The Decluttered Life: Having Less Stuff Gives You More Time

published Jun 6, 2017
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(Image credit: Morgan Schemel)

In an effort to streamline their lives, many people seem to be turning a reactionary ship from a habit of consumption to a fascination with minimalism. But the fact that minimalism even exists as a movement bespeaks of our luxury to choose to own less. Not that the ramifications of such a choice aren’t beneficial. Far from it. A hard look at the way things rob of us our time could easily incite all of us to adopt that less-is-more lifestyle that so many people today have found joy in embracing.

Things steal our time before we even possess them. Just looking at things we might want opens the door to many lost moments. Even window shopping in the “storefront” of Instagram—where everything from jewelry to cookbooks to vacations are peddled to an already opted-in audience—not only takes our time as we scroll, but plants seeds of wanting even more things, which take even more time from us.

I enjoy Instagram. I do. But because of it, I own many things I would have been perfectly happy never knowing about.

Once our minds and hearts have locked on to something we’ve decided we want, the course is almost invariably set. We hope, we dream, we look at it, we think about it, we budget for it, we work for it, all this before we even obtain it.

Then we’re ready to buy. But no way are we going to spend more than we need to. Uh-uh, we’re going to find the best deal, we’re going to check prices, find out when the sales are, scour for coupons, and compare prices. This happens even when we legitimately need something. My husband often reminds me that saving a few dollars may not be worth the time, the valuable time, it takes to do it.

But what if those purchases weren’t set in motion in the first place? What if I learned to be content with what I already have? What if I really took to heart the advice to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”?

Now we have the thing in our possession. But, darn, it actually doesn’t work well or we don’t like it. Back to the store it goes. An hour and a half and a good amount of energy later, the 75 dollars we didn’t have to spend in the first place is back in our pockets. But the whole thing… it cost us.

“It’s not just the big things, the investment pieces, that take our time in such a way. The volume of small stuff takes our time, too.”

Or we love it. The buttery leather couch that cost a small fortune. It’s soft, it’s comfortable, we enjoy it every day. But we also cringe when kids with greasy popcorn hands don’t get up from their movie to wash up. We call the furniture company to ask if the warranty covers the scratches the cat made. (No.) So we get the repair kit. And the leather conditioner while we’re at it. How do I use this stuff? Forty minutes go by reading opposing views of how to care for leather furniture—with no clear answer materializing. Ugh.

It’s not just the big things, the investment pieces, that take our time in such a way. The volume of small stuff takes our time, too—deciding where to put it, how to store it, organizing it, organizing it again, putting it away, cleaning it, replacing it.

My home isn’t a minimalist’s home. But I do want to push myself to think about what I gain by simplifying, what I come to possess when I let go of things, what I am free to enjoy when not consumed with stuff.

The answer, every time, has to do with the things in life that really matter. We know this. Less stuff often means more money that’s available to spend on experiences and people, on making memories that revolve around something other than cleaning out the garage (again). Less time spent cleaning could mean one more bedtime story or an extra lullaby that isn’t tinged with hurry. Freedom from chasing deals could mean an unshackled mind primed to pursue dreams.

I haven’t stepped wholesale into a minimalist life. But I’m exploring. I’m trying on a mindset, instance by instance. One thing is for sure: Having too much has stolen my time, and I want it back.