Our lives are incredibly complicated. This has become a fact of modern society as it seems that there is not a single task that we do on a daily basis that is cut and dry, simple. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we’re faced with a series of choices and challenges. One only needs to peek into their bathroom cabinet and come face to face with the plethora of scented scrubs, shampoos, and shaving gels to feel immediately overwhelmed. The fact is, we live in a consumer culture that tells us that we don’t only want 10 different products that all serve the same basic purpose – but we also need them for one reason or other.
As a result of this nagging urge to have the most, best products – from electronics, to clothes, to cars, and everything in between – we’ve amassed way more stuff than we probably could ever use … let alone really need. Although we might have purchased all of these things with the intention of improving our lives in some way, we’re finding that getting more stuff just for the sake of having stuff is doing the exact opposite.
Having too much stuff not only creates physical clutter (don’t think just because you jam all of last season’s clothing in a closet means it goes away!), but it creates mental and emotional clutter as well. Studies have found that too much clutter can lower your ability to focus and process information and even contribute to stress and anxiety levels. So, how can we avoid all of these adverse effects of too much stuff? Well, it all starts with learning to live with less.
The concept of living simply or with less isn’t about sacrificing or giving anything up; rather it’s learning to maximize the efficiency of the items we do have and trimming the fat from our lifestyles. It means stopping to think before impulse buying a new gadget and asking yourself if the short term value of that product is worth having one more thing to keep track of, make room for, and eventually dispose off?
When we are conscious of the choices we’re making and their potential unintended consequences – on us, animals, and even the environment – we will automatically use less, eat less, and ultimately need less. It might seem a little overwhelming to think about not impulsively getting “whatever’s new” next time you hit the mall, but there are many amazing benefits of learning to consciously live with less.
1. It Reduces Stress
To put it mildly, we give ourselves far too many choices and contemplate far too long over them. We have eight devices to cut up vegetables. We have twenty-seven different button-up shirts to choose from for each working today. We spend oodles of time and money discerning that trinkets and mass-produced decorations will best define us. The whole thing, the desperately consumptive nature of it all, the need to pay for such overabundance, creates an amazing amount of undue stress on us, others and the earth’s resources. Simplifying life reduces all of that white noise.
2. It Builds Self-Awareness
Once we consider what we need versus what we have, we become acutely self-aware of how we are measuring up. We become more in tune with our own extravagances (which don’t necessarily constitute self-judgment), an awareness that makes us self-regulate these imposed consumptive natures. We eat less. We use less. We “need” less, so we waste less. What’s more is that we continually reevaluate these life elements and adjust accordingly, such that we unburden ourselves, others and the planet, and that makes for cleaner, happier selves in a cleaner, happier world.
3. It Costs Less, for Us and the Planet
Obviously, living minimally means spending less money on stuff we don’t need. This means the financial pressure many of us feel is drastically reduced. It also means there is more money to spend on stuff we do need, such as healthy food, quality household items and actively enjoying life. This also means a huge reduction of the pressures we put on the planetary resources with product manufacturing and disposal. With financial necessities minimized, life, in general, can be less dependent on stressing our need for money and more focused on the benefits of living well.
4. It Opens Up Space to Breathe
None of us are above it, and none of us are without the need for distraction; however, the consumer culture lifestyle is too replete with it. We move through our personal activities with a disturbing numbness. Just think about it, how many times have you checked your phone for a text message or mindlessly scrolled through your social media feeds today? Some might say that we live in a world that is overstimulating, when in fact, these “stimuli” are actually fleeting and wildly unsatisfying. We share, repost, and comment with no regard to what it all actually means, but what if we chose to focus on experiences and real-world conversations instead. Suddenly, we’re more attuned to the world around us and take note of how our actions, words, and choices impact others.
Living with less doesn’t have to be the cruel fleecing of all we own and adore. It can simply and wisely be a recognition of what we have, what we do and what we want as something that counts. We should make it count. If these things matter, then life matters more. If life matters more, then the planet matters more. In other words, simplifying can actually bring a lot more to our lives and our interactions with the planet.
Image source: Woodleywonderworks/Flickr