7 Common Problems Solved by Owning Less

“Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.” - Peace Pilgrim

Three years ago, we sold, donated, or discarded over 70% of our family’s possessions. We removed clothes, furniture, decorations, cookware, tools, books, toys, plus anything else we could find in our home that was not immediately useful or beautiful. The result has been a completely transformed life and lifestyle. It is a decision we have never regretted.

The intentional choice to live with fewer possessions has brought with it a great number of benefits. It has been the answer to much of the discontent we felt in our lives when we owned more. And the decision holds the potential to do the same for you.

Consider these Seven Common Problems that Can Be Solved by Owning Fewer Possessions:

1. “I don’t have enough money / I’m in debt.” The simplest solution to almost every money problem is “spend less.” In fact, it’s the first step in almost every financial program ever devised. Purposefully deciding to own fewer possessions is an important step in getting your financial house in order – and often times, it’s the only step you really need to take.

2. “There’s just not enough time in the day.” We were immediately surprised at how much extra time we found in our lives after removing our unnecessary possessions. We came to realize, if we aren’t careful, the things we own quickly move from “time-saving” to “time-consuming.” Just think about all the time we waste caring for our possessions: shopping, researching, organizing, picking up, cleaning, repairing, replacing – even earning the money to buy them in the first place. And the reality is, it can be difficult to determine how much time our possessions are actually stealing from us until we actually remove them.

3. “There’s always so much cleaning to do / Even after I clean, my house feels cluttered.” Want to have a cleaner home? Own less stuff. It works every time.

4. “My house is too small / There’s never enough storage around here.” Chances are pretty good that your house isn’t too small – you’ve just put too much stuff inside it. Case in point: according to statistics, the average house size in America has doubled since the 1950′s… yet, many of us still think that we need something bigger. You probably don’t. And removing the unneeded possessions from your home and life will likely provide the opportunity for you to discover that again.

5. “I’m too stressed.” The artist and philanthropist, John Ruskin once said, “”Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.” Every increased possession weighs down our lives with new things to worry about, care for, and maintain. Our purchases have far surpassed bringing convenience and ease into our lives. In fact, they have begun to do just the opposite – they have brought new forms of stress and anxiety instead.

6. “I can’t decide what to wear / It’s so hard to keep up with the changing fashions.” On the surface, fashion appears to be an ever-evolving game where the rules change with each passing season. As a result, it demands astute attention (and an expansive income). But it does not have to. Instead, carry a beautiful wardrobe filled with a few timeless pieces that you truly love to wear. Once you love everything hanging in your closet, deciding what to wear will be one less problem to deal with in your morning.

7. “I wish I had…” Our culture begs us to own more. Advertisements call us to purchase the latest and the greatest. Our natural tendencies cause us to compare our lives with those around us. And we seem to have a built-in desire to impress others by owning as much as possible. As a result, we spend precious energy wishing we had more. But this constant dreaming, hoping, and envying other’s possessions is stealing from our joy and contentment today. It makes us feel like we are missing something – even though there is so much joy right in front of us.

We made the decision years ago to live with fewer possessions. Sometimes, I get asked, “Do you think you’ll always live with a minimal number of possessions?” My response is always the same, “Oh yeah, I’m never going back. There is just too much joy and freedom on this side.”

And I cherish the opportunity to invite others to experience it as well…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Jan says

    The problem might be that the things you buy are your life. Maybe there is no life without the stuff, nothing to spend time on anyway. It could be a rude awakening for some.

    • says

      Agreed. Maybe the point of this is to learn how to spend the “stuff” time on more important things like visiting family, being in nature/outside, etc. It’s definitely an adjustment not everyone is wanting to make. But, if you like freedom, this sounds like the ticket.

  2. says

    Love less cleaning time. I would add “less time searching the house for that thing you know you had but can’t remember where you put” Now, I either have it and know where it is, or I know I don’t have it and don’t spend the time looking.

    Time is my big one – I have loved the extra time we have gotten since cutting back last year.

  3. says

    While I think some of this can be true, I often find posts like this akin to snake oil. Follow these rules, and you’re life will be better! As someone who has lived a minimalist lifestyle for most of her 26 years, I can rightfully attest that having less does not equate to all of the above. I still struggle with all of the above, except #4. If a stranger came to my house today, he would instantly ask if we were moving, where all of our stuff is, and how can we not have any money?! The truth is, living with less can help, but is not a cure all for all.
    Stepping off my soap box now… ;)

    • says

      I think some of this depends on where you’re coming from in the first place. If you’re the “MinimalistMommi” already, you’ll definitely have a different perspective than someone who is completely overwhelmed with STUFF and the managing of STUFF in their life right now. I think “those people” ;) will see immediate benefits to paring down a bit.

    • says

      Megyn, You seem to be placing too much importance in what other people think – If you live a minimalist lifestyle, it will follow that people who live with extra possessions will judge you simply because they don’t understand you – Personally, If I found myself faced with the questions you mentioned, I would be completely honest and explain in a calm and kind way how my lifestyle choices include living with less possessions –

      Some people equate material gain with the quality of an individuals character – These people have been brainwashed to believe that you are not a ‘good’ person until you have a wide screen TV a Mac laptop and a house cluttered with so called ‘status’ symbols – It is an illusion these people choose to believe – But it is not a reflection on your character when people ask odd questions – They are simply revealing their values -

  4. says

    Great list, Joshua! Here’s another quote for you collection, quite apropos to number 7:

    “We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” –Donald Horban

  5. jmgartner says

    I’d like to boast about what I got rid of – but that seems like “look at me and what I did”.

    Get rid of your stuff and be done with it.

  6. says

    All the bulk buyer I know are constantly complaining that their houses are too small, not enough storage space etc… I don’t understand why do you need to keep 12 bottles of ketchup that you only saved 10 cents each one??? It’s a scam… you are never going to use it in a year and the company made money because they got you to purchase something you wouldn’t have bought.

    • Jaden says

      I totally agree with you. And so many of these folks who are trying saving money by buying in large bulk quantities rarely take into consideration how much a square foot of space in their house/apt costs them in mortgage or rent payments. People get bigger houses and apartments – even spending an extra $1000+ per year – to hold that case of ketchup that was $1.20/case, or that huge crate of Kraft Dinner that was $10 cheaper than individually buying 72 boxes one at a time.

      • Linda- says

        Well, yes and no. If you are paying for that square footage just so you have room to store cases of bulk goods, yes. We bought a 4 BR 3 BA house to accommodate ourselves and guests/family visitors. So in that sense, no. Those bulk purchases go in the garage, which is already there to accommodate our cars and has the storage space as well. I don’t buy cases of ketchup and the like, but I do buy larger quantities of things I use a lot, especially if they are expensive, where there is a substantial savings and I can use the items before they expire, or where they are not perishable at all (paper products, etc.). I once read a book where a man calculated sq ft house cost and talked about how much it costs to store things. Well, we are NOT paying for square footage to store things. We did not buy a house to accommodate our possessions; in fact, they did not fill it up (and still do not). So THAT is snake oil to me, to say we are paying so much per sq ft to store what we have. We are paying that much to LIVE here! I am the only one who can decide whether it is wise to buy something in bulk. Likewise, I am the only one who can decide how much furniture I need, how many books I need, etc. But I do agree with the basic premise of the article, that most of us have too much and that it does exact a toll on us emotionally if not financially.

  7. says

    I’m only just starting to realize how little of my stuff I actually need. I have all kinds of excuses for myself as to why I should hang onto things. I’m now actively working on reevaluating and cutting back. I’m doing it gradually, daily, trying to make the constant reevaluation of my physical space something that I do automatically. I’d like to replace my “just keep it for now” response into “wait, do I really need this?”

    Thanks for sharing these seven things — it’s good positive reinforcement for me to see that plenty of people are living very well with less!

  8. says

    Loved this article…in fact, I read it outloud to my hubby…as it’s one of our goals to eliminate a lot of unnecessary items and clutter in our house.

  9. says

    Thank you for bringing Peace Pilgrim to your readers’ attention. This incredible lady became an inspiration to countless individuals and her influence continues today through the work of Friends of Peace Pilgrim. I invite those interested to take a look at http://www.PeacePilgrim.org

  10. says

    I really enjoyed your post! I think there are some great tips in it. I don’t think all of them are fitting for me (and we do have a happy life!) but some of them I would like to follow much better.

    I do think it is interesting that our houses are twice as big as those in the 1950′s yet we think they are to small- what is really funny about that is that most families are around 1/2 the size of the 1950′s too.

  11. Renee says

    After being forced to do with less, being laid off, I have begun to realize that my life was in the stuff. Now that I don’t have cable to watch, lots of videos and dvd’s or a music player, I am actually being more creative.

    Just today I said to myself, I don’t know what to do with myself and then I thought about a creative endeavor I could partake in. I realized I can be emotionally tied to things because it helps us get rid of boredom but in the process makes us live less and enjoy the joy of simple things.

    Simplicity in life and things has become my motto.

  12. KatherineLn says

    #8. Relocation is much easier when you have less to move!! I’ve made 3 cross country moves carrying my belongs in my car. Of course, being single helps.

    • nicole says

      Wow.. your life sounds so interesting!

      I am in the process of decluttering and it is work but it feels really good too.

  13. says

    I find no matter how much I am able to rid of, there is still more I could go without. It’s a process… it’s best to be actively reminding yourself to ask the question, “Am I going to get rid of this in 6 months?”

    • Lisa says

      Thank you for that! I’m a terrible shopaholic, and I have clothes in a sell/donate pile that have been worn only a couple of times (and shamefully a couple that still have tags on!). This will be my new reminder that I need to curb my purchases to only those “love” items or they might just end up in the pile! What a waste of money.

  14. says

    All great points. One of the biggest rewards of having less is that you kick mental clutter to the curb. Less stress means more time for fun.

    • says

      Deb – you’re dead right with this.

      Not stressing about ‘stuff’ is very freeing – and by stuff I mean both physical things, and also unwanted, surplus emotional ties, commitments, relationships etc.

  15. Karen Comforti says

    Oprah once had a show-I forget the overall topic, but she said that saving “the good dishes” or candles or anything else for a special occasion is silly. A person should enjoy “special” things on a daily basis. By the same token I extrapolate from this that if you are not using all your “stuff” on a regular basis, it is just taking up space-especially when there are others who may need your items.

  16. Tom says

    I really need some help getting my family to join me doing this. I sold almost all of my stuff and the whole time they have had nothing but disapproval. When I say we should sell this or that they say “We just bought that” or “No one wants that” and they don’t get the point of doing this. It isn’t to make money it is to make life simpler. So, how would I go about getting my family to try and follow this?

    • Cynthia Ferguson says

      Hi Tom,
      As much as you want your family to follow suit it won’t happen until it is their idea. Leave a minimal living book laying around in different parts of their house. Maybe they will pick it up, read it and come up with the idea on thrir own!

  17. says

    We make more time and space for other good things in our life – like friends, family, faith, experiences, appreciation and gratitude if we focus less on stuff – both the stuff we have and the stuff we want. Less definitely is more.

    I’m well on the way to changing many of my own attitudes – decluttering, buying less, wanting less . . . once you start on a journey of simplicity, it’s remarkable where you end up !

  18. Kelekona says

    I disagree with emptier home equaling more time. There are days when I hit a looping “this needs to go away before this goes away” block-chain and I end up just waiting for bedtime. Of course, if I put everything in a POD, it would be two hours of looking for the paper punch before deciding it went into the POD and getting the frustration BSOD.

    I grew up with clutter, not all of it my fault especially as I began to wake up, but I cannot see things that are out-of-place, no matter if I set them in doorways or not. Seriously, the toolbox’s place is “anyplace where I will trip on it daily” and it would still take me 5 minutes to find.

    I also think that more storage space would make me happier, even with it eating into the living square footage. 50′s style galley kitchen with a pantry was great. 70′s style eat-in kitchen means that I’m keeping the rice, beans, and specialty flour in a lingere dresser and the pasta in a box on the floor.

    • nicole says

      WHy not create more storage space? I don’t think the point of decluttering is not to want to live more comfortably.

      • Kelekona says

        We don’t really have the option of renovating the rental, and it would be a bit scary to spend $$ on furniture when we’re planning to move into a cheaper place that might have more decent storage or simply a better room-shape.

  19. says

    I just realized it this weekend. I am rebuild some parts of my house, and in the process I had to give/sell some of my stuff to be able to fit in the space tha was lefti in my house.
    And you know what? It felt much better with less things!

  20. says

    I strive to live minimally but it’s hard with 2 young children and grandparents, aunts and uncles who like to spoil them with “things”. I want them to enjoy what they have but find it’s a fine line between minimalism and being extreme. I also don’t want to make them into future hoarders by not letting them have anything now. We work together to find a balance and they provide input into what we keep and what we give away to children who don’t have toys.

  21. Alexandrea says

    Wow! This blog is an inspiration! Thank you so much for enlightening me with your stories. I hope I can reach your level of minimalism in the near future — I’d like to believe I am on my way now.


  22. says

    Excellent post! I’m almost finished reading (for the second time) ‘Paradox of Choice’ by Barry Schwartz. It’s an eye-opening book about how more choice actually lessens our experience of joy and satisfaction. Mr. Schwartz tells us to keep wonderful experiences rare. No matter what you can afford, save great wine, the perfectly cut silk blouse, dining out for a gourmet meal; rare. It’s about keeping our expectations modest so that when we do experience a special treat it feels like a treat.

    The phenomenon of ‘keeping up with the Joneses also lessons our experience of happiness. I went through a ridiculously long period of mourning for my big house, big property in an exclusive rural neighborhood when we sold. Some of my sadness was that it took me and my ex 4 years to build the house of my dreams and design, that I wanted to leave the property to my son, and that it is a beautiful house in beautiful surroundings. But I also missed the ‘status’ I perceived it gave me. I was surprised and embarrassed that I felt this way. We do tend to judge people by what they have and what they do for a living. Now in the second half of life I’m committed to having less regardless of what we can afford. Less burden, more fun. It is truly freeing.

  23. Brandybj says

    I would like to add a note that many of what we (my house) get are objects that are replacing other objects that do not need replacing yet. We have a large family, 6 children, and live in a small 1100 sq ft remtal apt.people always ask how we do that. I point out that 1. For a long time large families lived in small houses. People don’t NEED nearly the space we have grown accustomed to giving them and 2. When you remove the gross excesses we have plenty of space. It’s the extras that get in the way. We buy in bulk-but we have priced the items that are worth it (ie: paper goods are substantially cheaper), but we cannot store tons of random bulk buying. It’s a conscious thing. And it has to stay that way or it just becomes a burden.

  24. says

    Great thoughts. All is so true. We as a family with two children try to live this way. We only want to own what we realy nead. We live in a small place, but it is good for us. No big furniture. In the kitchen no dishwasher, no toaster no other electrical equipment. The only thing is a coffee maschine. We count every plate and bowl. It is tidy, easy to clean.
    Our traveling is minimalistic too. Sleeping in a tent or couchsurfing. Traveling long time on a budget. Going slowly.
    We don’t spend our money on consum items, so we are able to save from our income (others couldn’t survive from that, they tell us).

  25. Kathy Dallara says

    I downsized from a large expensive home into a modest stone cape. It was a shock
    Now living in a small town with middle income people. As I off load so many things the thing most valued by me is open space. A clutter free space is a joy to live in. I don’t live cheap but live well with less. Everyday is a struggle because I am artist who works at home. I can collect things with intentions. Lol

  26. Steve says

    I always hear people saving things because they are going to “use it someday”…problem I noticed as you get older you start running out of

  27. Barbro says

    You don’t mean giving away the money on your bank account though? As read the blog I understand you mean possesing less THINGS.
    Giving away one’s money could open up an even broader perspective. I’m not saying i’m ready to do so myself, though… more than a little now and then, of course. But it’s an interesting thought. And sure, possessing less things leaves the possibility to donate more money.

  28. Annie says

    Number 6 can also be resolved by knowing the difference between fashion and style. If you follow fashion you will spend too much time and money trying to look like everyone else and will likely never be happy with your wardrobe. If you choose classic, high-quality, timeless pieces as you suggested, and pair them with accessories chosen the same way then you will develop a style all your own and not look like everyone else. Some of my favorite accessories are vintage scarves, jewelry, handbags inherited from relatives, or purchased second-hand after careful consideration to be sure I will use them regularly.

  29. says

    Great ideas! I’m going to be downsizing because of plans to build a tiny house & love all the great ideas people like you share. I want to semi-retire in a couple of years when my youngest graduates & goes off to school on her own. I’ve decided that I’m not going to spend the last few decades of my life chasing some dream just because someone said I should!!
    Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  30. says

    Wonderful blog! I featured this article today because we found it to be very true and well said. You can see it here: http://cozyminimalist.blogspot.com/2013/01/7-common-problems-solved-by-owning-less.html (we just linked up this page with our post feed). Thank you for writing this post. Its so true! Losing weight led me to minimalism (if you can believe that) and becoming quite frugal :) I figured if my body didnt need all the food I was feeding it then certainly my life didnt need all the stuff I was trying to fill it with either lol.

  31. says

    Our family found early on that having too much stuff was distracting to our already distracted ADHD kids. It wasn’t just toys – it was clothes!

    It was a challenge, but at one point we pared down to a certain number of outfits for various occasions. We knew it would help with the clutter, but it was amazing the difference it made in the amount of time that we spent doing/sorting laundry, looking for something to wear, picking up, etc.

    • velvetanne says

      Kayla, I’m an ADHD adult and I can attest to the calming effect it has had on me. Although I always supported this concept, I was forced into it through divorce, employment loss, three moves/downsizes. amazing how it makes me feel.

  32. Stefanie says

    I have been on a serious quest for simplification for about a month now. I have mostly been working on purging items I don’t need, or never use. I have found that I have to go back to the same area over and over again after realizing how little I really do wear or use something. It’s definitely a process, but I love the results. Plus when I do end up moving again it will be a snap!

  33. Lee Ann says

    Living with less stuff reminds me that the pioneers basically only had necessities. I am starting in that direction, but I’m sure I’ll stop at some point before I actually own what the pioneers owned.

  34. says

    I have experienced giving away all the stuff that are no longer usable. It made feel more comfortable and happy at the same time because those people who received them are very grateful. When I had the chance to read this article, I felt more confident and justified that my decision was really good. If you have less possessions, you will surely have have less mess and curls in your head, thus giving you more time to think of the the more important things in life that do not involve money or materials things. You will be more focused to your social and spiritual life instead. Thanks a lot to all minimalists. May our tribes grow bigger…

  35. says

    We are down-sizing (our house got listed Friday) from 3300 sq. ft. to a 1938 Craftsman bungalow which is half the size! We couldn’t be more excited! Why? Because we used to live with all 7 of the stresses you listed! Here’s to freedom!!! Loved this post!

  36. Scarlet says

    I was curious…are there ever times when you needed something you got rid of or were sorry that you dont have it anymore?

    • Chris says

      Scarlet, lol! Yes! Sometimes i get rid of it before really thinking it through and then i regret the decision later. For example, i sold a somewhat expensive mummy sleeping bag, a camp stove, tent and other camping items at a yard sale when i thought we were going to be moving out of state…. well the market crashed and of course we stayed put in our house (we were somewhat upside down) and figured in a year or two we would re-evaluate. I kept getting rid of “stuff” and a few years turned into about 5 and we figured we would just stay put. Now over the last few years that my son is older we have started to really get into camping again. Wouldn’t you know it we ended up having to purchase more sleeping bags and camping gear ugghh… now i try to think things through a bit before it goes to the donate bin. :)

    • Linda- says

      Yes. Definitely. But I was packing to move over 1,000 miles and was under pressure to get it done. In retrospect, I wish I had taken more time to pack so that I could have made better decisions. I did indeed have too much stuff and needed to get rid of a lot of it. Just not hastily as I did.

  37. Chris says

    Great article. I have been downsizing my life for a few years and have made a conscience effort to get rid of something first before another item comes in. I have found that when there is less stuff to deal with my house does not need as much of my time organizing it or cleaning nick nacks :) It is hard though to do some of the items on the list because my husband is addicted to TV so we are always bombarded with advertising or marketing and of course there is always the question “Maybe we should get that or this?” Our house is larger for us then it needs to be, most people would think it was fine (about 1800 sqft with another 500 basement) and eventually my goal is to downsize into something smaller (about 800-1000 sqft). Cheaper, less debt, less stuff….

  38. says

    Children’s toys are probably one of the biggest source of clutter in my house. Every birthday, each of our kids gets toys. It might be one kid’s birthday, but all three get toys from uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins. It’s easy to see how the clutter builds up.

    I put the excess toys down in the basement but every day they end up all over the living room, kitchen, dining room….UGHH!

Sites That Link to this Post

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