…it’s that they distract you from the things that do.
There’s a common saying in our world and it goes something like this, “Possessions won’t make you happy.”
Almost everyone agrees with it.
Once our most essential needs have been met, the long-term happiness that can be found in material possessions is fleeting at best. And because nobody wants to admit that they are looking for happiness in their next purchase from the department store or car lot, we generally agree aloud that “possessions won’t make you happy.”
But the problem with possessions goes beyond the fact that they won’t make us happy. The problem with excess possessions is that they distract us from happiness.
“Possessions won’t make me happy,” while agreed to by most, only results in thinking that is indifferent to the accumulation of physical items. There may not be long-term benefit in possessions, but there is also no harm. We begin to view them as entirely neutral.
“Sure, possessions won’t make us happy,” we may think, “but I’m going to buy x anyway, because I have the money. It probably won’t make me happy in the long-run, but it’s still fun to have.”
But excess possessions are not indifferent to our happiness.
They become an obstacle and barrier to it. And the more we have, the greater the burden we have to carry.
Everything we own requires a bit of ourselves. Possessions cost us money, time, energy, and focus. They become a physical distraction and mental distraction. Every increased item we own adds increased stress and anxiety onto our lives.
I was first introduced to the word minimalism on a Saturday morning while cleaning out my garage. The responsibility of clearing out the clutter, sorting through the piles, hosing down the floor, and returning items in an organized way took hours to complete. All the while, my 5-year-old son was begging me to come play catch in the backyard.
As my frustration with the spring-cleaning project began to mount, my neighbor provided the remedy when we struck up a conversation. “That’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”
The juxtaposition could not be more stark. To the left of me stood a pile of dirty, dusty possessions I had spent the entire morning cleaning and organizing. To the right of me, my son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard.
In that moment, I began to understand the weight of possessions.
Not only were my possessions not making me happy… they were keeping me from the very thing that did.
This is a very different realization. In fact, it’s probably what separates those who pursue minimalism from those who do not. Owning less frees us to pursue happiness, joy, meaning, and fulfillment in things that actually matter—however we choose to define that.
Our possessions are not passive.
They are not merely indifferent in our pursuit of happiness and meaning.
They often stand in the way of it.