Think of one or two coworkers you see regularly. Off of the top of your head, can you say how many outfits they own? Try this again, thinking about some of your friends or acquaintances. Chances are, you can’t put a number to it. Would you think less of these people if you could?
Often times our society pushes for one to have more. The unnecessary focus of this might be obvious, like the constant rotation of fads in attire. However, it might be more subtle, in the form of ads suggesting you trade in your car for a safer or more efficient model. Often times it seems “more” is actually necessary, as when you start thinking of buying a house with a bigger yard for the kids.
It’s true that sometimes you need to buy new things. All clothes wear out, all cars break down, and all families grow. However, the line between need and want can be blurry. When we don’t make a point of looking at what we really need versus what we want, the stress of life increases exponentially. By deciding not to own as much, you are free to enjoy what you have to the fullest.
Gratitude in “No”
Almost anyone can tell you that greed is bad. But not everyone can spot the way greed insinuates itself into our style of living. Often greed stems from being dissatisfied with what you already have. By appreciating what you already own, the desire to own more dissipates.
One great way to apply the skill of wanting less is to write a gratitude list. Start by writing down five things for which you are grateful. These can be material things, or they can be people, jobs and pets. Make a new list each day, starting by repeating the things you remember being grateful for the day before and building from there. Writing activates several parts of the brain that aren’t necessarily touched by just thinking, so actually writing down the list is important. You can also say your list aloud to yourself as you drive to work or school.
When you are grateful on a regular basis, you create a touchstone of reality to turn to whenever you find yourself tempted by all of the things you don’t yet have. You can remember that you are grateful for the very object you are trying to replace.
Chances are, many of the “things” on your gratitude list aren’t things at all. They are relationships and experiences; deep friendships, stunning sunrises seen by chance, or events with loved ones. By attributing value to these in the form of gratitude, you remove value from physical objects.
Forget Fear by Facing it
Insecurity often stems from fearing you will lose what you have or that you won’t get what you deserve. Because we worked hard to own what possessions we do have, we place a value on keeping them.
Face down the fears of losing and not getting by doing both on purpose. Go through everything you own, and decide if it is really something to hang on to. Many people keep clothes that they are sure will fit soon or come back into style, or games and toys their children have outgrown but which might be great for grandkids. If you don’t need it right now, give it away. As you give it away, pay attention to (or imagine) the impact you are having on someone else’s joy. They do not have to go without simply because you were willing to give up what you did not need.
The fear of losing what we have can tie us down and prevent us from doing the types of things we might otherwise do. A great example is “Grandma Moses,” an elderly woman who backpacked the Appalachian Trail. She didn’t do so for a long time because she had too many things to hang onto at home and feared she didn’t have what she needed. Ultimately, she ended up giving away most of her possessions and hitting the trail in tennis shoes and with a duffel bag of necessities. She decided to pare down her belongings to only what she truly needed on a camping trail, and in so doing was able to embark on an adventure that not only changed her own life but has inspired generations of hikers to come.
Having or not having shouldn’t dictate whether we follow our dreams. Having less can liberate you to travel to exotic places around the world. There are some great places that are very affordable and are quite safe to travel like Greece, after their financial crises.
Know What You Love
By getting rid of the things we don’t really need and letting go of seeking those same things, we are also free to discover what our true passions are. Many people try hobby after hobby trying to find something that gives life meaning. Instead, by giving up all of the accoutrements of these tried pastimes and distractions, you can discover where your talent and purpose lies.
What do you do well at even without all of the best gear? Can you whittle with only your pocket knife, or can you sing even when you can’t buy a top of the line guitar? Once you know what gifts you already have, you can focus yourself on those areas. Buying can be a great distraction from a lack of purpose and meaning, and even seem like a road towards these things. However, it is only ever that- a distraction.
Start at the heart and then get what you need, rather than getting what you want and hoping to find your heart there.
Look Only at Yourself
As you learn how owning less stuff gives your life more value, don’t pay attention to criticism of your choices. Often the ones who voice their negative opinions the loudest are the ones struggling most with their own journey like yours. By seeing your growth in valuing the right things in life, it is harder for them to turn their eyes from their own misplaced value. Pay attention to what is right for you, and find the value of more in less.