“People often ask me, “What’s so great about being a minimalist?” I usually answer with one word: freedom.” Francine Jay
Does reducing clutter really increase your personal freedom? The simple answer is: Yes. However, in order to truly experience the freedom minimalism has to offer there are a few things you need to know and certain frameworks you need to put in place. However close you may have been to living simply in the past, this is about taking yourself to the next level. It’s about focusing in on the neglected areas of your life that are still holding you back from the full potential of this powerful lifestyle shift.
2.1 Clutter Is A Freedom Drain
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” Henry David Thoreau
There are several ways that clutter limits our personal freedom. We tend to think of its impact only in terms of our physical space, but its reach is far more pervasive. Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life. and Miss Minimalist blogger states that clutter negatively affects not only our physical, but also our psychological and financial freedom.
Physically speaking, our freedom of movement is extremely limited by excess material goods, both in the more obvious terms of moving around within our home or workspace as well as our ability to move from one living or work environment to another. Owning more than we need or holding on to things “just in case” adds up quickly and creates ongoing stress and literal headaches when it comes to moving. The added stress of managing all that unnecessary stuff can become seriously overwhelming. Plus, we all know that stress is the number one cause of most of today’s major health issues. So why not be forward thinking, give yourself a break and downsize?
The unnecessary stuff in your life literally weighs you down when it comes to freedom of mobility. Not only does it add to the hassle of moving or changing jobs, it also makes it much more complicated to simply travel. First off, we tend to become more paranoid about losing our stuff when we have more of it. This can take up a lot of space in our brains and distracts from truly enjoying any travel experience. Ever wonder why so many people experience an incredible freedom and lightness when they have nothing but a backpack to keep track of? It’s because your mind relaxes completely when you have less material to feel responsible for and keep track of.
Secondly when you have a lot of stuff anytime you want to pick up and leave you have to deal with way more logistics, similar to when you may want to move house or change workplaces. What’s going to happen with your stuff while you’re gone? Will someone else be using your space and your stuff? If so, how do you make the space less cluttered for it to be airbnb-able or fit for house sitting? If you want to leave for several months, do you sublet your place somehow, and what do you do with your stuff? Should you just put it all in storage? Etc., etc., etc. Basically owning less on a material level opens up a tonne of opportunities when it comes to personal choice of where to be at any given time.
2.2 The Psychology of Clutter
“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs
Most of us have experienced the feeling of complete overwhelm when faced with the piles of stuff occupying our work or home space. In his article “How Clutter Affects Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)” writer Mikael Cho cites two important studies related to the effects of clutter on our everyday psychological well being. In one study, neuroscientists at Princeton University looked at people’s task performance in an organized versus disorganized environment. They found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.
Cho also looks at a study done by a team of UCLA researchers who observed 32 Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. In other words, when our mind is immersed in clutter our freedom of thinking–our ability to respond to life creatively and thoughtfully– is seriously reduced.
And don’t let your definition of clutter be limited to physical objects. The effects of digital clutter and overconsumption can equally detract from your ability to reach your full potential. When our mind is cluttered with to-do lists and constantly called on by the pings and whooshes of social media and calls to action we become as scattered and distracted as when our actual desk is covered in overflowing folders and notes. In order to get at a new level of psychological freedom you need to apply the principles of simplicity to your digital space as diligently as you do to your physical one. Create clear limits with yourself as to how and when you allow digital information into your mental space.
2.3 Recognition Is The First Step To Liberation
Not only does decluttering reduce stress and improve your ability to focus, be creative and allow you to travel and move lightly through the world, it’s also an important tool for emotional freedom. As mentioned above, when we own more we tend to fear loss of our possessions more. This can be simply explained by the fact that we “have more to lose” in terms of the time, money and energy we’ve invested in acquiring all the stuff we own. When our wealth is immaterial (i.e. positive outlook on life, good health, vibrant community life and social ties, etc) we’re less likely to fear losing it. Never underestimate the emotional impact of living in fear of loss…and the positive effects you can experience from reducing the amount of stuff you’re afraid of losing!
Letting go of your attachment to stuff also goes counter to a very prevalent trend pushing consumption as the key to happiness and success. Overconsumption has in fact reached the point in many people that it can be considered a form of addiction. As such, learning to curb your consumption tendencies is a way of healing any underlying dependency you may have on the short-term validation and “reward effect” of acquiring new stuff.
In parallel, no longer buying in to the idea of consumption being linked to personal fulfillment means letting go of our fear of judgement in the eyes of others.It may be subtle, but any time we choose to go against the mainstream flow, most of us will experience a few pangs of fear…what if our family, our friends, our colleagues think we’re totally nuts? Social rejection is a very primal insecurity that triggers all sorts of reactions in our brain and bodies. Nevertheless, in order to be fully free as an individual your life choices need to be made, as much as possible, in line with your fundamental values and what you know is best for you. If you’ve read this far, then decluttering is definitely a big piece of what freedom looks like for you!
2.4 The Financial Freedom Of Less Stuff
There is a myth that’s been going around for a couple generations that buying power is an essential element to happiness. While it may be true that a certain degree of comfort is necessary for us to get out of survival mode and focus on other things, financial stability has a lot more to offer than the neverending accumulation of more and more gadgets. When we choose to spend our money on things other than things it’s amazing the amount of freedom a very small amount of disposable income has to offer.
Focusing on experiences rather than objects liberates our energy and our attention and creates much more lasting feelings of completion and fulfilment. If every time you were about to buy something you didn’t really need (this includes: buying things for future possible potential needs, replacing things that you could easily fix or do without, buying things you will use once only and that you could easily borrow…) that did not add value to your life in any significant way, you put that money aside to be used on a trip or an experience, how would that impact your ability to do the things you’ve always wanted to do? Think about it.
In addition, when we no longer associate accumulation of material goods with status and happiness, it takes a lot of pressure off our need to produce and earn. In an age where the primary cause of most health problems is stress, anything that can reduce our stress levels is a very, very good thing. Giving yourself a bit more flexibility and freedom by decreasing the demands on your income can literally be a life saver.
2.5 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.” Lao Tzu
Simply put, getting rid of stuff, and refusing to let your impulses trick you into accumulating more, will save you time, energy and money. Anytime we feel stuck or trapped by something in our lives it’s likely related to one of these elements. When your life is centered around consumption, your time –and thus your quality of life — is valued less than making money. You are essentially enslaved by the idea that you need to have more purchasing power, in order to get more stuff, in order to be “free.” Reframing things so that your energy, time and finances are all focused on creating a life that allows you to reach your full potential and achieve actual freedom means embracing minimalism and simplicity as the foundation from which you make all your choices. Are you ready to make the leap and see what your life really has to offer you?