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Less Stuff, More Happiness: Lessons from a Rummage Sale Chair

Updated on August 15, 2012

Does Happiness Lie in All this Stuff?

I've been having and going to yard sales for over twenty years. For five years, I was also co-chair of my church rummage sale. This experience has given me a lot of insight into people and their "stuff".

I love yard sales, garage sales and rummage sales because they're a win-win situation for all involved. The people selling (or donating) get to clean out all their stuff. And the people buying get some great things at great prices. But what fascinates me most about these sales is the amount of extra stuff that people (myself included) can accumulate in a short amount of time. How does this happen? Why do we buy more than we need? Does happiness really lie in all of this stuff? I think we all know that the answer to that question is no. So how can we learn to be happy, with less?


In order to find out how we can be happy with less, we first have to examine why we have more than we need in the first place.

"Don't make something unless it is both necessary and useful;but if it is both necessary and useful,don't hesitate to make it beautiful."-- Shaker dictum

I have always liked this Shaker saying and think we could substitute the word "buy" for "make": These would be good words to live by: "Don't buy something unless it is necessary and useful." That rule alone probably eliminates most of our purchases! But if something is necessary and useful, it is nice to get exactly what we want, or to take care of and make the most of what we have--i.e., to make it beautiful! So where do we go wrong? We go wrong because most of what we buy is not necessary or useful at all, but purchased for other reasons.


1. Low Self Esteem Isn't this the reason why we do so many things? If we are feeling low about ourselves at all, we think buying something is going to make us feel better. Commercials convince us that a product will make us slimmer, prettier, or look younger. We'll be more organized and more successful and all the things we want to be if we just buy this or that product. Or at least we will feel better just by the thought of it. (Until the object sits in a closet somewhere, tag still on it.)

2. Boredom Shopping should really just be for " the necessary and the useful" but it has become a hobby for some. Instead of going shopping (in a store, on tv or on-line) for something we need, we now go shopping first, see something, then try and figure out how we can use it! That is really backwards. When looking for something to do, people often turn to buying things, forgetting that there are other activities to engage in that are free, fun, and don't involve shopping at all!

3. Loneliness Shopping can fill a void (temporarily). Tied in with self-esteem and boredom, loneliness is a motivating factor for many shoppers. A trip to themall promises people to see, exciting window displays, sales people to converse with and the allure of fun and connection. But even the best shopping adventure will not change the fact that you are single, are in a bad relationship, or will go home (with your purchases) to an empty house.

4.It's Romantic This may be more of a female thing, I don't know, but shopping can be very nostalgic and an experience of the heart. I know I follow my heart when shopping. I might see something I like (a household item usually) that I find pretty or that I connect with for some reason. It doesn't have to be necessary or useful at all, but I just know I love it. That leads me to imagining all that comes with the trinket--a peaceful feeling, a peaceful home, others saying, "oh how cute, where did you get it?" It all becomes part of our fantasy or ideal of what we are searching for. And if something is on sale? Forget it!! That only intensifies the happy feeling---which is really what we are all searching for in these items: happiness!

5. Happiness This is the end-all and be-all of reasons why we buy things we don't need; we are searching for happiness. Whether it be low self-esteem, boredom, loneliness, or the quest of a romantic ideal we are holding in our imaginations, what we really want is happiness. But judging from all of the items that we sell at yard sales and rummage sales, I can safely say that happiness is not found in all of that stuff.


The are a few keys to finding happiness with less stuff.

Try and live by that Shaker dictum. Examine what you have and ask yourself, what do I have that is really necessary or useful, or beautiful to me? I've read that we wear 20% of what is in our closet, 80% of the time. That leaves a lot of extra clothing we never wear. The same rule probably applies to most of what is in our house! So the first step is to weed out what you already have, but the next step is to be mindful before you buy more. When debating on a purchase, ask yourself, is it necessary? Is it useful? Is it beautiful to me?

Make the Most of What You Have Did you ever buy a new outfit for an occasion, only to feel unsure or comfortable in it? That is such a let-down! By adding jewelry or other accessories, you can make clothes from your closet look like new. And you'll be comfortable! I once heard a top designer offer this fashion advice: "wear what you already have." This can apply to most anything in your home. We really don't need new things all the time, and there is a pleasure in taking care of and in utilizing things that are already bought and paid for!

Swap Shopping Time for Time to Organize What You Already Have

Next time you feel like shopping, but you don't really "need" anything, take the time to instead de-clutter and see what you already have. You'll be amazed at what you'll find. A sweater that you never wore. A belt you'd been looking for. A picture you can hang. Or a pretty pillow for your bed. You'll also find many things you no longer need or use (or never did). These items can be sold, donated, or thrown away if need be. In the end, you will feel productive and happy -- all for free! I have done this so many times and I have to say the feeling I get after organizing what I already have always far exceeds the feeling I get when I buy something new. (Because remember, that new object won't stay new forever anyway!)


By buying less, you will have more of a lot of things. You will be more organized and have a more peaceful surrounding. You will have more time for other more fulfilling pursuits. You will have more pride in yourself by making the most of what you have. You will notice more beauty as clutter will be cleared away. You will have more joy because it will be lasting and from an authentic source. You will feel more happiness because the stress of shopping and returning and overspending and the disappointment in it all will be lessened.

As a rummage sale co-chair, I saw piles and piles of things that didn't bring happiness anymore (or maybe never did). Clothes with the tags still on them. Christmas decorations that could fill the North Pole. Knick-knacks out the wazoo. That's not to say that these items, at rummage sales prices, couldn't bring a little happiness to the next person. But the key with buying anything is to ask yourself, is it necessary, it useful? Is it truly beautiful, to me? The objects we purchase may enhance our happiness, but only if we already happy. Buying something can't make us that way, because happiness is an inner pursuit. Once we grasp this fact, we will be able to live with less stuff and fill our lives with so much more.


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    • g-girl11 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks debbie! Very interesting to get the perspective of another culture, your husband's. We do have it backwards about shopping, don't we? At least at a garage sale, you wouldn't be spending much! I also agree with your point about staying out of stores--I can feel very blessed and abundant in my life, but as soon as I go into a store, I see all the things I wish I had and now think I need.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 

      6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Sorry, my keyboard ate a few words. My husband is Colombian.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 

      6 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      g-girl, great Hub! I find that staying away from the stores is the best way to avoid buying unnecessary items and clothes.

      I too love garage sales. Recently my husband, who is a, was in the states with me. The weather was great and there were many garage sales going on one Saturday. I told him that I thought we should go garage-saling so he could have the cultural experience. He asked me what I "needed" to buy. I just looked at him and was speechless. I finally said "I don't need anything but I'm just going to look and see what's out there". I explained that thats what you do at garage sales! He looked down and muttered under his breath "stupid Americans..."

      He was joking and loves this American woman (me) and all of her family, and has had great experiences in the U.S. during his visits, but he had a point: we go looking for things we don't need.

      Thanks again for a great Hub. The American way may not be the best in this regard.

    • g-girl11 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks timorous! I would love to read your hub! And linking would be great!

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      6 years ago from Me to You

      You've hit the nail on the head g-girl11. This endless hoarding of stuff only leads us further away from happiness. This hub ties in well with a hub I wrote, about How to Live a Simple Life. I'm considering linking to this hub, if it's alright with you... You may also link back to mine, if you so wish.

    • g-girl11 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thank you Katrine! Sounds like you already have yourself in an organized routine. Even so, it is still amazing how much extra we all have. We have a small home without much storage space, yet still manage to have bags and bags we could do without. In fact, we are having a yard sale this weekend!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Every month I go through all wardrobes at home and always end up with a large back to be taken to a local charity shop. I think many people do 'impulse' shopping, meaning we buy things we don't really need, we just love them at that specific moment. I love your hub's simple points.

    • g-girl11 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I love them, too, Pamela-anne! Some of my favorite things came from those types of sales. And no, downsizing is not bad at all! Like my point in this hub, we all have way more than we really need. Thanks for commenting.

    • Pamela-anne profile image


      6 years ago from Miller Lake

      I too love going to garage sales hoping to pick up some special gem at a rock bottom price; now that I am living in an apartment I have had to downsize which has not been a bad thing. Thanks for sharing take care.


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