The Joy of Less

How buying less "stuff" can make us happier


About ten years ago, my sister introduced me to the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, now famous for her “does it spark joy” catch phrase. This book didn’t actually change my life (not the way Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project did), but it had a huge influence on how I look at my “stuff” and freed me from the shopping habits that were bringing me down.


The premise of the KonMarie method of organizing is to clear away your clutter so you can live the life you want. This isn’t just about tidying – it’s about evaluating everything you own and keeping only the things you cherish. Living in a space with less clutter and that contains only the things you actually need and want frees up space in your mind and allows you to think more clearly. In Marie Kondo’s words, “Tidying your physical space allows you to tend to your psychological space.”


Marie Kondo’s philosophy comes at the right time since it deals with an alarming trend present in most of the developed world: over-consumption. According to the United Nations, consumption of goods is the greatest driver of our environmental crisis. The extraction and processing of resources to support the growing need for our “stuff” accounts for more than 90% of our biodiversity loss and water stress, and about half of our climate change impacts. Canadians are a big part of the problem: if everyone in the world consumed the way we do, it would take the equivalent of four Earth’s worth of resources to support the demand. Is all of this consuming making us happier? Do you feel happier when you have more things in your house?


Buying less “stuff” gives us a clearer home and a clearer mind, and it makes a real difference in the fight against environmental degradation. And there is another hugely personal impact: more money. Spending less on things that don’t bring us happiness opens the door for more meaningful and joy-inducing spending.


Many of us saw our credit card bills shrink during the first part of the pandemic as buying things became difficult. We didn’t wander the mall or cruise the aisles at Walmart, spontaneously adding things our carts. We were even limited in our virtual shopping carts: remember when that thing you wanted to order from Amazon would arrive in eight weeks instead of two days (or not at all)?


Having my access to shopping curtailed during the early days of COVID showed me that all the shopping I used to do didn’t make me happier. And I see now that

I need fewer new things: my desire to have something new to wear has plunged, and I’m making do with my old items that I thought needed to be replaced – but actually still function just fine. As a result, I’m lugging fewer giant bags of castaways to the thrift store, and I have more money in my savings account to spend on doing things that make me and my family happy. Although my home is still more cluttered than I’d like, I’m not wasting as much of my time and energy to fight the battle to contain our stuff.


Did the pandemic-induced spending curtailment have a lasting impact on you? Have your consumptions habits changed? There are so many awful impacts of the pandemic, but one bright spot – in addition to virtual parent-teacher interviews - has been this opportunity to re-evaluate how we spend our money. Would you feel more financially secure (and therefore happier) by putting some of the money you are saving into your retirement account or your kids’ RESP? Does spending money on going to the theatre, a concert, or the waterpark bring you joy? In Kondo’s words: “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”


Reducing our consumption requires a re-jigging of how we think about our possessions. The payoff is big, for our minds, our bank accounts, and the planet.


Environment stat from the United Nations Environment Program report, 2019.