You can live with less stuff than you think

Lulu Cheng
Sep 8, 2013 · 2 min read

An inventory of my belongings when I moved from New York to Seattle a year ago yielded one carry-on suitcase, two larger suitcases, and two small boxes. Situational factors played a role, no doubt. When your bedroom is a little over 50 sqft you economize out of necessity. And how much stuff can a single 23 year-old possibly have, anyway.

But I’ve since adopted the “less is more” philosophy as a conscious part of my lifestyle, e.g., for every new item of clothing I buy, I try to donate one, ideally two, equivalent pieces from my closet. I’m not advocating this approach for everyone, but it’s worth laying out some of the obvious (and not so obvious) benefits of owning less stuff:

The obvious:

You never live beyond your means.

You’re more productive. You spend less time, mental bandwidth, and physical energy maintaining, organizing, and replacing things. Time that can go towards more personally meaningful pursuits (like writing!).

Moving is way less stressful. You can feasibly ask friends to help out and be confident no one will hate you for it by the end of the day.

It’s where our (sharing) economy is going. Most of our media is already subscription-based: Netflix instead of DVD collections, Spotify instead of iTune libraries, Oyster instead of one-off ebooks. And services like Airbnb, Lyft, and Artsicle are making it more attractive to rent all kinds of physical goods.

The not so obvious:

You develop a better taste for quality. Everything you do own is usually pretty high quality for a given budget. This discernment translates to other aspects of your life—you learn to hone in on just the essential elements of a product or service.

You flex your creativity muscles. Instead of buying everything you think is cool, you think about what qualities make it so and how you can integrate more of that spirit into the things you create. You give more thoughtful gifts, favoring shared experiences over material things.

You’re more adventurous. You’re more inclined to spend time out and about, meeting people, experiencing new sights, sounds, and emotions.

You’re more adaptable. It takes less time to adjust to other cultures and settle in before you feel at home. The less physical baggage you have, the less cognitive biases you bring to interactions. You realize there are many different ways to fulfill the same need.

No matter where you are on the spectrum of “owning stuff,” it doesn’t take much to practice less consumption. Start small—knock off one or two things from your holiday wish list this year and spend time with loved ones instead. You’ll be surprised at how little you miss the things and how much you appreciate the shared moments.

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    Lulu Cheng

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