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.