One Revealing Question: Is It Worth the Candle?

My grandsons sleep with night lights.  In fact, they really don't like to be left without their little lights, which shine all night in case they wake up for some reason.  The lights are a comfort to them.

There's an old French proverb (my research indicates that it first appeared in print in a 1580 essay by Michel de Montaigne):  "Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle."  In other words, "The game is not worth the candle."

It refers to candlelit rooms where people would go to gamble at cards.  Since candles were expensive, it was typical at the end of the night to leave some money to contribute to the cost of the lighting.  But if someone lost money during the games or didn't make much profit, they wouldn't be able to cover the price of the candle.

And so the question:  Was the game worth the candle?  Was it worth the effort or expense it required? 

When candles and lamp fuel were expensive, you had to carefully consider how you used them.  Was reading that newspaper or book worth the candle?  If not, why buy it?  Was sewing or knitting that thing worth the candle?  Maybe, if you were creating something necessary and useful, maybe not if it was merely decorative.

Perhaps part of the reason we buy so many entertainment options, such as:

  • TV
  • streaming
  • video discs 
  • music
  • games
  • restaurant meals
  • event tickets
  • hobby supplies
  • travel
  • recreational vehicles
  • home d├ęcor
  • and more... because light, power, and fuel are no longer scarce resources.  We can light our homes all night if we want to, and not just with little night lights.  We're good at complaining about the price of gasoline, yet each of us uses more than ever.

The abundance of once rare resources is part of our problem.  If we had to ration light, power, or fuel, we'd be more thoughtful about our choices, because everything takes light, power, and fuel (to ship goods from Asia, if nothing else).

If only we understood that our resources are finite.  If we believed that our time is finite, we'd be careful about how we use it.  Maybe we'd spend more time interacting with friends and family in real life, instead of following celebrities and influencers.  Maybe we'd spend less time shopping and more on developing our talents or making something of value.

antique street lamp

How to use the question

So before you buy something new, consider:  Is it worth the mining or the drilling?  Is it worth the cost of infrastructure and delivery?  Is it worth your time and effort to earn the money to pay for it?  Is it worth the candle.... or not?

Related article: 27 Things I Stopped Buying When I Embraced Minimalism

And before you keep something you don't use, consider:  Is it worth the space it takes to store this?  Is it worth the cleaning and maintenance?  If it's stuck in the china cabinet and pulled out for two meals a year, or shut in a box which is stored in the basement, being saved for "someday," is it worth it?  Is it worth packing up and moving?  Would it be worth buying today?

If it's not worth the candle, the truth is revealed.  Declutter it now.

Subscribe today and get my helpful guide to remove 100 unwanted items
in just one hour

The Declutter Dare

P.S.  If you're worried about how the economy will survive if you're not buying unnecessary baubles, invest your money, or donate to organizations that feed people, do medical research, or foster the arts.  The economy thrives when money is in use.  It doesn't need us to buy things we don't need.


  1. This hit me in the gut! Beautiful picture of minimalism! Awesome writing!

  2. Over consumption and consumerism by humans have put our only home, Earth, in such dire straits.

  3. Wow, what a way to view consumerism in a new perspective. I clearly remember the shift from having few things to choose from (last of 4 kids, received all hand me downs growing up), to having every choice literally available in the world and wondering as a youngish person at the time how that happened. When there is overabundance, we all take for granted and stop appreciating what we have. I enjoy your articles. This was a really good one.

    1. We all have a problem with taking things (and people) for granted, and it makes us entitled instead of grateful. Thanks so much for your comment, JBlackkdog.

  4. Deep and revealing. Thanks Karen.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why You Should Make "Less is More" Your Mantra for Life

How to Make Habits that Stick: A Simple Guide to Change Your Life

How a Hospital Stay Made Me Even Happier to Be a Minimalist

Minimalism Isn't Magic (but it can help change your life)

Enjoy the Rewards of a 15-Day Declutter Challenge