The Zen of Less Stuff

I must admit I’ve always been intrigued by a minimalist approach. Not intrigued enough, apparently, to necessarily practice it but intrigued nonetheless.

The trend towards minimalism has been growing. New articles, blogs, websites and books are popping up all the time. Interestingly, millenials seem to be leading the pack towards having less stuff. That silver service (that belonged to her mother) Granny wants to offload on your son or daughter when they get married? Not happening. Why? They simply don’t want it. Millenials are way less into “stuff” than the generations before them. And that may actually be a good thing.

Research in positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of several books on the subject, describes happiness or well-being (his preferred term) as measured by the following: Positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Positive emotion is described as happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to using one’s abilities and interests in service to an absorbing interest or calling , while meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Accomplishment and relationships round out the five, which Seligman identifies by the acronym “PERMA.”

Millenials, having come through the recession, concerns about the environment and sustainable lifestyles, not to mention the prospect of student loan debt, seem to be more focused on living a scaled-back lifestyle, on having experiences rather than acquiring stuff. If that’s the case, according to Seligman’s ideas, they may be on to something. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010), millennials “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” and “are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s.”

The beauty of less.

The beauty of less.

The idea of paring down isn’t just limited to millennials. Although better living through consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon, there is a noticeable trend towards the idea of less being more. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, was a number one New York Times bestseller, and currently ranks as #1 in Religion and Spirituality on Amazon. (Yes, religion and spirituality.) Examples of minimalist living are everywhere. Steve Jobs, a noted minimalist, favored simplicity both in his designs and his personal life, and was well-known for his signature look of black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers.  The clothing store and website, Cuyana.com, celebrates a life “filled with fewer, better things,” and features simple shapes in neutral colors. It even encourages the reader to join their “Lean Closet Movement,” simplifying personal wardrobes and donating items no longer worn to those who can use them.

It’s not difficult to see why a movement towards simplicity appeals. In a world that seems increasingly complicated, a simpler lifestyle translates to less pressure, reduced expenses, and more freedom. As many of us transition to different lifestyles, such as being solopreneurs with home offices (my case), more clutter – more stuff – equals more distraction and expenditure of mental and physical energy that could be focused elsewhere.

Here are a few ideas on how adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can impact you.

  • More time. The more stuff we have the more time we need to take care of our stuff. Our things have to be organized, maintained and stored.  Sifting through a packed closet looking for our favorite blue blouse can be time consuming and frustrating. So can sorting through a crowded cabinet of office supplies trying to locate the stapler. Picture, if you will, a closet with several well-chosen items hanging and actual space in between the hangers and you can almost feel the difference.
  • More money. We’ve got to pay for all that stuff and the more we have, the more money goes out to do that. Moreover, we may even pay someone else to help us take care of it – maintenance, cleaning and the like. Choosing to buy less means being able to save money for other things – a dream vacation, retirement, education, and reducing the weight of debt.
  • More life satisfaction. Our consumer culture has for decades hyped the “When I get the (new car, new dress, new kitchen, latest whatever,) then I’ll be happy,” mentality. Advertisers depend on our buying into these notions. If you accept Seligman’s theory of PERMA, however, the life satisfaction doesn’t hold weight for the long-term. Some thoughtful folks are realizing that the happiness and satisfaction they seek is better found elsewhere – spending time with loved ones, in service to a cause they believe in, or challenging themselves to accomplishment or learning a new skill.
  • Less stuff means less stress on the environment. As recent generations have become more aware of how consumer consumption impacts the natural world, trying to minimize our footprint has become of increasing concern. More awareness has led us to recycle, re-use, and reduce non-essentials, positively impacting our natural surroundings.

What about you? I’m curious to know if you have considered simplifying, downsizing, or streamlining your life? I know I have. Right now I’m working on clearing out my overstuffed bookcases of books I no longer need. I’m donating them, along with some other items, to a shop in my community that supports a cause important to me. Not only am I reducing clutter and distractions at home, I also get to feel a sense of satisfaction and contribution. That’s something money can’t buy.

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