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How Much Stuff Do You Need To Feel Happy?

How Much Stuff Do You Need To Feel Happy?

    He slowly counted the stack of $100 bills out loud and stopped at every thousand to confirm the number as he handed me the bills. It was a silly process but he seemed to find it useful. I wasn’t thinking about the money. I was thinking about the significance of bidding farewell to the last of my cars. He stopped counting. I signed the final paperwork. It was done. My earthly value had finally transitioned from a mass of tangible things to a list of mostly-intangibles. That was three years ago.

    A finance guru would refer to my transition as one between fixed and liquid assets. I see the process as a removal of many things that distracted me from the relationships and activities that made me most happy. Sound crazy? Let’s work through it a bit and see what happens. Start with 4 questions:

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    Why do you have so much stuff?

    When it comes to household belongings, I am not the type of person who enjoys organizing things for the sake of the organizational process. I can come up with a place for things and keep them in their place until I have more things than I have places. Once that happens, you’d be correct in referring to me as a “messy person.” I found a solution in reducing the number of things I owned to where I could easily manage them without much effort.

    There was no struggle in realizing that if I had less stuff I’d have an easier time of managing it. The hard part emerged as I worked through the reasons why I wasn’t getting rid of all the extra stuff I had. In thinking things through, I came up with some reasons why I kept so much stuff around.

    • To avoid the discomfort of empty space– Just like an empty social calendar is never considered a positive opportunity for increased interaction, the space left in your garage after you sell your collection of golf clubs may feel lonely and unused.
    • To meet the expectations of a social group – I owned a bunch of furniture even though there is just one of me because I felt badly when friends stopped by and didn’t have a place to sit. The bigger house, the boat, even a special set of dinnerware for special occasions can all fall into the group of things you own just because your friends expect you to.
    • Because procurement is enjoyable– Buying new stuff is fun. The smaller objects that clutter up most of our lives are the easiest to stock up on because their price point is low enough to make purchases excusable. “It’s just $20” you say as you bring home yet another set of beer mugs.

    As I learned that the empty space I’d so feared was actually freedom, I started celebrating newfound spaces and gaurding them fiercely. While my previous actions and purchases pointed to the contrary, it turned out that my friends weren’t actually visiting me just to sit on my furniture. They wanted to hang out with me and didn’t really care if that meant sitting on a plush couch or sprawled on a wood floor. Procurement turned out to be my all-in-one answer to a creative urge and was easily replaced by helping others make, fix, and imagine things.

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    What makes you most happy?

    As I figured out why I had so much stuff and focused more of my energy on social interactions, I found myself digging deeper into what it was that made me most happy. We are too easily convinced that happiness is a recipe one needs riches, fame, and power to create. Such things have their uses but I was unable to tie my personal experiences to any sort of happiness. I eventually settled on three notions that seem closest to “happiness ingredients” as I can find in my own life. I am most often happy when I am able to:

    • Be Useful – I am happier when I can help others.
    • Love – I don’t just mean love in the deranged romantic sense that causes one to make poor financial decisions and hazard life and limb. I also mean the sort of abiding interest in ideas and pursuits that keeps one up and night and makes it worth leaping out of bed in the morning.
    • Recognize and Share Beauty – There is beauty in kindness. There is beauty in the unexpected smile of a stranger. There is beauty in the flower growing on the rubble of a war-torn district. Being able to recognize that beauty and share it with others always makes me happier.

    Notice that none of those things directly involves tangible things. Money and high-tech gadgets might be extremely helpful in my pursuit of usefulness or sharing. But there’s no direct necessity for most of the stuff I had kicking around my house just a few years ago.

    What belongings allow you to pursue that happiness?

    Figuring out what I truly needed in order to pursue happiness was much easier once I figured out the things that made me happiest. As I went through my belongings I asked myself a few questions that made simple work of deciding what to keep and what to push away.

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    1. When did you last use this?
    2. Can you find another one of these easily?
    3. Could somebody you know use this more than you?
    4. Would any of your relationships suffer if you got rid of this?
    5. Would you run back into a burning building to rescue this?

    I enlisted the help of a trusted and mildly sarcastic friend to help me in my stuff-busting adventure. Just like shopping with somebody else’s money is fun, getting rid of another person’s stuff seems like a good time, too. At least she seemed to enjoy it! It was very helpful to have a friend nearby to cut through the fog of the inexplicable emotional attachments I had to some belongings. She also helped scan in a lot of the necessary but bulky paperwork I’d been towing around for years. Now that I had an idea of what made me happy it was easy to get rid of extra stuff. It had all gone from being a part of my life to just being stuff I lived near. I felt free.

    What will you do with the rest?

    If you don’t have friends willing to snap up your extra belongings, you might consider one of the following options:

    • Craigslist – Sell or give your stuff away to willing locals.
    • eBay – Sell your stuff.
    • Freecycle – Give your stuff away.
    • Yard Sale – Sell, Give, raffle. Up to you!

    If you know of another website or have an idea I should add to the list of ways to get rid of extra stuff, drop me a note in a comment and I’ll update with it!

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    How much stuff do you need to feel happy?

    Image: Visual Panic 

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    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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