12 Days of Giving: The Gift of Less

This is the tenth in our special “12 Days of Giving” series running for the holiday season. It’s a little different from what you might think of as traditional presents or giving. We aren’t really talking about stuff you buy or a gift list. Rather, on these 12 days, we will be talking about different gifts that you can give to yourself, or others — those that have a deeper meaning, that can help you live with intention, be happier, be healthier. Soul gifts, you might even call them. Join us on the journey.

At first glance, the idea of “less” may hardly seem like a gift. And I suppose it really has a lot to do with the space in the world that a person occupies — for many people who live on less than sustenance and struggle just for survival, obviously they need a lot more.

But for most of us, the complete opposite is true. And the two actually have a correlation.

For most of us, certainly most everyone reading this, we have far more than we need. I’m not here to make anyone feel bad about that, or to shame anyone for what they have. That is not my intention at all. Rather, my thought process here with this idea of “less” being a gift is to take a look at all the stuff we have. What we’ve bought, all the goods we’ve amassed. Often, it’s not just more than we need but way, way too much. To the point where it begins to own us, more than we own it.

Initially, we buy things because we enjoy them (no problem with that!), or to reward ourselves. We get a pay raise, and we get a bigger house. Then maybe work gets more stressful, so we feel we need more “toys” to make us feel good when we aren’t working. Before we know it, we’ve amassed so much that we have to work even harder to pay for it all and to maintain it.

“But I’ve worked hard for all this,” I can hear a lot of people saying. And I’m not denying or disputing that Although, I would invite anyone to consider the role that luck may have played as well, in simply being born into the right place in the world, at the right time, with a certain color skin or a certain gender. For most of us, that random lottery of life has a lot more to do with our good fortune than we would like to admit. It’s the “invisible knapsack” of privilege, as Peggy McIntosh says. We don’t all begin on the same starting line. Check out the Privilege Race, below, for a powerful yet simple demonstration of this:

I digress a bit, but bear with me, as these things deserve our thought and attention. But back to that idea of less.

Have you heard of the Story of Stuff project?

We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division.

The Story of Stuff Project’s journey began with a 20-minute online movie about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives. Five years and 40 million views later, we’re a Community of more than a million changemakers worldwide, working to build a more healthy and just planet.

I’ve become more and more minimalist as I’ve moved through life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “bare essentials” minimal — I have my share of “stuff,” but I try really hard to limit how much new stuff I buy; I pay attention to how I reuse and recycle; I avoid one-time disposables like plastic and such. I refuse to have an attic, garage or storage space and I regularly pare down my closet and household goods, donating things I haven’t used in a year.

It’s incredibly freeing, empowering and liberating to get out from under all our stuff. So much so that a number of books have been written about it, such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own and The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store.

There are also a number of other movements, like the Story of Stuff, that rally around this concept:

The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. At first glance, people might think the point of minimalism is only to get rid of material possessions: Eliminating. Jettisoning. Extracting. Detaching. Decluttering. Paring down. Letting go.

But that’s a mistake. Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less. We focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more creativity, more experiences, more contribution, more contentment, more freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps make that room. Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which aren’t things at all.

Think you can play the Minimalism Game? Check it out here.

Becoming Minimalist

Becoming Minimalist is designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions.

My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it. We began donating, recycling, and removing our unnecessary personal possessions. We embarked on an intentional journey to own less stuff. As a result, we discovered more money, more time, more energy, more freedom, less stress, and more opportunity to pursue our greatest passions: faith, family, friends. And we decided to write about it.

Becoming Minimalist quickly became a place to encourage others to embrace minimalism. It does not boldly require anyone to become minimalist overnight—nor does it specifically define the word for you. Instead, it encourages each reader to discover their own journey and the far-reaching benefits that come from owning less.

Be More With Less

You may own your stuff, but it owns you right back. It owns your money, your time, your attention, and space in your home.

It is important however, to understand the impact of things you buy, own, and take care of. Owning something might be a complete waste of money and time, or it might bring joy and value to your life. I own a laptop and it allows me to work from anywhere and connect with people everywhere. That = joy and value. I also own beautiful art that hangs on my walls. It’s not necessary, but it makes me smile. That = joy and value.

Owning less allows me to fully appreciate the things I do have, and it also reminds me that I don’t need much to be happy.

This blog, run by Courtney Carver, has several micro-courses you can take and a great checklist on how to own less. One thing Courtney does is a capsule wardrobe, which I did as part of my 30 Days at a Time experiment a few years ago.

Me with my Six Items wardrobe
Me with my Six Items wardrobe

Six Items or Less

One of my 30 Days at a Time experiments was a wardrobe challenge called Six Items or Less, where you select six items of clothing and wear ONLY those items for a month. You can read more about my challenge here, but basically I found it very freeing to not worry about what I was going to wear every day, and it really inspired me to drastically pare down my wardrobe (as well as other things around my house).

Living Sustainably

I also did a 30 Days of Sustainability, which reinforced my already strong commitment to being environmentally aware and creating as much of a sustainable, reusable lifestyle as I comfortably can. Today I reuse a lot; like for instance, instead of using throwaway plastic wrap in my home, I use cloth and beeswax wrappers that can be used over and over again. My commitment to this type of lifestyle is so strong that I even opened a small store, GigiBees, to carry and offer products that are reusable and sustainable. It will definitely be a focus of mine over the coming year.

In fact, my hard look at sustainability even led to a huge lifestyle change for me. I discovered that two of the biggest culprits in this arena are automobiles and e-waste (all those millions of discarded mobile phones, computers and other electronics lying in trash heaps). A couple of years later, I bought an electric car — which I still drive and use and absolutely LOVE!

So how does living with less, and the less fortunate, connect?

I mentioned this at the beginning of this article, so I’m tying up loose ends to clarify how they relate.

First of all, again the point of all this isn’t to lecture anyone or make them feel guilty. It’s simply to think about being aware of what we own and use, and how we do so. Owning less can be a very liberating thing, and it also can go a long way toward sustainability for the planet, and other people on it.

Basically, we all have an ecological footprint. Your lifestyle determines your footprint — what kind of a house you live in, car you drive, how much you own, how you live. The more of a footprint each of us takes up, the less there is for others. We only have so many resources on this planet; they are not infinite. When some people take up more than their share, there’s less for other people.

I hear some people thinking, “Me not buying one thing isn’t going to affect some poor person in India.” Yes, that might be true, directly speaking. But indirectly, we are all a part of this planet, and what we do does affect each other in the big picture.

Want to find out how much of the earth you’re taking up? You can take this quiz to see what your Ecological Footprint is. When I took the quiz back in 2011, I was surprised to learn that in spite of my awareness and decently green lifestyle choices, I am still living as if I had 3.27 earths – so more than three times the resources that the earth would currently provide if everyone lived my lifestyle. I took the quiz again today, and am happy to report that in the past 7 years I have gotten that number down to 2.31 Earths — still more than my fair share, but I’m making progress in the right direction.

Living with Less means Having More

Ultimately, I firmly believe that for most of us, we not only can live with much less — but that it would actually make us happier, and make our lives easier. It can also save money. And — bonus points! — it would have a great impact on other people on this earth, and the planet itself.

What’s your take on this? Have you ever tried reducing your footprint or the amount of stuff you own? How did that affect your life?

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