Break one cookie into two pieces for a 3-year old, and you’ll be surprised how they react. It’s magical for them, as they see one treat transform into two. More is always more for them—their pleasure has been doubled!
Children around this age are unable to understand conservation. As kids get older, they begin to develop the capacity to understand that taller glasses of water don’t necessarily mean more volume than wider cups. And you can’t cheap out and multiply how many cookies they’re getting by breaking them up, either.
It’s an interesting study in human psychology.
As adults, we can smile at these tricks of the mind. We have learned to reason and critically evaluate much of the world around us. And we’re certainly too smart to fall for these sorts of mind games, aren’t we?
Not so fast.
Despite our experiences and understanding of the world, we still remain fallible to manipulations of perception—but this time, on grander scales.
For example, research has found that we tend to fill our plates no matter how large they are. The bigger the plate, the more the food we add to it. When plates are larger, we tend to underestimate the amount of food present. This, of course, can lead to overeating and weight gain.
When space is available we look to fill it.
This phenomenon is also obvious in our ever-expanding houses. Today’s residences are 61% larger than only 40 years ago. Despite a significant recession in 2008, median home sizes continue to steadily increase.
Many have grabbed the largest home their pre-approved loan will allow and subsequently filled them to the brim with stuff. As a result, the average household now has 300,000 items.
Never before have humans burdened themselves with so much space and so much stuff.
If we are ever going to break this growing trend, we need to get intentional. We ought to think hard about the amount of square footage we decide to own. And we ought to work hard to overcome the tendency to fill all our empty spaces with more and more physical possessions.
Here are three lessons to prevent you from continuing to amass more:
1. Re-examine your values.
If you were to say, “I want to downsize my house” or “I should declutter the garage,” those would be great goals. But they’re not values. Instead, values transcend time and objectives. Values, often times, form the basis for minimalism in our life. But more than that, they inform our specific practice of it.
What do you believe? What’s important to you? What guides your purpose in life or your philosophy of minimalism? And how do you want to be remembered? These are the powerful questions we must face and ask ourselves as minimalists. Who am I, what’s important to me, and does my life’s energy reflect that?
2. Start smaller.
When I embraced minimalism, I tirelessly decluttered our 2,200 square foot home in Vermont. Like most families in America, we had spent years filling every room, every closet, and every empty space. There were countless nooks to sift through, and it took months to pare down our belongings. But eventually, the space felt more open and more empty. We began to envision a life lived in a smaller home.
When we moved to Arizona, we chose a 1,600 square foot home. In so doing, we now save far more money, time, and energy than ever before. We took a risk and never looked back. But we didn’t start with the move first, we started much smaller—decluttering drawers and closets and rooms. Eventually, as we did, we began to discover we needed far less space than we imagined. And when we moved into a smaller home, we felt much less temptation to fill it with things we didn’t need.
3. Recognize fallibility.
Even the best of us get caught up in the drive to amass more space and more stuff. Just look out at the world and you’re apt to see flashy cars and McMansions almost everywhere. It’s human to be fallible, to make mistakes, or get caught up in this rat race of collection. Despite our values, we sometimes purchase and fill when we ought to lean on what’s most important to us.
When this happens, it is important not to punish or demean ourselves, but to return to step one: examine your values. What have you learned about yourself and how can you return to these values? Remember, you cannot change the past, but you can always learn from it.
We will always struggle to accurately judge the amount of stuff we carry throughout our lifespan. Whether it’s a broken cookie or an ever-expanding home full of stuff, our perspectives can be manipulated by the world around us. Society influences us and space affects us.
However, by revisiting our values, starting with small steps, recognizing fallibility, and learning from our past mistakes, we can overcome and counteract many of these tendencies. We should know better by now anyway.