How much do you really need?

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I was one of those people who put too much emphasis on work and career and material possessions, and it took its toll on all my relationships, on my physical health, my emotional and mental health.
~ Tony Shalhoub

We don’t ever really need much to be comfortable in life. Yet if you look at the barrage of advertising around us, you’ll be uncertain if that’s true. There are so many products and services competing for our attention, and shopping has become a national pastime.

Much of our stress is created by consumerism, and the debt we often incur to fuel that steady stream of purchases. The media constantly reinforces the idea that ‘stuff’ makes us happy, and that success is having a gigantic house, filled with gadgets, appliances, expensive furniture and toys.

But is that really true?

How much do you really need? And how much of what you already have do you actually use?

Haven’t you ever known happiness with just the barest of possessions?

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A few years ago I joined my husband in Palau, a small island nation in Micronesia. I took one suitcase with me, and I lived out of a hotel room for six months. The room was comfortable, but by no means palatial. There was a tiny bar fridge and an electric jug, a simple bathroom, a bed, television, cupboard, desk and two chairs. The big luxury was air conditioning!

I got used to having one bowl, one plate, one cup. I had a place for my computer, a few books, some simple toiletries, and  a small assortment of clothes. But it wasn’t a hardship. In fact, there was something very liberating about having so few possessions, and an uncluttered schedule.

When I finally came home to Australia, I wandered around my home for months afterwards, wondering how I’d managed to accumulate so much stuff. In fact, I’m still influenced by that period in my life.  Anywhere I can simplify now, I do.

I’m not advocating that you get rid of all your belongings. I’m advocating simplicity. And I’m suggesting that it is better to have one thing that you love, than twenty things to which you are indifferent. It’s better to be happy living an authentic life that gives you gratification, where you’re following a path that makes your heart sing, than to do something purely for the money, and then using that money to buy stuff you hope might make you happy.

Work out what your priorities are. (This post can help you do that.)

Declutter. Not just your house, your life! Unsubscribe, free up some time, let go of some responsibilities or get help to complete things you haven’t done and need to. Getting rid of clutter frees up our creative and emotional energy. (More ideas on that here)

Simplify.  Use the Rule of Three.  If you haven’t used it, worn it or remembered you even own it in the last three years, get rid of it. Some people are more ruthless than that, and use a Rule of Two or even One! Of course you need to exercise some common sense here, but almost everyone I know has accumulated things they know longer want or need. You can give it away, throw it out or sell it to make some spare cash.

Reconnect.  With family, friends, your lover, yourself. On your deathbed it’s never the giant plasma screen tv or the ferrari you’re wanting, it’s a loved one to hold your hand.

The one thing most of us complain we don’t have enough of is time. By simplifying our lives, we can usually reduce stress and free up time to gift back to ourselves. Love, time, freedom, pursuing things important to us, reducing financial pressure – all of these are good for your soul, and they’ll give you a sense of fulfilment that material things never can.

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There are some more great resources to get you thinking here:

Tom Shadyac’s Interview with Oprah

How to Simplify Your Life

Five great ways to achieve happiness through serving others

Hi! I'm Nicole Cody. I am a writer, psychic, metaphysical teacher and organic farmer. I love to read, cook, walk on the beach, dance in the rain and grow things. Sometimes, to entertain my cows, I dance in my gumboots. Gumboot dancing is very under-rated.
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17 thoughts on “How much do you really need?

  1. I live in a pretty small apartment, so I am constantly in a war against clutter. I have gotten pretty ingenious and storing stuff, but when I travel and get to spread out in uncluttered spaces? I love it.

  2. Oh baby, am i GLAD i read this this morning! I am starting my CLEAN UP today. I have lots of memorabilia and cards and projects collecting dust right now i feel stymied! I was certain that when i got back from Alaska i’d go RUNNING to my paints and start brushing mountains and glaciers, icebergs and waterfalls. And, honestly, all i can think is there’s probably so much dust and so many dustbunnies under my bed i could gag and die, not to mention sweat like a pig in that part of my box-like apt. No A/C wall unit in the bedroom. Anyhow, i’ve KNOWN that decluttering and cleaning would be just the ticket to motivating me anew! I need to review your recommendations to “start in one area”. I brought heaps of stuff back from AK and B.C., so what pile of dust will i put them on? xo Thanks again for the Peace and thoughtful suggestions.

  3. If a Martian were to arrive on our planet and observe what’s going on, he’d wonder what on earth is driving this accummulation of stuff. If he were to walk into the room I’m typing this in he’d be able to point to all sorts of things and ask ‘what’s this for?’ ‘why do you have this?’ and I wouldn’t really have an answer. I’m going to use this little Martian to help me have a clear out. Whenever he asks me why I have something and I can’t give a good answer, I’m going to get rid of it. Thank you for this post Nicole, I love decluttering and it’s a while since I’ve done it. I can imagine how you felt in that hotel room. I’ve had similar feelings while travelling, having just one cup, one fork, etc. and not having to worry about clothes because I just wore what I had that was that was clean, and circulated the few items I had. It is, as others have said, very liberating.

  4. I have to be reminded of this every year or so. I know what you mean about that liberating feeling when one declutters. Maybe it’s human nature or just me, but in a few weeks, I start collecting stuff again. 🙂

  5. Very timely. We’ve been doing a lot of work around the house, and are trying to simplify with one hand and complicate things with the other. It’s an on-going struggle. Thanks.

  6. I find when you bring something home, something needs to leave. Otherwise, this is a very easy way to get totally out of balance. You continue to accumulate unnecessary things without really appreciating what is, & what you already have.
    I also found that traveling is a sure way to find out how little you really need. If you can live out of suitcase for 6 months, it’s amazing in comparison how much closet space we need for just a week.
    Come for a visit!

  7. A timely reminder Nicole as I too have been feeling the need to downsize and simplify. I also just love Tom Shadyac’s interview with Oprah and the clip from his documentary looks amazing. I’d love to play it on every TV station simultaneously one night. Talk about waking up the masses! Thanks again. X

  8. It’s just so easy to accumulate stuff even when you are careful not to. The other day, I noticed three pairs of running shoes under the hall table. All mine. How did that happen? My daughter gave me three of her “old” pairs. Nice of her, sure. But seriously, I don’t need to own three pairs of runners.

  9. I’ve been actively trying to reduce clutter and unnecessary “stuff” in my life- possessions, thoughts and people. I know this sounds bad but I think to be truly happy we need to be surrounded by people who are positive influences and immersed in what makes us happy. I am finding physical possessions to be the hardest thing to give up funnily enough. Hopefully when I move in September I will be able to cut down my possessions. I will be extra motivated but the need to pack light and move as little as possible.

    Thanks for the post. So relevant to my life right now!

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