Why You Should Make "Less is More" Your Mantra for Life

Maybe you've heard the saying popularized by architect Mies van der Rohe in 1947:  "Less is more."

It's an oxymoron – a phrase that seems to contradict itself.  Others include "old news," "open secret," "unbiased opinion," and "awfully good."  Or the lament, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

What does "less is more" mean?  It's wonderfully open-ended.  Answers to that are as varied as the people who reply.  Consider:

  • Less anxiety, more peace.
  • Less debt, more savings.
  • Less busywork, more substance.
  • Less clutter, more space.
  • Less comparison, more contentment.
  • Less sugar, more vegetables.

less is more

Voluntary simplicity

Back in the 1990s, a fair number of Americans realized that the continual quest for more and better was stressing them out and keeping them from creating lives of purpose.  After the consumerist binge of the yuppie-era 80s, some started wondering if the big house, flashy car, exotic vacation, and Rolex were really worth what they cost in terms of time, energy, and ultimate satisfaction.  Life seemed to be about acquiring stuff and following endless to-do lists, and people started to feel like mere caretakers of things.

Many decided they wanted less consumerism and more control over their lives.  The movement was labeled "voluntary simplicity," an acknowledgment that members were choosing less, rather than having austerity forced on them.

Today, "less is more" is part of the minimalist movement, a lifestyle which separates needs from wants and chooses to own and do less for practical, emotional, social, and environmental reasons.

Going countercultural

Understanding that less is more takes practice, since you may have to challenge the beliefs and values you were raised with.  Our society bombards us with messages about how we need this or that product to find happiness.  Pretty soon, a new message says that now we need this other, newer, supposedly better thing to be really happy.  And that pursuit doesn't end.

Over and over again, studies show that it's not belongings that make us happy, or even secure.  Instead, relationships, experiences, and what we've learned make all the difference.  We pay lip service to this truth, but need determination to actually live it.

16 reasons to choose "less is more"

1.  Less clutter, more calm.

Science has proven that clutter stimulates cortisol levels, which elevate stress and anxiety.

In the same way that gazing at the uncluttered vista of an ocean or forest uplifts and relaxes us, an uncluttered home reduces stress.

There are many things in life we can't control, but our living environment isn't one of them.  When other things are chaotic, home can be a refuge.  Imagine coming home to a serene space where everything you own fits comfortably, with room to spare.  Imagine how comfortable you'll feel when home is simple and straightforward.

2.  Less clothing, more utility and creativity.

A minimalist wardrobe is a small, carefully chosen collection of versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched to create dozens of outfits.  This approach saves money, time, and space, and makes getting dressed an easier, less emotional project.

The process of minimizing your wardrobe also helps define your personal style and preferences.  It lets you wear your favorite pieces more often and get more creative about how you combine and accessorize them.

3.  Less clutter, more energy.

A cluttered home drains your energy.  Sometimes clutter is the result of lethargy, but clutter can also cause fatigue.  When you feel overwhelmed by your belongings, it's hard to muster the energy to deal with them.  You feel burdened by their weight.

Small steps to relieve clutter can give you inspiration, hope, and more vitality to carry on.

4.  Less spending, more saving.

A cluttered home demonstrates a spending problem.  This is true even if the items come from thrift stores and yard sales.  With shopping impulses out of control, you keep adding to your clutter and your debt.  Even if you follow a "one in, one out" practice, you may still be a slave to sales and trends, figuring it's no problem as long as you get rid of old stuff.

5.  Less quantity, more quality.

Start by choosing one luxury item over ten cheap products, but then apply this to everything.

Would you rather go on one excellent date per month, or a fast food date every week?  Would you prefer to go on a trip to your dream destination, or travel each quarter to places you don't care so much about?

When you're more selective with your choices, you're more satisfied with the results.

less waste, more green
6.  Less waste, more green.

Clutter creates huge amounts of waste, even if it's donated.  In fact, many of our clothing donations end up in landfills.

And that doesn't count the wastefulness of packaging and shipping things we don't need all over the world.  When you reduce consumption, you also reduce the garbage and emissions that harm our environment.

7.  Less clutter, more focus.

If your home is like the average American home, there are 300,000 items in it, from combs to coffee cups to comforters.

All of that clutter – stuff on the counters, piles on the tables, knickknacks, pictures, toys, and more – adds to the volume of visual noise.  Your brain struggles to tune it out so you can focus on important tasks and people, leading to fatigue, anxiety, and headaches.  It makes it harder to work, and can impair learning.

When you own less, you'll prioritize, concentrate on, and finish tasks with greater ease.

8.  Less furniture, more space.

My youngest grandson is at the "perfect" height to keep hitting his head on tables and desks.  He wants desperately to keep up with his older brothers, but lacks their coordination.  Bumps and tears follow.  Maybe having a bit more space would help him.

If you've been holding on to furniture you don't use, it might be time to let go.  Donate furniture that just sits in your spare room to make space for a yoga studio or an entertainment zone for your kids.  Get rid of the pieces you've stored in the garage and park your car inside.

Whether you live in a 3,000 square-foot home or a tiny studio apartment, less furniture equals more open space, which creates new possibilities.

9.  Less choice, more confidence and satisfaction.

Have you ever stood in the grocery store and felt confused about what to buy because there was just too much?  You're not alone!

Everyday decisions – big and small – have become more complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choices.  Even though we assume that greater choice insures greater satisfaction, the opposite is true.  Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice,* explains that choice overload can make you question your decision-making ability, create unrealistically high expectations, and take the blame for all failures.  This leads to avoidance, anxiety, and stress.

When you pare down your options, they become manageable.  You're more content with simple choices about what to wear, what to eat, and which mug to drink your coffee from when you have two choices instead of 20.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

10.  Less screen time, more life.

The digital generation is busy, busy, busy.  But what are we doing?  Often, it's not much.

Scrolling, browsing, and binge-watching not only leave us sedentary and uncreative, they shorten the time we have to do important tasks.  They steal our attention from the people right in front of us.  They make us unobservant of the real world.  And they remove any spontaneity from our existence.

Fortunately, we can change.  Limit screen time in favor of being present for your life.

11.  Less busyness, more time.

I'm not recommending that we neglect our responsibilities.  But why not take the opportunity to peruse your weekly schedule and cross off everything that's not essential?  You're left with more time and energy for activities that really matter to you.

12.  Less comparison, more connection.

The pressure to keep up with trends and social expectations can feel overwhelming.  It leads to feelings of envy, inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and dislike.  That's why our social feeds only show the highlights – we're all comparing and jockeying for acceptance and admiration.  This kind of rivalry (which we don't admit to) doesn't make for close, supportive relationships.

Do yourself a favor and compare less.

13.  Less complaining, more gratitude.

Complaining is easy.  Maybe it's human nature to notice danger and disaster (it's a survival mechanism).  But letting that be your focus makes you miserable and angry.  It makes you helpless, because you spend all your energy on doom and gloom, and none of it on solving problems and taking positive action.

Gratitude is the door to happiness.  Learning to pay attention to what's good helps you notice more and more that is beautiful and worthy of praise.  You start to see blessings everywhere!

14.  Less wishful thinking, more action.

We've all done it.  "I want to write a book."  "I want to lose 30 pounds."  "I want to learn Japanese."  "I want to run a marathon."  We have these wishes that we talk about, read about, and make aspirational purchases for.  Then we get busy (see #10 and #11), so we don't follow through.  And we regret and complain about our "lost dreams."

Instead, choose something you really want to do.  Think about one tiny step to get started (so tiny, you can't fail).  This isn't a purchase – it's an action.  Then take the action.

  • Write one sentence a day for your book.
  • Use mustard on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.
  • Get a free app and learn one word per day.
  • Run around the block every morning.

And repeat.

creative play
15.  Fewer toys, more play.

Are the toys out of control?  Decluttering is a great way to refocus on imagination and creativity.  Many studies show that with fewer toys, children share and collaborate more, play with each toy longer, and think of more ways to use what they have.  Fewer toys might mean smarter and happier kids!

These results may also hold true for adults and their hobbies.  By focusing on one hobby, we spend more time, gain more skill, and complete more projects.

Say goodbye to toy chaos, and to stepping and tripping on scattered items, since corralling fewer toys is so much easier.

16.  Less stuff, more generosity.

Decluttering gives you the opportunity to donate your excess items to people who need and will use them.  But it also lets you see, clearly and concretely, that you have enough.  In fact, clutter is a sign of wealth.  And once you understand that you're wealthy, you'll feel more gratitude and want to be even more generous.  It's a beautiful feedback loop.

My favorite oxymoron

I hope one or more of these "less is more" phrases inspires you, or that you'll come up with your own.  They seem to be contradictions, but there's plenty of truth to be found in all of them.  Try one today.

If you've ever dreamed of a simpler life with more time and energy for what matters to you, you need to downsize.

Downsizing can be hard, or it can be easier.  My book, Downsize Now, gives you the tools and inspiration to get the job done so you can start enjoying all the benefits.  You get all the joy of a clutter-free, fresh start, plus all the scientifically proven benefits of living without a load of useless baggage:

  • less stress
  • less indecision
  • less cleaning
  • less laundry
  • more clarity about your priorities
  • more ease in finding what you need
  • more focus and concentration
  • more energy and creativity
  • better sleep and overall mental health
  • a sense of accomplishment
  • more gratitude for all you have
  • more time, more room, and more money for what you care about

Get your copy of Downsize Now so you can start discovering these good things today.


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