If you’re like most, you’ve collected a bunch of stuff over the years. Believe it or not, too many things that crowd our space can also crowd our minds and undermine our quality of life.

“Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.” - Nicholas Burroughs

Are you familiar with a minimalist way of living?  

Maybe you are enthralled by those that lodge in tiny houses - quaint, no frill homes that inhabit less than 600 square feet, some even as small as 96 square feet.

Or perhaps you are one of the millions swept up in the Marie Kondo craze, rummaging through the mountain of clothes in your closet to figure out what sparks joy - as in, what to keep - and what to give away.

So what exactly is a “minimalist” lifestyle, a growing movement that is catching on as an alternative way to live amongst our materialistic, consumerist society?

First, the bare facts

It is no secret that as Americans, we love our stuff.

In fact, our country spends $1.2 trillion every year on non-essential items. As a result, almost half of us are unable to put money away into savings each month.

Consumption of stuff is not unique to our country either; just 12% of those living in North America and Western Europe consume 60% of the world’s material goods alone.

In an attempt to organize our lives amongst the clutter, we spent $16 billion on home organization-related items and services in 2016 - an industry projected to grow 4% each year.

Managing our stuff is not only expensive, it is a time-waster as well. Over our lifetimes, we will spend 3,680 hours, or 153 whole days, looking for our misplaced things.

Less is more when it comes to our happiness

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that buying and owning the stuff we desire will keep us satisfied and happy.

But research widely shows that actually the opposite is true. Leading a lavish, materialistic lifestyle does not contribute to any more of our happiness.

Buying new things more often than not drives us to buy even more. You bought a sharp new suit. Now you have to buy new shoes and a belt to match. Or to go along with that new gym membership, you purchase workout clothes, water bottle, and a heart monitor.

One buy leads to another which leads to another, and more stuff is shown to cause emotional distress in the forms of depression and anxiety.

For this reason, many gravitate toward a more minimalist lifestyle to seek a greater sense of fulfillment.

Why we can live better with less

A person living a minimalist life intentionally lives with less.

Less clothes in the closet, keeping only those few items that are worn consistently. Fewer decorations in the home, only hanging on to those that have personal meaning and value. Less furniture on the floor, leaving only the pieces that are used every day.

By definition, living with less redirects our attention, energy, time, and money away from unimportant things, and toward pursuing what is most meaningful in our lives.

It eliminates the distractions from what is essential.

This means we will have more resources and bandwidth to be more creative, more productive, and more focused on accomplishing what we want.

Ways to shed your stuff to live more simply

Want to try living better with less? Follow these practical tips to lighten your load and free yourself up for more of what matters.

Declutter a little bit at a time, every day. In the beginning, start small. Dedicate just five minutes a day to decluttering your space. Once you get the hang of the process, you can spend more time on it each day. A great goal is to donate one item you do not need every day. This is made easier by filling up a trash bag with unneeded goods. Once the bag is filled, bring it to a local donation center.

Use the “4-box” technique to help clean up your space. It can be overwhelming to know where things should go when faced with a pile of stuff cluttered around the house. To help, grab four boxes and label them as “keep and put away,” “donate,” “trash,” and “store,” filling each box with the items you find in each room.

Give away your unworn clothing. The startling truth is that we actually only wear around 50% of the clothes that we own. Spending a few minutes in your closet each season to remove the items you hardly touch and donating them to a local clothing donation drive is an excellent, worthy use of your old threads. Chances are high you will not even miss them - and you will be providing much-needed goods for others who could use them.

Follow the 90/90 rule to determine what you really need. When it comes to our stuff, we sometimes get stuck in deciding what we truly need. You might not be using an item today, but what if you need it in the future? Is it better to hold on to it just in case? The 90/90 rule can help get us un-stuck from this mindset. The rule is simple. Find an item, and ask yourself: “have I used it in the last 90 days? If not, will I use it in the next 90 days?” If the answer is no, then let it go.