Experiments in Living With Less
Many of us long for a simpler life free from the burden of our stuff, but we don't know how to achieve it. We are overwhelmed, and we feel trapped in our current way of life. But deep down, we believe that change could bring a huge payoff: more time and energy, more money, more freedom, more generosity, less stress, less debt, and less distraction. But how do we go about making that change?
Why not creatively experiment with a more minimalist approach to life to see whether the benefits are worth the effort?
The basic idea is to live without a particular possession for a limited amount of time, and then decide if you can or want to do without it permanently. A few examples might be going for 24 hours without a smart phone, or a month without TV, the microwave, or eating out. You might try limiting your wardrobe for a three month period, or removing a piece of furniture (like the desk you only use as a clutter catcher) to see how you do without it.
In our hyper-consumerist culture, we rarely consider the concept of "enough." As Patrick Rhone writes in his book Enough:
Enough comes from trying things out. It comes from challenging your preconceptions. It comes from having less, trying more, then reducing to find out what is just right. It comes from letting go of your fear of less. It comes from letting go of the false security of more.
Many of us are blessed to have no experience of living with too little. We don't know what it's like to be in need, so we don't really know where "enough" begins. We generally focus on increasing what we have, not reducing it. That perfect Goldilocks balance may be difficult to find, but it is worth it. How many shoes, outfits, plates, or chairs are enough? How many social or other activities?
You can experiment by storing some excess items temporarily while you decide if they are truly needed. I use the corner of one closet for this; sometimes I also use the trunk of my car. This gives me time to make a decision about possessions before taking the final step to remove them permanently. They're "on hold" for a predetermined time (usually a month or so), after which I reassess them.
I've done this with clothing, blankets, artwork, furniture, collections, sets of dishes, and the TV. Some people have done this with a car, a boat, even a room in their house (just close the door for a month).
Think of it as a fast. The point of fasting is to give up something (often food, but it can also be a physical item or an activity) so that we can pay closer attention to our deeper hungers and desires.
A fast helps us focus on what we truly value.
So why not try experimenting with less? You could temporarily resign from one commitment. You could make coffee or tea at home and skip Starbucks for a month. You might try to observe one "buy nothing" day every week (it's surprisingly hard to do). I'd like to try one day a week when we don't drive our car -- we can bike, walk, or stay at home instead. You could try vegetarianism, take a break from social media, or declutter the unused "good" china and the china hutch. Give yourself at least a month to live with the experiment, and then evaluate.
- Did you miss the item or activity?
- What were the positive effects of not having/doing this item/activity?
- Were there negative results of not having/doing this item/activity?
- What have you learned about yourself?
- Do you want to make this experiment, or a modified version of it, permanent?
- What will you choose for your next experiment?
It's not deprivation, it's research.
Resist stagnation, accept the challenge, and explore a different way of being.
Photo by Coen Van Den Broek on Unsplash