The Unexpected Joy of Downsizing Your Life

by

Your horde of belongings can go.

Woman in a white apartment hanging colourful decorations

Great art isn’t just the result of the brushstrokes you see on the canvas, or the notes that reach your ear. The genius comes from marks the artist didn’t make, notes the musician didn’t play, and words the author erased from the first draft.

But too often, we don’t apply this approach to the spaces that surround us. We mistakenly think that all empty space needs to be filled. We don’t appreciate that unfilled space can be beautiful and functional, too.

If your home is like most people’s, it probably contains half-completed projects, an old coffeemaker that you keep in the kitchen, a broken printer that holds up the working printer, and gifts gathering dust in cabinets, still in their packages.

Such homes are filled with what I call un objects: things that were unwanted and unopened, that go unused, that are unappreciated or simply unnecessary. Our society encourages “more” as the normal default setting, even when it means more useless stuff.

We mistakenly think that all empty space needs to be filled. We don’t appreciate that unfilled space can be beautiful and functional, too.

If the surfaces in your home groan under the weight of objects you don’t treasure and value, I promise you this: The stuff you own is not only consuming a huge part of your living space, it’s also hiding large swaths of a different life that would provide more joy than the one you’re now living.

Your mass of belongings – your “material convoy,” so to speak – is parked in front of a door that leads to somewhere better. But you can’t even find the door, let alone open it.

Where’s the real you under all that stuff?
Always remember: The paper, plastic, electronics, wood, and fabric clogging the typical home has power because it’s not just stuff. Every item in your home is there because you have allowed it into your space. Each has a history, an associated memory, and a cost, though you may not recognise them.

Your stuff displays the characteristics about yourself you choose to value. It tells the world, “This is how I imagine myself. This is how I spend my time. This is what I dream about.” Your stuff may tell your story more eloquently than your words ever could.

Our society encourages “more” as the normal default setting, even when it means more useless stuff.

To a major degree, the things you own help create the person you think you are. When you refer to yourself – when you say “I” – much of what you’re talking about is connected to your possessions.

Many of the items throughout your home are also tied to particular feelings. A lot of them evoke happy thoughts. But too often, others bring up a pang of sadness, anxiety, or guilt. These may only feel like a vague discomfort that you don’t fully notice. But even then, these feelings can still affect the direction you take.

To a major degree, the things you own help create the person you think you are.

The possessions around you can keep you locked into a particular life. But I’m guessing that as you look around your home, you didn’t consciously choose all these possessions that represent you. Nor did you keep them in your home for all the right reasons. Maybe they kind of showed up and never left. It’s definitely time for some of them to go.

Downsizing presents a unique opportunity to pause long enough to critically examine the objects surrounding you. It’s a chance to unburden yourself – before you step into your new life – from the stuff that’s keeping you from who you really want to be.

Clear away stuff that doesn’t represent who you are
Letting go of the following things will also free you to become more open, authentic, and true to yourself. How much of the stuff in your home is actually there because of these factors?

Laziness. These are the possessions you don’t even care enough about to throw away. “I don’t really need this stuff or even want it. But it’s not hurting anything. I’ll do something with it some other time.”

Forgetting to check the calendar. We outgrow possessions all the time: Our clothes get too small or go out of date, our interests change, technology becomes obsolete. So we buy new versions. But the stuff we no longer use stays behind, like hundreds of time capsules sitting on shelves.

Inattention. You buy things on impulse all the time without really thinking about why. Maybe you’re bored or hungry, depressed or anxious, or the tag simply has a low enough price.

Obligation. These are gifts or inherited items you didn’t really want and rarely use. But the idea of tossing them out makes you feel guilty, so they’ve remained in your home.

Imposition. Have your friends or relatives stored items in your basement or spare rooms, but “forgot” to come back to pick them up? Have you patched up a quilt for a friend or repaired a garden tool for a neighbour, and it’s still waiting for the owner to come get it?

You don’t need all this stuff. It’s concealing who you really are. All you need to keep around are the items that you treasure and the items that you use. That’s it.

 

This article is an edited extract from Let It Go by Peter Walsh, RRP $39.99, Rodale, out now.

Let it Go by Peter Walsh

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