Removing Excessive Things From Your Life Automatically Increases Happiness

Yesterday the Mrs. and I were sitting around the house talking, and overall simply enjoying our Sunday. It’s that perfect day of the week where we can spend quality time with each other, refresh ourselves, and reset our priorities if they’re veering out of line with our long-term values.

We turned our eye toward the closet in our bedroom. There were stacks of clothes on various shelves, shirts, suits and pants hung in various places, and lots of miscellaneous items hidden in the back. My wife started going through all of the things in her wardrobe, picking through whatever she thought was unnecessary and tossing it in a bag for donation.

Inspired by her initiative I joined her and started sorting through my own clothes. Mrs. Mase happily recounted a rule that her mother lives by: “If you haven’t worn it in the past year, it’s not worth keeping”. Wise advice indeed (I might ignore this advice for certain formalwear of course). Although I wouldn’t get rid of certain items every year (say, a car, which is designed to have a lifecycle on the order of decades), clothes are one of those things in society where there are simply so many choices and the ease of mindless accumulation is real.

I normally don’t buy clothes that often as I tend to keep a good stable of solid articles to choose from and my sense of style is well…I guess you could say less developed. Going through my closet I really didn’t think there was much room for removal of superfluous items. Even so, I surprised myself. It’s amazing how many things pile up over just a few short years.

There was this old dress shirt I had in there that managed to make it all the way through college with me and still sat there, hanging and unused, a couple years after graduation. There was a shirt in there that I had kept for nostalgic reasons from my middle school math team. Middle school, yes, you read that correctly. I’m a nerd, I know :D.

By the time we were done sorting, there were two trash bags full of clothes – not bad at all. The beautiful thing about getting rid of old, unnecessary objects is that it not only frees up your living space physically but it also tends to increase the level of your mental and emotional margin. Just having the ability to let go of material things helps relinquish the potential control that an object may have over you.

I think about this sometimes in relation to money and personal finances. The goal is pretty much always more. More money however, is not necessarily better. This is especially true if the person in possession of the money has no idea how to manage it properly for the benefit of themselves and others. Just like my old dress shirt that was sitting in the closet and serving no purpose, money left idle has a poor amount of utility to the person who is unwise in managing it.

This is why I am coming more and more around to the idea that a certain amount of money (or time, or advice, or other form of capital) should given freely to other human beings on a regular basis. It frees up the clutter in your life, creates margin, and helps other people out in the process. I’ll sleep way better at night knowing that my old dress shirts, which are still in perfectly good condition, will be going to someone who really needs a good dress shirt when I donate it. One person’s excess is another person’s necessity – the more we can de-clutter our lives and enrich other people’s in the process, the happier I think we’ll all be.