“I am not an environmentalist. Just call me an enougher!”

Published on: 24 April 2023

The latest iPhone. A bigger flat screen, with an even sharper picture. ‘Ultra-fast-fashion’ with 52 collections in a year, made to be worn briefly. As a consumer, it is hard to resist temptation sometimes. And eager buying is good for the economy. But we also increasingly run up against the limits of our consumerism. What are those limits? And what does all that consuming yield? In this series, we get people to look at this from their specific point of view. Episode 2: the perspective of Heleen van der Sanden, former publisher of Genoeg (Enough).


perspective of Heleen van der Sanden, former publisher of Genoeg (Enough).

Doing more with less. That’s how you could describe the mission of quarterly magazine and Internet platform Genoeg. At first glance, that just sounds like frugal living, but when you talk to Heleen van der Sanden, it quickly becomes clear that it is about more than that - freedom, autonomy, solidarity. Van der Sanden was the publisher of Genoeg (the successor to the illustrious “Vrekkenkrant” 25 years ago) for sixteen years, and she was the editor-in-chief and designer for about ten years as well. She recently sold the magazine to a new publisher: Virtùmedia.


When do you have enough?

“Personally, I like the dictionary definition: enough is the balance between too much and too little. And that balance is always in flux - what is not enough today may be enough tomorrow and vice versa. The answer to the question of when something is enough varies from person to person. So, if you’re publishing a magazine about ‘doing more with less’, you can’t take an attitude of ‘we know what’s right’. If hiking is your joy and your life, a hundred-euro backpack may be a basic need. For someone else that may be an extravagant expense, but that person may spend a fortune on painting supplies. Genoeg always encourages readers to evaluate their own situation. The important thing is to consciously choose what is important to you. And for the rest: just eliminate the things that are less important to you!

If you are under constant stress from money worries, you often just don’t have any headspace left to calmly think about how to live differently

I do have a disclaimer here. This advice does not apply to people who simply don’t have enough resources. If you’re under constant stress because you don’t have enough money and you can’t provide breakfast for your child in the morning, you don’t have the option to make that kind of conscious consideration. If that is the case, you often simply have no headspace left to think calmly about how to live differently.”


Why did you take over Genoeg back in 2006? Did doing more with less already play a role in your life at that time?

“My background is in graphic design. I created a membership magazine for De Kleine Aarde (The Small Earth), an ecological visitor center focused on a sustainable lifestyle. At one point, the opportunity arose to take over the publication of Genoeg, and after long hesitation and a second mortgage, I was the proud owner. I didn’t buy the magazine from a purely commercial standpoint, but I did want to make it bigger. With Genoeg, I wanted to inspire as many people as possible to do more with less. By investing heavily, the magazine would also be able to make money after a few years. So, I kept De Kleine Aarde as a client.

When De Kleine Aarde suddenly stopped being a client after two years, my husband and I were faced with a choice. Should I immediately start searching for a new client, or could we scale back our expenses so that we could live without that income and work shorter work weeks? We saw it as a challenge and then started looking at how we ourselves could do more with less. I don’t know if I would have done that if we hadn’t lost that client.”

We never skimped on enjoying life, doing fun things together,
and having our friends and family over

How did that go? What do you bump up against when you start living this way, including socially?

“It’s not like we used to throw money around before; on the contrary. But just by not always having a good overview of where your money is going, you tend to spend more than you need to. If you look at that more consciously, you can cut things out. The advantage is that you develop more appreciation for the things you do choose to do. For example, we went out to dinner less and invited friends over for home-cooked meals more often. We cut up our credit cards. And we went on vacation abroad only once every five years. We used the remaining vacation time for things we otherwise had little time for - for example, enjoying the garden, which is at its most beautiful in the summer. Exploring our own country. And visiting friends and family we hadn’t seen in a long time. We never skimped on enjoying life, doing fun things together and having our friends and family over.”


As a parent, you don’t want your kids to be excluded. How do you deal with them wanting a mobile phone or certain kinds of clothing?

“We were never big spenders, but when we really got serious about ‘doing more with less’, our three children had already left the nest. But when they were younger, we gave them a clothing allowance early on. One would save up and buy an expensive brand of jeans, the other one didn’t care. The most important thing for a child is that you are there for them as a parent. What is the value of money and possessions if you get little or no attention from your parents because they are constantly working? Fortunately, our children never felt they were missing out on anything. I have asked them about that on occasion. In fact, my daughter enjoyed the fact that we were pretty easy-going at our house. We didn’t have an expensive couch, so they didn’t have to be careful with it. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it. In order for your child to lead a normal social life, there are certain developments you can’t really avoid. We didn’t need a TV, but we got one when our oldest started school.”

What role does sustainability play, when it comes to your incentives to do more with less?

“To me, sustainability is not an end in itself, but an inseparable part of the desire to live well. Appreciate what is there, value it. Then you obviously don’t want to waste that. I also don’t understand why people still talk about ‘environmentalists’ - as if they are a separate species, haha. I am not an environmentalist. Just call me an enougher!

If everyone lived as we do in the Netherlands, we would need three Earths, or more. But when it comes to the economy, people still like to believe in the fairy tale that growth is a must: good for ‘the economy’. But the economy is about much more than just money. It is about added value. That value can often not be expressed in money, but that does not make it any less important: good quality products, a fair wage, doing work you enjoy and are proud of, a secure livelihood for employees, treating nature with respect, taking into account the generations to come. That is invaluable. That’s what Genoeg is all about. It won’t make the front pages and it won’t make the talk shows, but it’s something that more and more people are looking for.”


We know what needs to be done to keep climate change from spiraling out of control, but we don’t behave accordingly. Don’t you find that discouraging?

“For me, the glass is usually half full. It is important that we keep up the energy, that in the face of all the pessimistic news, we continue to offer prospects for action: what can we do differently? How can you keep encouraging people? How we treat each other determines the effort we are willing to put into something. We often underestimate how important that is. And the same goes for the influence we have by buying environmentally and socially friendly products and ignoring the rest. Less, but better. We are much more powerful than we think.”