If you’re a friend of mine reading this and have been to my house before you’ll know I don’t own much. My bedroom consists of the following things.
- A dog crate
- A shelf with a trash can on it and a couple of books (Good Poems and Aesop Fables if you must know)
- Four sculptures on the wall
- Three giant white boards so that I can unleash the cluster-f*ck know as my brain.
I don’t even own a bed (long story).
For me when I have too much stuff I tend to get flustered, anxious, and feel trapped. I’m more easily distracted, less creative, and generally less happy. It almost feels like I’m consumed by “my stuff.” Sort of like it owns me or something.
Hell, even too many tabs open on my desktop and I can barely write a sentence.
Am I weird? It’s very possible that I am… but I’m ok with that. But I’ll be darn it, I can’t do clutter.
There are some folks out there where chaos works well for them. Take a look at Einsteins desk the day he died for example.
Some research suggests that if you need to do what is expected of you opt for nice and tidy but if you want to unleash your creativity opt for chaos and anarchy (ok, maybe I’m extreme there but you get me right?)
Now this post isn’t about whether or not you should have a messy or a tidy desk. It’s about why we hold on to stuff and not just those material items that we think will provide us with more happiness.
Yvon Chouninard put it so wonderfully when he said, “we’re not longer citizens, we’re consumers.”
I believe we’ve embraced this roles as well. It’s become a part of our identity and a symbol of prestige and significance. The more stuff you have the better you are.
It’s almost as if we feel it is our duty to consume more… more… and more…
More love, more money, more food, more stuff
THE MEANING OF LIFE…SORT OF
In the 80’s comedian George Carlin went on a little rant making fun of western culture and the desire to collect and hold onto “stuff.”
- “…The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff…”
- “…That’s all your house is, a pile of stuff with a cover over it…”
- “…And when you leave your stuff you’ve got to lock it up. You wouldn’t want someone to come buy and take your stuff…”
- “…Storage, there’s an entire industry designed for holding on to your stuff…”
You can watch the video in its entirety here
Now I can only speak for myself here but I have never once felt complete or like my life had meaning when I was eating a piece of cheesecake, buying a big screen television, or holding onto a toxic relationship.
I’ve found more zest and vitality from far more simple things, Experiences like:
- A good conversation over a great cup of coffee
- Singing one of my favorite songs in the shower
- Laying on the roof staring at the stars with a good glass of wine and even gooder (yes gooder 🙂 ) person to share the moment with
- A kiss from the right person
- An art exhibit that reminds me there is more world than I could ever have imagined.
- An outdoor hike
WHY WE HOLD ONTO STUFF
There really are only a few key reasons as to why we hold onto “stuff.”
- The idea that we’ll need it later
- Sentimental value
- Afraid we’ll never get it back
- Spend good money on it and we need to keep it.
These four reasons revolve around the pleasure versus pain principle. When we have to let go of something we feel connected to we feel pain from it and damn it, not of us want to actually experience pain right?
About a month ago I got an email from my mother letting me know that someone had purchased my Grandmothers home in Vienna only to tear it down and rebuild.
I was upset, angry, and generally hurt. I had so many memories growing up in that house. I had so many experience with people who meant a lot to me in that house.
Why did it hurt so much? I will always have those memories, pictures to reflect on, and conversations to be had with those that I spent time with there.
It’s partially because the more committed you are to something emotionally, financially, spiritually, etc… the more pain it is likely to produce. This is why losing loved ones, your home, or meaning can be so uncomfortable and painful.
Now I’m not saying to never commit to anything. In order to experience great pleasure you have to be willing to accept the possibility of great pain. That’s the power of vulnerability (something I think most of us have a hard time with.)
THE ENDOWMENT EFFECT
The endowment effect states that people assign higher value to certain things simply because they own them. This goes for almost anything; from a pair of concert tickets, to your home, and it even extends into our personal relationships. When something becomes “your property,” it is almost immediately assigned more value.
“…When tested experimentally the endowment effect can be surprisingly strong. One study found that owners of tickets for a basketball match overvalued them by a factor of 14 (Carmon & Ariely, 2000). In other words people wanted 14 times more than others were prepared to pay. However, this is a particularly high one and the ratio will vary depending on what it is…” –psyblog
The endowment effect is strongest when it comes to very personal items, items that are associated with a sense of you who are as a person. Examples would be memories, jewelry or gifts from loved ones, or items you’ve had for a very long time.
However, as David McRaney suggests there is a misconception we need to be aware of when it comes to our “stuff.”
Misconception: “You prefer the things you own over the things you don’t because you made rational choices when we bought them…”
The Truth: “You prefer the things you own because you rationalize your past choices to protect your sense of self…”
- We do this as consumers with the brands we are loyal to (cough) Apple (cough) We’ve associated so much of our self with the product that even if a similar product that is much cheaper comes along we will stay with what we are familiar with.
- We do this with relationships as well. Holding on to certain ones for to long because if we don’t it’s a shot at our self.
- I’m sure you can see this happening in other areas as well too. Maybe in your career, exercise routine, or nutrition plan.
3 KEYS TO HAPPINESS THAT DON’T INVOLVE MORE STUFF
Eric Barker over at Barking Up The Wrong Tree shared this study a little while back.
“…This study examined the contributions of orientations to happiness (pleasure, engagement and meaning) to subjective well-being. A sample of 12,622 adults from the United States completed on-line surveys measuring orientations to happiness, positive effect, negative affect, and life satisfaction. A sample of 332 adults from Australia also completed these surveys as well as a measure of the big five factor personality traits. Hierarchical regression generally supported the hypothesis that the three orientations to happiness predict subjective well-being (satisfaction with life, positive affect and negative affect) beyond sociodemographic variables and personality. Meaning and engagement explained the greatest variance in all three components of subjective well-being. Overall, these findings support the importance of a eudaimonic approach in addition to the hedonic approach to achieving happiness. Moreover, findings were relatively consistent in both the Australian and US samples…”
So simplified the three keys to lasting happiness are:
- Pleasure: Stuff that feels good in the moment
- Meaning: Things like your beliefs, religion, philosophy, and virtues/morals
- Engagement: Experiences, activities, friends
Meaning and engagement are the hardest to come by that’s why we often turn to pleasure to provide the majority of our happiness. We turn to things like food, sex (as a form of validation) and masturbation, drugs/alcohol, or impulsive spending and purchases.
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” – Dave Ramsey
By emphasizing more meaning and engagement in our lives you can create more long-term happiness.
Here are a few of my favorites plus a couple of my own that I feel have helped me.
- Mentally subtract something from your life: People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done. But what about the good things that did happen that might not have?
- Send a thankful message: Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps us enjoy what we have. Evoke it right now by sending an email, text or letter to someone who has helped you in some way. Thank them for what they have done for you, however small. It’s easy and quick and one study has found that practicing gratitude can increase happiness 25%.
- Spend money on someone else: “It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy. It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships. And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.” – I’ve found that the simple act of buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line works wonders.
- Get some exercise: It provides you with energy, releases tension, and makes you healthier. Even if you can’t workout go for a walk around the block with your dog or a friend. Take a break with a coworker and head outside for a bit.
- Listening to music: Music has had such a big impact on my life that I wrote an entire article about it.“…Music can influence mood in many ways but most people rate its power to manage our positive moods as the top reason they love music. We particularly like the fact that it can make our good moods even better…”
- Proper introductions: I remember jobs I worked where I had to wear a name tag. Anytime someone took a look at it and referred to me by my first name I could feel a rush of positive emotions come over me. This is something I practice every day. Make it a point to look at a name tag, to introduce yourself or ask someone their name when you meet them. I guarantee you’ll put a smile on their face as well as feel a bond with them yourself. And if you’re with other people introduce them. When I’m at restaurants I love asking the waiter or waitress what their name is and then introducing myself and the others at the table.
- Detach every so often: In a world that has made it easier for us to stay social and connected to one another through mediums like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it seems like it has also drawn us apart more than ever. Instead of having a face to face conversation with someone you can simply text them, Tweet them, or Facebook message them.
Every so often it might just do us some good to actually have some real contact. To stay of “The Book” or avoid text message and actually have a conversation over the phone or in person if you can. A real chance to connect.
There are so many more ways to create more happiness in our lives. What are a few strategies you have used?
A TYPICAL DAY WITHOUT MUCH STUFF
Often our hoard of stuff; wether it be physical stuff, emotional stuff, or just plain clutter keeps us from addressing the present and moving on towards the future.
Most of our days are filled with routine activities that are not very significant or exciting for that matter. So every once in a while we need a reminder that life is worthwhile, has value, and that there are good relationships out there to foster and grow.
We all want to be loved – To be happy – To be healthy – To have purpose and meaning.
This is often when we turn to our stuff or acquiring more stuff as a means to cope.
We are not our stuff, memories are always within us, letting go is freeing, and stuff will always just be stuff.
Take today to evaluate some things you may be holding on to. What can you let go of?
- Take photos of items you want to remember
- Start journaling as a way to remember your days
- Evaluate your personal relationships. Which ones contribute to a better version of yourself and which ones to you contribute to?
- Give away something you think may be useful to someone else
And most importantly connect. Some of our stuff is cool as sh*t. My iPhone, laptop, and a lot of other technology for instance but maybe today, and just today only turn off some of that stuff and really connect with someone else on a deeper and more personal level.
What areas of your life are you collecting stuff? How can you let go or stop accumulating? Post to the comments below.
Recommended resources for reducing your stuff:
- Life edited
- Becoming minimalist
- Simple dollar
- Graham Hill: Less stuff more happiness
- Dumb little man
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