Most of us would agree that a materialistic life is not a fulfilling one. More clothes, bigger houses, the latest electronic gadgets, newer and flashier cars… these things might bring temporary enjoyment, but a life based around acquiring things can feel pretty empty. The reason is simple… “stuff” doesn’t equal happiness.

So what about the idea that many people have nowadays that less stuff equals happiness? It’s really the same mindset carried to the opposite extreme. One group thinks that buying another new thing will make life better… one more purchase will make life happier. The other group thinks that ridding themselves of another existing possession will make life better… one more act of purging will make life happier.

Both groups are putting far too much importance on “things.” It’s possible to be happy living in one room with few possessions… or in a mansion filled with the finest of everything. It’s also possible to be miserable in both situations. Lasting happiness comes from relationships and spiritual and emotional fulfillment… it isn’t determined by how much stuff you have, or the process of acquiring it or purging it. The person who has simplified his life isn’t happy because he has less stuff… he is happy because he has achieved inner peace.

There are some very good reasons for purging and decluttering, but compulsive purgers who purge for the purge itself are just as excessively focused on stuff as compulsive shoppers are.

And that is not the path to achieving true and lasting simplicity.

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Jo

If I have to dust it or iron it .. out it goes! To Goodwill or to someone who may need it or like it. Yard sales are a fun way to get rid of “stuff”, too. Or eBay!

Beth

So true!!! Wonderful post and wonderful blog. Thank you so much for your gentle approach to simplicity.

Tabatha

i can see how letting purging stuff can get compulsive, that’s why i keep the the things i enjoy like books, and i just want to get rid of anything that doesn’t make me happy and feels like a distraction.

Corrine

Like the one thing in one thing out idea. I think that is as bad as always wanting to buy something. I’m with you on this. I get rid of stuff if I don’t need or want it but I purge for a reason and not just to purge.

Ria

Agreed. I am trying to live a simpler and more frugal life, but there are some things that I own that I’m quite happy with and don’t plan to give up, even if they are luxuries and unnecessary even by my standards. I don’t think that owning everything will make me happy, and I think that owning nothing would make me miserable. I try to find a balance. I own what I need, and what I like that I can justify. (And justification must come in a better form than, “Everyone else has one.”)

Myself, I’d rather find a new use for a lot of clutter. I have bags of old clothes sitting in my back room that will, at some point, be turned into blankets and rugs and bags. They may be taking up space right now, but I think that turning them into something new will be better for me, emotionally and spiritually, than giving it away. Remaking them will keep my mind and hands busy, and then I get the satisfaction of seeing something new that I made, something that is now useful when it used to be useless.

But if it has no use or reuse, I will often throw it out, or give it away to somebody who needs or wants it. Just because it doesn’t have a use to me doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t get some good from it.

Jackie

Oh–thank you so much for such a sweet, balanced view!

Kelly

I’ve never been a packrat, but after 8 eight years in the same place, things accumulate. When I realized things needed to be reorganized too often or looked for in too many places, it was time to purge and reorganize. I started with the paper – paid bills, previous year’s policies, etc. It’s now down to one file box. I’ve been through every closet, drawer and cabinet once so far and purged (donated or trashed) those items I no longer used or didn’t even remember having. That was round one. I wasn’t terribly hard on myself, but the house is more organized, I don’t waste time looking for things, and the house is easier to clean and almost look forward to doing it. There is no longer the panic when out-of-towners come to visit either. I don’t have the desire to just buy stuff because I can. It has to pass the needs test first and usually has to pass the one-in-one-out test too just to make sense to me. I save money, time, and the angst of where something will finally go. It’s been great and I don’t miss any of the stuff that’s gone. Now I look around and realize I still have stuff that I thought I loved or used that I don’t. Now I’m on to round two. There is no deadline or pressure, just an ongoing review of what I surround myself with. Life is easier and lighter in a way. Just another perspective, if it helps anyone.

Anna

I like this. It’s balanced, and it helps with questions I’ve been asking myself. Husband and I built a 2001 sq ft house (I’m still trying to find that one extra square foot) and even though we’d gotten rid of a lot of stuff, it’s still fuller, particularly in the closets, then I’d like. But we both work a lot from home and so there’s more trappings to that. We had simplified a lot because even though our house is bigger, we have no garage, just a garden shed, and so the amount of stuff we cut back on from a very cluttered two car garage and 1470 square foot house is amazing!

But your posts is a great way to walk in between as it were. And I get permission to not feel guilty because I don’t live in a a one room cabin “off-the-grid” :-)

Annie

My daughter and I live in a 720 sq. ft. paid-for mobile home. While there will always be a need for some things, purging and minimalism have given us a therapeutic way to control clutter.

Honestly, when my daughter is visiting her father, I could happily live in a much smaller place than this. Most of the living room is taken up by daughter’s beloved pets while I spend most of my time writing in the kitchen. I could cut this space in half and be more than content, provided I could keep my washer and dryer lol!

I used to be quite stressed because of all of the stuff in my life. This same stuff may give another comfort and pleasure but I found it uncomfortable. We each have to walk our own path.

finallygettingtoeven.com

When I first started reading this post I was going to say “Of course I am happier now because I got rid of all my junk” but the further I got into the post I realized that what you were saying was so true, for me anyway. The obsessive purge I had, just like everything else I do in life, guilty on the ‘high’ that I got from getting rid of all the stuff. However, I will admit after I came down from the ‘high’ I still am in a place where I feel so much better than having all the stuff to begin with.

Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Stuff is irrelevant!

What is relevant is inside us.

Our relationship with ourselves, our people, and our God(s).

Everything else is details.

Live Life Happy!

Willow

Exactly! Either extreme for its own sake simply allows for too much emphasis being put on ‘things’. It’s like money–money is amoral, neither bad nor good. It’s how people use money that determines its moral value. Things are amoral–stuff (none or too much) shouldn’t be the focus of our lives.

rochelle

when my husband and i married 20 plus years ago, we lived in a 380 sf efficiency one room apartment. through the years, we upgraded and raised a family in a 4000 sf home in mckinney. after the last birdy flew the coop, we moved into a 700 sf apartment and i’ve gone back to school to finish my degree. we’re loving it. it gave us the opportunity to pare down, figure out exactly what we use and what was superfluous and we’re living with just enough. the one in, one out philosophy works great and we’ve become regulars at the Container Store. it’s great to know where it is and where it belongs and everything has a home!! i’ve asked my friends not to give us stuff, but rather gift to charity or take me out for lunch– it’s a welcomed treat now days. we have one closet and we elfa shelved it to accommodate scrapbooking, cake/cookie decorating, sewing, cross stitch and crochet. i’ve gotten my clothes down to 5 linear feet of closet rods and 5 pairs of shoes. it’s an awesome feeling.

afd

Compulsive purging does make you think obsessively about stuff! I went through a “minimalist” phase when all I wanted to do was get rid of my things–some things that I liked and will never get back! I tried to coax my husband into purging his stuff, but just ended up with tension–obviously. Finally, I came to my senses and stopped thinking about how little or how much stuff I had and just enjoyed them! Thank you for a balanced view of simple living, I’ll be returning to read more of your posts!

jenni

When we critically ‘simplified/downsized’ the second time and I was espousing what a wonderful feeling to wake up and just see my Favorite things I had kept.
My Mother asked me would I feel the same about having little if I had never had much? I thought that was profound and haven’t forgotten it. She always kept me tuned up:)

sue

Well said. I have had very little “stuff” and I have had more “stuff”. I have been unhappy both ways because I have not had enough friends, family, or emotional fulfillment.
I live in an urban area with many immigrants who live with what appears to be very so few material possessions and overcrowded living situations. Yet, they are for the most part extremely happy, pleasant people, and I can only imagine that it is because they are surrounded with family and friends and customs, food, and rituals which they have brought to this country.

Stephanie

Great blog! I’ve enjoyed many of your articles. It’s refreshing and uplifting to read so much that is on par with my own thoughts.

ZZ

This is the post I’ve been looking for. I have been purging for awhile now, probably down to 30% of what I use to own. I’m better but it definitely isn’t the end all, be all key to happiness either, it’s a step in the right direction.

Glad to have other perspective on this feeling. Thank you.

ZZ

Ashley

You are so right about this! I have kind of the mindset that the less I own the more happier I am but honestly I can be happy with material things. I just can’t let myself become greedy or neglect the spiritual part of my life.

Happiness and serving God does take an effort. Serving God makes me happy so in order to be happy I really do have to discipline myself to get to that point and it doesn’t always have to be ridding my life of things.

Another point I want to make is… It’s amazing. A majority of my stuff in my room 80% of it is stuff I never use and never will. Most of it is for decoration (stuffed toys) and most of my clothes I never wear. I probably only wear 3 t-shirts and 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts all the time. I know that sounds gross but I wash them but yeah… I bet a majority of people are like me…

Most of the stuff we have we NEVER use and even if you do send them to Good will there’s a chance that somebody will use it more frequently or it’ll just be collecting dust. It’s still good to give but really.. if we were all honest and realistic… If somebody else took away what we use and what we don’t use.. we’d be stripped down to the bare minimum and would be okay with it lol oh well… Not saying that having things is good or bad I’m just making a point that most of the stuff we (Americans/ people in general have) we don’t use lol

LCC

Thank you for posting this. This is an insight I had never thought of before, but was obvious when I read it.

Rebekah Miler-Lyles

That’s a distinction worthy of noting. Thanks for giving us new ways to think about things.

Mack

Good read. I like stuff. In particular, I like really good stuff. I would rather have three great knives than a drawer full of cheap ones. I would prefer four wonderful cook pots than a dozen from Kmart. Give me one fine fishing rod; I can’t use or want a closet full or garage of recreational toys. Thoreau had it right with his advice to simplify. Better to own just the things you truly need and enjoy. A downsized life is one where you are in control. And you own your stuff, it does not own you.