How Downsizing Can Make Us Happier
By Lea Müller
The idea of downsizing is simple and is based on an old saying: less is more. It roots in the assumption that living in excess is an obsolete life goal, which won’t increase our overall happiness. Capitalism, as we know it today, demanding ever better, faster and stronger devices and generally promoting the idea that possessing more of everything is desirable, finds its adversary in a growing minimalist movement. There are a manifold of benefits, that come with owning less. Yet, many of us are hesitant to start reducing the items we hold onto. Let’s explore the background and the psychology behind this and investigate how best to get started.
Philosophy of Happiness and Modern Life Challenges
First, we want to go back in time for a moment and see what history can tell us about finding happiness and about wealth distribution. For centuries, humanity has contemplated and discussed how to achieve happiness and fulfillment in life. A few thousand years ago, Aristotle claimed that maintaining a balance between two excesses will get us there. Buddha had a similar approach, adding that a mindful and reflective way of life is most fulfilling. Today, most people agree that finding a purpose is what makes our lives meaningful and therefore grants us happiness. All these ideas have a true core and will certainly improve anyone’s life if applied correctly. They are the foundation, around which we can create a life we want to look back on, as we grow older. Yet, they are only the basics. We’re left with the question: How can we apply these principles to all areas of this complex modern life?
What will truly make us happy?
“Downsizing will allow us to make our actions align with our values.”
For centuries, the majority of earth’s population were humble farmers, dedicating their time to the soil, which was the source of their survival. Only a small group of privileged aristocrats lived in surplus, at the expense of all the others. Now we can be grateful that today we aren’t forced to live in precarious conditions anymore, and we are no longer living with the bare necessities and struggling to provide for ourselves and our families. Nevertheless, there are things to consider, concerning our relatively new lifestyle. This prosperity has only developed during the economic booms in the previous century, which was triggered by an increased output in parts of our world, accompanied by a boost in our purchasing power. Of course, at first, it was a highly fascinating time. Former luxury goods like TV’s and cars became affordable for the middle class. However, very soon, consumerism got out of hand.
There are two important observations to make. Firstly, while the percentage of exploited individuals has shrunk, the group of exploiters has grown proportionally, and we are in one way or another, members of the latter. Secondly, and here is what it boils down to; our resources are not only distributed unequally, but they are also limited. If we want to live truly sustainably, we will need to rethink how much “stuff” we actually need in our lives. This might already be the first step towards happiness, as downsizing will allow us to make our actions align with our values of sustainability and fairness.
Apart from the economic situation, which will on the long run require us to change the way we think about making purchases, there are multiple personal benefits, which derive from subscribing to a more minimalist lifestyle.
Life is one unpredictable ride and often we are swept off our feet by a sudden change or a new experience. Maybe the first time we feel a sort of sufficiency is when traveling or suddenly a family member gets sick and we come to the realisation that we have spent a lot of time and energy on things that don’t really matter. Can you relate?
Here’s exactly where downsizing and happiness touch. Fewer possessions mean: we have to put less effort and worries in taking care of them and in their maintenance. This in term gives us more time to focus on things that are really relevant to us, like growing our relationships with friends and family, as well as self-fulfillment. We are not as tempted to invest our time in material things but can spend it pursuing the purpose we have given our lives. And purpose makes us happy, right?
When was the last time you painted or read a book?
Another advantage is: minimalism saves money. Investing in fewer items, which are of quality and last us a long time, makes us appreciate them more. We learn to put good consideration into every purchase and walk out with more value at the bottom line. That extra money can, for example, be well invested into traveling, and therefore is supporting our personal growth, rather than accumulating stuff or it can be partially donated for a good cause.
Investing money in experiences instead of things.
Sounds great? Yes. However, there is a very common misconception of downsizing and minimalism which deters many people from benefiting from a simpler lifestyle. They think downsizing implies being able to fit all your belongings in a 60L backpack and not being attached to anything materialistic. Whilst there may be some adventurers out there, who do exactly this, we also have to acknowledge that minimalism is a way broader and more flexible concept, which everyone can apply to exactly the extent they are comfortable with. Downsizing does not mean one has to live with the bare necessities. It is more about what I call the threshold of possessions. Items purchased beyond it will provide us with no significant gain. This is where we can apply Aristotle and Buddha’s ancient philosophies to our modern lives. We need to try to find the balance between the two extremes of abundance and shortage. Living a mindful life means: assessing which things are adding value to one’s life, and consciously deciding to part from those we deem irrelevant.
Now don’t think downsizing goes entirely without emotion. It’s not an easy process. However, it may be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have. Ready for less clutter and more happiness?
Here are some tips on how you can get started on incorporating minimalism in your life:
Getting rid of stuff
- When clearing out wardrobes, drawers, and shelves, ask yourself this simple question, with every item you encounter: Is this adding value to my life? Or in the words of Marie Kondo: Is this sparking joy? It is you, who decides how much leeway you allow yourself. Downsizing does not mean throwing out decoration or books you love just because you haven’t touched them in a while. Just keep in mind: we cannot prepare for all eventualities. Let go of what weighs you down instead of serving you a purpose.
2. One technique, to help you assess what you really want to keep, is packing all your belongings in boxes and then you take out only the things that you need over the following 4 weeks. Everything that’s still packed up after that time can be subject to consideration.D
3. Don’t simply throw out stuff. Sell it on a flea market or give it away to a charity. This way you can turn the excess into something useful.
4. Become more organised. A tidy home and workspace help us to keep focus and maintain a clear mind. The fewer distractions there are, the more our creativity can fill the space.
“Is this adding value to my life?”
A tidy space allows us to maintain focus.
5. Cut down Projects. This is not the most conventional way of decluttering, but it can be very liberating. To do lists are amazing, but there is only so much a person can do in a certain amount of time. If you feel all you ever do is run after deadlines and ticking boxes, you should consider either delegating more or letting go of some projects that don’t add enough value to your life, to compensate for the stress they give you in return.
6. Invest in quality items. Part of conscious consumerism means: putting thought into our purchases. Rather own 10 good shirts that last you for a long time, than throwing out 3 each year and purchasing 5 new. A way to circumvent the “out of style trap” is to buy more timeless pieces. You are more likely to still like your timeless quality clothes, years after you got them. Additionally, there are always ways to play around with them, like adding a colorful scarf and therefore giving it a new twist.
Timeless pieces can help cutting down your wardrobe.
7. Another great way to save money and preserve our resources is second-hand shopping. There are thousand used books and clothes that are still in perfect condition. Because they are so inexpensive, it’s also easier for us to pass them on, rather than sit on them.
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8. Practice upcycling at home. Often there is no need to go to the store and buy new items for your house and garden. Whenever you are about to throw something out ask yourself: Is there a way to give a new purpose to this? Pinterest is a great platform where you can find inspiration for almost everything you want to build. An idea to pimp your garden is, for example, homemade hydroponic system from reused plastic bottles.
9. If you want to go big on the idea of minimalism and sufficiency, you should have a look at the tiny house trend. After downsizing in belongings, more and more people consciously decide to live in a smaller space that still meets all their needs.
Tiny houses refelect a sufficient lifestyle.
10. The more you share with others, the less stuff you will need to buy. Sharing, for instance, self-made food with your neighbors, taking Uber with others, instead of saving for a car, or renting a summer house, rather than getting your own, makes a huge difference. Minimalism can therefore also promote a sense of community and make us better socializers.
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