Does Your Home Stress You Out? Why Less Is More

Don’t let your stuff define you. Embrace a new mind-set of consuming less and living with less, and you’ll find more peace and happiness at home, says expert organizer Peter Walsh in Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less.

If I had to give you one word that lies at the root of most people’s emotional pain and anguish today, you’d probably be surprised it’s not “money” (or the lack thereof). It’s “stuff.” Stuff keeps us from having the rich, full life we deserve. More stuff doesn’t equate to a better life. Stuff has a way of creeping into and overtaking our homes. It also has a way of defining us, when we should be defining ourselves from a much deeper, intangible perspective. And when our stuff begins to define who we are, we become incapable of defin­ing ourselves outside of what we own and what we can buy. This, as many of you may know by now, is a setup for utter unhappiness. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” It’s a great quote, one that I use often and one that’s really worth pondering. I can also extend that quote: “The things you own end up owning your identity.

It’s time to seriously examine ourselves and our relationships with the money, people, and things in our lives — and the lack thereof. No one should feel stressed out when she opens the door to her own home or buys staples for living. No one has to. No one should feel like he has “nothing” when he can count on his loved ones, even when there’s a lack of material possessions and money. Your home and your financial stability are within your control. Con­sider this: if your home is not providing you with a place of peace and calm, of focus and motivation; if your home is instead a major source of stress and anxiety in your life, then isn’t it obvious that things are seriously out of balance? If your own home does not offer you some measure of nourishment and calm, where are you finding that peace? Chances are, nowhere! Your home should be the place where you escape all negative forces in the world. How you live in that home — eat, breathe, sleep, play, and connect with loved ones — should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.

To get to the heart of our financial problems, we have to reframe how we view what we own, what we buy, how we pay, what we can af­ford, and what will help us create the life we want for ourselves. This is about living mindfully within our means and it begins with a new perspective and a new mind-set about consuming less, living with less, and being happy with less — a mind-set that embraces the idea that happiness doesn’t automatically come with more. This process must start with a clear vision of the life you want — not a debt num­ber or credit score. Just a vision — your vision — and a big one at that.

Let’s be honest, the concept of less is far less attractive than the con­cept of more. Just that word “less” carries a boatload of negative con­notations. Less drums up thoughts of not having enough, being a few dollars short, getting the short end of the stick, not functioning at 100 percent, missing something, lacking something, and so on. It implies hardship, deprivation, destitution, and poverty. But does it have to be a negative term? What does less mean to you?

Complete the following statements:

With less, I am afraid that:

With less, I won’t be able to:

With less, my happiness is:

Think for a moment about what automatically comes to mind when you think of you with less. Are you afraid that life won’t be as plea­surable or rewarding? Does less mean you can’t be happy? Does the very idea of less threaten your happiness? Will having less and living on less income mean you won’t be living the life of your dreams? Why do you think this way? How is this so? What preconceived no­tions about “more” are clouding your definition of “less”?

Now let’s turn this table around. Our cynical relationship with this word “less” is completely arbitrary. What if we chose to look at it from a different perspective? What if, for example, we couch “less” in terms that relate to abundance? Having less doesn’t have to equate with being less, or missing anything. It can, in fact, result in the opposite effect of being more and having more — less of the things that cripple us or trip us up and more happiness, more simplicity, more relaxation, more satisfaction, more energy, more time, more joy, more order, more freedom, more flexibility, more opportunities, more of the things we truly value and need to live the life we want. This concept of “less” that will change our lives is less stress, less worry, less anxiety, less debt, less dissatisfaction, less frustration, less failure, less chaos, less dependence, less dysfunction in our relation­ships, and less feeling trapped in our financial instability and clutter-filled homes. When you look at it this way, less really can be more.

The shift from seeing less as a negative to less as a positive hap­pens when we embrace the concept of less as an opportunity to be re­sponsible and to be mindful consumers. It’s about filling our souls rather than our physical space. It’s about peace of mind rather than just more, more, more.

Peter Walsh
, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part contractor and part therapist. He is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hosts Enough Already! with Peter Walsh on The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.