Recently, I overheard an all-too-common discussion among three parents about their dream homes. All three said that their current homes, while satisfactory, would be much better with more: more space, more storage, more countertops, more cabinets, more closets. I’ve said many of these same things myself.
But the truth is, we already have more. Today’s average new, single-family home is around 2,661 square feet, more than double the size of such a home in 1950, yet each household averages one fewer person in it than in 1950.
This means we now live in an average of 1,052 square feet per person, as opposed to just 292 square feet per person back in 1950.
However, more isn’t always better, and it doesn’t necessarily equate to more happiness. Realizing this can have a major positive impact on your personal finances.
The fallacy of needing more space
Seventy-five percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, yet our incomes are considered upper middle class to upper class on a global scale. The problem isn’t our incomes but our overconsumption. We see what the Joneses are doing — or where they’re living — and feel pressure to match them. News flash: Just like 75% of Americans, the Joneses are chasing happiness by acquiring more.
But rather than more happiness, this pursuit has led to more debt, more stress, wasted vacation days, and more possessions to maintain. The average U.S. household contains 300,000 items, according to professional organizer Regina Lark.
And when we get the bigger house with more closet space, it inevitably fills up again!
In general, we Americans don’t need more than we already have. What we already own is more than enough to meet our needs.
Minimalism and money
What’s the answer to America’s personal finance woes? I believe you can have the greatest impact by pursuing less: intentionally bringing into your life only the things that you find valuable and use often.
This type of lifestyle is called minimalism, and the best part is that you get to craft your own version. Your minimalist style won’t be quite the same as that of my family of four, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, or Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. You get to define what makes sense for you and your family without regard to what others are doing.
It’s true, you need clothes. But how many T-shirts do you need? I had around 30, which is completely unnecessary. How many pairs of shoes do you need? TVs, dishes, towels? The questions are endless, and only you can answer them.
But I deserve it!
What I believe you deserve is a life free from financial stress and debt. You deserve to be able to save and invest a portion of your income so you can be a blessing to others and not a burden.
You deserve a life full of experiences and vacations that don’t follow you home in the form of credit card payments. You deserve to work doing what you love to fulfill your life’s purpose, not simply to make a paycheck to pay your credit card bill each month.
And the best — and possibly quickest — way to start living the way you truly deserve is to have a life free from the overconsumption that plagues our culture.
Start small if you must
At the beginning of your journey to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your life, downsizing your home and mortgage might seem overwhelming — but it might just have the most significant impact on your bottom line.
If downsizing your home is too big a step, start smaller. My family sold small items like excess furniture, clothes, books, compact discs, DVDs and electronics for a grand total of $1,957 in our first two months. Although this might not sound like much, it may be exactly what Americans need to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Not only can you have a cleaner home and a solid starter emergency fund, but you also have the power to help the less fortunate. We were also able to donate four carloads of clothes, toys, stuffed animals, furniture and kitchen supplies to a local charity that gives these items away to help homeless and near-homeless people break the cycle of poverty.
As you experience the benefits of eliminating the excess in your closet, I’m confident you’ll declutter bigger areas of your life and budget. And who knows, maybe you’ll even downsize your home to make a huge impact on your family’s finances.
This blog post originally appeared on NerdWallet.