I read this great book last month:
It opens with a Will Rogers quote: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”
Isn’t it funny? Even as adults we’re still trying to impress each other.
Warning: Reading this book may lead to the frantic purging of closets, drawers and cupboards that require multiple trips to Goodwill and the curb. This behavior may also leave you feeling like the weight of the world is off your back … at least that was my reaction after just two dressers.
I often wonder about this phenomenon; why do we feel so much better when we get rid of stuff? What is it about stuff that is so burdensome?
In “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own,” author Joshua Becker wrote a personal note: “Amy, if you like the book, help spread the word. It’s important stuff!”
He’s right – it’s important stuff. I’m spreading the word!
The book begins with a story: “Our two-car garage, as always, was full of stuff. Boxes stacked one on top of another threatened to fall off shelves. Bikes were tangled together, leaned against a wall … Rakes and shovels and brooms leaned every which way. Some days we’d have to turn sideways when getting in and out of our cars to squeeze through the mess that filled the garage.”
Oh my gosh, he’s been in my garage!
Reading prompted multiple questions: Why are we working such long, hard hours just so we can buy, collect and store stuff?
Why? What’s the point of it all?
As a society we may be working more, but for what? I don’t want to live in a tree house, but my lifestyle is certainly far more extravagant than my parents, and far far more luxurious than my grandparents and their grandparents! I have a feeling they would be astounded at our wealth – I’ve seen the pictures of their poverty.
It’s hard for us in different ways. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires us to work longer hours, find multiple jobs, and make dual incomes. To alleviate the stress, many of us make it worse: We buy more (dopamine hit!)
And then, to take care of all our stuff, we have to clean it, organize it, buy more containers to organize it, and spend our precious weekends moving our stuff from one location to the other.
STOP the insanity!
We don’t really need to own all this stuff.
These were the words that changed Becker’s world in 2008 while talking to his elderly next-door neighbor as he struggled to clean his garage. While pulling out dusty, underused possessions, Becker noticed his son alone in the backyard. His son had wanted to play with him that morning, but alas, dad was too busy. “The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time. … It was piled in my driveway.”
This moment is when Becker’s journey into minimalism began.
The whole point is this: “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
Using both scientific studies and anectdotal stories, Becker tells us what our closets are telling us:
In America, we consume twice as many material goods as 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled and contains about 300,000 items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than PEOPLE! Home organization is now an $8 billion industry and still, one of out every 10 American households rents off-site storage, “the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades.”
We Americans have a personal-debt problem, with the average household’s credit card debt over $15,000 and the average mortgage debt over $150,000.
Debt makes us very very unhappy.
Becker wants us to see our overstuffed homes for what they are: distractions from the source of true happiness like relationships, free time, financial freedom and less stress.
He acknowledges it’s not easy, particularly for families with children, pets, and a lifetime of momentos. It takes a hard look and family agreement to know how to realistically downsize. It can take months and even years to change our habits and actually own less. I’m finding this to be true.
Purging is not an overnight phenomenon.
(I know, hadn’t I already done this?). Habits are hardwired. It’s very difficult to say good-bye. For instance:
I’ve kept my sun-bleached lifeguarding hair for TWENTY YEARS.
I made these crayfish claw earrings for my sister as a joke in high school or college. She kindly regifted them to me. I bravely tossed them. And now I’m actually sad because they’d make a great gag gift! See? That’s another reason we don’t throw away – sometimes we regret it!
A small white statue with a broken arm. It has sentimental value, but alas, it has sat at the back of my drawer for decades.
Do I really need a dusty tassle?
What this is and where did it come from?
Brynne has also caught the decluttering bug. Outside her bedroom I heard her say, “Paige! You can’t keep it! Does it SPARK JOY???!”
I purged most of our CDs and many many movies that I can stream from Spotify or Netflix.
I’ve still got drawers and file cabinets and rooms to go, but it feels SO SO good to have less stuff.
Read this book! (and no, I’m not getting anything out of this review.) Becker makes such a great case, I’m convinced that if we followed a path of minimalism (owning less stuff) we would reap the benefits Becker is seeing all over the minimalist world: greater joy, more contentment, increased generosity, more high-quality possessions, a better example to our children, less work for ourselves and others, less comparison, less distraction, and freedom to pursue what we were really put on this earth to do.
Though its not a religious book, Becker is a preacher (love that). He’s a seeker of happiness and enlightenment. He recounts the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus says to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. But when the young man “heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
I recently read in the New York Times, that it’s not possible to be an atheist: we all worship something. A good question for us all: What are we worshipping?
The More of Less was released on May 3 and after its first week, landed on many National Bestseller Lists:
- USA Today Bestsellers List: #10 in Nonfiction; #2 in Self-Help
- Publisher’s Weekly: #13 in Hardcover Nonfiction
- iBooks: #10 in Nonfiction
- Amazon: #1 in Several Categories
Becker also writes a great blog, Becoming Minimalist!
Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin are often referred to as the “fathers of the minimalist movement.” Becker? I’d say he’s a modern-day leader.
We don’t need to own all this stuff. I vow to keep trying.