How to be Happier with Less Stuff

Writer, designer, and founder of Life Edited Graham Hill asks whether owning less stuff in less space can lead to increased happiness? He makes the case for taking up less space, and lays out three rules for editing your life. Check out his TED Talk linked below, or read on after the break to learn his tips.

We Have Too Much Stuff

Hill says that despite Americans having three times the amount of space than they did 50 years ago, nevertheless personal storage is still a $22 billion industry, and comprises 2.2 billion square feet of space. We have so much more space than we did five decades ago, yet we still don’t have enough space for all of our stuff!

Of course, the problem is not actually that we don’t have enough space. Clearly, we have plenty. In fact, the real problem is that we just have too much stuff. We are obsessed with acquiring it, collecting it, changing it—disposing of our old stuff and consuming newer stuff.

Where does this excessive consumerism lead?

Is Overconsumption Making You Sad?

The more obsessed we become with acquiring stuff, the less happy we actually become. That’s because, with over-consumption comes debilitating credit card debt, stress of managing our stuff, and unpleasant environmental impacts (which affect us even if we don’t consciously realize it on a daily basis).

To combat this modern-day unhappiness, Hill sought to discover whether less might actually equal more. That is, he wondered if by paring down his possessions to just the bare essentials, he might actually increase his level of happiness.

The Joy of Less

In his TEDx Talk, Hill asks you to think back to a time when you had very few material possessions, and to remember the level of freedom that allowed. His examples include a college dorm, a hotel room, or camping with basically nothing. In all of these scenarios, the limited number of objects in your possession actually maximizes the level of freedom you have. In most college dorm rooms, the number of objects a person would need in order to relocate could fit reasonable into the back of a vehicle. The same is true of camping. And of course, while on holiday travelling with just a suitcase or two, you become even more mobile.

Whatever the scenario, it gave you a little more time and freedom. Hill says that’s because, contrary to the marketing lies we’ve been fed for most of our lives, less stuff in less space actually equals a better life.

How to Live Little:

Upon this realization, Hill decided to live a fuller life on a smaller scale. He started Life Edited, and began an experiment. He bought a 400 square foot apartment in New York and crowdsourced ideas for maximizing the space. In the end, he was able to fit 1,000 square feet worth of functionality into one small room. This way of living helped him narrow down three tips for living big while living little:

  1. Edit ruthlessly. Hill says it’s important to clear the arteries, cut the extraneous out of our lives, and stem the inflow. To do this, we must learn how to think before we buy. The next time you go shopping or see tantalizing marketing campaigns, ask yourself: Is that object really going to make me happier? Truly? Do I want to invest not only the money to buy it, but also the time to maintain it, the effort to repair it, and the space to store it? Buy and own great stuff if you want, but make sure it’s stuff you’re going to use and love for years.
  2. Small is sexy. Here, Hill emphasizes the importance of efficiency. He recommends that when allowing the few actually necessary items to remain in our lives, to invest in items that nest, stack, or are otherwise easily stored, cleaned, and organized. He also recommends digitizing paperwork and getting rid of physical movies and albums in exchange for their cloud-based alternatives. When you live in a tiny space, there simply isn’t room for massive collections anymore. Luckily, we live in a time where most media can be stored online or on hard drives.
  3. Multifunctional spaces and housewares. As often as possible, invest in multifunctional spaces and furniture that allow you to maximize the room in multiple ways. His bed folds up into the wall to reveal a sofa below—because when you think about it, when do you actually need to sit on both the bed and the sofa at the same time? He also has a little side table that stretches out to seat 10. Sometimes you have a dinner party for 10 people, and it’s nice to have the space to accommodate them. But most of us don’t need a table that seats 10 taking up space in our homes every single day, not to mention an entirely separate dining room that goes unused 350 days of the year.

The opportunities for minimizing and condensing your life are really quite limitless. Take a look around the space you’re currently in and see if there’s even one thing you can reduce. Remember, action builds momentum, and you just might find yourself happier after minimizing.

About The Author

Camille Fairbanks

Camille Fairbanks was born and raised in Arizona and now resides in Lethbridge, AB. She received her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge; she now raises her children and her garden full time, and enjoys writing about minimalism and the Zero Waste lifestyle on her blog, The Non-Waster.


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