Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Francine Joy of Miss Minimalist.
“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” – Moshe Dayan
People often ask me, “What’s so great about being a minimalist?” I usually answer with one word: freedom.
And by freedom, I don’t necessarily mean ditching your house, ditching your job, ditching your responsibilities, and traveling the world with a backpack (though yes, I’ve done that).
The freedom I’m talking about runs much deeper. It’s long-term, it’s sustainable, and it courses through your veins even when you’re doing the 9-to-5, making mortgage payments, and putting a child or two to bed each night.
How Stuff Enslaves Us
Excess possessions have the power to enslave us in three ways:
1. Physically. Let’s face it, stuff is cumbersome and difficult to transport. So the more we have of it in our rooms, closets, drawers, basements, attics, and garages, the less nimble we become. We may even pass up promising jobs or other opportunities because of the hassle of moving it. In other cases, our stuff builds up to form a prison around us: have you ever avoided a social visit because your house was too messy for company?
2. Psychologically. Too much stuff can weigh on our spirits, and make us feel heavy and lethargic. It’s almost as if each possession is tied to us with a piece of rope, dragging behind us as we try to move around. Excess things not only clutter our homes, they clutter our minds – making us too distracted or overwhelmed to think clearly and accomplish anything.
3. Financially. Stuff can also enslave us via the debt used to pay for it. The more money we owe, the more sleepless our nights, and the more limited our opportunities. Consumer debt can keep us working jobs we don’t like, simply to make the minimum payments. It can delay (or destroy) our plans to make a career change, go back to school, or start our own business.
How to Break Free
Fortunately, adopting a few minimalist techniques can help us break free of those shackles:
1. Declutter, declutter, and declutter some more. Get rid of at least one thing each day, and you’ll be 365 items lighter by the end of the year. Better yet: pick an area of your home (a room, a closet, a drawer) and completely empty its contents. Put back only those items you regularly use, or truly love – and donate or sell the rest. Decide what to keep, rather than what to toss.
2. Realize you are not what you own. Sometimes we fear that getting rid of certain things means getting rid of part of ourselves. But remember: you are not the college notebooks and swimming trophies packed in the basement; you are not the designer shoes and handbags lining your closet; you are not the books, gadgets, craft supplies, heirlooms, or tchotchkes in your living room. Your memories, dreams, and ambitions aren’t contained in these objects – they’re contained in you.
3. Ask “Why?” before you buy. Don’t bring another item into your home without extensive questioning – especially if it means charging it to a credit card. Ask the following of each potential purchase: “Do I really need you?” “What value will you add to my life?” “Are you worth the extra hours I’ll have to work for you?” “Are you worth the space I’ll have to devote to you?” Curb impulse purchases by giving yourself a cooling-off period: instead of buying something immediately, wait 36 hours and see if you still “need” it.
These simple strategies go a long way towards giving us the upper hand over our possessions. When we clear our homes of the excess, stop identifying with our stuff, and put the brakes on new accumulation, we gain control – of our homes, our lives, and our futures.
Every time we toss (or choose not to acquire) an unnecessary item, we gain a little bit of freedom: from paying for it, storing it, cleaning it, repairing it, maintaining it, protecting it, insuring it, worrying about it, and schlepping it around.
And all those little bits of freedom add up to something big: more time, money, and energy for what’s truly important to us. Not necessarily for traveling the world, but for playing with our kids, relaxing with our friends, pursuing our hobbies, exploring our interests, and embracing new opportunities.
When we eliminate the distractions of excess stuff, we gain the freedom to dive into life, deepen our relationships, and discover our full potential. And that’s what’s so great about being a minimalist.
Francine Jay is the author of The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life. She blogs about living a beautiful life with less stuff at Miss Minimalist.