Note: This is a guest post from Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch.
When my wife and I first started decluttering our house, it felt incredible.
With each unneeded item we donated, recycled, or took out of our home, we felt lighter and experienced new space opening around us. Over the next several months, a few thousand items went out the door. The contrast was stark: surfaces were clear and our home felt more welcoming than ever.
Coming home after a long day at work became something we looked forward to—a peaceful sight rather than reminders of things to be picked up. Cleaning up before having guests over, what used to take us a couple hours, took us only ten minutes, which subsequently increased the frequency of invitations and time spent with friends.
However, a few months after making the bulk of the changes, the glaringly positive effects began to fade.
Our lives were still significantly easier due to the streamlining, but the happiness and satisfaction we felt as a result of the minimizing process seemed to return back to normal.
At first, we wondered if we didn’t fully complete the appropriate amount of downsizing. Did we need to continue donating, selling, and recycling to get that happiness boost again? It might solve the problem, at least temporarily, but even that process would meet an eventual end once we ran out of things we didn’t want. We’d have to face the “Now what?” sooner or later.
We were experiencing “hedonic adaptation,” the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative changes. We had grown accustomed to less time spent on cleaning and organizing; other activities began to fill in the gaps—some productive and some not so much.
After reading extensively about the joy that minimalism brings, we found this frustrating. We had seemingly arrived at our desired destination but didn’t feel that our journey was complete. There was a missing piece to the puzzle.
What we found was that other distractions gradually crept into our lives as we freed up time from other tasks. No matter how much time we saved, it wouldn’t be helpful unless we used that time efficiently. Hours spent on a smartphone throughout the day did not add to our happiness. But working on a project, simply being still, reading for pleasure, or learning about something new did continually make our lives better.
It became clear the pursuit of satisfaction in life is a daily practice that never ends, and that’s for the best.
The purging process eventually reaches a point of winding down, but the gratitude and contentment that comes from appreciating all that we have should never stop. The calming of our desire for what we don’t need is an enduring task that continues to this day.
Getting rid of the clutter in our lives created more opportunity for us to pursue the things we’re passionate about. But it was still up to us to make the most of the opportunity.
For us, that means traveling, spending time with people we care about, dedicating time to our passion projects, creating more, and consuming less. What brings the greatest satisfaction in life will differ with each person. But the important part is we continually pursue them. It is with this intentional, consistent pursuit that happiness will follow.
Anthony Ongaro blogs and vlogs at Break the Twitch where he helps others explore ways to live a more intentional life. I also recommend following him on Twitter.
I am so totally here as well. Still looking around in our house after more things to get rid of, but seldomly finding any. The feeling of “now what” is definitely there. And some days indeed, spending way too much time distracting myself on my smartphone and not so useful things. Trying to organize myself though to spend time on things that are more meaningful.
Thanks for letting me know I´m far from being alone in this feeling :-)
Plateau reached – what do I do now? Every spare hour, or 1/2 day for the last 8 months has been spent on decluttering – the thrill of throwing something away is addictive. Now my gaps feel large – not the physical gaps, but the gap of time – what does my heart desire to do? I’m quite scared of finding something to do – and having to buy the materials to do it with … And then ending up back where I came from.
Aimee @ Whispers of Worth says
I loved this post. It’s important to be aware of that transition between decluttering the stuff and creating meaning out of the space and time left behind. I copied (and linked) a big chunk of this on my own blog post for today:) Thank you!
That’s how I feel… My goal was to get rid of everything I do not need by 2016 and I thought I did but now I feel like I need to get rid of more. I am glad I found this article of yours.
Mary Ann Parrish says
I “minimalized” and redecorated my guest room a couple of years ago. For a while I found myself going in there for a mini vacation from clutter in the rest of the house. Now I don’t do that anymore.
Though I purged a couple hundred items of clothing from my closet recently, the momentum hasn’t carried me to the rest of the house. Maybe just the commitment to cease acquiring and the occasional giveaway will bring more contentment, if not a real “high.”
Laura Tong says
This post really caught my attention, thank you Anthony. Two aspects in particular struck me:
*I love that with less cleaning up to do, you found that you increased the frequency of invitations to friends – that’s such a great and unexpected bonus of de-cluttering.
* You’ve described the slight roller coaster of emotions you went through – I’m intrigued as to what the time frame was for your ‘clear space, clear brain euphoria to level out?
Anthony @ Break the Twitch says
Laura, thank you – it honestly happened pretty quickly for me. Maybe six months? I tend to move pretty quickly on things so maybe shorter than usual. Thanks again for your thoughts!
Too true! The cycle of consumerism trains us to keep seeking instant gratification and it takes self awareness and a commitment to break the cycle and seek sustainable satisfaction to overcome it. It was a struggle for me as well until I realized that I didn’t have purge and reorganize everything at once. Some items like clothing I did in a day or two, other things like kitchen items and cosmetics I did over weeks/months. In the meantime I kept a list of things I would finally be able to do as I cleared stuff out and didn’t have to tend to it anymore. It helped me stay focused and appreciate how far I had come.
Oh so that’s how it works! I still haven’t gotten to the part where the house is streamlined. Actually, it is on the surface, but please don’t open a closet! Thank you Anthony for the inspiration and sage advise.
We’re the opposite, Sunny. We have a little less that’s visible, but we were pretty neat before, so it’s not a big change. What is enormously different for us is that, now, when you open a closet or a cupboard or look a a shelf, most are much emptier than before.
Nathan Atkinson says
Love this post. I have found a lot of joy and peace in getting rid of the unnecessary junk in my life. One of the biggest things that brings me joy in my life is decluttering the amount of virtual and digital clutter that I have.
Anthony @ Break the Twitch says
Nathan, the virtual / digital aspect is the next frontier for me. It’s been slow going, but one step at a time. Thank you for reading!
Gladys (The Pinay Mom) says
There’s really a contentment when you declutter and I found joy when I know all I have is what I need.I would feel overwhelmed owning so much stuffs.