My dad has a favorite phrase: “Less is more.” He said it so much while we were growing up that we grew to anticipate when it was coming. We groaned. We rolled our eyes. We joked that the phrase would be what Dad would request on his tombstone. For a while, I even searched the internet for witticisms I could volley back to my dad when he pitched his favorite colloquialism our way.
“Less is more,” he’d say.
“Unless you’re standing next to someone with more,” I’d retort, “Then less is just pathetic.”
Fast forward almost twenty years, and I find myself striving for a minimalist life style. My husband and I have moved collectively six times since we’ve been together. Each time, we’ve celebrated the opportunity to purge our closets of unnecessaries. I’ve begun taking pride in having home for everything I own, and I start to go a little nuts when stacks of items are displaced. Much to my teenage self’s chagrin, I find that I agree with my dad more every day.
The concept of clutter as a joy thief resurfaced when a dear friend of mine responded to a previous blog. “I was thinking as I was falling asleep last night about how much of my joy is stolen because of my STUFF. A friend of mine is coming to stay with me this weekend, and I’ve been stressed out all week about cleaning the guest room. My bedroom stresses me out because of stacks of things that I don’t ever seem to have time to get to… It’s silly to have stuff around if it’s robbing joy!” When I asked my friend if I could share her experience, she joked about how she’d even send pictures of her “piles of junk” (her words) if it would help.
While we both laughed, I could not help but continue her wondering why we do this to ourselves. I’ve witnessed many people (including myself sometimes) grasp for the joy of buying something new (whether in the budget or not). A shopper’s high, they call it. But new stuff becomes old almost instantly. As it stacks up in storage as items you don’t use (or, in some cases, don’t even remember you have), a strange reversal takes place. Instead of you owning your stuff, your stuff starts to own you.
You have to clean it, move it, take care of it. You have to stare at it and maybe even feel guilty for having so much–spending so much–when so many others have so little–when you might have used those funds for something else.
I’ve heard parents speak of how grateful they are for their family’s generosity in providing gifts around the holidays. But as they watch their kiddos rip through package after package, not even spending time with the contents, they start to want different things for their children. They want to instill different values: time well spent, new memories made–not more stuff.
Now, I won’t go as far to say that we all should stop buying because all material things are always empty joy thieves. The world ain’t that black and white. But if we increase our awareness of the extremism our culture tends to promote in the “stuff” department, would we find more room for joy in our lives? Might we find more meaning and value in the blessings we already have if we’re not looking for the next new thing? Might we discover that less truly is, in the grand scheme of things, more?
I’m sure my dad is chuckling to himself somewhere because this revolutionary (cough cough NOT-so-revolutionary) way of thinking is finally hitting home. But I’m hoping to pursue this perspective and learn more about how my stress becomes less and joy becomes more. Message me with your own successes. And to you who are able, thank your Dad for those eye-rolling lessons he always pitched your way.