Home » Blog » Why Less Stuff Doesn’t Always Equal Less Stress (And That’s a Good Thing) [Episode 38]

Why Less Stuff Doesn’t Always Equal Less Stress (And That’s a Good Thing) [Episode 38]

Most people declutter because they want more ease in their lives. But what happens when things turn out as expected? Is it a sign you need to simplify more? Or is it something else? Listen to this episode of the Simply + Fiercely Show to find out!

In This Episode:

  • an unexpected side effect of decluttering
  • a new perspective on stress and difficult emotions
  • how decluttering can be a catalyst for intentional living and personal development

Featured In This Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

Why Less Stuff Doesnt Always Equal Less Stress (And That’s a Good Thing)

Hey everybody, it’s Jennifer here, and welcome back to the Simply + Fiercely Show.

Today, I want to talk to you about why decluttering and owning less stuff doesn’t always lead to less stress and surprisingly, why I think that’s a good thing.

So, this is going to be a bit of a controversial, maybe perspective-changing episode. I don’t know. But this is something that I’m pretty passionate about.

Decluttering = Less Stress does not always happen

Let’s start with the expectation.

Everybody talks about how one of the benefits of decluttering is less stress. I’ve said that myself, and I do believe that to a certain extent, that’s true. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

But I also feel like there’s this perception that there is some sort of magic finish line in the future where if you declutter enough and simplify enough, you’re going to get to this point where you’re going to cross that finish line and your life is just going to be easy.

Your life is going to be full of ease, and it’s going to be sunshine and rainbows, and that’s not what happens for most people.

Instead, it can actually be very challenging. You’ll declutter and instead of feeling at ease, you’ll find that new stresses and new worries come up. And it can feel like you’re doing something wrong.

From experience with talking to some of my clients and many of my listeners, a lot of people think, “Okay. Well, the problem is I haven’t done enough. I need to simplify more. What needs to be more decluttered, more simplified, more decluttering? And if I just keep going, that magic finish line is not a myth, I will eventually cross it and then I will live in the land of stress-free living.”

And as I said, I don’t believe that happens. I know from experience.

Jen’s personal experience in achieving a stress-free life through simplifying and decluttering

A little background about myself. I have been experimenting with decluttering and minimalism since the late 2000s, but from 2013 to 2015 is probably when I hit my peak minimalist period.

That was before I had kids. I had downsized my life, and I was living in a studio apartment that was only 140 square feet. It was really tiny. We shared our kitchen and bathroom with another apartment, which sounds horrible. Now, I’m like, “How did I do that?”

But during that period, it actually wasn’t that bad. It was a really lovely, beautiful space, like a historic house with beautiful wood floors, and big windows.

My living expenses during this time were so low. Our accommodation costs were very inexpensive and it included a lot of our bills. I’m trying to think back. It included internet, it included electricity, and that was all packaged into this really low rate.

It was probably the time in my life when my income-to-expenses ratio was just so low. I had so much disposable money. Adding to that, I ended up working part-time, which felt very strange.

It was very oddly liberating because I was in my early 30s at the time, I didn’t have kids. It felt so indulgent to only work part-time because I wanted to, and that was really the plan.

My reason for deciding to work part-time was, well, I’ve got a lot of disposable income at the moment. So, what I would like right now is to claim back some of my time. I thought that when I started working fewer hours I was going to be so relaxed. I was going to go on all these lovely long walks and I was going to go to yoga class more often and read more books, all of that kind of stuff.

Where, in reality, that’s not what happened.

So, yes, I did have less of certain types of stress. Like cleaning was a really quick task. I didn’t spend much of my time cleaning my house just because it was so small. As I said, my cost of living was greatly reduced. So, even working part-time, I didn’t have the money stress. As someone who has had severe money stress at certain stages of my life, I know how stressful that can be. So, I’m not downplaying and saying that I’m not grateful for that experience.

There was so much that was beautiful about that period of my life, and I am very grateful. But at the same time, the reality of the situation is that less stuff is more space. And as we’ve already said, that’s great for cleaning and various other reasons, but once you start to have more space in your life, and I’m talking physically, mentally, in your wallet, in your schedule, as you have that space, what I found is that things that I had been avoiding started to come up.

That might be things like… I don’t know. I was around 33 so it’s not a midlife crisis. It was like a third life crisis.

But anyway, I had all this time to myself, so I’m like, “What am I doing? I’m working a job that I don’t hate, but I don’t love and it’s not really leading me anywhere.” I was having one of those big, “What am I doing with my life?” moments.

I also realized that as I slowed down, I wasn’t working as much. I wasn’t shopping. If you’re new here, I used to be a shopaholic, so that’s something that used to take up a lot of my time. Now, there was space for so much to come up, some of my fears, my insecurities, and even trauma and things from childhood. I had so much time to think and to be honest with you, it was not comfortable.

Also, it felt very hard to talk about because, during that period of my life, everyone from the outside looking in was like, “Oh, you’re so lucky. You have this ideal situation.” And I did, so I felt guilty talking about the fact that in reality, all of this nastiness… I don’t know. Not nastiness, just all this hard stuff, all these really hard challenging emotions were coming to the surface.

The challenges of having more space and time

So, in a way, I think this is sometimes why people go through these clutter cycles where they declutter their home and then they find themselves filling it back up again.

It is like if you’ve ever had a big piece of furniture in your home and then you’ve gotten rid of it, and then there’s a blank spot where you’re used to seeing things and it’s uncomfortable. Your eye finds it visually odd until you get used to it. I think that’s an analogy for what I went through.

So, I had all this space, and yes, I know it’s a very privileged position to be in. I’m still obviously carrying some guilt about it. I feel like a spoiled person saying this, but it was also a really difficult time because all of these things that I had wanted to avoid came up.

I should just mention on a side note that that’s often why, or it’s a really significant reason why some people have clutter to begin with. Our lives are hard. We have all sorts of things that we don’t want to face, all sorts of tough emotional things.

My peak shopaholic period, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that was about the time when I was having the most problems in my first marriage. And so, I didn’t want to face that because that’s yucky and not fun to deal with, so I shopped instead.

Sometimes our lives become so busy and cluttered in the first place because there are things that we try to avoid. But then when you have less stuff and you have more time, all of that rises to the surface.

To sum things up, when you declutter and you have less stuff, it doesn’t necessarily lead to that completely idealistic, beautiful situation that I was expecting, where my life is just going to feel good, and it’s almost like I’m floating through my day in this bubble of happiness. That is not a realistic goal.

Decluttering can lead to new forms of stress, but also growth

To talk about the kind of twist on my title is that less stuff doesn’t necessarily lead to less stress, but that’s a good thing. And it’s because we are meant to have these challenging feelings and to work through them to some extent.

You’re not necessarily meant to have a life full of trauma, but it’s when you go through these things and what you learn about yourself, and as you come out the other side, that’s how you grow.

To quote one of my favorite authors, a woman named Dr. Susan David, she wrote a book called Emotional Agility, which I adore, but she’s also done a TED Talk.

In her TED Talk, she talks about how we want to avoid difficult emotions. The way that she described it is that if that’s your goal, you have dead-person goals.

The only way to live a life where you’re not going to have difficult emotions is to be dead, which is really blunt, but at the same time, it’s kind of an eye-opener.

So, when you declutter and simplify, you are still going to have some stress, you’re still going to have some level of difficult emotions, but the way it feels to me is that it’s almost like a different class of stress. It is more meaningful.

A lot of people right now are dealing with stress, like, “What am I going to make for dinner? How am I going to deal with everything in the house? When am I going to get the laundry done?”

It’s like survival mode kind of stress. When you declutter and simplify, it’s not a magic wand. You’re not going to make all of those things go away, but you do reduce that type of stress.

Then what happens is you create space for “more meaningful stress”, or hard things, or challenges, or things that just don’t feel easy.

For example, when I look back at 2015, which is during this time, as I said when I was my most minimalist and I was dealing with a lot of these emotional challenges, that’s also when I was in the period of starting my blog, which eventually, if you’re listening to this now, that has become my full time business and that’s hard.

Being self-employed is hard. And it’s not even the workload. When I look back now at that meaningful stress, it was having to get comfortable with putting my thoughts out there. Recording a podcast and knowing that people are listening to my voice and listening to me when I’m umming and ahhing, or they might think that my ideas are ridiculous, is hard.

That is the kind of stress that people want to avoid. But in the end, as you work through it, the rewards are there. There’s some kind of beautiful reward at the end when you come out the other side.

I had to deal with facing so much failure, so much self-doubt, and so much insecurity. But now, I have this beautiful career where I still have some doubt and insecurity, I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, but I make a living sharing ideas that I think are really meaningful with people, and that still blows my mind.

All of that happened because I created this space in my life to deal with hard things, having to find answers to really challenging questions, like what is my purpose? What do I care about? What do I want to do with my time? But it’s the kind of stress that is absolutely worth it.

Invitation to join the Clear Your Clutter program

I hope you found this perspective helpful.

I’ll also mention that if you enjoyed this episode, if you are interested in using decluttering as a tool for intentional living, for personal growth, if that resonates with you, then I know that you would love my program Clear Your Clutter.

Clear Your Clutter is my group decluttering program that I run twice a year where I help my clients get to the roots of their clutter.

Because more often than not, your clutter is the result of your thoughts, your beliefs, your fears, and your anxieties. All of these contribute, and it’s why it’s so hard for you to let go.

But when you understand the why, when you get to the roots of your clutter, not only does it empower you to let go, but you also get this beautiful self-awareness. It’s what you learn about yourself that is really a huge secondary benefit that nobody’s talking about. That doesn’t happen with every decluttering program. The way that you declutter matters. And as I said, if you are interested in that, the program is called Clear Your Clutter.

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