Less is More

In our closets, our relationships and our careers

They get way too much pleasure out of it. Boy, they really do get a good laugh in. Sometimes it seems like they’re enjoying themselves a little bit too much, actually. 

I shouldn’t complain. I’m just as guilty. I know the pleasure of passing on the crates. 

The crates, of course, are full of children’s clothes. And the guilty parties are my brother-in-laws. You see we’ve got a lot of kids in this extended family. And that means a lot of hand-me-downs. And I mean a lot of hand-me-downs. Cratefuls of hand-me-downs. Enough to fill your attic on their own levels of hand-me-downs. Hats and gloves. Baseball cleats and sweatshirts. Dress-up dresses and soccer shorts. You name it, the crates have it. All of it. Sorted by age, of course. Five crates for six year-olds alone. 

You have a new baby? Congrats. You get the crates—delivered by a brother-in-law who seems unnecessarily delighted to offload them. And you know more are coming. A lot more. For years. 

This should be a good thing, right?

Of course, it should be. And it is. How fortunate are we to have a family with the means to purchase these clothes and the generosity to share them? Very fortunate—and I’m thankful for that. I really am. 

But... for some reason it doesn’t always feel so wonderful to be on the receiving end of the crates. Why? Well, that’s a question worth exploring—not only for the sake of our attics (or closets) but for the sake of our minds and our sense of well-being.

Clutter = Stress 

You see, despite the incredible amount of messages we’re inundated with daily urging us to buy, buy, buy; the unfortunate reality is that owning more “stuff” simply does not make us happier. 

More stuff equals clutter. And clutter makes us stressed and anxious. A study on the topic by Current Psychology, and quoted in The New York Times concluded that “among older adults, clutter problems were associated with life dissatisfaction.” Clutter directly clashes with our brain’s desire for order, running constantly in the background as a low-level, chronic stressor. It has been shown to negatively impact sleeping patterns, decision-making and self-control, and can even lead to increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Marie Kondo has this figured out. And apparently her message is resonating. She’s sold 10 million books on the “life-changing impact of tidying up.” That’s right. Ten million books that basically tell you to clean up. Astounding in one regard, but perfectly sensible when you consider the increasingly prominent role that consumerization (buying more stuff) is playing in our daily lives. 

Interestingly, Kondo notes that not only have her disciples experienced an increased sense of contentment and wellness in their lives upon decluttering, but amazingly, many have experienced a corresponding detoxification effect on their own bodies. She highlights examples (apparently common) where her followers have experienced bouts of diarrhea or even outbreaks of acne immediately after tossing those trash bags—their bodies physically expunging toxics alongside of the domestic purge. Incredible stuff.

Okay, maybe I’m not selling you on decluttering if you think the only result will be a (very) quick trip to drugstore for Immodium, but there are some lessons that we can apply to our own daily lives from Kondo’s success or the increasing traction of the minimalist movement (basically people throwing away all their worldly possessions). 

The ideas that “less is more” and “quality trumps quantity” are ones that particularly resonate with me. I’ve attempted to implement a “one in, one out” rule in my own closet for the last year. If I want to buy a pair of shoes, then I’ve got to donate a pair to Goodwill. Similarly, I’d much rather buy that one shirt that I know I will absolutely love and will wear religiously, than three shirts that may be on sale. (Incidentally, this concept has made me almost impossible to buy gifts for as I return nearly everything I receive. Sorry about that, family!). 

These ideas are not only relevant for our closets but are perhaps even more meaningful when we apply them to our relationships or careers. 

The quality of our relationships has an incredibly powerful impact on our health. A 2011 Harvard study of over 300,000 people (average age 64), found that those with strong social relationships had a 50% greater likelihood of survival than those who were isolated or had poor social relationships. Amazingly, the impact of having close relationships seemed to be comparable to the effect of quitting smoking and two times the impact of exercising regularly and maintaining a normal weight! 

So the quality of our relationships cannot be discounted, but even here we can experience “clutter.” The people-pleasers among us will realize the pressure to attend the friend-of-a-friend’s party on a Friday night as opposed to enjoying a glass of wine and an evening of meaningful conversation with a spouse or a close friend. The latter may quite literally be better for your health. 

Many of us who are parents have experienced another version of this decluttering effect during the pandemic-induced quarantine. Putting a (temporary) stop to the relentless pace of playdates, sporting events and other kids’ activities has resulted in a slowing down of life. The ironic consequence is that many of us have experienced higher quality interactions with our kids during this time. Playing cards. Watching old movies. And even just hanging around being bored with them. The activities are mundane on the surface, but it’s hard to argue that the time has been anything but well spent.  

When it comes to our jobs, these same principles apply. As we grow more senior in our careers, we’re asked to attend more meetings. We’re seen as the go-to person for more tasks. We receive an ever-increasing number of emails.

More, more, more.

But is more better? No, more is stress. More is distraction. More is often just noise, as opposed to meaningful, rewarding work.

So even here, a culling is needed. A delegation of tasks. Carving out time in our own calendars to do the work we need to do. Taking a break from the relentless and usually unproductive cycle of more, more, more. And instead focusing on quality. On impact. On how we can actually make a difference. And I can tell you, that difference is almost never found in the constant ping pong of email responses. 

So, am I overreacting to the crates?

Quite possibly! And again, we’re damn lucky to have them. 

But I’m convinced that in almost all cases, “more” is not better. In many cases, it’s even been proven to be detrimental to our health and sense of satisfaction in life.

So we need to be protective—insanely protective—of what we let in. The physical possessions we let in ours doors. The people we let into our lives. And the tasks we agree to take on. 

Focus, as I wrote recently, is a superpower. It’s a superpower that is necessary to cultivate an environment of fulfillment in every part of our lives. 

Zac Brown knows this. In his song Homegrown, he sings “I’ve got everything I need, and nothin’ that I don’t.”

Let’s take a lesson from this Country troubadour. Let’s stay focused on what we need, and say ‘no’ to what we don’t. 

Or maybe, let’s just binge-watch some Marie Kondo—I hear she’s got a good show on Netflix these days.