The acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness. In fact I believe the contrary to be true. Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote an article about happiness in the New York Times. She writes:
New studies of consumption and happiness show that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses. Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness.
One major finding is that spending money for an experience produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money material goods. I would much rather put my money toward concert tickets, French lessons, guitar lessons, science classes, camping trips, and excursions to Europe or other countries. As professor Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia) said: If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right.” We can reminisce about our experiences. Interestingly, no matter how many less-than-pleasant experiences come with it, we often remember the experience as a whole in a rosy, positive light.
In his blog “Becoming Minimalist,” Joshua Becker lists 12 reasons why you’ll be happier in a smaller house. Living in a small apartment, I can identify with many of his points. For instance, it is easier and faster to clean and maintain. It is less expensive. We accumulate fewer possessions and are forced to get rid of excess, which is mentally freeing. Joshua states, “As is the case with all of our possessions, the more we own, the more they own us.” Living in a small home also encourages family bonding because we are closer together and interacting with each other more than we would in a larger home. Joshua mentions that a smaller home requires less resources to build and less resources to maintain. I would rather have a small home in a great location. I love living in Maine. Even more ideal would be to live somewhere within walking distance to the beach, hiking trails, or perhaps a subway station in a big city such as Manhattan or Boston.
When we moved to Maine a few years ago, we left everything behind that would not fit in the moving truck. We gave our lawnmower, table saw, chainsaw, and other large items to our neighbors. Moving into a small furnished apartment, we decided to rent a storage unit in which to store our large couch, refrigerator, oven, and many containers of various items that wouldn’t fit in the apartment. I totally regret doing this, as we have been paying $130 monthly for three years, storing things we don’t absolutely need. We have decided to get rid of our storage unit. I have just begun emptying it out and eliminating more paraphernalia. The girls decided they want to all share a bedroom, which makes the third bedroom handy for storing the few items we want to keep.
Over time we have been constantly getting rid of things, and the girls have been learning important lessons in the process. They know that on the rare occasions we purchase something new, we will usually also get rid of something we have. They actually initiate the purging of their toys, clothes, and other infrequently used items. They enjoy going through their things and donating them to friends, Goodwill, and the library. Living simply is much less stressful, and it forces us to be more organized and creative with our space. I am often tidying up, discarding from, and organizing the drawers and desks at the nursing unit stations at work because I can’t stand clutter and chaos. ;-) I find that having less clutter and fewer things to overstimulate is calming, liberating, and results in fewer distractions.
Joshua posts some compelling reasons and suggestions for purging your books. I don’t believe we need to have shelves full of books taking up space in our home. We have libraries, many with interlibrary loans so we can reserve books from all over the state, and even the nation. A few years ago I started taking notes and recording excerpts from books and articles which were meaningful to me, and saving them in a digital document. Although people may still occasionally prefer and enjoy the experience of turning the paper pages of a book, I think the iPad and Kindle reader will mostly replace them. We have very few books left on our bookshelves at home; we have donated many to the library, which we visit frequently and appreciate for the many books we check out…for free.
Joshua also writes a thoughtful post about pursing the invisible rather than the visible:
The most valuable things in life can not be seen with the naked eye: love, friendship, hope, integrity, trust, compassion. And things like music, scents, silence, and memories. These are the things that bring substance, fulfillment, and lasting joy to our lives.
We often spend our time and energy focusing on material possessions–things we can see, such as big, beautiful homes, nice cars, and more furnishings and gadgets to fill up our large homes. And still we’re never fully satisfied or fulfilled by these things. We really don’t need much of what we have. Having meaningful relationships and experiences and creating memories will bring the most value to our lives.
Leo Babauta lists some useful tips on creating a minimalist home. I may not be a hard-core minimalist yet…but I’m getting there.