5 Ways to Begin Simplifying Your Wants

Minimalism. It's one of those trendy things that's mildly controversial as well. So we see people becoming minimalists — or at least believing that they are — around every corner. But you want to know a secret? They're home or their office will soon be full of stuff before long. It isn't just your collection of things that needs to be simplified... it's your wants. After purging your home of unnecessary items, you'll find yourself right back where you started in a year if you never learned to quell the incessant desires of a 21st Century mind.

What's beautiful about starting with simplifying your wants is that you'll find yourself purging the valueless and unnecessary things from your life as a natural response to your contentment and gratitude. It approaches the problem rather than the symptoms.

We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.
— Donald Horban

There are many approaches that we can take toward simplifying our wants. For example, the philosophy behind simplifying our wants, I believe, is very spiritually rooted. There are also physiological, psychological, emotional, and relational benefits to the practice. In fact, I've struggled to find any situation in which maximizing our wants is of benefit to us. In the spirit of simplification, I want to remind you, once again, that simplicity is removing those things that are of no consequence to you, freeing you up to invest in those things which are. Of course, the things which add value to our lives - the possessions which we actually need - will change in time. As we get older, we'll find certain things come in and out of our lives corresponding with different seasons. Career paths, marital status, children, location... the pillars of our lives will all play a part in dictating what we deem to be of worth.

Despite an ever-changing life, no matter our current circumstances, whether we are 18 or 68, the key to simplifying our wants is to begin with gratitude. A fundamental understanding of what a blessing our lives are will bring us quickly to our knees in thankfulness. Realizing that each breath is a gift from God and that our purpose on this earth is His glory not our own is the lens through which we should view what we have. By changing our perspective, our attitude toward our possessions changes from ownership to stewardship. This relational change will shift your perspective; no longer are you the owner or the earner but the recipient and the manager. We've been given a life to enjoy and whether we're enjoying a meager meal in a small cottage or a feast in a NYC loft, we're in no position to tell God, "you've got it all wrong - I was supposed to get something better." We're the recipients. And not recipients only, but stewards!

The implications of stewardship are a beautiful thing as well that I won't delve into in this article but I wouldn't want to pass up the opportunity to touch on it. We manage the assets that God has given us and, as managers, are expected to create returns on those assets. Not necessarily monetary returns either which is an exciting prospect! How are we using our stuff to make an impact (especially a Spiritual one)? Just something to chew on. Back to gratitude.

What a unique treasure are the things we have learned to live without, for no thief can take them from us.
— Robert Brault

If we approach our lives with grateful attitudes, we'll find ourselves content with those things. And contentment leads to simplification. I think most often, those who are most content are those with fewer possessions. Perhaps it's because they receive the greatest joys from the simple pleasures that cannot be found in possessions. Like relationships. Maybe their lack of material objects involuntarily forces them to seek fulfillment elsewhere and they run head on into the waiting arms of life's simplest joys. I guess I'm not really sure why that is, but I do know that the ultimate end to gratitude is contentment with less. And that in that contentment, one can find the security that people search for in wealth. Ironic isn't it?

Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.
— John Ruskin, an art critic in the 19th century

Possessions are fun and delightful, no doubt. But in our ownership of them, I'm afraid we become the owned. With every possession, our minds are given to a new burden. It's a new piece of our lives that we must protect, maintain and keep up with. I realize that sounds over dramatic - we don't literally become slaves to our toy soldiers. But in a way we do - we become mentally tied to our things so easily that, if we're not careful, they can tend to bankrupt us of the flexibility and ease of a simple life.

In the void of possessions, we'll find joy through the experiences that fill them.

I discovered this for myself which you can read about in my personal story. During the two months of living with only a backpack's worth of possessions, I realized how few things are necessities and how easy it was to live without them once I had no other option. Here are five ways that you can start to simplify your wants and, consequently, your possessions:

1. Give More

How quick are you to let go of your possessions? This is a good barometer of how much hold they have on you. Honestly, this is one that I struggle with because the things that I do own are the things that I really love having. They're the things that add value to my life! But, in the end, what good are my possessions if I'm not using them to bless others? I wouldn't be a very good steward. If, on the other hand, my sole purpose is to use what God has given me to make others' lives better, I would be quick to give, lend, or use my possessions and be better for it. I'm going to be working on this one. Join me?

2. Purge the Things You Dislike

All you need to do is start. Just to get your feet wet and let you experience the freedom of simplifying. So I picked a super easy place to start: getting rid of stuff you already don't like. This is your excuse! This week, see if you can get rid of one trash bag's worth of stuff. Give, sell or toss it all.

3. Say "Thank You"

Make a habit of saying "thank you" to anyone and everyone who does something nice to/for you. I've noticed that people in restaurants will completely ignore the waiter or waitress when they top off their drinks. Sure, you might be caught up in conversation but that person just served you and yes, they get paid for it, but give them a smile and a thank you, will ya? Making "thank you" a knee-jerk reaction to life will foster an attitude of gratitude.

4. Old Fashioned Notes

Handwritten letters are the jam. I love receiving them and I love writing them because there's something about taking time to tell someone "thank you" that makes it feel a little more real. Used to, when you would go over to someone's home for dinner, after you finish eating, you would offer to do the dishes. You know, 'cause they cooked so you'll return the favor by cleaning up. It was a "thank you" paid in time and energy. Now days, it's so easy to Venmo, Snapcash or $Cashtag your friends that we've begun replacing effort with money. But what is money? It's basically an I.O.U. for future goods or services performed by someone else! It takes the human element out of the "thank you." No longer is your time and your energy being directly dished out to return the favor. Thankfully, little gestures like a nice, handwritten note haven't gone completely extinct. Write one tonight. Here I'll help you:

Dear Their Name,
I was just thinking about you and though I'd drop you a note to say thanks.
You've been super helpful with ____________ and I didn't want to let that go unappreciated. Anyway, I hope you have a fabulous week! Let's chat soon, okay?
Your Name

Easy, right?

5. 30 Days Challenge

WARNING: Do not proceed any further if you do not wish to dive headfirst into simplifying your possessions!

...still here? Great! The 30 Days Challenge is a game created by The Minimalists to help you declutter your possessions in 30 days. Here's how to play:

  1. "Find a friend or family member. Someone who’s willing to get rid of some of their excess stuff."
  2. "Get rid of one thing on the first day of the month."
  3. "On the second, two things."
  4. "Three items on the third. So forth, and so on."
  5. "Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc."
  6. "Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day."
  7. "Whoever can keep it going the longest wins. You both win if you can make it all month. Bonus points if you play with more than two people."

Good luck!

How many things are there which I do not want.
— Socrates