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Why Getting Rid of Things Can Change Your Life

Simplification, decluttering, and the roots of well-being.

Key points

  • Owning less leads to a happier and more meaningful life.
  • Letting go of unnecessary things clears your physical and mental space.
  • You should prioritize experiences over possessions.
Source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

As the holidays rolled around this year, I (Suzie) told my husband (James) not to buy me anything. While I didn’t want to sound “bah humbug,” I already have too much stuff. I certainly don’t need another knick-knack.

Nor do I desire anything additional. I have no room for yet another item that will take up cherished space in our city home.

However, I mentioned there is one caveat: I will accept anything that can be consumed, like wine, chocolate, or flowers. Something that doesn’t leave a footprint and that I don’t have to maneuver around worrying about breaking, losing, or maintaining.

Our son chimed in to wisely suggest I add “experiences” to my list since they are more meaningful than things and are something that our family all enjoyed. I couldn’t agree more and was happy he brought this up.

The memories of experiences live on in our hearts and uplift us, which is in stark contrast to the dust that collects and resides on the numerous items we acquire over the years that often end up stressing us out.

“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.” —Nietzsche

I’ve always told James that excess things clutter my mind, like excess words clutter his. As a philosopher who is very deliberate and precise with his words, he got that instantly. So, we are on a personal mission to clean out our home in 2024.

My childhood home was recently put up for sale. My siblings and I spent a lot of time clearing it out and sorting through various pieces of furniture, beautiful ceramics, and random tchotchkes before the closing.

To make room in our home for a few beloved family heirlooms, we’ve been parting with objects that are no longer useful, in good shape, or “spark joy,” as popularized by Marie Kondo.

Science seems to support this simplification method as well.

In a 2021 empirical literature review of 23 studies that involved more than 10,000 participants, researchers found a positive relationship between “voluntary simplicity” (often used interchangeably with minimalism) and well-being.

Defined as “a lifestyle limiting possessions and clutter to live deliberately according to one’s purpose,” the term was first coined by social philosopher Richard Gregg, who wrote a popular 1936 book titled The Value of Voluntary Simplicity.

Since that time, others have expounded on the idea and that of minimalism with which it overlaps. Both terms share the core values of reducing consumption and redirecting one’s attention from physical accumulation and goods to personal growth and human good.

Practicing voluntary simplicity is associated with a myriad of psychological benefits, including enhanced mood, increased mindfulness, lower stress and anxiety, and better relationships, as reported in the recent Journal of Positive Psychology literature review study.

Recent research has seemed to catch up to what we humans have instinctively known and felt when in cluttered surroundings: When we tidy up our physical environment, our emotional space often follows suit and naturally cleans up as well.

Source: Pexels / Pixabay
Source: Pexels / Pixabay

Here are some suggestions to help you reap the benefits of decluttering your home:

  1. Reevaluate your belongings. Get rid of what is no longer useful or joyful. Let go of excess clutter. Simplify and share your surplus with others. Donate to a favorite charity. Discard anything in bad shape: Things that are tattered, broken, or stress you out.
  2. Resist a sudden urge to buy something new. Ask yourself if you really need it or if there is a void you’re trying to fill. Perhaps the purchase is an attempt to suppress an uncomfortable emotion. If so, is there a better way for you to manage than buying something? Perhaps call a friend or go for a walk outdoors to clear your mind.
  3. Reconsider buying mementos and instead gift experiences. Spending money on experiences rather than things is associated with greater well-being. Not only will you likely experience positivity in the moment but also down the road through the memories created. It’s a win-win for all.
  4. Recapture your memories by photographing your mementos. As we wrote in our previous post, capturing them digitally is one great way to savor your beloved mementos without taking up limited storage space in your home. You can revisit these treasured objects whenever you choose.
  5. Reinvest in relationships. Remember that relationships are key to well-being. The less upkeep we have for our physical environment, the more time we invest in what matters most: more meaningful things, like our relationships with friends and family.

In sum, simplifying our physical environments may also help us clean up our emotional environments. Letting go of clutter helps us feel lighter and less overwhelmed.

As a result, we feel more present in the moment, enabling us to connect more deeply with ourselves and others.

Facebook image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

LinkedIn image: Ground Picture/Shutterstock


Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right. Journal of consumer psychology, 21(2), 115-125.

Hook, J. N. & Hodge, A.S., Zhang, H., Van Tongeren, D. R. & Davis, D. E. (2021) Minimalism, voluntary simplicity, and well-being: A systematic review of the empirical literature, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 18:1, 130-141, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.1991450

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