A few years ago, as my wife and I were getting ready to welcome Hayden, our second child into our family, we began to talk with our daughter Angela (who was two-and-a-half at the time) about what it means to be a big sister.
One of the things we told her that was important for her to do as a big sister was to share some of her stuff with her soon-to-be little brother. She liked the idea of having a baby in the house, but she wasn’t to keen on the idea that he might want to play with her stuff.
A while later Angela started to notice Hayden reaching for a basket of some of her toys. It didn’t take her long to figure out that her new little brother, having discovered all his toys, wanted to take a crack at her’s.
She darted over to her pile of toys and grabbed as many as she could. She had so much stuff in her arms and hands that she had trouble moving. She couldn’t enjoy her stuff because she was holding on to too much stuff.
It’s hard to enjoy our life when we have too much stuff in our life.
Looking back, it’s easy to see the absurdity of my daughter’s strategy. She thought that if she could just hold on to everything that she could keep from losing anything.
But the truth is we can’t hold on to everything any more than we can do everything. Too much of anything, even good things, can weigh us down.
In order to free ourselves to live the kind of life we truly desire to live, a life filled with joy, meaning, and deep relationships we must learn to let go of the excess in our lives. Here are three tips to help you begin to lighten your load:
1. Clarify what’s most important in your life.
It’s hard to know what to get rid of until you know what is absolutely essential to your life. What are the things that matter most to you? For me, right now, it’s my faith, my family, my work, and my writing. In that order.
Having this prioritized list is the grid through which I filter my decisions, purchases, and commitments. I strive to focus on the things that enhance these things. I work hard to only buy the things that add value and bring joy into these areas.
Take some time to write down the 3-5 things that matter most to you. Your list will change over time. It’s good to reflect on it each day and to revise it from time to time to accurately reflect the season you are in. You may discover, like I did, that the most important things in your life aren’t things at all.
2. Eliminate the things you don’t need or want.
Begin to go through your stuff and get rid of the things that don’t line up with the things that are most important to you. The more stuff you own the more stress it creates. Clearing out the clutter will give you more time, energy, and space to pursue the things in your life that are really important.
3. Live below your means.
One of the biggest mistakes my wife and I made the first five years of our marriage was to live beyond our means. We used credit cards to buy things when we wanted them without saving for them first. As a result we incurred a lot of debt. We found ourselves paying more for things in the long run than we needed to and even paying off things that we no longer owned.
It’s taken us years to climb out of that debt and to learn how to handle our finances wisely. One of the best things we ever did for ourselves was create a budget and live off of less than we were making. Living below our means has allowed us to pay off yesterday and save for tomorrow so we can enjoy today.
Learn from our mistake and begin to live off of less than you make. It may mean letting go of some amenities, but those things will pale in comparison to the peace of mind you will experience in the long run.
Letting go isn’t easy. Our society tends to confuse excess with success. The message of our day is that the more you have the more you are. The more you own the more security you have. The more you do the more you will fill the void in your life.
But the truth is you will experience more of life by having less stuff in your life. Unburden yourself by uncluttering your life. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t let the things you hold on to hold you back.