Eight Noteworthy Benefits Of Downsizing And Owning Fewer Things
It's confession time: I love books. I gravitate towards books instinctively and unconsciously. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I cannot live without books.” Recently I was at a thrift store with an old friend, and I informed her of my plans to resist examining the books for sale. She was understandably skeptical, yet I summoned enough willpower to keep my word. It helps, I suppose, that a few days earlier I acquired a paperback copy of Sara Gruen’s novel Water For Elephants from a Free Little Library.
My ongoing acquisition of books—a habit I doubt I’ll ever discontinue entirely—is one reason I’m in favor of living with fewer things. Two years ago I read that it’s nearly impossible not to keep accumulating in our modern society. I agree, and this is one reason I’m mindful to downsize on a regular basis. Regarding books I regularly peruse my bookshelves to determine which volumes I no longer need or want. Certain volumes—such as M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and several Calvin & Hobbes collections—have remained in my collection for years, whereas others come and go more quickly.
I’ve found this is also true of my clothing; for this reason and others, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that you should automatically give (or throw) away anything you haven’t worn in a year. Generally I approach downsizing in a deliberate and case-by-case basis. In other words, I may keep a shirt I haven’t worn in over a year because this shirt has special meaning for me, or simply because I am uncertain if this item needs to go. Erring on the side of caution in such matters is essential in order to avoid experiencing the regret of giving away something you possibly should have kept.
How you decide to downsize will depend on your personal preferences and opportunity. You may wish to start with a closet or a certain room in your house. You may also be in transition—such as recently married, living alone for the first time, or having recently added a child to your family—and for this reason you may have acquired possessions related to this life change. At such times it is important to have perspective on your newly acquired items, and to not be too hasty to downsize in response.
Downsizing works best if you have reasonable expectations. Akin to deciding to lose weight, it’s advisable to set your sights on smaller goals instead of getting overwhelmed by the big picture. Also, it’s important to realize life will continually get in the way of your efforts to downsize. I’ve read writers need to learn to live with messy desks, and I believe a similar truth can be applied to anyone attempting to downsize: It behooves you to learn to live with the fact that this process may appear unfinished—and may be interrupted—because it is an inevitably ongoing task. In other words, the circumstances of your life are likely to never appear ideal to downsize. Yet this doesn’t mean you cannot start the process and see where it takes you.
This list of eight advantages of owning less is based on my experiences and observations of others. It’s an inevitably incomplete list, and, if you are so inclined to leave me a comment about the benefits you’ve experienced from living with less, I would be most grateful.
The first advantage is you have less to pack and unpack every time you move. I’m convinced that the many moves I’ve made as an adult is one reason I aspire to live with fewer things. At one point I even had to fit everything worth keeping in a Bonneville, and this resulted in significant downsizing.
What would you be willing to live without?
Another benefit is you learn what you can live without. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the belief you should own only what you use frequently, it’s liberating to live without things others might consider necessities. I haven’t owned a television since September 2008, and I don’t miss having one. Also, I’ve found I’ve little need to own a microwave because I can heat water on the stove and reheat items in the oven.
Living with less gives you the option to acquire more joyfully (and presumably with less guilt) when you find something you don’t want to live without. If you have a partially empty book shelf, in other words, it makes more sense to acquire an intriguing book or two. Similarly, it makes more sense to add a new dress to a closet which isn’t overflowing. One reason I continue to prune my bookshelves is because I want the freedom to acquire more books as I see fit.
A fourth benefit of living with fewer things is you have less to clean. It’s much easier to clean a kitchen which isn’t cluttered with rarely used appliances; similarly, it’s more efficient to vacuum a floor which isn’t covered with piles of unwashed clothing or papers.
Another benefit is the act of downsizing and deliberately living with less forces you to realize what you value. I obviously value books and cannot imagine my life without them. You may value family heirlooms or electronics. The more you are able to eliminate the items which you don’t need and don’t value, the more space and energy you’ll have for your prized possessions.
A sixth benefit of owning less is you have less clutter in your living space. I’ve lived in apartments as small as 210 square feet; this experience taught me that even a very small space can be welcoming if it is uncluttered. My current apartment is significantly larger; however, I’m mindful to avoid clutter because I’m more able to work in an orderly living environment.
Spending less money on items which don’t improve your life is another benefit. Once you are able to determine which items are most important to you, you may be amazed how many other items you used to acquire regularly don’t appeal to you. Also, you may discover you can spend less on media by checking items out from the library or borrowing books and DVDs from friends. It’s even possible you’ll be able to swap clothing with certain friends, yet this is potentially more complicated than taking advantage of what your local library has to offer.
Finally, living with less may help you cherish and invest more in your relationships. People are, after all, more valuable than things, and by owning less—and therefore spending less time managing and cleaning what you own—you are able to spend more time with those you care about. Learning to savor such simple pleasures as taking a walk with a friend or having an empty shelf in one of your closets is one reason I continue to believe in owning less. This philosophy isn’t for everyone, however, and I hope you are able to discover how to live a life which is congruent to your values and needs.