The Heart Impact of Choosing Less


“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” – Democritus

Four years ago, we decided to begin living with fewer possessions.

The decision was based entirely on outward emotions. I was tired of the never-ending cleaning and organizing that my possessions required. I was tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. And I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find enough time and energy to be with my family and the people that mattered most. Somehow, I had been unable to notice that my desire to own possessions was the cause of this discontent in my life. Luckily, my neighbor pointed it out with a simple statement, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

My life forever changed. Owning less has allowed me to spend less time and money chasing (and caring for) possessions. It has provided me far more opportunity to redirect my time, energy, and money towards the things that I most value. Ultimately, it brought great resolution to the emotions listed above.

But it has also provided me with even greater opportunity to change than I had ever imagined. The outward change of behavior has brought along with it the opportunity for inward change as well. It has allowed my very heart to change and adopt values I have always admired in others.

For example, consider how the intentional decision to live with fewer possessions allows our hearts to embrace the following desirable qualities…

1) Contentment: being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are. So much of the discontent in our lives revolves around physical possessions and comparing our things to others. An intentional decision to live with less allows that discontent to slowly fade away.

2) Generosity: willingness and liberality in giving away one’s money, time, etc. When the selfish, hoarder-based mentality is removed from our thinking, we are free to use our resources for other purposes. We are allowed (and have more opportunity) to redirect our energy, time, and money elsewhere.

3) Gratitude: a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. One of the most important steps that we can take towards experiencing gratitude is to think less about the things we don’t possess and more time focusing on the things we already do. Intentionally living with less (minimalism) provides that opportunity.

4) Self-Control: the ability to exercise restraint or control over one’s feelings, emotions, reactions, etc. Many people go through life having no clear sense of their true values. Instead, their desires are molded by the culture and the advertisements that bombard upon them each day. As a result, they find no consistency in life. No self-control. The decision to live your own life apart from an ever-shifting culture provides opportunity for self-control to emerge.

5) Honesty: honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair. Many – not all, but many – of the lies and mistruths that are told in our society are based in a desire to get ahead and possess more. Finding contentment with your lot in life eliminates the need to be dishonest for financial gain.

6) Appreciation: the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value. As the desires of our life stop focusing on others and what they have that we don’t, we are more able to appreciate their accomplishment, their success, and the beauty that they bring to the world. We are able to fully appreciate others without being jealous of them (or worse, hoping for their downfall).

Now, please don’t misread me. I am not contending that minimalists are necessarily more content, generous, grateful, or honest than others. I know many incredibly generous people who would not describe themselves as minimalist. I’m sure there are some self-defined minimalists who would chart obnoxiously high on the selfishness meter. And I would never self-confess to have arrived fully in any of the categories listed above.

But I do believe with all my heart that the intentional rejection of possessions does allow greater opportunity for these positive heart habits to emerge. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.

Image: nattu

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

    We have gone through major simplification over the past year. So much so that we sold our house in order to rent a smaller and more affordable apartment. This change is saving us thousands of dollar a month. We have many goals that was are seeking through these changes, but the one that feels the best is generosity. Just last week we treated cousins and grandma to a movie. It was so much fun, especially knowing that we were able to take the financial sting out of the moving going experience. We’re looking forward to many more opportunities to express generosity.

  2. says

    I so look forward to your weekly posts! I have been discovering the joys of living with less for a couple of years now. It was a big heart change for me. I was always wanting more and comparing myself to others. Now, I can proudly state that my family of four chooses to live in an uncluttered 1275 sq ft house, instead of feeling the pressure to “move up”. I just wanted to thank you for the inspiration!

  3. says

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t about the stuff and was never really about the stuff but it’s about this. “But it has also provided me with even greater opportunity to change than I had ever imagined.”

    Once you turn your focus away from stuff, the opportunities and possibilities are endless. (and most that you never think of before the stuff goes away).

  4. says

    This is such a great post and sums up exactly how I feel about minimalism. It’s so liberating! That and veganism have changed my life so much in so many positive ways.

    Love your blog. :)

  5. says

    We’ve been working on simplifying for at least a year, maybe a little longer. We have so much stuff that it’s been a very slow, uphill battle to get rid of enough to feel liberated.

    How long do you think it took to feel like you’d arrived in this place? I know it’s a constant journey, but I wonder how much time passed between you looking at your cluttered garage and feeling like you’d gotten rid of enough stuff to feel the impacts you talked about above.

  6. Maggie says

    well said. we’ve been downsizing our possessions for just over a year after deciding to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle. we’re making the transition slowly – to ensure that each effort becomes habit and so as not to get overwhelmed or burned out – and probably have another year or so to go. with every step (eliminating paper towels for reuseable terry ones, digitizing music & donating the CDs, refusing “freebies” we don’t need or want, using reuseable stainless steel water bottles, cooking together as a family, etc), our hearts and souls have lightened and our lives have more room, time, and energy for the things we truly love – our 3 and 4 year-old daughters.

  7. says

    We, too, are entering the brave new world of few things. I am a born again minimalist – born through flame. We lost everything in a massive wildfire and while there are things that I will always grieve (my Gram’s 400 year old bed…) most of the rest is not really missed. This is not the way to get from point a to point b, but at least we are taking the situation and turning it into a positive. With the new baby that is on the way, and having lost all of our baby stuff from our first child, we/I am trying to stay minimal. Crib, car seat, baby swing (reflux babies), clothes, blankets and diapers, dresser, stroller and baby carrier. Most of which we are getting from friends (am buying a new car seat – I’m picky on those)… Our new house will seem huge – so much empty space!

  8. says

    Generosity really struck a chord with me. As I whittle down my possessions, I realize how much time and effort I used to spend keeping up with them. I have more free time now because I have fewer things to clean, insure, and worry about! It’s such a liberating feeling. Now my money can go towards more valuable things such as my savings or building relationships and experiences with other people. Great post!

  9. says

    Spot on! The practical and immediately tangible benefits (based on “outward emotions”) are probably the ones that drive and inspire most people to start on the Minimalist Path. It’s the inner benefits, though, that really get to shine. Not only have I experienced an increase in the qualities you have listed (with a long way to go, I’m sure!) but I’d like to add a seventh quality: Wisdom.

    Without the clutter of consumerism, without all the stuff-related focus, without a value system closely tied to material things, it becomes possible to step back and see what is really going on in the world around us, whether it’s economic, political, or personal. That wising-up helps us to better understand our friends and families, and to understand our own motivations better, as well. Thus, when we take action, such as generosity, it is with our eyes open, knowing what will truly matter, and not throwing money and stuff at others just because we can. As a result, we are more likely to show real respect to both ourselves and those around us.

  10. says

    I’m definitely starting to feel contentment and appreciation for what I do have, since I’m slowly eliminating everything that is not essential, and only keeping the useful, high-quality things that I own. It’s really nice to wake up and get dressed knowing that everything in my closet fits well and looks good, and there aren’t so many clothes in there that I can’t see what I have to wear.

    minima/maxima, a blog about minimalist style

  11. says

    I have been downsizing our stuff for the last 2 years. We moved a month ago and during the packing process my whole family got on board. We got rid of so much stuff that we just didn’t need. I have noticed a huge difference in our stress level in our new home. I think the areas you touched on have seen improvements in our lives – especially contentment.

  12. says

    I can so relate to your post here. I am trying to go minimalist too, since I cannot take the endless cycle of cleaning. A lot of my things, I don’t use, and don’t even need. Glad I found your blog.

  13. says

    Very well put !

    Getting rid of stuff you’ve accumulated is a powerfully freeing, and making a conscious decision not to reaccumulate it again, and finding different things to direct your energies/time/money into brings all the positive emotions you list.

    I’ve a long way to go on my journey to a simpler life – but like you, am utterly convinced in the benefits of pursuing it.

    Great post :)

    • Kevin says

      I completely agree with your comment about ‘making a conscious decision not to reaccumulate it again’. Following a recent divorce, I initially felt the need to begin ‘rebuilding’ my life….which to me meant re-accumulating so many things. But then I began reading about minimalism…….and I had the great ‘AHA’ moment! It was so obvious then……this counter-cultural movement, Minimalism, offered a way out! I took it. Rather than bemoaning all (the stuff) I had lost……I could revel in the new found freedom from those burdensome items, and build a new life, with less encumbering stuff! The change has been very freeing…….and eliminating the “need” to resupply my life with all the previous trappings……has opened up a new world. I can breathe. I can rest peacefully. I can live.

    • Dave says

      Dear Noch Noch, I know you addressed your question to Joshua and I hope you don’t mind my offering what were the “drivers” that made us reflect on “wants”. The downturn in the economy in 2008 provided the mental forum in which to ask fundamental questions about what is really important. As the disposable income evaporated one is faced with a new level of decision making. What seemed to be important becomes irrelevant when compared to what is “needed”. The second most freeing moment was being able to admit we can no longer afford the “wants”. The greatest moment of freedom was having the courage to tell your friends and family you no longer can afford to yield to your “material cravings”. So, the new economic realities provided the opportunity to reflect on what is really important in life. It is not “things or stuff”.

      • Lynn says

        I so agree with Dave, I now walk into a store .. when I look at a item , I ask myself this a want or a need? That question alone has saved me money! :)

  14. Dave says

    Dear Joshua, I agree with your very well stated observations and reflective perspectives. There is one difference in my thoughts about “honesty”. The “need” to be dishonest for financial gain is a “temptation”. We all posses the will to make decisions both good and ill advised. It is how we act on those temptations that illustrate the maturity of our character and self-discipline.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful perspectives.

  15. says

    I just loved this post. It totally nailed it. Though I wish I could get the hubby along in the journey. At least I have managed to stop his mini hoarding tendencies. I wish I could live with much less and with more simplicity than we are doing now.

    • Lynn says

      Sue, my hubby has a huge collection in our basement , I will learn to live with it, but What I use and what is mine I have the right to manage, The living space upstairs is starting to become the way I like it, I do understand not everyone would want to live this way, including my hubby so I respect his stuff. I just try to arrange it so its not so overwelming ..lmao :)

  16. says

    I think this is a great post Joshua.

    I do think that the less distractions we have in life, and the less focused we are on our ‘stuff’ and getting more ‘stuff’ – the more we become comfortable with ourselves, have more time to devote to others, and generally the more considerate and compassionate we tend to become.

    There’s an important message here.


  17. says

    I just found your blog. So happy that I did. I am hoping that this is going to help me ! I am in a crisis right now…. I am the OPPOSITE of a minimalist…. although I have always been a huge wanna-be minimalist. But I am a Martha Stewart with an in-house shop almost, having everything perfectly organised. Right now I am however forced into it as we move from a huge 7000 sq feet house onto an island (Hong Kong) with tiny living space compared to what I always had. I am panicking because it is very sudden and I have to do this in a couple of months…but I am hoping your blog is gonna help me along !! Looking forward to browse around and find some wisdom. Totally believe in the benefits and how great it will be…. just a painful process right now.. letting go !!

  18. Jim says

    I am a walking contradiction. My mental illness and my obsessive compulsive behavior allows me to shop and buy things I dont need. But after a year or even less, I either throw it out or give it away or sell it. It has cost me thousands and maybe tens of thousands of dollars. My Problem is I am very neat, obsessive compulsive with neatness. That entail getting rid of what I bought. I have bought so many things only to throw them in the garbage or sell them soon thereafter at a loss i could get sick. I get tired of things quickly, feel i could use the money or space, and then I dispose of them in the ways mentioned above. What I am trying to realize now, is that I am mentally ill, and it manifest itself in shopping. the problem is I get tired of what I have. I just spent $1000 on clothes last week. I now want to get rid of my 1 year old wardrobe to just wear these new clothes. I am a sick puppy. I dont want to own to much. I need to curb my expenditures and use what I have. Buy less, be happy, and keep what i have bought . I have thrown out or sold brand new shoes, electronics, antiques, dvds, clothes, furniture, artwork, books. it goes on an on.

    • stephanie says

      How are you doing on your journey? Have you been able to release yourself from this illness? I’m praying that you have defeated your situation and are able to live peacefully without the stuff or the desire to buy/discard the stuff.

  19. Lynn says

    What I totally find helpful in my attempts of becoming a minimalist is that I love to take before and after pictures of my Mini Projects. This is nice to look at , feels rewarding to me. To know I made the area nicer and easier to handle removing the clutter is awesome!!! So I usually LOVE the after pictures!! :)

  20. says

    Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post
    reminds me of my previous room mate! He always
    kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Katie says

    I agree with everything that has been said above. Freeing yourself from all the unnecessary is unbelievably peaceful. We recently downsized into 1/2 the square footage of our old home. The old home we felt that we needed to show our success – no more do we feel the need “to keep up with the Joneses”. We no longer have a dresser, everything more than fits into the closet. We don’t have a 4 car garage, 2 is now plenty big. Our joy now comes from making gifts for people or giving the best gift of all, our time.

  22. Janetta says

    THANK YOU for this! If only more Americans would try this. Proud of you for taking those steps to change your life and thought process. This is beautiful.

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