Happiness can be difficult to come by in modern life. Even ordinary life circumstances can be hugely stressful, not to mention the stress caused by current events. More people than ever are struggling with their mental health in the midst of the global pandemic, and depression has been on the rise in the United States.
With so many people struggling to find happiness, it’s no wonder an entire industry has risen around trying to help people find ways to be happier. Thousands of websites offer tips on managing your mood and improving your quality of life. The amount of books, YouTube channels, mental health apps, and complicated (and expensive) programs is countless. But there is one easy way you can make yourself a little happier, right now, without the need to take a course or buy a product: you can simplify.
The concept of minimalism has been around in art and architecture since the end of WWII. As a way of living, the concept of minimalism and “simplifying your life” has been around at least as long, but started to gain more traction in the popular consciousness with books like Leo Babauta‘s The Power of Less and Zen Habits.
Possibly the most popular advocate of simplified living in recent years is Marie Kondo, author of books such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo’s philosophy of getting rid of material possessions that no longer “spark joy” is one of the cornerstones of minimalist thinking — thinning out material possessions that you don’t need anymore.
Why Having Fewer Things Can Make You Happier
Why does this approach work? Let’s dig into the reasons a little:
First, the fewer things you have, the more you value the things you do have. Many of us have far more possessions than we’ll ever use, enjoy, or even look at in our lifetimes. How many of us pay for expensive storage space every month to keep things we have so little use for that they’re not even in our home? Cutting down the number of things we own means we just keep the things we need or want most.
Added to that, having lots of stuff can actually induce stress. Possessions have to be organized, cleaned, kept secure and kept track of — and if we have more things than we can reasonably organize or even keep in our living space, we just create more stress for ourselves.
More things can also mean more expenses — not just the aforementioned storage fees for keeping all our junk, but the maintenance costs like dry-cleaning your clothes or keeping that second car running. Committing to having fewer things also means buying fewer things, and that’s literally more money in the bank.
It’s important to remember that getting rid of unwanted possessions and leaving only the essentials — thus reducing stress — will actually improve your health. Consumerism pushes the idea at us that buying more things will make us happy, or at least stave off insecurity for a little while.
But consumer product companies don’t have our best interests at heart; they’re only interested in convincing you to buy things and make them more money. And the more we spend on material possessions, the more money we’ve spent, possibly leading us to try to spend more time working — so we can afford more stuff to distract us from how stressful our lives have become. It doesn’t have to be that way! Choosing a more minimalist way of life can soothe your mind and body and make your living environment much more pleasant.
How to Declutter Your Life
Now that we’ve seen why getting rid of possessions and simplifying your life can increase happiness, let’s dig into how you can start making that happen.
Start by committing to divesting yourself of some unneeded things: old clothes, old toys, decorations, books you’ll never read / don’t want anymore, and so on. You can also take steps like cleaning your countertops and sorting through that pile of mail to throw away anything that’s not relevant to your life.
You can then take it one step further by getting rid of any unnecessary furniture you might have. A less cluttered living space is a more tranquil living space. You can do the same with excess cooking utensils and dishes — unless you’re a professional chef, you probably don’t need six different spatulas.
Another major step you can take is to simplify your finances. Put some of your bills on autopay so you don’t have to worry about them. Cancel any needless subscriptions. Lower payments wherever you can (such as comparing auto insurance to find a better rate). Shop more intentionally and do your best to limit impulse buying. Simplifying your finances will not only reduce stress and headache, but it can actually save you a lot of money — which you can then use to build for a future or fund amazing and unique experiences, rather than just buying more stuff.
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