Do you ever feel overwhelmed by how much 'stuff' you've got to deal with in life? Too many bills and bank statements, too many jobs to get done, too many appointments, too many appliances or devices that keep needing to be fixed or replaced every few years, too many clothes (most of which you don't wear)? If you're like most people, you're looking for the quickest way to regain control of your life and find some peace and quiet.
I've begun reading the book 'The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide' by Francine Jay. The book claims that it'll help me get rid of unnecessary stuff and clutter in my life so I'll have more 'space' to function. Francine Jay also believes that having less stuff will make you happier.
The interesting thing is that rather than being a 'how to' manual, this book is more like a philosophical textbook, as the author describes the true costs and value of spending habits and behaviours. In fact, at least a third of the book is devoted to examining beliefs and attitudes about possessions and doesn't offer any any practical advice at all! Here's a sample.
"What if I told you that having less stuff could make you a happier person? It sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? That's because every day, and everywhere we turn, we receive thousands of messages to the contrary: buy this, and you'll be prettier; own this, and you'll be more successful; acquire this, and your happiness will know no bounds.
Well, we've bought this, that, and the other thing. So we must be in seventh heaven, right? For most of us, the answer is “no”. In fact, quite often, the opposite is true: many of the items, and the empty promises, are slowly sucking the money out of our pockets, the magic out of our relationships, and the joy out of our lives."
So, why would a book about getting rid of your stuff spend so much time talking about attitudes and beliefs rather than just getting to the point and telling me how to get rid of my junk?
This investigation of attitudes is essential for regaining control of your stuff. It's also a central part of psychological therapy, and something that I work through with clients all the time when dealing with a range of different problems, including depression, anxiety, anger, and addiction.
So what attitude is necessary to declutter your life? Most people don't take into account the true cost of acquiring and owning things – the cost of storage and maintenance, the cost on our stress levels (and how that will influence our relationships), and the lost opportunity cost. Instead, we usually only think about how much money something costs and how much happier we think we'll be once we own it.
We also need to appreciate things for what they are. Objects don't change who you are and they won't make you happier – you are you, and things are things. Although on a certain level we know that what we own won't make us any happier, we get tricked in to thinking this way all the time.
It is important to consider the problem of your own consumerism in detail, examining your attitudes from all angles before trying to do anything practical. This will get to the root of the problem, rather that offering superficial advice or tricks to try and fix everything as quickly as possible.
The main aim of 'The Joy of Less' is to help people re-evaluate how they think about possessions, and I think it's a great book that will help you get back in control your stuff. However, the way the author talks about change applies to other things as well and reflects the an important psychological principle that I discuss with clients every day: sustainable change depends on a thorough understanding of the problem before attempting to do something about it.
Here's four steps to help you declutter your life.
- What do you gain by doing things the way that you're currently doing them? What are the deeper reasons behind your current behaviour? For example, you may find that you can't bear to throw away that heirloom because you're worried about what your family will say. Or maybe you're often arguing with your partner because you're stressed about other things and haven't developed effective strategies for dealing with stress.
- Work out the true cost of not changing. What are the long term costs to your relationships, your stress levels, your health, and your ability to fulfil your purpose in life? Don't just think about the money and time cost.
- Be prepared for the pain of change and focus on the goal. Acknowledge that change will be difficult and unpleasant in the short term, but have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and why. This could be as simple as a having a written statement or mantra that you can use to remind you of your goals, such as “I know it'll be hard, but I'm not going to get frustrated by traffic today because it'll just make me feel more angry and my frustration won't fix anything.”
- Go small. Big changes usually aren't sustainable and are more difficult to achieve. Start making small changes that will give you a high chance of succeeding. Once you've succeeded with a small goal, you'll feel positive and energized to tackle the next milestone.
"Decluttering is like dieting. We can jump right in, count our possessions like we count calories, and “starve” ourselves to get fast results. All to often, however, we'll end up feeling deprived, go on a binge, and wind up right back where we started. First, we have to change our attitudes and our habits... Instead of being a short-term fix, it'll be a long-term commitment to a new, wonderful way of life."