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. says

    Spending less is such a basic advice that oozes common sense and yet very few people seem to pay heed to it. I’m never against investing money but spending on things and not assets, is mostly unnecessary.

    • Linda Hoffecker says

      I am so happy that you put in that quote by ‘Peace Pilgrim’. I was trying to think of her ‘name’ all day and how I was so impressed with her, loved the book and tape. I gave them to my UU church for an idea for a sermon in ’99 but it was never used… I never got the materials back. I also remember that when I sent for the books and VHS from the person who offered them, all of the materials were free. I believe that that woman was killed by a car as she was walking along the road. Is this true? I love your newsletters! Thank you. Linda

  2. Suzanne says

    I agree with all the sentiments you express, Joshua. Over the years I have moved house a number of times. Each time, I have discarded absolutely LOADS of stuff. I still seem to have heaps of stuff, but it gets easier every time I up-stumps to discard those extra items I have collected along the way.

    Some years ago our family of 5 travelled in a caravan for 8 months. We each took 2 sets of clothes each, 2 saucepans, an electric frypan, a plate, bowl,cup and cutlery and we were HAPPY. We didn’t miss a thing.This experience taught me that you don’t need much to enjoy life.

    People laugh at my old TV with the digital set top box and my 7 year old Nokia phone which does all that I want it to do – phone and text. But I think sometimes we up-date, and fill our houses with new stuff just to impress other people with how well we are doing, how much we are earning, how much we are keeping up with the Jones’, etc.

  3. Hashaun Adderley says

    All very true… Owning lots of possessions can easily allow anxiety to creep up. Owning less frees up so much mental space.

  4. Lucy says

    Speaking of spending less: I had a co-worker who used to say all the time how he needed more money and should ask for a raise. I suggested he give himself a raise: stop spending and that’ll put some cash in our pocket!

  5. Natalie says

    I love this article and it really reflects where I am right now. I embraced minimalism a few months ago, when my boyfriend moved into my comfortably-sized home and I started fretting about where to put all my “stuff”. As I went through my stuff, item by item, I realized that I had absolutely no emotional attachment or need for most of them. It hit me like a brick wall as I tried to cram things into my closets: life is not about the things around us, but rather about the people we love and the wonderful experiences we have with those around us. That moment inspired me to purge huge loads of items to Goodwill, thrift stores, Craigslist, the city dump, and my friends. I get just as much of a “high” now from purging items as I used to get from buying them! I wish I could share my newly found happiness with everyone around me, but most still don’t get it. In particular, I have one friend who constantly frets about the amount of debt she is in; however, when I visit her place all I see is rooms full of unnecessary items. She often falls victim to buying something if she feels she may want or need it “someday”. She lives in a huge home that is overfull with clutter, and it’s stressful for me just to stop by. I can’t imagine how she lives with it. I wish I could explain to others how much easier their lives would be if they let go of the extra clutter. I think it’s just something you have to discover for yourself.

    • Lisa says

      I hear you. I’ve managed to unload some stuff that’s been cluttering up the garage, porch, house…and when I got rid of those things, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders and that was just scratching the surface. This weekend I’ll be taking a load of clothes and stuff to charity, old towels to the vet and putting a bunch of stuff out front with a free sign on it. I can’t wait. My husband’s not totally on board with it, but I’m working on it. He’s not the one always picking up stuff moving it from one place to another and is pretty oblivious to it.

  6. Christina says

    Having freed myself from a lot of clutter, not all of it as yet,….the next big things are heaps of books….many are gone, but still more need to go, also the ones I am attached to. The dismal weather has a silver lining: I read or scan, no not onto,the computer, but with my eyes, one book after another and make a few notes in an especially designated note book, and then the book goes to the goodwill store….it is a good process. Thanks for the continual and needed inspiration!

  7. katie says

    It took my a single day to realize, I want to stop buying clothes. After discovering minimalism, and what it is all about, I came to this realization. I never shopped much, but I liked to look at clothes online and WANTING to buy them. And when I did, I rarely wore them. Now, I feel like that self of me was crazy. What was I thinking? Why did I want that stuff in the first place?
    I now find myself trying to get rid of a lot of my clothes. I no longer give shopping a single thought in my head. And I do not worry about not having enough money for clothes, because I already have all I want and need.

    • Dora says

      I enjoy shopping now more than ever. I’m not quite there, but have found freedom in NOT needing stuff!!
      I ask myself “do i need this?” The answer is most often NO.

  8. says

    Once you decide to live a simpler life, you start looking at how else you can minimize. Last summer we decided to make a drastic change and sold our home (3600 sf ft) and moved across country. We were tired of the up keep and purged our belongings down to 22 feet of a moving truck for a family of four (and an office). We moved into a 1700 sf ft home. We spent more time with our kids and being active. We recently moved again and were able to go down to 20 feet. We are still unpacking, but are filling our dining room with more things to get rid of. It is very freeing to live minimally. We still feel we have too many belongings, but I think once you put your mind to it, you always will think that way. Plus, by selling or donating the unwanted items, it helps pay off debt or other expenditures. Anyway, thanks Josh for championing the cause.

  9. Rachel James says

    Owning less, not wasting money, food etc can be beneficial but it is human nature to share life with others and if there is no one to share your limited possessions it won’t help all problems.

  10. says

    Every single of one these seven things is absolutely golden! I started flirting with minimalism a few months ago, and I love the feeling of slowing going through my belongings and paring down. And now that I’m fully self-employed running my own copywriting business, I’m especially thankful that it’s easier to want less and spend less now. Great post Joshua, thank you!

  11. Ralf says

    Yes we wish we had a million pound right now so that my hubby can quit his backbreaking job as a carer.
    Otherwise we are quite ok.
    Only one debt, which is covered by savings. We only keep the debt going because of job uncertainty so that we can service the debt and pay the rent if anyone of us loses his job.

    There’s just one easy rule to follow. Remove more stuff from the house than you bring in.
    And a few more for beneficial side effects.
    At spring cleaning sort out the damaged and useless. If you can’t fix it today, dump it.
    Don’t just dump things to clear the house. If it would be useful to someone else give it away. If you know him, don’t wait for birthday or Christmas. This way they all get useful stuff over the year and focus on Christmas and birthday on you.

    And fashion? Fashion is so ugly it has to be replaced every 6 months.
    Go for style instead. Style lasts for years.
    Go for twoo weeks of underwear so that you don’t need the washing machine for a shirt and a pair of socks.
    And forget hand wash. A washing machine is far cheaper than a new back.

  12. Anne P says

    There’s an old book called “Your Money or Your Life” that has you go through some of your things or desired purchases to figure out how much that costs in your time – how many hours (or minutes) do you have to work in your job to own that. It can be really a really enlightening perspective and help in making some of those decisions to de-own or not purchase in the first place.

  13. Ann S. says

    After reading your posts for several months, I finally took the plunge and began downsizing! Four bags and three boxes want to Salvation Army, a few things to friends and more to trash and recycle. I hope to keep the momentum going! Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom!

  14. Theresa Wulff says

    Question. I have had to move home and take care of my elderly mother. I AM A MINIMALIST. She is not. Each time I mention something or I share an article about removing clutter, she gets angry. She tells me these things will mean something when she is gone. I do not want material things. I want to live in peace and to visit with her each day. It makes me crazy to see a dining room table with books and the daily newspaper on it and to have a small trash can and 2 other recycling containers just “hanging” out in the kitchen / dining rooms. Help me help myself. I want to respect her things however it is truly making me physically ill to have so many “Treasurers” laying on each level surface!?

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  16. Deedee says

    I don’t know what to do. I have always tried to live a minimalist life, but I fell in love and now have been living with him for ten years. We have two children. Our house is a screen shot from some Twilight movie. Neither of us is into buying, but he hoards. He drags home cut tree branches and grass from the neighbors and dumps them in the parking spot. He picks up broken planters’ pots and rusty nails. He gathers used cardboard boxes and gift wrapping papers from other people’s recycling bins. Never throws away anything and fishes out what I throw way from the garbage can, hides them from in the most unlikely places. They become nasty surprises. In the drawers meant for keys and maps he puts drained batteries, broken sunglasses, extra keys from apartments he rented twenty years ago in Switzerland and broken arms and legs from Playmobile dolls. Once he kept a dead cat (road kill) in the garbage can for a day so that he could dig hole in the garden to bury it….for fertilizer purpose. Am I too paranoid but is this still normal? I have a feeling that this is not a “decluttering” problem only.

  17. says

    You could not have expressed my feelings better. I have been slowly trimming down my excess possessions. I live I a cluttered space mostly because my husband houses product in our garage and spare places in our home, so trimming back is difficult. Because I like to cook and have a number of gadgets, I noticed that I only use a few of these regularly. So, I’m thinking to have a box nearby and after using one of these items, throwing them in there. Anything else still left in the drawers after lets say a month will have to be discarded. Because it’s obvious it’s only taken space. Same with clothes and on down the line. When I worked, my wardrobe was considerably more extensive, but totally unnecessary, so it’s time to eliminate those items as well.
    Thanks for a well written article.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Weekend Wanderings | April 21, 2012
  2. Minimalism | January 6, 2013

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