Years ago, our lives changed dramatically. The realization that our possessions were actually distracting us from a life of joy and purpose and fulfillment became the motivation to pursue minimalism in our home.
As our family of four began removing nonessential possessions, we soon discovered more time and energy and focus for the things that matter most. And we discovered that our things had become a far greater burden than we’d ever realized.
We also began to discover that many of our thoughts concerning physical possessions were incorrect. These faulty mindsets were contributing to our over-accumulation and cluttered lifestyles. Slowly, but surely, our approach to possessions began to change as we experienced more and more the benefits of owning less.
If your family struggles with owning too much, consider these seven life-changing perspectives to help overcome your family’s obsession with stuff:
1. Owning fewer toys is actually better for your kids.
Parents want what’s best for their children. But often times, our desire to help them learn and develop results in the over-accumulation of toys. Did you know the research says the exact opposite? According to almost every scientific study on the issue, fewer toys will actually benefit your kids more. Here’s a recent one: owning fewer toys will result in deeper, more creative play for your kids—along with a whole bunch of other healthier lifestyle habits.
2. Buying more hobby supplies will not help you enjoy it more.
The story plays out almost the same way every time. We discover a new hobby (camping, music, sewing, art, etc.) and quickly begin gathering the necessary tools to partake in it. As we grow in our passion for the hobby, we accumulate more and more “supplies” thinking these items will help us enjoy the pursuit more. However, as my friend Kristoffer Carter once wrote, “Sometimes, our pursuit of tools gets in the way of our enjoyment of the hobby.” We’d often be better off improving our skills, rather than simply buying more equipment.
3. Hoarding kitchen utensils is not making you a better cook.
I used to think the only thing missing in my kitchen was the latest and greatest kitchen gadget. That somehow, one more piece of plastic would make my food taste better and my cooking a more enjoyable experience (because who doesn’t like getting frustrated trying to find that one utensil hidden somewhere in the drawer…).
Everything changed when I read this article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times titled A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks. An expert and veteran of commercial kitchens and classically-trained chefs, Mark changed my perspective entirely by listing out a limited number of utensils needed to prepare any recipe. I immediately minimized my kitchen. And fell in love with cooking.
4. Owning a bigger house is not improving your family life.
It’s an odd connection when you think about it, but we hear it all the time. The more square footage in our home… the happier our family will be. As if, somehow, more space to spread out will somehow bring our families closer together. My family has found the exact opposite to be true. Among countless other benefits, we have found that living in a smaller home has actually brought our family closer together. It has encouraged more conversation and deeper relationships. After all, when you can’t run from your problems, you are forced to confront them.
5. Keeping extra clothes in your closet is making your morning harder.
In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains how the absence of choice is not an ideal environment for the human spirit. However, he also explains how too many choices is equally undesirable—leaving us feeling less and less satisfied. It’s a life-changing perspective in many ways—you can watch him explain it here. Similarly, the abundance of options does not make life easier, it makes life more difficult and more complicated. We purchase more and trendier fashion thinking its presence in our closet will make mornings easier. But just the opposite occurs. The overabundance of choice only makes it more difficult.
6. Having more television sets is not making your family happier.
According to statistics, the average American home now has more televisions than people. This phenomenon is most certainly a result of our common thinking that more is always better. But in regard to televisions, there is an added assumption that giving every family member a chance to watch whatever they want will keep everyone happy. Again, we found the exact opposite to be true.
Years ago, our family of four decided to get rid of every television except for one. For us, it was just an experiment at first. But quickly into the experiment we discovered that having only one television in our home brought us much closer together. The amount of television we watched began to decline dramatically. But even more important, when we did choose to watch something, we did it together as a family.
7. The greatest gifts you can give your kids are not bought with money.
Very few of my fondest childhood memories involve physical possessions. Instead, I look back and recall moments we spent together, the example my parents set, and the lifelong values they worked hard to instill into me. None of those truly life-giving gifts were purchased at the local department store.
As we seek to overcome the empty promises and the temptation to own more, let’s remember all the benefits of owning less.
Let’s allow our perspectives to change about what is true, what is noble, and what is good. In the end, everyone benefits.
Maria Pinto says
For those of you here interested (and please share this with your friends, children, work associates) check out the “Story of Stuff” on you tube. It is a real eye opener from another perspective. We need to get rid of the old paradigm and shift from “I can just throw it away ” to ” I care about myself, my global family, and the planet”.
Annie Leonard who did this short and insightful movie paints the bigger picture but also in a nutshell what we humans can start to do about it.
Wendy Munro says
We don’t have young kids but we do have two dogs – who have overflowing toy boxes. They don’t play with 70% of those toys so I think I feel a de-cluttering session coming on next time they’re out with my husband!
We downsized into a 36 foot Class A Motorcoach 4 years ago. We have decluttered and donated items all across the USA. Even in our small living space there’s a tendency to “have more stuff”. I still have hobbies but no longer require a whole room for paint and canvas supplies or yarn and needles for crocheting. I contain my supplies to a small cube that doubles as a footstool. Our Clothing ‘volumes’ from the old walk-in closet (the size of our current bedroom) has been reduced and I still have a great selection to wear. And we try to stick with only replacing items that are no longer worn. My kitchen is limited to the basics. I can and do cook almost anything we desire. I am enjoying reading these articles as I’ve started to feel a clutter-creep lately and the articles are helping me gain another’s perspective. Thank you.
wm Turley says
So, I have spent the last few weeks gathering items by type. Coats with coats, etc. This involved discovering lost items in the basement, upstairs closets, along staircases, etc. Whadeye find?
61 coats! And 23 with tags still attached!
Running through the store….oops, there’s a Michael Koors….regularly $695.00 on sale $119.00.
Gotta have it.
Best advice: have your stuff stored by type in the same place. Coats with coats, etc.
One glance-60 pairs of shoes don’t need more!
Off to goodwill I go.
And remember the pilgrims
Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.
wm Turley – I love that saying!! I tell it to myself (and any others who care to listen) often! Best wishes to you and happy decluttering!
Yes, I have always believed in a minimalistic lifestyle and continue to practice the same. Still, there’s a difference between that and growing up under “poor” circumstances. So, easy to talk unless you’ve lived it. All most people want is for their children to have things in life that they did not have and, in turn, it sometimes seems like a lot of “stuff.”
I’m curious about the age of your youngsters…you use the term “we” in the article, which implies everyone in your family was all thinking the same way about these changes; however, I suspect your children were youngish and the changes were implemented by the parents, and the children young enough to influence/get compliance from.
Not that this is bad, but it certainly makes the process easier.
What the omission brings up for me tho is the idea is much easier to write about: the process of minimalism was super easy, and the whole family went along with it, and now our lives are so effortless, and so on. A bit of a fairy tale element to it I guess. If you disclosed the age of the youngsters, I would feel the article was grounded more in reality, and be more inclined to see how it could apply to other families.
It feels a bit like details were left out so the story would be neatly tied up and a better sell.
It’s not about how much stuff you have or don’t have; it’s about your relationship to it. Focusing on not having a lot is as significant as focusing on having a lot, it’s the same mindset. Rather, you could have a lot of clutter or none, but, it doesn’t affect your behavior; that it true freedom from wasteful materialism.
Same goes for toys; having too many is mostly a sign of a parent’s compensation for lack of deep, meaningful attention. Stated this way, it’s not the toys that are the issue but the underlying issue of the parent’s lack of engagement in the child’s life that manifest itself as purchasing an excessive amount of toys.
Bottom line, don’t focus on stuff, focus on your mind and forget about the stuff; it’ll sort itself out.
Peter Belanger says
You know what would be nice, if people who didn’t want so much stuff in their own lives, didn’t have such a critical view of those who do.
Good for you! you have shed materialism and you are you way to a path of “enlightenment”.
Just don’t be such a snob about it.
The younger generations are becoming more and more critical of “stuff” because many of us have had months and sometimes even years of our valuable time and mental energy wasted by sorting through vast and seemingly endless piles of things our parents or grandparents hoarded. We don’t blame them, because most of them were making up for a time when they couldn’t afford anything at all, but forgive us if we become a bit militant sometimes after having our own lives sucked away by others’ “stuff.” If you have kids and grand-kids and find yourself saving a lot of what-not, please do them the ultimate favor by downsizing to a comfortable and manageable amount of possessions, recognizing that some day, it’ll become someone else’s burden.
Damian Gadal says
Having had to clean up after my mother who could no longer live alone due to Alzheimer’s, it was a real eye-opener. None of her children or grandkids wanted her stuff, including old photographs which I scanned and tossed the originals. We donated or gave away as much as we could, anything left over got hauled to the dump. Folks, it’s a mistake to think that your kids will want any of your possessions. They are a ball and chain. The best thing you can do is get rid of things so they don’t have to.
When we moved 1500 miles we gave some of our “toys” to our adult kids. They didnt keep 90 percent of it. They dont want your stuff when your alive either.
Variety may be the spice of life, but just try eating over spiced chili.
Bob Johnston says
Most of the comments reflect my thinking. It concerns me a little however that no one covered the “male-tools” subject. My shop, which is 12′ x 24′, is home to my Grandfather’s carpentry tools and my Father’s carpentry, car, and yard tools. Of course, tools I had to have to make my work faster and safer are included and for the most-part have the best spots for quick use. However, at 93 I do occasionally throw something out (e.g. a spotlight mount for a 1929 Nash sedan). The thought prevails that if some long saved item wasn’t used in the last 30 years, it probably won’t be used in the next 30.
Steve K says
Very enjoyable reading. Please keep this chat going. I am a also an experienced parent well aware of the to many toy syndrome. I’ve actually put back together every intricate pieces of a particular unit only to find it didn’t matter in the end, it all ended in the same pile. After two children and one grandchild, two years of age, I’ve tried to expand their minds without them.
The whole to many clothes,dishes and gadgets is still to be determined.
Getting rid of what are thought of as collectibles, and might be,
even though ten thousand of them were produced, are worth storing in a closet, is a dilemma.
I need everyone out there to cheer me on to not have anything that hasn’t been used for five years, to give it away to someone that might use it.
One last thought, Video games on both home systems and etc are not necessary to live. Good babysitter, not really.
nils holmstrand says
Beware of horizontal surfaces! There is an invisible cloud of STUFF constantly circling America. Once a horizontal surface is cleared, an alarm goes out and the cloud zeroes in on it. Stuff materializes on the surface overnight. The only remedy is to also eliminate horizontal surfaces.
Emile Bonnefoy says
Reading more articles like this (or buying another book anout happiness) will not make you happier or smarter. Shut off whatever you’re reading this on and get out and live.
Emile Bonnefoy says
Just selling books.
Pretty obvious stuff.
An article wtitten just tonerite an article.
Emile, I as well as many other readers of this blog would respectfully have to disagree with your comments. I found this post to be very true to life and helpful. Judging by the majority of replies on this thread, I’d have to say many people feel the same.
Such a good list with good points. My husband and I recently went through my sons toy box. He is just over a year old and it is crazy the amount of toys we had accumulated. When I know he would be just as happy without any of them!
I cannot disagree with the less toys part. As a parent (me especially) have this urges to buy “educational toys” to help our son ‘smarter’.
However, I see almost everyday, he actually can play with anything in front of him. A plastic spoon, pillow, sands, even a piece of paper. And I see him enjoy it a lot. Playing around with his imagination.
It was me who feel pity about it and therefore want to give a ‘better and proper’ toy for him to play with. Something he actually don’t need it as much as I think he would.
Does everyone have the same feeling toward your kids like me?
An Ultimate read. having limited and only useful stuffs is better than filling the house with tons of products which we hardly use.
Your comments on kitchen utensils and cooking are so familiar to me. I’ve long been a foodie and passionate cook, yet I make it work in a tiny apartment kitchen and very minimal appliances (almost fewer than Mark Bittman’s article). I actually love being resourceful, not having as many dishes to wash (no dishwasher in a 60’s apartment) and building things up as I *really* need them, not as I *think* I do.
A few things on my “possibly buy” list are:
-A full-sized blender (I’m getting sick of pureeing soups in 6+ batches in a Magic Bullet)
-a second sheet-pan.
-2 larger/noodle bowls -my bf eats pasta from a mixing bowl (and I regularly eat salad from the same one) because the bowls we have are small-sized.
but I’ve had these on my list for months now and am not yet feeling i *need* them. The mixing bowl thing only bothers me aesthetically, not practically too.
With regards to the dishwasher, I have a big 4 bedroom house thinking I was going to have my own family. Did not happen. I have a nice dishwasher but still wash my dishes by hand. Just seems silly to load an entire dishwasher for 1 person. Would take me a week to fill it. I also realize now that a house is not really an investment or asset- it’s a place to live.
Yes! Yes! Thanks for stating it all so well.
Excellent! Good read !
Jacqueline Martens says
This morning, when I read your article, I saw myself and realized the time spent trying to manage all my stuff was time stolen from those who knkw and love me. If you csn use anything from what I’ve written, please feel free. My facebook only carries my friends and family…but there are others who could benefit. I follow you closely and thank you for all you do.
Recognize your family? See yourself? I spent years “collecting” books I could read when I retired…only to experience macular degeneration…most of the books went to veterans or others who still have eyesight… Bins and bins of yarn so I could do needlework, patters I could make, tools for every hobby I enjoyed, every gourmet kitchen gadget to make life easier. End result…a houseful of stuff that all had to be sorted when it went to storage…where it lingered for many months. Downsizing at 75 sucks when you’re surrounded by “stuff” as you move into a studio apartment. Most of us then realize it’s not stuff that makes our lives…but people and our pets.
I probably shouldn’t have shared so much, but want to acknowledge family and friends who understood me and were brave enough to deal with a stubborn old woman. You know who you are…I love you all. If this article and my confession helps just one of you, it was worth sharing. Blessings to you all.
Lei Lani says
Thank you for sharing part of your story!
Valerie ardron says
I feel as though i have minimized so much in my life over the last 4 years. Smaller house. A lot less toys then most houses and yet because of my 3 young kids stuff keeps coming in the house! We just had a birthday party and even though i asked for small gifts he got an overabundance! I am so glad he has so many friends and family that loves him but it was exhausting to clean up yesterday. I have given so many hints about other ideas for gifts. Feeling so defeated right now. We even tried suggesting we do a party without gifts but how do you explain to a 7 yr old who sees all his friends get presents on their birthdays that he won’t. Sometimes i wish i wasnt so easily overwhelmed with stuff. On my own i can be such a minimalist but with kids its so hard! Already today i know they are coming home with 2 months worth of work…
Could we maybe see more articles on how to help parents with children who are finally at an age when they bring stuff in. It was so much easier when i had more control when they were smaller..my children are such hoarders. Even with small rooms and no closets!
My 8 year old just had a birthday party and the in-laws are over-gifters from way back, so I feel your pain! My mother was a hoarder, so the overwhelm is very real for me too.
I do find that no matter the number of toys, the favourites still rise to the top and after a short while we can drop back to a smaller number. They do seem to appreciate being allowed a time of overabundance, but are visibly relieved when it gets scaled back again (always surprises me!).
I find the difficult part is my letting go of their old favourites, recognising that they are at a different stage now and into different things. Usually they have moved on long before me! Anyhoo, I think the basic idea is the one in-one out rule, even if it’s not put into action immediately.
One helpful rule my wife often implemented was the Toy Replacement Program. Whatever new toy comes in can only remain if the child gives or throws away another toy to make space. It allows the kids to pick and keep their favorites without increasing clutter.
excellent advise, thanks
Request books as gifts. They take up little space and the kid still gets a present (assuming your kid likes books).
Invite fewer friends to the party. It is doubtful your kid is besties with every kid in his class or even the dozen or so who usually get invited. Limit invites to those who really are close to him.
Request family do either practical gifts (like clothes) or gift experiences. A day out at a museum. Membership at the Science Center. Gift certificates to the movies and ice cream. Tickets to a sporting event.
Before the birthday or gift giving holiday, have the kids go through their existing toys and donate any they no longer play with or have outgrown. Toss any that are broken or missing pieces. If inclined, hold a yard sale and let the kids keep the money they “earn” by getting rid of their old things.
Bill Holt says
Are you a Drill Sergeant? ; ]
I had a $5 max for gift givers at my daughter’s last birthday party and she had a blast!
About Creativity says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joshua. Much of “normal” everyday life programs us to believe these false perspectives and live them out unintentionally. It’s a good reminder to check ourselves and live intentionally.
Debbie Fellows says
I have read your blog for months. A friend told me about you. We were talking about down sizing as we are older people now and don’t need all this house to clean. She said read FB Joshua Becker. You have changed my life. I am still in the process of decluttering my home. I am not in any hurry, so one drawer at a time. My biggest surprise was when I went through all my clothes. I had all of the summer shorts out on my bed, along with tee shirts. I almost cried, how many pairs of beige shorts does a person need for peat sake. I gave 44 pairs to my grandchild, who almost wears my size anyways. I still have 15 pairs of beige shorts, lol.
The kitchen is now finished too. I took a truck load to goodwill. I had cake pans new still in the box that I never used. One was to make a checker board cake and one was to make a dome cake that holds ice-cream. I bought these cake pans because I thought I’d b making special cakes for my grandchildren. Nana buys ready made from the store, lol. Who was I fooling, I don’t make things from scratch, I have 6 grandchildren. Had a cake pop cake pan too. These pans were bought when we first moved here from Phoenix to Texas to be near my grandchildren, my son only had 2 children then.
I feel so free, I just can’t wait for my whole house to be finished. I used to go into a room and say “that wall needs something, or that shelf could use something on it”. I now say what can I remove from this room.
I have found there is a difference between spring cleaning and minimalist living. Spring cleaning is just rearranging your stuff to another spot.
I tell everybody about you Joshua, keep up the good work you do for all of us. Debbie
joshua becker says
This is beautiful Debbie. Thank you for sharing this heart-warming story.
Debbie, 44 pairs of shorts!!! and you still have 15 that you kept?! Wowser!! LOL at this! Good luck and happy decluttering!
Debbie, thanks for the laugh!! “Nana buys ready made from the store”. Yes, as another gramma that had an ideal image of what I would do with the grandkids, in reality all they want is some undivided attention, that’s the best gift we can give. And I so relate to walking in a room and thinking “what can I get rid of”….husband is getting nervous ?
Mine too, laugh
I love the perspective, real life examples and reminders that your share! THANK YOU!!
“A Minimalist-in evolution” <3
Bill ONeill says
I have been living the simple life for many years, both physically, (stuff,) and mentally. I broke up with my fiancee several months ago. She pitched all my clothing. I was left with 2 shirts, 2 pair of pants, some underwear, and 1 pair of shoes. I have since purchased a sweat shirt. It’s working, who would have thought one could get my
with such a small wardrobe!
How often do you do laundry? I don’t see how that small of a wardrobe would be practical for anyone who has a full-time job, or exercises, or enjoys any type of sport.
Or who doesn’t want to do laundry daily. Or needs to dress up on occasion. Or lives in a part of the country with seasons. There is simplicity, and there is being dressed appropriately for the weather and event.
What a fabulous read. Now we just need to implement it into our lives!!! Thank you so much for sharing
About Creativity says
OWNING LESS AND LIVING MORE.
About Creativity says
Very good. Would like your website to be on YouTube too. Just short videos are very good. An Idea. Thanks.
Your article was so very true. We live near a horse-and-buggy Mennonite community where most people live very simply. Their houses are designed so that the kitchen and living room are together in one long room. While Mom is cooking, the rest of the family are at the other end of the room, playing games, reading, or talking to one another. It makes for a close family unit. Long live simplicity!
Mary Fisher says
Thank you for reframing your message of Simplicity and Decluttering every week. As an Organizer, I recognize that one key to being organized is to own less. I share your articles with my clients and it helps them catch the vision of “Less is More”.
Thank you again!