“Owning less is better than organizing more.” – Joshua Becker, of Becoming Minimalist.
I was reminded of this quote last night when Peter and I were watching those house-hunting television programs. In one, a couple of kids were moving to Belgium and forced to downsize. They wound up renting a 200 square foot studio apartment, leaving plenty of money to travel and explore their new surroundings in their grad student budget. By opting for less, they were going to get more out of life. The next episode was more typical, with a closet- and storage-obsessed couple. They didn’t seem nearly as happy as the grad students, even though they were buying an expensive and expansive home, and had oodles of clothes and toys.
I know that minimalism isn’t for everyone, and that many people would never entertain the notion of a downsize. But as I look back on my own five decades, the happiest I’ve been is when I’ve owned the least. Then and now, thankfully, again. There’s definitely something liberating about living simply and owning less.
When I simplify, I get more out of life.
“Yes, but I love all my stuff. I can’t imagine being without it.” How can you honor your things if you’re keeping them boxed up and packed away in your attic or basement? Why not downsize and release them with love so that they can be used by someone who needs them? Do you honestly, deep down in your heart, use or need all the stuff you are keeping? We’re betting you don’t. You can get more out of life by giving your stuff a new home and letting go.
“Yes, but my stuff has sentimental meaning, and it was expensive. It’s valuable.” A couple of years ago, I was invited to tour a beautiful historic home. Jointly owned by retired schoolteachers, this lovely Queen Anne was overflowing. Each of its owners had come into possession of their deceased parents’ household items, and it was clear they hadn’t got rid of very much. Instead of trying to simplify or downsize, they had just transported it all to the stately house and now all three floors were cluttered with furniture piled high with clothing, linens and knick-knacks. What began, it was evident, as a loving tribute to family and memories by displaying all their things had devolved into a near approximation of Miss Havisham‘s ruins. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, thinking, “Who is going to deal with all this stuff after these elderly ladies pass on?” Indeed, where was it all going to go? Wouldn’t it be nicer if they had some say in the matter? But instead, they had opted for no say at all because they could see no way other than to keep everything.
“He who dies with the most stuff wins.” Not true. He who dies with the most stuff leaves a big mess for someone else.
“It’s too overwhelming, and I wouldn’t know where to start.” It’s difficult to get rid of stuff, believe us, we know! Over the past year, in anticipation of our move to Hawaii, we had to make the ultimate downsize and get rid of almost everything we owned! It was hard! It’s amazing the silly things for which we keep attachments. I was reduced to a quivering mass of indecision over a single cookie cutter, as my daughter will attest. Seriously, it was ridiculous!
Even though Pete and I had downsized twice before, this ultimate downsize of ours was a huge challenge. We sold his beloved tools and the cars we both loved, we got rid of our books and most of our furniture. We emptied drawers and went through boxes that had been unopened for years. We filled our driveway with items that a charity graciously picked up. We placed numerous ads on Craigslist and even had a Facebook page, advertising our stuff. We had double the number of decisions to make: keep to store, keep and take to Hawaii, sell, donate, trash. It was a ton of work and effort to simplify. All on behalf of stuff.
What we reaffirmed during our ultimate downsize is that we’re really attached to the memories we’ve assigned to our stuff, rather than the stuff itself. This is not logic, it’s pure emotion, and that’s okay. If we can get to the place where emotionally we understand that we will always have the memories, even without the items, it is easier to simplify and let them go.
Before we moved to the townhouse, I took photos of antique furniture I had loved over the years, whose time had come to be donated as we were not going to have space for it. I still have the photos and look at them every once in a while. The furniture was beautiful, but I realized I was really concerned with memories of happy times spent around the table, the special occasions where I had used the china, crystal and linens, and all the stories of family and friends. Now that same furniture is gracing someone else’s home and they are making similar memories with it. That makes me happy still. 🙂
All this post is advocating, really, is for more intention and purpose regarding the things we own, instead of thoughtless acquisition or holding on when we should let go.
We are so blessed in the first world with unbelievable riches, yet many of us experience a poverty of spirit while we busy ourselves with acquiring, storing, maintaining, cleaning, counting, fixing and replacing our possessions. Think of all the expense and energy that takes! What difference could you make if you could simplify and redirect that expense and energy elsewhere to a cause you feel deeply about, to more honest interactions with others, to experiencing and appreciating the wonderful life we’ve been given? What a great way to get more out of life! Your stuff will own you if you let it. Why give it this permission to enslave you?
Stuff doesn’t love you back.
If your spirit is unsettled in some way, you may have already figured out that a downsize will help. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate downsize, like we made. It can start in a storage room or out in your garage. Why not clean out the garage or the basement, rather than just rearrange things? Clear off the tabletops and banish clutter. You’ll be cutting down the visual noise and making things easier to manage in the future. The time and money you used to spend on your stuff can be spent on other things.
Now that Pete and I have completed the ultimate downsize (for us) and are here in Hawaii, the stuff we kept in Minnesota is contained in one 5 by 10 foot storage unit. The stuff we have here can easily be moved to another residence on our island if need be with a couple of trips in our SUV. If we decide to move away from Hawaii, our things can be sent in a half dozen easy to manage containers via parcel post. While we certainly don’t claim to be extreme minimalists, and we know others who get by with much less, it’s a remarkable change from what we were dealing with a few short years ago. We don’t miss the stuff that owned us!
If it feels like something is missing in your life and you’re wishing for something more, we recommend simplicity. Anyone can reap the benefits of a downsize, no matter how slight. Simplify and get more out of life by living with less.