of those middle-class people, especially in the U.S., have excessive debts as well.

So, it was thinking about the problem of economic imbalance in the world, about matters of justice and equality, which led me to say to my children that too little is almost always better than too much.

What seems like too little is usually enough; too much is usually wasteful, extravagant or both.

In the 1970s, there was considerable talk among some people about “simple living.”

John V. Taylor, a prominent British missionary and theologian, published in 1975 a thoughtful book called “Enough Is Enough.”

Back then, “Live simply so that others may simply live” was a popular slogan in some circles.

The idea behind that statement, of course, is that those who voluntarily choose to live simply will have more resources to share with those who don’t have enough to live on.

The simple living movement has been seen more recently. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Simple Living” was published in 2000.

Caring for the poor has a long history in the Christian church. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the Roman Catholic Church’s position clear: The church’s love for the poor “is a part of her constant tradition.”

The same catechism clearly declares, “Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use.”

It then cites the stinging words of Archbishop John Chrysostom: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.”

Pope Francis has spoken often about the idolatry of greed, which causes us to ignore those in need.

Over-consumption is one of the ways in the contemporary world that the rich steal from the poor.

That is the reason one of the things important for everyone to know now is that, especially when it comes to middle-class peoples’ stance toward material things, too little is almost always better than too much.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Seat’s blog, The View from This Seat. It is adapted from a chapter of his unpublished book, “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs To Know Now,” and is used with permission.

Leroy Seat

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church.