Joshua Becker discovered minimalism after spending a day organizing his garage, while his young son begged to play with him. A conversation with a neighbor included the words that "I don't need to own all this stuff." He realized that having less stuff would make his life easier and put his priority back where he wanted it: his family. Thus began years of downsizing their possessions and blogging about the process. The More of Less is a deeper, more personal look at the implications of materialism. It's also something of a how-to guide.
The More of Less suggests experiments for testing out the idea of minimalism without doing anything drastic. One such experiment is "leveling," or removing stuff from a room temporarily and seeing what it feels like. Knowing those things are boxed up and ready to reclaim may provide a sense of security for those who are anxious about "getting rid of everything." Another suggestion is to start with the easy stuff. (My recommendation is junk mail).
Becker points out that security is one of the reasons we cling so tightly to our stuff. We feel that having it protects us in some way. Getting rid of it makes us vulnerable to something. WHAT IF I NEED IT? He cites research that "those who do not feel internally secure in their personal relationships will often put a higher value on physical possessions." He goes on to say that "the opposite is often true as well: those who are overestimating what their possessions can do for them tend to undervalue and put too little work into their relationships."
I can share something personal here: I have realized that I am clinging to certain things specifically because I associate them with having visitors to my house. I keep board games that haven't been played in years, in case someone comes to visit who might want to play. I keep dozens of cookbooks so I'll be able to find "the perfect recipe" for dinner parties I don't even have room to host in my 728-square-foot house. I have a cabinet of extra guest bedding, when overnight guests would have to sleep on the floor in our living room. In weight and volume, I have the ghost of a human friend or family member represented in THINGS I don't really need. Hospitality is not things. Friendship is not things.
Even marriage is not things. The More of Less includes a story that astonished me. A woman named Ali Eastburn sold her wedding ring and used the proceeds toward drilling water wells in sub-Saharan Africa. Afterward, several of her friends donated their rings. Eastburn started a nonprofit called With This Ring. So far it has collected OVER A THOUSAND RINGS and has provided clean water for tens of thousands of people on three continents. This makes me shiver all over. There really is enough for everyone in the entire world to live comfortably, if only we shared more. How powerful for your marriage, to have a project like that to talk about rather than whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher. I've never taken off my ring since our wedding day almost exactly seven years ago. If these people can give up their wedding rings, surely more of us can "give up" some of the extra stuff we never even use.
What we really want, according to Becker, is security, acceptance, and contentment. Generosity and gratitude are ways to attain these feelings. Working harder on our personal relationships is another way. Volunteering and service are ways we can fill our empty hours, the time we free after we quit spending so much time shopping and shuffling our possessions around. Reducing the materialism encouraged by our culture also frees us from the financial anxieties that distract us from living a higher calling.
Becker and his wife decided to put all the proceeds from the sales of The More of Less toward their charity, The Hope Effect, which seeks to change orphan care around the world. He explains that they were able to do this because their minimalist lifestyle has put them in the financial position where they didn't need the money. If they weren't going to spend it on buying stuff, paying off debts they no longer have, or adding more money than they needed to their retirement savings, what else would they do? Giving it away was the obvious solution. That's what The More of Less really means.
Some suggestions from the book:
Always make sure your garbage and recycling bins are full on pickup days, as you downsize broken things, old papers, etc.
If you think you can't afford to go on vacation or have some other experience, look around at your physical possessions and estimate how much they cost. One couple in the book realized they had spend over $10,000 in four years, almost entirely on things that cost under $40 each.
If your kids have too many toys, stop and think about who is buying stuff for them.
Keep relationships in your life even if they don't "bring benefit into your life." The real question is whether you bring benefit into theirs.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.