Advertising
Advertising

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:

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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!

    Advertising

    How much stuff do you need to feel happy?

    Image: Visual Panic 

    Follow Lifehack on Twitter here

    More by this author

    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic 21 First Date Ideas 11 Sinfully Easy Sangria Recipes Sleep Hack: A Simple Strategy For Better Rest In Less Time Lifehack 5-Day Early Riser Challenge Final

    Trending in Featured

    1 How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 4 Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas 5 How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

    Advertising

    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

    Advertising

    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

    Advertising

    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

    Advertising

    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

    Read Next