Will having less stuff make you happier?

Can you be too neat and organized? Is it possible that you could be so good at uncluterring that your life becomes devoid of things that are meaningful to you? These are the questions that first popped into my mind as I started listening to an NPR story about Lisa Perry, a woman who decided to sell, in her words, “virtually everything I own.”

As she described her reasons for making this very big change in her life, I began to understand why she (or anyone else) might pursue this possession-less path. Her decision to let go of almost all her belongings was really about taking a journey, about embarking on a process that would allow her focus her gaze forward.

She explained:

… it’s not about getting rid of things that I don’t want or I don’t like or [that] remind me of bad things. It’s really about who do I want to be and what makes me happy, and keeping the things with me that will allow me to do that. And, right now, it’s moving forward and looking forward, rather than looking back at what I’ve done … where do I want to go and what do I want to be.

Perry began this process by identifying her primary goal: to be happy. She came to this realization and was inspired to make changes after reading two books, The Art of Happiness and The Pathfinder. The latter, in particular, helped her to see that as the number of things she accumulated increased, her life — her vitality — became smaller.

Selling everything one owns on eBay may seem a bit extreme and you certainly don’t have to follow in Perry’s footsteps. However, if you see happiness as an end goal and desire a more fulfilled life, it might be a helpful exercise to think about what specifically would make you truly happy, and to decide on the necessary action steps. You don’t need to part with items that resonate with you nor do you have to live in museum-like home. However, if having a welcoming and more uncluttered abode would contribute to your happiness, begin developing a step-by-step outline that will help you to accomplish that. Instead of randomly keeping or acquiring things, first consider their true value to you. Figure out if you’re holding on to things because you “might need them someday” or because you feel obligated to keep them because a loved one gave them to you. Be more mindful of the items that you allow to co-exist with you. Consider specific actions you can take that will foster happy feelings (and banish negative ones) in your day-to-day life, no matter how small. Perhaps most importantly, figure out why you feel the need to make changes. Doing this will give your plan purpose and help you to stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way. If you start to notice that your goals need a bit of fine tuning, take the time to polish them. It’s also likely that you will need to seek out others who can help you bring your plan to life, so don’t be shy about asking for help. And, as I mentioned before, as you go through any uncluttering project, stay focused on the reasons you want to make changes in the first place.

18 Comments for “Will having less stuff make you happier?”

  1. posted by Jasi on

    that’s a really good point. the most important thing about chasing happiness is that you’re not stuck in some elusive loop- the “i’ll be happy when..” mind frame. if you find yourself saying this over and over then you’re chasing the wrong dream. just sit still and be quiet. =D

  2. posted by Domestic Concierge on

    This is all very true. Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom!

  3. posted by Laura on

    Recently I had someone say to me, “If I could just move to a new house and leave everything in this house behind….”
    It was surprising for me to hear this because this person has a house filled with stuff / clutter. I know she’ll never get rid of anything, but just hearing her acknowledge it made me look at her a bit differently!

  4. posted by Michelle on

    I am in the process of doing almost the same thing. Getting rid of almost everything that I consider superficial in order to get to the core of who I am, the judiciously curate back into my life only items that belong. It’s pretty liberating and scary at the same time, you really start to look not only at your stuff, but at your ‘stuff’…the issues you’ve been hiding under your possessions.

  5. posted by Dusty @ Wine Logic on

    Great article. I agree, it’s a very liberating process. Getting rid Cable helped a lot too. I really got back to doing things I love instead of watching things to entertain and distract me.

  6. posted by Linda Samuels on

    Do you know the book, “All My Life for Sale” by John D. Freyer? Back in 2000, like Lisa, John decided to sell all of his belongings on the Internet. He photographed, cataloged and sold everything. Then he traveled around the country visiting everyone that had purchased his stuff and wrote a book about it. Letting go allowed him to embrace an adventure and then start life over with a clean slate.

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    posted by liag on

    It certainly has made me happier to get rid of and in some cases put to better (i.e., other people’s) use some of my excess possessions. It was annoying to have my home be more of a storage place than a space to enjoy.

  8. posted by stephanie on

    Linda- I loved the Freyer book-very inspirational. Also, I find http://www.theburninghouse.com great too. Basically, people take pictures of items they would try to save in a fire-things that mean a great deal to them. As much as I try to declutter, I haven’t been able to narrow down my beloved things to something manageable that could be photographed. I’m a work in progress. Thanks Erin for having the best site! I read it everyday, and every day you inspire me to work harder on this project of decluttering my life!

  9. posted by bsand on

    I have gotten rid of things in the past and have lived to regret it. Most of the things that I regret getting rid of hold sentimental value. While I would not rent space to hold things of sentimental value, as long as there is room in my garage it will stay around.

  10. posted by Virginia Kaye on

    Having keptr untold numbers of things both for sentiment, or for ‘just in case’ I found the quickest way to divest yourself of decades of belongings….have Superstorm Sandy wipe out the contents of your garage…one day and it’s all gone.

  11. posted by stephanie on

    Virginia – I am sorry to hear that. I’m sure it was traumatic. The stories I saw on the news were heartbreaking, and I’m sure it’s “not even the half of it.” Very sad.

  12. posted by Virginia Kaye on

    Stephanie – thank you. You are right..pictures don’t do justice to the reality. It will be a long road to restore the house. Living a few yards from the ocean, we are more fortunate than many neighbors whose homes were destroyed or just floated away. Had I not been such a clutterbug, there would have been less destruction and loss. But DH is looking at the brighter side – the garage is empty for the first time ever.

  13. posted by genie on

    The Burning House site listed above is interesting… but they are pictures of what MIGHT be taken. Below is what I actually took.

    http://lifeontheclothesline.wo.....l-we-have/

    Since our fire, we’ve limited what we kept… we were donated so much (worst wildfire in US history by per capita losses for the county)… But from the beginning, I took the attitude of the great opportunity to start over, not have the clutter and stuff. To achieve the goals that I had been reading about on sites like this but could not get to own my own yet…

    After Christmas, in our new house, I went through and sorted through our daughters room and my room. Donated a good bit more to the thrift store. Two more rooms to go, but the extra is minimal. I hope to keep this new holiday tradition for years to come. Sort through the gifts, find better homes for the gifts I don’t need and cull the detritus that inevitibly accumulates in the corners of the house.

    And Virginia… those of us in the Bastrop Complex Fire (Sept 2011 near Austin TX) feel your pain. I hope your recovery is going well… it will take a long time, but it does get better. :)

  14. posted by David Frank Gomes on

    I don’t believe having less stuff equates with more happiness, but I do think simplicity in living tends to create more spaciousness in your consciousness which naturally leads to greater happiness.
    I experimented with radical simplicity, and I was amazed how little you could actually live with and be happy. SOmetimes people throw everything away in the hopes they will somehow arrive at some new place, but they takes their monkey mind with them that collected all the stuff in the first place. The key to happiness begins in the mind, not in more or less possessions

  15. posted by Lian on

    I have had several uncluttering fits over the past 3 years, and life is better without all the piles of stuff in my way. Although I like what I have now, I fantasize about getting rid of everything I own and love stories of people who have actually done it.

  16. posted by Martin on

    I love “stuff” and I love having my “Stuff” around me, shame nobody else does, so it’s all packed into my office…….must declutter, must declutter, must declutter

  17. posted by Kimberly on

    I have read quite a few blogs about simplifying, and to be honest, it seems that, for some of them, it is an obsession/compulsion. It really can border on being pathological the same way hoarding is.

  18. posted by Cindy on

    I agree with Kimberly about it being an OCD for some people to purge their “stuff”. But just like over eaters, people who hoard are judged and looked down on. We think because someone appears to have it all together they are more acceptable. I would love to be more organized not just get rid of stuff. There are 5 adults and 1 child living in my home. We have “stuff”. If I could get everyone to find a place for their things we would be happier because we could find what we needed when we needed it and the stress levels would be lower.

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