It was a beautiful spring Saturday in Vermont, and I woke with one goal in mind: clean the garage. After the long winter, I knew it was going to be an all-day project, so I set my alarm early to get a good start.
In the back of my mind, I envisioned my five-year-old son working hard alongside me. I would complete the overdue project and spend quality time with him, a win-win situation for everybody.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I imagined “cleaning out our garage” would appeal to a five-year-old, but that was my hope.
“Salem,” I instructed as we got started, “here’s what we need to do. This garage has gotten dirty and messy over the winter, so we’re going to pull everything out onto the driveway. Then we’re going to hose down the entire garage, and after it’s dry, we’ll put everything back more organized. Okay?”
I tried to make it sound as fun as possible.
I motioned to a plastic bin in the corner and asked Salem to drag it out. Unfortunately, it was a bin full of his summer toys that he hadn’t seen in months. Thrilled to pull his Wiffle ball and bat out of the pile, he quickly invited me to play ball with him in the backyard.
“Oh, man, I can’t play now,” I told him, “but as soon as I finish, we’ll play ball.”
With a pang, I watched Salem’s brown head disappear around the corner of the garage into the backyard.
Unfortunately, when my wife called us both in for lunch three hours later, I still wasn’t anywhere near finished.
After eating, I returned outside to the mammoth task that was still waiting for me, waving to our kind neighbor, June, who was working nearby in her garden. As the afternoon wore on, and I had to keep telling my son that I wasn’t yet ready to play, June discerned the frustration in my voice.
“Ah, the joys of home ownership,” she chimed in knowingly.
“Well,” I answered, “you know what they say: the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.”
What she said next would change the course of my life, “Yeah, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”
What did she say?! I don’t need to own all this stuff?
The possibility reverberated in my mind as I surveyed the fruits of my labor: a large stack of dirty, dusty possessions piled up in my driveway. Beyond the pile I could see Salem, now swinging by himself, in the backyard.
The clear realization I had in that moment changed me forever: Not only are my possessions not bringing happiness into my life, but, even worse, they are actually distracting me from the things that do!
And the rest, for me and for my family, is history.
When my wife and I agreed to pare down what we owned and keep only the items we needed and used, we experienced the benefits of minimalism immediately. We had more time for Wiffle ball because there was less stuff to clean and organize and manage. After removing 60 percent of our material possessions, we discovered a life with less stress, more energy, and more freedom. We also found relief in our finances—less to buy and less to maintain.
Some of our greatest needs were met by simply owning less stuff. But the benefits didn’t end there.
What we hadn’t seen coming were the ways in which owning less met deeper needs we’d unknowingly neglected. Our journey into minimalism became a spiritual journey that both challenged us to define our values and align our actions with them. By releasing what we didn’t need, we discovered life-changing benefits we’d never even considered.
Here are a few of the outcomes we never anticipated:
1. We identified our values and began to live in alignment with them. Once Kim and I put our heads together about how we’d live with less, we were freed up for what matters most. For us, that meant more time with the people we love. It also meant we’d have more resources to share with others. That’s something we already valued and practiced, but minimalism gave us the traction to give even more.
2. We chose work we loved. When we were no longer scrambling to work longer hours to buy the stuff we didn’t need and often didn’t use, we were set free to consider what type of work made our hearts beat a little faster. For us that meant pursuing a career that resulted in meaningful work, not just a larger paycheck.
3. We conserved the earth’s resources. Though we’d never intended to harm the planet, that’s exactly what overconsumption does. When we stopped buying more stuff, we removed an extra burden on the planet—both her environment and her people.
4. We experienced authentic satisfaction. When we were bullied by our culture’s insistent message to own more, we were never really satisfied. For a split second we’d enjoy the rush that comes with buying a new outfit or electronic gadget, but when the buzz wore off we were hankering for the next thing. The surprise of living with less was that, because our craving for more no longer had control over us, we discovered true contentment.
5. Our hearts were freed for what matters most. When we release what we don’t need, our hearts are set free—in supernatural ways—for what matters most. When our hearts aren’t glued to our temporal possessions, they are liberated to pursue happiness in more lasting pursuits.
I never would have imagined that a stressful Saturday morning in front of my garage would have led to so much richness for myself and my family. And yet I, and so many others, have enjoyed a deeper and more lasting satisfaction than we could have imagined—by simply owning less stuff.
Joshua Becker is the author of The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, a book that inspires others to find more life by owning less stuff. He is also the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist.
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