Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Decluttering is the first step to removing what you don't want, but how do you cultivate the things you do want in your life?
For the record, let me start off by staying I’m a big fan of Marie Kondo. I believe tidying up can be a life changing experience and I have personally benefited from the strategies she offers to help us declutter and live with our most important possessions – the ones that “spark joy.” Over the past few years, I’ve participated in a month-long minimalism challenge, donated countless items to thrift stores and my community’s Buy Nothing/Neighborly Gifting groups, and downsized to a 400 square foot apartment in center city Philadelphia. I’m mindful of my consumption and typically don’t buy things that I don’t need. If you were to ask me my thoughts on the decluttering movement, I’d say I’m all about it! I’m all about it, but I also think it’s half-baked.
Most people I talk to about decluttering have told me some variation of “if I can just get rid of my clutter, I’ll feel freer, lighter, and less stressed.” There’s a lot of truth to this. Decluttering can help us get rid of our excess that keep our lives out of balance. It helps us remove barriers that are blocking our path towards a life of greater ease, contentment, and happiness and as a result, can allow us to feel a little less stressed out, a little less overwhelmed, and a little less disorganized and distracted from the things that matter most to us. Stated simply, decluttering helps us remove the things that get in our way of living the life that we want to live. The only problem is that simply removing the things we don’t want doesn’t necessarily produce the things we do want in our lives. Decluttering is an essential first step of a larger process towards living the life we want to live.
It’s not that Marie Kondo and other experts in the decluttering movement don’t encourage us to focus on pursuing the things that promote greater well-being - they do. It’s that they don’t actually teach us how to sustainably cultivate our well-being and experience more joy and happiness. It’s easy to find step by step guides and detailed strategies we can follow to declutter our spaces, but a lot harder to find resources that teach us how to find more meaning in life, how to have stronger more supportive relationships, and how to experience more peace, gratitude, and joy in our day-to-day lives. This is why I believe “Marie Kondo-ing” your home isn’t enough. After we’ve decluttered our homes, we have the opportunity to think about what we want to add into our spaces and our lives to increase our health and happiness. While the decluttering movement might not have a lot of research-back recommendations for us on this post-decluttering stage, the science of positive psychology does!
Positive psychology is often referred to as the science of well-being and it seeks to understand the conditions, practices, and mindsets that help people live in their highest range of happiness and optimal human flourishing. It was founded in 1998 on the premise that the presence of happiness and well-being is more than just the absence of sadness and other negative emotions, just as physical health is more than the absence of disease. Ongoing research reveals that well-being is the positive presence of things like positive emotions, meaning in life, strong relationships, accomplishments, and living a life of active engagement.[i]
Positive Psychology was also founded on the premise that our happiness is partially within our control. Our biology and external factors make up approximately 60% of our baseline happiness levels, but we have control and influence over the remaining 40% of our happiness.[ii] Over the last two decades, researchers have discovered many science-based practices we can engage in to leverage that 40% to sustainably promote happiness and enable individuals, families, and communities to thrive.
Many of these practices likely won’t be surprising to you; practices like mindfulness meditation, spending time in nature, cultivating gratitude, and fostering high-quality connections with your friends and family. Conventional wisdom has told us these were good for us for hundreds, even thousands of years, but now positive psychology has shed more light on exactly why and how these practices promote human flourishing. By using the scientific method, researchers have been able to discover that simply spending 10 minutes in nature 3 times a week can lower our bodies’ stress hormones by up to 28%[iii], that optimists have a 10% greater likelihood of living past the age of 90[iv], and that mindfulness increases the density of gray matter in our brains[v]. The field of positive psychology has been groundbreaking in that it provides us with research-based, practical steps we can take to start living a life of greater well-being, especially after we’ve taken the initial step of decluttering our homes and getting rid of the things that often get in our way.
Our goal at The Tiny House of Happiness is to provide our guests with two things: an opportunity to experience the benefits of living with less and opportunity to learn about the habits of happiness that can be woven into our daily lives to live with more meaning, intentionality, and fulfillment. We believe both are equally important. We believe the key to living our best life is more than just getting rid of what we don’t want; it involves intentionally cultivating what we do want. We don’t just want less stress; we want more peace. We don’t just want less tension in our relationships; we want close, joyful, and healthy interpersonal connection. We don’t just want a less-cluttered home; we want a home that promotes joy, ease, and connection. After you declutter your home, what do you want to add into your life to experience greater well-being?