The Truth About Stuff and the Peace of Less

Tidy living room

Spring is here and life all around us is starting to bloom. The new season energizes us to emerge from hibernation and start anew.

This is the perfect time to de-clutter our possessions and clean our space. If you have thought about reducing your stuff but haven’t gotten to it, please read on.

Clutter in all its forms (physical, mental and emotional) is a burden that you unknowingly carry—constantly. Maybe it’s time for you to stop and reevaluate what’s weighing you down.

The focus of this article is on the cost and struggle of too much stuff and the tremendous benefits you will reap from eliminating the excess. I hope you find enough reasons here for you to start lightening your burden.

The true cost of ownership

Cash cost is only a part of what goes into anything you own. Even if you get something for free or at a bargain, it still going to cost you. The following are some of the other costs we don’t often think about:

Cleaning and upkeep. From your car, to the smallest of objects scattered in your house, they have to be cleaned and maintained. This means spending more money, time and energy.

Insurance and storage. The more you own the higher your costs of keeping stuff.

Visual and mental distraction. Your attention is divided between so many things. Something needs fixing, another needs cleaning, another is lost and you can’t seem to find it. The cost of this inefficiency is time and energy wasted.

Indecision and avoidance. This is a direct result of distraction. The more stuff you have, the easier it is for you to slip into a life spent looking for or worrying about stuff. You don’t have the time or energy to do what’s important.

Stress. How do you feel when you walk into a room full of stuff? Do you feel relaxed and at ease? Most likely you don’t. One might say: well I got used to it—clutter doesn’t stress me anymore. Maybe—on the surface—you can get used to it, but I doubt that it doesn’t bother you at a much deeper level.

Have you ever been to a five star hotel that had all sorts of junk all over the place? I believe we innately seek the peace and calm of an organized and spacious environment.

Accumulating stuff starts with a few things and can progress to a compulsion that’s hard to control. Before we know it, the myriad of stuff in piles and boxes starts dictating how we live and feel to the point of overwhelm and paralysis.

The first step in moving forward is to recognize how we got there.

Why do we buy stuff?

We need to think about why we buy stuff in the first place and why we refuse to let go of our beloved possessions.

The main reason we should buy stuff is that it’s something we need or we are truly going to enjoy. If you buy something for any of the following reasons, chances are it will end up being part of your clutter.

Perceived reward. We buy stuff to reward ourselves for achieving something (like a raise at work).

Impulse. We see it, and we buy it. It’s very hard to pass on a killer deal. Advertising and product placement are the science and art of attending to your every whim.

Hope of change. If we want to change something in our lives, buying what we need seems logical. If we want to lose weight, we buy equipment and diet books. We often tend to ignore the alternatives, like borrowing books from the library and going for a walk.

Promise of happiness. We think a new acquisition will make us happy. The new treadmill is what you need to lose weight, and that’s going to make you happy.

Fun. Buying new stuff is very enjoyable—the smell, look and excitement of new things can be all we need to get something.

Social expectations and ego. We buy stuff to keep up with others or to look good.

Why do we hold on to stuff?

After we buy something, we tend to hold on to it, even if we have no use for it. Think of the following reasons:

The one day syndrome. We buy something and fail to use it. But we still think we’ll use it, or might need it—one day. Stuff can sit for years and we still tell ourselves to keep it—just in case. Worse yet, is keeping stuff for that special day that never comes.

Guilt. We feel guilty for buying an item and not using it. We hold on to it and promise that we’ll use it soon, at least till we get our money’s worth.

Identification and attachment. Whatever we own becomes part of who we are. Owning a treadmill makes one a health and fitness enthusiast. All those music CDs that you haven’t listened to in ages reinforce your preferences and taste.

A lack mentality. What if we let go of a possession but need it in the future? Maybe we won’t be able to replace it. We don’t have faith that we can afford the item again. Or we’re afraid we won’t find the item for the same price or lesser if we were to dispose of it.

The truth about physical possessions

The experience

It’s a common misconception to associate physical objects with feeling good. The new car makes us look good; the 5 computers ensure that we aren’t stuck without one working machine. And so on.

The thing is: physical objects don’t give you anything.The experience that you get from using them is what adds meaning to your life. Stuff won’t make you happy.

We don’t crave possessions we crave the experiences and feelings they give us.

And the experience comes only from what you use or enjoy looking at.

A bulky treadmill sitting in the corner of your bedroom doesn’t add meaning to your life. It takes away from it. The treadmill is of value only when use it—the benefit and feeling of walking or running on it, not buying it.

Instead of thinking of acquiring or keeping something you don’t use, think of the feeling you’ll get when you let it go or start using it … right now.

A true measure of value

Your value and social standing shouldn’t be derived from what you own. If you were to lose all your possessions in a fire, you’re still the same person. Nothing you own matters.

When it comes to what you own, an item’s true value is in how much you use or enjoy it—not what it costs.

The peace of less

There are tremendous benefits to having less stuff. Most of the rewards come from reversing the negative side effects of having too much stuff. Here is a summary.

1- You awaken to what is. The less stuff you have the more aware you become of what you own and how you benefit from it.

2- You experience what brings you true joy. Keeping only what you use and enjoy enhances your experience. You have no other possessions to worry about.

3- You feel lighter and more at ease. An empty space invites stillness to your life.

4- You open up to opportunity. When you clear away your stuff, you create space and invite inspiration and abundance into your life.

5- You help others. Letting go of your stuff provides others with something of use to them.

6- You learn to trust more that you have what you need. What you may need in the future will come to you. Trusting life is peace.

7- You save time and energy. You do less housework and maintenance because you have fewer items to care for. Time and energy are our most valuable resources—not money.

8- You stress and worry less. You don’t have to think of what you should be doing with something. The stuff you don’t need is out of your life.

9- You gain clarity and focus. You become less distracted and more focused on your top priorities. Stuff doesn’t bog you down anymore.

10- You reclaim your freedom. You’re free from clutter and can do what you want when you want to—and that’s what matters the most.

You need little stuff to genuinely experience happiness. Removing the excess burden will give you freedom and peace.

For resources on simplicity and having less, consider the following books. Look for them at your local library before deciding to buy.

Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter.

Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More.

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, in Business and in Life.