I was once told by a mentor, “Each of us are living in the midst of a trial, have just emerged from one, or are heading toward another.”
It is phrasing similar to another oft-quoted truth, “Be kind to everyone you meet. You never know what battle they are fighting.”
There is truth in this statement. But it is particularly enhanced during the holiday season when loss, of every kind, is magnified.
So be kind to one another out there.
But I want to approach this conversation from a slightly different angle. With all the weight and burden that each of us already carry in life, why would we ever choose to intentionally carry more?
Just consider all the things that weigh down our hearts and lives: death, loss, illness, worry, politics, financial hardships, grief, guilt, marital tension, traumatic events. Each a weight that we carry on our shoulders.
Many of these burdens are inevitable and entirely outside our realm of control. Regardless of their origin, we carry them—each of us, on a daily basis.
No wonder, in a recent survey when children were asked, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” The kids’ number one wish was that their parents were less tired and less stressed.
Life is not easy. It never has been and was never promised to be. And in our new society defined by instantaneous social sharing, not only do we carry the weight of our own trials, we also carry the weight of others.
A friend of mine, on the other side of the country, was rushed to a hospital Thanksgiving evening. Through text and social media, I was alerted to it almost instantly. A tragedy, on the other side of the country, involving a family not my own. And yet, a sadness… a weight… was felt in our home.
Life is hard. Why would we ever choose to make it more difficult?
But it seems to me that many of us choose to do that very thing simply by carrying excess possessions in our homes and lives.
Perhaps Randy Alcorn said it best, “Every increased possession adds increased anxiety onto our lives.”
Excess possessions take up residence in our homes and in our minds. They require care, maintenance, and attention. Every item we own must be handled and at some point, discarded—whether by ourselves or by a loved one. They add obligation, responsibility, weight.
Clutter is a contributing factor to the level of stress in our lives. For example, 1) Researchers at UCLA discovered a link between high levels of stress hormones and a high density of household objects; 2) Princeton scientists discovered that a cluttered environment limits our ability to focus; and 3) Psychology Today reinforced these studies back in March 2012, citing eight specific reasons how clutter contributes to higher levels of stress in our bodies.
With all the weight and burden that each of us already carry in life, why would we ever choose to intentionally carry more?
Unburden your life in the areas you can control. In so doing, you will find more freedom and capacity to navigate the trials and burdens that are outside of it.
We were given a large chicken house for storage as we were building our house 36 years ago. A nice 2 room 2 door chicken house. After the house was built and the garage built, we no longer needed the chicken house. Others thought it was fun that we had the chicken house. Never any chickens. Some did HS senior pictures with the chicken house as background. I wanted to get rid of it for several years. When the covid shut down happened in 2020, we were doing things around home to entertain ourselves. We replaced the 36’X10’ floor of our front porch and stained and sealed it and the 12’X24’ side porch floor. We did a lot of had labor projects. We would be physically exhausted at the end of each day but in a good way. One day, while my husband was working on another project, I took a crowbar and started tearing down the chicken house. My husband joined me as soon as he finished his project. It took us 2 days and we stacked the wood boards T-pee style as we worked. We finally had to get the tractor out to pull one section apart and drag it to the rest of the boards. Then we finally had it all torn down. We set fire to it. It burned hot for 10 hours and was nothing but white ash when it was done. We sat and watched it burn. Then we celebrated a project done we had wanted to do for a very long time, but were afraid to try until we were bored enough that we just tackled it. We are in our 70s.
Thankyou for the post, we live in a society where over sharing seems to be the norm. I often observe on social media that people respond positively, to negative events and do not celebrate they positive. Recently a friend of mine lost her parent, her posts were full of details which invaded the person who had died privacy and dignity and made me feel very comfortable.
We also live in a society where anxiety is talked about everywhere, but little thought to coping mechanisms. To teach children that they wont face trials is unrealistic, better like you say to face them and know at some point we will come through them. That’s the attitude of my grandparents generation and they had alot more to cope with than I will have to face.
I do believe there is a clear link for me with the amount of clutter I have and my ability to cope with things. I am currently in my annual Lent declutter challenge, and have already removed over 100 items and I am more productive, can think clearer and I am less overwhelmed
In october, after a break-up with my boyfriend, I left our apartment to travel with my van. Instead of trying to sell my things, I just gave everything away. It was strange at first but…what a feeling of well-being, knowing that my stuff will be used by people who need it!
I still have 7 boxes left at a friend’s house. But there will be a second phase of decluttering as soon as I get back…
In May, I’ll be moving from my 3sq meter van to a 9sq meter Tiny house…12 sq meters in total: A palace !
Happy 2018 to you all.
holly hansen says
am in a wondeful on line class declutter and simplify your life with kathy peterman, portland oregon. it has been such a source of inspiration and accountability. to purge my stuff with the support of a online community. getting rid of the clutter helps me see the clothes and belongings i really love better. and its so much fun giving things away, brings joy. i still have a long way to go decluttering my clothes and paperwork. the changes i have made are bringing me great joy and reducing stress. this is a powerful movement. its freeing up so many possesions that can be moved on to others who might really need them.its a win win situation.
Great post! I have been trying to minimize my existence and it is working in some areas of my life but I am a clothes horse but I have decided to use the clothes that I have and I am not bringing a lot more clothing in until my clothes start to fade, out of style or in disrepair.
I still have a lot of clothes but I am saving money because I am not making any big clothing purchases.
Very insightful post. I just cleared out my small storage room the other day and have never been so stressed dealing with all of this stuff I have collected over the years. It hasn’t been much but it doesn’t seem to stress me out any less. I feel better when I have removed items from my life, but I also get stressed out when it feels like I am throwing out memories. It’s hard to see down the road how much better I will feel, but I know I will, so I press on.
A very good article that fuels inspiration to let go physical burdens.
Doing so for more than past five years, I recognise the good feelings coming with a clear space and fewer possessions. A dislike for making purchases except neccessities emerged also and I am very thankful for that.
This is an amazing thought. Everyone has their own set of problems it better to be kind to everyone.
So very true, Joshua. It seems that much of life is out of our control. You have inspired me to do better and clear out the clutter.
Thank you :)
Donna Vaughn says
We just downsized to a house one half the size we had been living in. Now we have a very large yard for our grandchildren who are close by, and our dogs and gardens! We decided to give many family heirlooms to our children for Christmas instead of waiting until we pass on, so they can know more of our family history as well as enjoying the items now. Very freeing!
The only twist to this for anyone is to make certain your family wants your treasures. Be prepared to let things leave the family. I want nothing from my parents or in laws. It is causing tension as they both are downsizing and are hurt when we say no. Others don’t want your clutter often even if it is considered special. Sometimes yes but best to really check and make sure they know you are happy to donate elsewhere there is no pressure
Such a great post, thank you. We have been letting go of things, commitments, and even people over the last two years. This year alone we are on track to eliminate about 10,000 things from our home. This is thanks to your Uncluttered course, and a wonderful group of people I have connected with through your fb page. So much of what I have let go of this year has had sentimental feelings, or self-imposed ideas of responsibility attached. From items that came from my mother’s home after she passed, to years of old letters, journals and other memorabilia, all of them were literally hanging over my head everyday, as they were in a closet in my room that was right about the kitchen, where I spend most of my days. One day I let go of years of letters from an old friend who I had to purge from my life last year. I had no idea the letters were in that closet. But the day I ripped them up, and sent them to the burn pile, a huge weight lifted from my heart. What a wonderful thing you have given to the world Joshua, thank you.
Seven years ago we moved from a relatively modest sized house to an even more modest sized condo. What a relief to not worry about landscaping, fall raking, shoveling snow. replacing the roof and the driveway. I pay for these items through condo fees but it is far less than if I had continued on the homeowner path. This spring we are giving away even more responsibilities since we no longer need the A+ school district in our area. We’re moving closer to the city, giving up one car and leaving ALL maintenance to a landlord. There are so many financial, physical and emotional costs to home ownership that are glossed over. We will be living in a small 2 BR apartment but our commutes will be far shorter and we can walk to everything needed in our daily lives, including many of our friends!
Judy Johnson says
It seems that not many people realize what a burden a car can be. I am in the position now that I only have to work part-time and it’s just so nice to hop on the bus. It encourages me to walk more as well. Sure, my world has shrunk a bit, but it’s worth it. Two years and still no big regrets
Baggage and responsibility includes the home the possessions are in. Paying for more space than we need or struggling by living in a high cost of living area are a bedrock of stress in our society.
We have decluttered over the last 2 years and it has had an amazing impact on our lives. I think one of the things that’s really important for me, and my own health is stepping back from technology and notifications, so I have the time to concentrate on whats important, without distractions. Because all these constant notifications and alerts distract us, and we lose valuable time to things that aren’t really important, but without realising it.
I couldn’t agree more. I have been working on minimalizing over the past year. This weekend I cleaned out my email account and created folders/labels for storing the messages I need to retain for now. It was so freeing. Thank you for sharing.
Carol Steele says
I’m glad I stumbled on this blog. When my second child went off to college, I downsized to a 1200 SF house and purged many belongings. Then remarried someone with two kids. It gets cozy sometimes – especially since there’s only one bathroom! I’ve been drawn to minimalism for years but bumped up against two problems: 1) I can’t entirely control what others in the household have and 2) am not really willing to give up things I’ve brought home from travels or wear the same outfit to work every day. This middle path form of minimalism is within my reach and was just what I was looking for. I’m re-starting today looking for ways to pare down without feeling pressured to end up in a starkly empty home. Thanks!
Many misunderstand the concept of minimilism thinking it means living in an emty house. Please just Google the word declutter. It would apply to each of us differently depending on our prioritis and needs. We are a nation that pays to store items beyond even our homes and garages. If a person feels no stress and is content then they are good but many do feel the stress of an overload of items and boxes. Even children become overwhelmed when their rooms are flooded with possessions. They loose apprection for many items. Sounfs like you are working on changes that work for you which is all that decluttering does. Just shsring.
Sorry for texting errors.
Carol Steele says
No worries. I’m actually very good at decluttering, and purge fairly frequently. I don’t like storing away anything except Christmas decorations. My next step is a buying freeze.
I really appreciate your comment on the weight of instantaneous sharing. I am thankful for technology when it allows me to celebrate or mourn with a loved one. But, there is a burden to always having to be connected. Turning off notifications and using Do Not Disturb mode on my phone has done wonders for lightening my daily load and helping me focus.
Great article which has inspired me!
Great article. Perhaps we would be more prone to not only carry the burdens of others, but actually have the time to proactively help them in tangible ways, if our lives were less cluttered. Keep up the good work, Joshua!
Mary Ann says
An interesting thought – thanks for posting that, Phil.
Thank you for this. The holidays, both recent and coming soon, are a time for reflection. Memories of loved ones, present and lost, can be difficult. Last night, my wife woke me at 4 am. Our puppy wanted “out”, and she was greeted by a clear, moonless sky “full of stars”…so profoundly simple…I remembered my Dad, and the telescope he got me for Christmas when I was 9. The card read “Your dreams are in the stars…here’s some help to chase ’em”.
Upon returning to bed, I vowed to “make room for dreams again” by ridding our life of clutter.
Randall, very inspirational thoughts!
Thank you Joshua for this
article. Growing up in an
environment of extreme
clutter, I know firsthand
the stress it places on the
people living in the environment. Clutter robs you of the beautiful experiences in life,
the truly important things. It is a thief that steals the
goodness of life and leaves
you with the mess of shame,
hurt, anguish, anxiety and
This has been a great reminder of how we all should live and free ourselves of stuff that holds us down. I have already eliminated most of my clothing about two thirds and left with one third so freeing with God’s help we can do all things to make him our focus.
Sharon Kelly says
I appreciate your sentiments, but may I make a plea for correct grammar? “Each of us” is singular, not plural. For some of us, “petty” things like this tend to get in the way of the message.
Don’t let it get in the way.
Thank you, Sharon Kelly. For me, a first grammatical error gets a pass. But when the same type of error happens more than once, as it did here, such mistakes can get in the way of the message. Not trying to be critical, but having a second pair of eyes to proofread is always a good thing.
Mary Ann says
I noticed that too…. but really, life is MUCH to short to waste time fretting about grammar in an on-line article — ESPECIALLY when the article is such a good one!
So yes, as Valerie says: Don’t let it get in the way.
Waldemar Cordero Bonilla says
It is interesting that the fabric of society is designed so that we increase the burden in our lives as we age. The measure of success in the popular culture is to acquire more and more no matter the consequences. Thanks for this words! Have a great day!
Marie Dawkins says
I just started embracing this lifestyle on October 5th. I have given away over 500 very nice “things or items” all useful or decorative, including some furniture. It is hard to say this, but it take time to sort, precious time.
After almost 60 days of doing a little everyday, I realize, I need to do so much more. So I plan to gather another 500 items before January 6th, and give those away.
I want to feel lighter and have more time for other plans for my life and not be managing “my things”. You have to store, dust, hunt, and retrieve things. Sometimes I can’t find what I need. I know this is a great decision, but it is very difficult and somewhat depressing, that I let this happen.
When my Mom died, I spent 6 weeks cleaning out her hoarding and clutter. It was a mess. I never want to go through that again.
Mary Ann says
I feel much as you do, Marie — about the time it takes, the need I feel to do it faster because there’s so much more to do, the desire to be rid of it all so I have more time and space… all of that. Plus how depressing it is, to see how much useless stuff I’ve accumulated, and the consequence of having to deal with it all now. And how hard it is, to have so much sorting and so many decisions to make.
I try to encourage myself by reminding myself that this is a worthy goal, that I’ve done difficult things before, and that there WILL be an end to it. All it is, is physical “stuff” — and once I push through this stage I’ll be free! FREE!
Amy Laughlin says
Thank you. I work in a retirement community and see the burden of loss first hand every day: loss of independence, loss of health, loss of spouse or beloved friends, loss of a long time home. The burden of loss is especially hard at this time of year. What I rarely see is pain caused by the loss of personal possessions necessary when downsizing from a house to a small retirement apartment or studio. It’s my privilege to help bring joy to their lives through opportunities, experiences and quality of life. Joshua, I appreciate your posts, you are one of my chosen few people I follow!
Mary Ann says
Amy, it’s an interesting and privileged viewpoint you have, into the lives of older people who’ve moved into your retirement community. Do you think that there is no pain around loss of personal possessions when downsizing? — or do you think the residents of your retirement community just don’t talk about that?
We’re at the stage of preparing for a major downsizing, and for me the process of parting with things IS painful. Mind you, once the things are gone, there are very few items that I actually miss having. But I’m still in the early stages of purging, so it’s been mostly “low-hanging fruit” that I’ve parted with, so far.
I’m curious about your perspective on how it may feel once this is over, after we’ve parted with about 3/4 of our possessions.
Judy Johnson says
The emotional hurdle is what holds many back from decluttering, plus the fact that they are frequently forced into it makes it many times harder. Once you get the mindset figured out, it becomes much easier.
I would love to get rid of all of the junk (and useful items, too!) in our basement and attic that we don’t use, but my husband is a just-in-case-er. I’ve removed things from closets and put them in bags in the basement for a year, just to show him what we use and don’t. Then he’ll agree to let some things go. But there are things in those spaces that are obviously unused and could go to someone who needs them. It makes me want to get rid of them anyway, which I know isn’t fair to my husband. But I know he won’t even know they’re gone.
Ann, I know the feeling. There are many items in this house that I want to get rid of that my husband wants to keep. I resist the urge to remove them from the house without his knowledge because he would no longer trust me. Anytime he couldn’t find something, he would say “Have you seen such and such? You didn’t get rid of it did you?” And then I would either have to lie or confess that I had done it. Neither of those options appeals to me. I also remind myself that if I begin removing items without HIS knowledge, he could decide to remove items without MY knowledge creating more anger and distrust in the marriage. My only hope is that over time he will eventually agree with me about getting rid of some items, and that has happened several times already, so I am encouraged. My husband has also been open to listening to ideas about minimalism. We watched the documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” which is available on Netflix. We went to see Courtney Carver when she gave a presentation in our city. I know we would go to see The Minimalists or Joshua Becker if they came to our city. So, that is our game plan. Instead of getting angry with each other over which items to keep or get rid of we just continue to open our minds to the concept of minimalism, and I believe our new mindset is making a huge difference in our lives, in spite of the fact that that dang such and such is still in our basement!
Mary Ann says
Ann and Andrea,
I’m in the same boat, and I’m approaching the situation in similar ways. I wouldn’t want to throw out husband’s things without his permission, even when I know he won’t even notice that one piece of the mass of clutter is gone!
We are making progress, although it’s slower than I’d like.
Jill BCC says
One of my best friend get suicide last year, and somehow since the i try to enjoy my life to the fullest. i know its weird but yeah,,
In addition to household clutter, I think we need to consider emotional clutter. The endless chatter in our heads. Telling us that we’re not good enough. Or reliving a past trauma. Embracing mindfulness, decluttering our lives, and focusing on loved ones and passions is part of the answer. Many find that letting go of the stuff makes room for transformational, personal growth. Thanks for another insightful post!
Yolanda C. Summers says
Thank you for such an delightful article.
Amie K says
This is a timely message for me as well. I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. My cluttered home environment has contributed to increased stress levels that exacerbate the negative symptoms. My energy level is often very low but I’m determined to clear out all this stuff. Thank you for sharing this.
Christina Gomez says
That is very interesting! I wholeheartedly agree! I hope your friend will be well. Prayers being lifted up.
Thank you for this. We’ve recently sold our large home and are now committed to the smaller home we downsized to. A part of me aches for the loss of that big home dream, but the reality is it had become a burden and we were able to eliminate that burden by selling. I know when the fog clears we will feel lighter.
I needed this perspective today, so thank you.
Mary Ann says
We’re about to do a similar kind of downsizing, Emma — from fairly roomy house, to much smaller condo. Thank you for acknowledging the loss that is involved in this process — I don’t often hear that acknowledged within the minimalist community.
We may feel a little cramped in our new condo, but we’ll adjust and, like you, I think we’ll feel much, much lighter.
Emma, I did the same thing earlier this year–I sold my large house (formerly filled to the brim with excess crap) and moved into a smaller townhouse.
It is pretty darned glorious. :-)