The Less You Own, The Less That Owns You

I haven’t always been a minimalist, nor have I always been interested in minimalist living. I used to purchase crazy amounts of clothing, random items for my home, wasn’t interested in becoming a minimalist, and so on. I hoarded lots of items, hoping that one day I would find a use for them. I often…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

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The less you own, the less that owns you. Minimalist living has changed my life for the better. If you are interested in having a minimalist house and life, then you must read this!I haven’t always been a minimalist, nor have I always been interested in minimalist living. I used to purchase crazy amounts of clothing, random items for my home, wasn’t interested in becoming a minimalist, and so on.

I hoarded lots of items, hoping that one day I would find a use for them. I often thought that I needed things, so I would purchase crazy amounts of them even though I should have put my money to better use.

Then, around two years ago, I realized that I had too much stuff and that I had an unhealthy relationship with material things.

Over the past two years, I have donated or given away the majority of my belongings. I now pretty much only have the things I need to get me through the day or week ahead. There is no extra, and before I purchase anything, I always think about what use I’ll get out of it.

After all, I travel full-time and there’s only so much I can carry. Plus, getting rid of the majority of my belongings has been hard, stressful, and tiring, and I definitely don’t want to experience that ever again!

I know that not everyone wants to be a minimalist. And, I’m not pushing it on anyone. I know that buying stuff isn’t all bad, and there are many material things that make life easier and better.

Instead, I want to introduce people to the idea of minimalist living, especially since the average person has lots of extra stuff in their lives that they don’t need. This can lead to debt, buying things just to impress others, wasting time, and so on.

Plus, being a minimalist has changed my life for the better, and I believe that it can help others as well.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking the things I bought and spending all of my money on new things, but I am far from that now.

It’s easy to get lost in the idea of spending money on things to fill your life, and the average home size has changed to make it only easier to feel like you have to buy more than you need. Consider this, the average home size in 1950 was less than 1,000 square feet. Fast forward to 2013, the average home size has increased to nearly 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clearly, we used to make due with less, and there are still many reasons for minimalist living:

  • Minimalist living can help you save more money. Minimalist living most likely means that you’ll be buying less stuff. Instead, you’ll only buy what you want and what you truly need.
  • Minimalist living means less clutter. Clutter can take over a person’s life. You may feel stressed out, tired, like your things are taking over your life, and more.
  • Minimalist living can give you more time. By living with less stuff, you can spend less time on cleaning, maintenance, and repairs. The more things you have, the more things that you’ll need to clean, maintain, and repair. Just think about what you could do with all of that extra time!

Here is how minimalist living has changed my life:

 

Clothing doesn’t define me.

By being a minimalist, I’ve definitely realized that I don’t need much in order to be happy. Before, I thought that I needed all the clothing in the world in order to be happy, but now I know that I really don’t need much.

In fact, I hardly ever purchase clothing, and I’ve been wearing nearly the same things for several years.

For me, it’s all about buying things that are more “classic,” won’t go out of style, things that I actually like instead of what’s trendy for that month, and so on.

It feels great when you realize that you don’t need all of that extra stuff in your life.

Instead, purchase what you want and need, rather than thinking about keeping up with others all the time or thinking that emotional spending is something that will help you.

 

Minimalist living gives me more time.

Minimalist living allows me to have more time to spend on other things.

Just think about it: The more things you have, then the more time you have to spend on using it, maintaining it, repairing it, cleaning it, and so on.

I would much rather live with less than think about all of the things that I own that need work done to them!

Related blog posts about minimalist living:

 

With minimalist living, I’ve realized that I don’t need much.

Before I was a minimalist, I kept a lot of things because I thought I needed them for the future. On a regular basis, I probably only used around 25% of the things I had in my house.

In reality, it was probably even less than the 25% figure that I just said above.

I know I’m not alone, and many people keep items because they think they might need them in the future. You know the feeling– you buy something, don’t use it right away, and years later you find it but just can’t throw it away in case there is some circumstance where you need that exact item.

If this is you, then you should put a timeline of no more than one year on the item. If you don’t use it in that timeframe, then there’s a big chance that you’ll never need it or will even miss it that much.

Instead of buying items that you rarely use, you may want to think about renting or borrowing them from someone else.

When I think about how much stuff we gave away, I honestly can’t even remember half of the things. I realize now how little we really needed, and those things definitely did not make me happy if I can’t even remember them!

 

I save more money by living with less stuff.

Now that we live with less stuff, we are able to save a great deal of money. Instead of thinking that we need everything that exists, we are now much more realistic about our needs and realize that there’s a lot of clutter in the stores that no one really needs at all.

Plus, now that I realize how much money I’ve wasted over the years, I am able to say “no” at the store when debating about whether or not I should purchase a certain item, especially one that might create clutter.

I can also walk into a store and only buy exactly what I need, even if that store is Target!

I have so much more control over my spending and that has saved me a lot of money.

Related:

 

I understand now that I don’t need things to make me happy.

Having more things doesn’t make you a happier person. Things don’t make you a better person, they don’t make you more successful than others, or anything else.

In fact, in many circumstances it’s far from that.

I know this because I have less stuff than I have ever had, and I am happier than ever.

Plus, when was the last time you heard someone say “I’m so glad I bought all those pairs of pants 35 years ago!” or “I’m so glad I had all of those things decades ago!”

You should only own something if you truly want or need it. Who cares about what everyone else has!

 

A minimalist house allows me to travel.

Unless I maintain my minimalist lifestyle and house (well, RV), then I wouldn’t be able to travel full-time. It would be quite hard and not nearly as enjoyable if I had a bunch of things holding me back.

I really, really love and enjoy being able to travel full-time, and it is one of the best benefits of living minimally.

Do you think minimalist living could change your life? Why or why not?

 


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Lindsey Mozgai

    We’ve been trying to adopt a minimalist lifestyle for almost an entire year. One of our big goals this year is to go room by room and declutter them completely. I’m really excited for this because it means we’ll finally be getting rid of the junk in our lives without feeling rushed to finish up! Minimalism has so many possibilities and I can’t wait to become one

    1. Cici

      Decluterring room by room will take forever and won’t solve yout main problem. Most effective wau is Decluttering by category and decide in one shot if you want it or not. Like gather all your clothes and decide right away what needs to go and needs to be kept.

      1. Rose

        Room by room is totally doable. Decluttering by category requires that you have days to go through your stuff. That’s not practical for a lot of us with young children.

        Marie Kondo’s method is about decluttering by category. I find it to be difficult, unrealistic, and time consuming. The key thing is to store things that are related in only one place in the house, such as one closet for all shoes, one shelf for all hats. If you try to own one unit of each necessary item in the house (eg, 1 hairbrush per person, 1- 2 sets of towels, etc), you will remember what you already have.

        I’ve been living as a minimalist all my life (a closeted minimalist for many years because I’m surrounded by maximalists). It’s a lifestyle. Once you adopt that philosophy, you will stop doing silly things such as buying another (45th pair of shoes just because they’re on sale).

  2. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    We aim for a minimalist style of living – we’re far from perfect and haven’t went all-in, but we’re at a comfortable level for us. It’s definitely saved us money – we don’t buy much of anything besides food and other necessities. It saves me time on cleaning – I don’t have knick knacks or other clutter to clean around. Plus, the lack of clutter makes the house feel more peaceful to me. At some point in the future (when the kids are out of the house), I want to downsize our home too.

  3. Claudia @ Two Cup House

    Downsizing and selling most of our stuff has completely changed our lives. We have more time and space in our lives for the things we truly want to do. I can’t say enough about the positive impact of minimalism!

  4. The time saving has been huge for us! We got rid of 50% of our kids toys, then put the rest in storage other than the 2 or 3 things that play with at a time. We just let them switch those out every few weeks. With 5 little kids at home, I use to spend a LOT of time picking up toys! Now literally weeks will go by with out me touching a single toy. And my house doesn’t look like an overrun daycare. =)

  5. My theme for 2017 is to purge all unnecessary and extraneous “stuff” from my life. I’ve started, but I’ve got a long way to go. I can’t believe the stuff I save, the amount of clothes I buy, and even some of the people whom I keep relationships with on Facebook who annoy the heck out of me. It’s all going in 2017. I’m calling it Essentialism. 🙂 Great article! You’ve motivated me to keep going.

  6. Kari Sayers

    This post is so timely for me because I’ve been contemplating how to declutter and live with less. It’s weird because my husband and I are currently experiencing the most financial success we’ve had in a decade but having more has caused me to look at other aspects of our life more closely. I watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix recently and it really resonated with me. I want to try Project 333 to kick-start my efforts. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. I need to watch that documentary!

  7. Marguerite

    I am not there yet. I remember in the past envying the people moving with just a small trailer (especially remember seeing people in Asia with a trailer they pulled) Well I have a way to go and as I will probably have to move in the Spring and Summer I am working at letting go of stuff and it’s so hard. I own appliances (4) try moving lightly with that – and there is a lot of stuff -family handmade shawls, cross-stiched paintings that are priceless but take a lot of space – and I find hard to just donate – everytime I read something like this it helps me think of getting rid of stuff a little more – because I don’t want to get a larger place so I can store stuff –

  8. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I think I was afraid of minimizing because I didn’t know what life was like without the extra “stuff.” Without all of those convenient distractions I would be forced to actually see my life and gain focus. I guess that sounded like too much hard work. I still don’t follow a minimalist lifestyle, but I’ve definitely incorporated minimalist elements to my life, like having a capsule wardrobe.

    You can pick and choose which components of minimalism without living in a sterile white cube.

  9. My wife and I read the book “Seven” a few years ago and it motivated us to downsize our entire lifestyle. We sold our big beautiful (and waterfront) property to downsize into a townhouse about 1/2 the size – but that we were able to buy for cash. Along with the smaller house meant getting rid of a ton of “stuff”. And now, almost three years later, we have zero regrets. In fact, we still think it was a GREAT idea and something that everyone should consider. It seems we all have too much “stuff”.

    1. Yes, many people have way too much stuff.

  10. I want to be you when I grow up 😉 We’re about to have a major change in our life this year so minimalism is gonna happen.

  11. I enjoy the minimalist lifestyle. As you get rid of junk you can feel your stress being alleviated. It’s crazy.

  12. About a year ago, I was approached about two different promotions that would have required me to move out of state. One was a dream job that I had had my eye on for over a decade.

    Was I excited about this? Not really.

    My big worry: How am I going to move all this stuff? I called it my “Crisis of Crap.”

    The universe decided that I wasn’t ready for this change, so I didn’t get either job, and again, I was relieved because of the huge anchor holding me down.

    My goal now? When that next opportunity comes up, to have cut my belongings down to the point where I can be boxed up and ready to go in under a week.

    Thanks for another shot of inspiration!

    1. Yes! Moving is the worst – it really makes you want to become a minimalist.

  13. Tamara @ Parenting 2 Home Kids

    I would like to adopt more of this attitude. I seem to have trouble letting go of some stuff even though cleaning a closet or even drawer feels like taking a breath. Your post inspired me. I think my new motto will be, “Would I keep this if I lived in an RV?”.

  14. Tamara @ Parenting 2 Home Kids

    I strive to let go of more stuff. Your post is an inspiration. I think my new motto will be, “Would I keep this if I lived in an RV?”.

  15. Kylie

    I completely agree with this article. There were so many years that I bought things because they were “cheap” – like hoards of clothes from Ross, etc. Then I realized I wasn’t actually happy with the cheaper items because- they were cheap! Right now I live in a studio with a toddler. I was saying yes to all donations etc. But that was taking so much of my energy to pick them up, clean them and sift through them etc. These past 6 months I have just been focusing on everything I can get rid of! It has started to make me feel a whole lot better and more organized. I felt like my “stuff” was suffocating me alive! I was very guilty of “I’ll use that one day” – but you’re right, that day never comes, and instead I’m surrounded by things I never use or need. I am still trying to get rid of more things as well, I would rather have simple and elegant purchases, even if initially they are more expensive because I’m happier with them in the long run.

  16. Susan

    Having less definitely is something I believe in. I agree on clothing that is more classic and of good quality. When you have less, I believe you’re less stressed. 🙂

  17. Michael

    Love that you posted this! On New Year’s Eve I always choose a word to help guide my next year, this year the word LESS popped into my head almost immediately and I’m so thrilled about it. Less truly is more!

  18. Sandi Clifford

    Thanks for reiterating my theme for 2017. I read a post on DailyOM about how de-cluttering is not something that you “DO”, it is a lifestyle. So now my theme is to embed decluttering into my everyday and get my house down to that minimalist life. I’ve got a long way to go, but so far, it is liberating and empowering me. Great post, as usual, Michelle.

  19. It’s a work in progress in our home but I find just getting one area more peaceful is motivation to keep going on to the next area Less really does equal more! Clearing out clutter helps me focus on things that are truly important. More stuff just takes up more of my time, and time keeps going by faster as it is!

    1. Yes, it’s definitely great motivation.

  20. For a few months now, I’ve been working on decluttering and removing a lot of material items from my life. It’s been so freeing and stress relieving. The biggest challenge for me has been feeling like I have room for more stuff once I get rid of old stuff. For example, I love collecting books. So, after donating a bag of books to the Goodwill, I felt like I had more space for new books. I’m working on that part. 🙂 Overall though, it’s been great! And it’s a lot easier to keep the house clean when there’s less stuff.

    1. Yes, a clean house is nice 🙂

  21. Lisa

    My fiancée and I just watched a wonderful documentary on Netflix called The Minimalists. It was excellent. Then we went around our 600 square foot apartment and decluttered. LOL. It is better to live with less stuff. I recently spent $70 on clothes at White House Black Market after Christmas and returned them 2 days later. I didn’t want to pay the credit card bill. I’m getting much better with my money these days.

  22. I’ve lived out of a vehicle before and I loved knowing everything I needed to live was within arms reach! I now live in a 1500 sq. foot home with my husband and young daughter and constantly feel like I am fighting the clutter battle. It really takes discipline to resist the societal pressure to fill our lives with stuff we don’t need. Thanks for sharing all of the positive effects of minimalism on your life!

  23. Yuri

    Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with Hollywood action heroes moving around cities and countries in one suit and no luggage, but always having what they needed at the moment. Growing up I became freelancer moving around the country carrying a backpack with a lot of stuff, laptop, notepads, books, etc.
    After reading about minimalism, I recalled the movies and rethought my behavior, realising that I dont really need all that stuff.
    Smartphone replaces laptop, small notepad replaces A4 notepads, books are available online. Today I leave home for a long workday with only a pen, notepad, credit card and ID, and of course with a smartphone, no backpack, no luggage, hands are free and mindfree.

  24. Mahesh Kumar

    Well, minimalist living is one of the best ways of saving money. My wife always try to focus on these kinds of stuffs but I think minimizing is not for me. This is really a good read and showed me positive effects of minimalism in our life that I hadn’t thought yet. I am thinking to follow minimalist living. At-least I give it a try.

  25. Sylvia @Professional Girl on the Go

    I haven’t fully converted to minimalism but my day to day has improved with the few changes I have made. We had so much stuff when we moved in together but our apartment doesn’t have any storage. So I started to get rid of things that I felt weren’t really a necessity. The next thing I want to work on is creating a uniform for work and cutting down on the amount of clothes I have.

    1. Glad your day to day has improved. Great job!

  26. I was going to say living in a RV you can’t have too much clutter! I have downsized my wardrobe. It helps to work from home so I don’t have to dress up as often and when I do I can easily repeat an outfit (see different people) and nobody notices but me!

    It also helps with doing less laundry. So I agree on the saving time factor you mentioned!

  27. Arlene

    I totally agree with what you have said here, but I think the benefits of living with less STUFF goes well beyond those you list. With less STUFF, there is less to clean, less to organize, less to lose and search for, less to maintain, and less to trip over. The mind is less distracted when there is less to look at. You did mention that your life focus can change from STUFF to goals, to other people, to the outside world. The more crowded a house, a room, or a closet is, the less able we are to function in that room. For example, of the kitchen cupboards and drawers are overflowing, it is much more difficult to prepare a meal. The more STUFF you have, the less you are able to appreciate each item, giving your mind and heart less happiness. The less STUFF you have, the more you can love and appreciate each thing, thus giving your mind and heart more joy and peace. I could go on and on, but you have hit on a GREAT principle!

    1. Thanks! Yes, for the most part these are all things that I mentioned in the blog post. Having less stuff is great! 🙂

  28. jane

    you’re so right michelle. i used to have way too much stuff. then i ended up moving & took forever getting rid of lots of it.now i’ve got much less & it’s a lot better. it’s a lot easier to have less around.most of what i had wasn’t that useful & thinking i’d use most of it rarely happened. it’s never worth the stress & trouble to buy a ton of stuff all the x to keep around. we’re all better off with as little as possible.

  29. Misha @ Money She Wrote

    I have struggled the majority of my life with collecting and holding onto things (mostly clothes!). I recently read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and watched a documentary on Netflix called The Minimalists. It is a huge concept to wrap my head around and start to change but I know I would be happier and feel lighter if I got rid of the the stuff around our place. I think I can start with your one year rule and just accept that I no longer will be looking for any of that stuff once I get rid of it anyways! Thanks for your inspiring post!

  30. Did you watch The Minimilists on Netflix? I think that documentary got a lot of peolpe thinking. They made a great point when they said taht cheap clothing doesnt’ do anyone any good – the consumer or the person that makes the clothing. I don’t plan on shopping for new clothing this year, but next time I do, I’m going to buy better quality clothing from an organic and natural fair trade source, so that it lasts longer and doesn’t hurt the environment as much.

    1. I haven’t watched it yet. I need to though!

  31. We try to live with less as much as possible, we’re purge as often as we can. Our house is under 1500 sq ft so we don’t have much room for stuff, that helps us keep it from piling up!

  32. Mrs. COD

    I’m sort of in between minimalism and frugality (if it will truly be useful in the near future, we keep it so we don’t have to buy it again later). However, the prospect of moving this summer is a big motivator for decluttering! The less stuff we have to pack and move, the better!

    1. Yes, for sure! Moving really brings on the minimalist in a person, haha.

  33. I am THE WORST when it comes to getting rid of stuff, but the thing is I don’t want all this STUFF! I hate it. I don’t think I have a super excess of stuff in my house, but it’s definitely more than I want and need and I just need to get around to going through it and letting it go.

    1. I used to be the worst. Now, I just hardly buy things so that I don’t have to deal with getting rid of it, haha.

  34. Helen Schmidt

    We have downsized so much but I still want to do more! My biggest source of complete confusion is what to do with all my pictures? Pictures of vacations, kids, friends. It stops me from moving forward. Any suggestions?

    1. I have over 100 photo albums currently sitting in a closet at my in-laws 🙂

      1. Allan Seabrook

        Hey Michelle,

        Smart idea moving your clutter to someone else’s place!

        Here’s a question if you or your followers have old, I mean really old photos, negatives, or even old photo albums from your parents…

        Have you had them digitized? At last count, my wife and I had around 20 photo albums for each of our two kids and I managed to salvage many of the negatives for digital scanning (yes, into the ‘cloud’). Having done this, it doesn’t really matter what happens to the physical albums. Unless, of course, you have made notes in them. That’s when you need to physically scan every page. Into the cloud, of course 😉

        Just some thoughts.

        Allan

        1. I kept all of my photos albums. Photography was a big love of my dad’s, and now that he’s passed away it’s a great way for me to feel close to him again.

  35. Allan Seabrook

    Hi Michelle,

    My mind boggles that you are able to make such a good living (financially speaking) while traveling in an RV. I’m completely new to your website and blog and haven’t as yet done a deep dive into the articles you have written, but two questions immediately have come to mind…

    + Do you have a permanent, like brick and mortar, home to come back to from time to time?

    + Do you make finding a Wi-Fi hotspot a priority when choosing each destination you visit?

    I ask you this because I’m working on an Internet-based retirement plan that’s to involve a lot of travel.

    Thanks!
    Allan

    1. We sold our house in 2015, so no we don’t have anything to go back to. We travel full-time 🙂

      No, we have a Verizon Mifi which is talked about in a lot of my RV articles – http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/tag/rv

  36. I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to recreate the pain and effort of having to get rid of most of your stuff. I have moved around so much with a backpack and now a van, but always left stuff at my parents (long after I’d moved out). Today I narrowed all the stuff I have here with my family to one bag of clothes (work wear and party dresses I will never need in the van) and one plastic box of books and sentimental nonsense. It’s not exactly minimalist, but I definitely feel better about it!

  37. I’m far from a minimalist, but have been wanting to start living a minimalist lifestyle! I’m trying my best to declutter and donate things we really don’t need.

  38. I love this post! I’m a recovering “stuffaholic” and I’m learning less is more! I’ve sold over 75 items out of my closet and it feels great! I’m working on getting rid of more! I can imagine how freeing it must be to live in an RV and not having to worry about taking care of and organizing a home full of stuff. Right on, Michelle!

  39. Mao

    I am not a minimalist but I try to be as much as I can. It really is all about making room for more of what you care.

  40. Candace Rivero

    When I moved into my 1st years ago RV I became a minimalist. Having the freedom to EXPERIENCE people, places, food and beautiful sights was much more important to me than the “stuff”. I still appreciate a great kitchen gadget 😉 Now 15 years later I think 3 times before I buy or bring in anything that isn’t PERFECT or I don’t know EXACTLY where it is going to be stored. “Less is more” is my motto now and it really supports a less-complicated lifestyle choice. I am looking forward to getting back out on the road again full-time again in 2018.

  41. Hi Michelle, this is a great article. I really enjoyed reading about your own experience because I had to go through something similar when moving overseas. We could only fit so much in our storage unit therefore I had to get rid of half of the house. That’s when I realised how much stuff we had and how we could still live without all of it! Great work and looking forward to reading more of your articles. 🙂

  42. I believe this is true. Owning less might be associated with being less materialistic.