Aspen Untucked: Less is more … why decluttering and simplifying makes us happier
October 4, 2017
Do you ever just feel as if you have too many things? Like everything you wear, collect and store has more business taking up residence in a trash can, a fireplace, or at the very least someone else's house?
That's the feeling I've been having as of late when it comes to just about every item in my home. Perhaps it's a quality of fall time, when wardrobes switch from jean shorts, maxi dresses and sandals to long underwear, thick sweaters and snow boots. It's a time when we take stock of all of the things we bought over the summer that we just had to have. The things that will now go in boxes marked "summer clothes" as we sift through storage to pull out the containers labeled "winter gear." However, even though we may be overwhelmed by all of our things, we still get caught up in the fads, ordering more goods to add to our collections of crap. It's a vicious cycle and one that I fully participate in. But recently, I've wondered if there's another way to do it, if a life stuffed full of material possessions isn't the only option.
Enter my latest obsession: minimalism. This is a lifestyle in which people simply choose to live with fewer things. I've heard about this concept over the years, however I actually started paying attention to it recently after watching a documentary on Netflix called "The Minimalists." It follows the story of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who wrote the book "Everything That Remains" in 2014. Since then, they've written several other books, created a website, a podcast and a documentary about their way of living, which is essentially adhering to the statement that less is more.
When I started "The Minimalists" documentary, I was quite certain it would bother me and that I would vehemently disagree with Nicodemus and Millburn's style of living. I was surprised to find myself downright smitten with their message. They weren't pushing anything on anyone, they were just telling their stories. Both had worked high-paying corporate jobs that enabled them to buy whatever they wanted and live where they wished. They thought they had made it because, well, what they had is basically our society's definition of success. But neither were particularly happy. They thought buying more would make things better, but material possessions only left them with more of a burden. When they stripped those things away and only the necessities remained, they were so much happier.
Turns out that this happiness feeling they both had, and still have today, can be directly equated to having less s—. Psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner wrote a piece a while back for Psychology Today on why holding onto things can be damaging. Basically, it's due to the reason we hold onto it. We're projecting memories and experiences onto many of the items we decide to keep around, but that projection isn't even authentic.
"What we fail to recognize is that we are the embodiment of our experience," she wrote.
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Not only do we use objects to store our memories, Baumgartner said they also act as a distraction so we don't have to deal with deeper issues we may be dealing with.
This point hit home for me. I love to keep all kinds of things from friends and family I have lost, but what I've had to learn over the years is that the people I care about don't live in these things. They live in the memories and feelings I have of them. Keeping a shirt or a hat won't keep them alive, but remembering them does.
Even the less important things that clutter our lives — such as perfume samples, beer koozies, bumper stickers, etc. — aren't doing us any mental favors. When we have clutter in the way, it's difficult to enjoy daily tasks in life, according to wellness advocate and healthy home designer Darcey Rojas.
I find this to be a very important point and one that I often forget. If I have a cluttered kitchen, I'm less likely to want to cook, which is something I typically love to do. If my closet is full of junk that I don't want to wear, then simple things like getting dressed in the morning become the most aggravating challenges. I can see that it's a similar challenge for my boyfriend, who I share a closet with. I'm the one who puts away our clothes, but when I'm in a hurry I shove things aside to deal with later. They often end up in cloth bags, which annoys him to no end. Because of my tendency to store things in this manner, we often find items like a Camelback or flashlight buried in a bag on our shoe shelf or in our underwear drawer. Suddenly, fun hobbies like going camping are no longer enjoyable, they become a chore, and when one of your favorite activities becomes that stressful due to material possessions, it's time for a change. At least, that's the resolution I've reached.
I'm still only in the beginning of my decluttering journey. I have a long way to go, and there are still many a cloth bag lying around, but I take steps to work on it every day. I'm not sure if I will ever be entirely minimalistic like Nicodemus and Millburn — I'm certain my shoe fetish wouldn't allow for that — but working to simplify through decluttering is a main priority. That, plus burning all of the cloth bags in our house.
Barbara Platts would like to make it clear that she still dreams of a walk-in closet filled with beautiful clothes, purses and shoes. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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