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3 Step Process to Redefine Your Relationship with Stuff

I’ve been thinking about what has changed since I starting living with less. There are the obvious changes like:

  • living in a smaller space
  • leaving the corporate work world
  • having time to do things I care about

And then there are the not so obvious invisible changes and benefits. I am more comfortable being quiet. I don’t think I’m wasting time when I am dreaming about things that sound crazy. I’ve stopped trying to prove myself and one of the biggest changes that happened quietly in the background is that I redefined my relationship with stuff.

I used to depend on stuff to tell my story. The books I owned showed that I was smart and had many interests. My cosmetics collection told the story of how put together I  was and how I deserved expensive things for working so hard. A closet full of brand name clothes proved that I was successful and had good taste. The sentimental items from my past painted a picture of a happy childhood.

There were so many other things in my home and life that were telling a story, but it stopped being my story. I knew that I was more than the stuff I owned, but all of that clutter became so noisy that I wasn’t really sure what the story was anymore.

All of that changed when I redefined my relationship with stuff. It didn’t take hours of therapy or much thought at all. The mental, inward shift came from consistent outward action.

3 step process to redefine your relationship with stuff

1. Live without it.
You don’t have to get rid of it all to understand what it would be like to live without your stuff. Instead, experiment by trying a packing party or minimalist fashion challenge Project 333. Getting a little space between you and your stuff adds so much perspective to what’s really adding value to your life, and what stuff is just a distraction or a security blanket. Enjoy the space you create and use it to determine what comes back in. After your experiment, let go of everything you didn’t miss, need or want.

2. Let it flow.
Think about the volume of stuff that has come and gone throughout your life. The other day I was walking in the city and passed a vintage thrift store. Out on display  was my very first telephone. It was a Snoopy phone that my parents gave me for my 10th birthday. I remember thinking how cool it was because it had push buttons instead of a dial. Seeing it decades later made me smile, but it never crossed my mind to bring it home.

I used to lend books with my name written on the inside front cover for a better chance at having them returned. Today, I pass books and other things on and give freely. When you have a looser grip on your stuff, you can let go more easily when it doesn’t serve you, or if someone needs it more.

3. Recognize that the best things aren’t things.
Make a list of the 10 best things that happened in your life this year. How many of those things can you buy at the mall or shove in a drawer? The things that are shaping our lives, lifting us up, and connecting us to what matters most aren’t things.

These three steps will help you redefine your relationship with stuff. As you declutter and live with less, you’ll want and need less. Clutter attracts clutter, space attracts space and calm attracts calm. Create what you want by including more of it in your life.

Why redefining your relationship with stuff will change your life

You will compare less.
The best thing about my relationship with stuff is that it is not defined by what other people think, or what other people own. I don’t feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses or anyone else.

I could compare and say that …

  • I probably own more kitchen appliances and utensils than Joshua.
  • My small apartment is almost 6 times larger than Tammy’s tiny house.

Comparison is how I used to measure, but redefining my relationship with stuff gave me freedom from comparison. Knowing that I own more or less than someone else doesn’t define what’s right for me. Comparison is not part of the equation in the changes I am making in my life, because I’ve determined what’s enough for me and my family. I can be inspired by my friends Joshua and Tammy without having to replicate their journey. When you can you eliminate comparison, you find happiness in doing what you know is right for you.

You will have fewer attachments.
As I continue to declutter and downsize and determine what enough really means, I become less and less attached to stuff. And since I’ve become less attached to stuff, I’ve become less attached to expectations and outcomes and more comfortable with uncertainty. When you become less attached, it’s easier to let go of anything that holds you back.

You can make decisions without factoring in your stuff.
When you redefine your relationship with stuff, you won’t feel compelled to take it with you. If you move across the country, you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for moving vans or storage facilitates. You can choose where you want to live without closet space and the number of cabinets in the kitchen being the deciding factor. When you can make decisions without factoring in your stuff, you are free.

Your stuff stops owning you.
When you redefine your relationship with stuff, you can sell or give away almost everything you own without the mental or emotional anguish that comes when your stuff owns you. Look around. What owns you?

  • If you keep dusting and moving around a single vase and never put flowers in it, it owns you.
  • If you are paying hundreds of dollars a month for a car because it has heated seats and satellite radio, it owns you.
  • If there is art shoved in your closet instead of hanging on your wall, it owns you.
  • That pile of paper on your desk that you keep organizing owns you too.

Those are just examples, but if you really notice your stuff, you can easily determine what you own because it makes your life better and you will just as easily recognize the things that own you. Replace that stuff with freedom and joy

You can be happy anytime.
When you redefine your relationship with stuff, you learn that happiness is a choice, and that it doesn’t come from the mall. When your happiness and other emotions aren’t tied to the stuff you own and the stuff you wished you owned, you can be happy anytime.