The Case for Less is More
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
What’s the bigger message when a book like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese author Marie Kondo has been purchased by over six million people worldwide and has been on the best-seller list now for some 86 weeks? (Confession, I haven’t read it, but for my dear friend Pat, it truly did change her life.) Like the lyrics of the Vietnam era song told us, “there’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Except I think it is pretty clear, we’ve hit a tipping point.
In his now famous book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explains that “the tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire”. I believe we’ve reached a tipping point where we are collectively horrified to realize we’re drowning in our stuff and panicking about how to get our head back above water.
Joshua Becker was cleaning out his garage one spring day in 2008 when a passing neighbor made an off-hand remark, “you know what they say, the more stuff you own, and the more your stuff owns you.” The realization hit him like a bolt of lightning; he really didn’t need to own all this stuff. His little son had been waiting patiently all day to play ball with his dad when the garage cleaning chore was done. It struck something deep inside him and he made a resolution on the spot to change. Fast forward to today and Joshua’s blog, becomingminimalist.com (one I follow) has over 1,000,000 visitors a month, he’s gone on to write four books on the subject and is a frequent contributor to many newspapers and magazines.
What’s interesting is that the ideas that have made them each an icon, while brilliant, aren’t exactly new. The wisdom of simplicity goes back a few centuries before Marie and Joshua’s ideas went viral. I’m always amazed at the modern vibe that can be found in the philosophy of early thinkers. Humans haven’t changed that much in 2000 years. Many wise thinkers in ancient history made remarks that are just as timely now as they were when they were first uttered.
Here is an excerpt from an article in Yes! magazine by Roman Krznaric, “In the Western tradition of simple living, the place to begin is in ancient Greece, around 500 years before the birth of Christ. Socrates believed that money corrupted our minds and morals, and that we should seek lives of material moderation….. When the shoeless sage was asked about his frugal lifestyle, he replied that he loved visiting the market “to go and see all the things I am happy without.” The philosopher Diogenes, son of a wealthy banker, held similar views, living off alms and making his home in an old wine barrel.”
Wow! Now that is simplifying! Neither Joshua nor Marie would suggest we go to such lengths but instead urge us to learn just how much freedom is gained when we are less encumbered with belongings. Their message is not one of joyless austerity and doing without. It is living with just enough to satisfy our truest needs. Once we become intentional about it, it’s actually quite surprising just how little “stuff” we actually need.
Recently elected Pope Francis has created quite a stir by choosing to live in a small guest house instead of the Vatican palace and he seems to prefer taking the bus to riding in the papal limousine. His humble approach to life despite the fact he could opt for living in opulence has created followers among people of all faiths. The Pope isn’t alone. Simple living is a huge trend in a world of economic uncertainty, extended work hours and record levels of employee disengagement. People all over the world are looking for a life that is simpler, less stressful, less cluttered and one that offers more discretionary free time.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~ Socrates
In the quest to “know our why” and begin identifying those things that we cherish most, it may be wise to consider simplifying our surroundings in a way that makes sense to each of us. We all have things that create meaning for us and that will vary a lot from one person to the next. For a personal example, it brings me a great deal of joy to decorate our home for the changing seasons so getting rid of all my seasonal decor would be a negative. The process is as individual as we are and there is no right or wrong way to do it. It is something, however, that might be a consideration in our journey to become our best.
One thought-provoking 10-year study by UCLA indicated that for many families, the task of managing their material goods, their stuff, was a large source of stress that could actually lead to depression. But here is some good news! If you choose to pursue this approach to increasing the quality of your life there is an ever-increasing abundance of resources out there to help you in your quest to do something great!