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Why Having Less Stuff Brings More Happiness

happiness simplify your life
About a decade ago I moved apartments.  One perk to packing up your home: you become very aware of your stuff – and how little you truly need.

Looking around my home this last month I thought: I must simplify, simplify, simplify!

Then I thought, if I were really into simplifying I wouldn’t say simplify three times. I’d just say simplify.

Or “simp.”

I began with “simp-ing” my closet — tossing out all the clothes I no longer loved, needed, wore.

I could not believe how cheerful this “let-go-mania” made me.

I felt like some bizzarro-world-anti-Santa, giving myself this jolly gift of taking away. Oh, oh, oh!

Next I cleaned out the clutter in my office – and discovered — by coincidence — a book called: “DOES THIS CLUTTER MAKE MY BUTT LOOK FAT?”

The irony of finding a book about clutter in the midst of my clutter was not lost upon me.

I considered it a sign. I began to read.

According to Walsh’s wonderful book, I wasn’t the only one who felt better after a good “simping.” Many of his devoted followers have written to thank him – explaining how their entire lives improved after tossing excess belongings. Indeed, many wound up tossing excess weight as well – hence the title of his book.

Intrigued, I set up an interview with Walsh by phone.

“Yes, the ripple affect of a good clean up is staggering,” said Walsh. “Your house is a metaphor for your life. The more together your house, the more together your life. Your house, your head, your home, your hips – they are all connected.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

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“Many people who are unhappy invest in lots of stuff. But once material goods assume too much of a primary focus, you’ve lost your way. Too many people’s primary relationship is with their stuff. And your stuff makes the worst mistress. It demands everything – your money — your attention. It wants and consumes – but delivers nothing. It’s for good reason that every major religious teaching – from the Torah to the Bible to the Koran – warn about the dangers of material goods.”

“Aristotle did too,” I added.

At the time I was researching Aristotle for a book I was writing (Prince Harming Syndrome). I love Ari (as I lovingly call my favorite philosopher buddy). I view Ari as the world’s first self help guru.

Aristotle put forth that the reason so many people were unhappy was because they confused “pleasure” for “true happiness.”

“Pleasure” is about easy, immediate gratification – acting on impulse to please the ego and body.

In contrast, “true happiness” usually requires effort, patience, and courage — and is about surrounding yourself with people, habits and experiences which challenge and inspire you to become your highest potential.

Because “true happiness” is about growing into your best self – it lasts a good long time — as long as you last – because it’s about improving you.

“Pleasure” in contrast is quick and fleeting.

Modern day psychologists agree with Aristotle’s philosophies.

own less be more
For example, Dan Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard and author of “Stumbling on Happiness” has written about how the pursuit of pleasure keeps a person on the “hedonic treadmill” – always wanting more and more – and more! Sure, you can get immediate gratification from your new shiny diamond necklace. But all too soon, that shininess fades, and you’re quickly running on the “hedonic treadmill” — to snag your next bling thing.

When you glorify the pursuit of “more,” you wind up amassing a “joyless clutter” around you.

As if that’s not bad enough, this collected clutter winds up creating further clutter — within your psyche!

“You simply cannot make your best choices — your healthiest choices — in a messy, disorganized space,” reminds Walsh. “Your home has to be a place that nurtures you — protects you — and from that place of calm and security you can make the best decisions for your life.”

How true. I know for me, as a writer, I’ve consistently found I not only need “a room of my own” as Virginia Woolf recommends — I need a clean, sparse room to write my best.

A messy space messes with my head.

The discomfort of clutter makes me believe in the powers of “feng shui” – because the creative energy in a chaotic space literally feels out of whack.

Sometimes I don’t know which comes first – the clutter in my head, or the clutter in my office. But usually they do mirror one another.  I’ve often found the cure for writer’s block is cleaning up – proving Walsh’s theory – that there’s a ripple affect between a “together home” and a “together life.”

“Being organized is about deciding to be awake,” Walsh explained. “When you clean up your home, it’s because you’re choosing to be conscious – and not just go through unconscious motions, buying things, and tossing things. You’re choosing to become more discerning – which then creates a domino affect of conscious discernment – right down to choosing better foods — and better-for-you relationships.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “Plus I bet as you gain confidence in your ability to create change in your life, you have more confidence to create other changes as well. You feel more in control of your life, and thereby take control of your life.”

“Exactly,” said Peter. “It’s thrilling for people to start to feel their life come into alignment – and they ride that positive wave.”

Even though my interview with Walsh was by phone — I intuited that he practiced what he preached – because it sounded as if Walsh’s voice had that “echo affect” which only happens when someone is calling from a very empty room.

“Yes,” Walsh said chuckling, “You’re right. My house is starkly decorated. I simply do not like a lot of things cluttering up my home. I really do think it’s a shame how the health of America is based upon our economy and consumer spending – how our president prescribed “GO OUT AND SHOP!’ as a cureall.”

I must confess, I personally understood that tendency to believe in “retail therapy” as a panacea.

But I also know, from all my happiness research, that the big joke on shopping addicts is that material things bring the least lasting joy. And in contrast it’s immaterial, evanescent things which create the most lasting joy.

For example, taking vacations with your partner, going to dinner with family, playing sports with friends.

As Aristotle said: “”Money is a means to an end, not an end in itself.”

Or to translate him for modern times, Aristotle basically meant: “Money doesn’t buy happiness…unless you use your money to buy experiences which help you to grow into your best self.”

Modern day researchers agree. In particular Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado created studies which showed students became much happier after taking vacations with friends than they did after purchasing new material possessions.

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Their reasoning for these results? Whereas objects fade in appreciation — experiences improve – because people tend to embellish and remember experience better than they were!

Of course, Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven also recognized that buying a thing can also create an experience — if you use the thing rightly.

For example…

A book which sits amidst clutter is merely a thing.

But a book you read, savor and learn from – like Walsh’s book – is an experience.

I was definitely enjoying my experience with Walsh’s book.

Before ending my interview I asked Walsh to give a quickie pointer to help clutter-addicts stop their madness.

“It’s like this,” said Walsh. “Every time you buy something, you must ask yourself ‘Does this object help move me closer to the life I want – give me something back in a longterm way. If it doesn’t – then ask yourself why in God’s name are you buying it? Stop bringing things into your home, unless you know they will help you to create the feeling in your home that you truly want.”

I couldn’t agree with Walsh more.

When I finally ended our conversation, I merrily put Walsh’s book in the pile of things to be brought with me to my new apartment.

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Karen Salmansohn (Founder)

Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.

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