Own less. This seems to be the crux of what minimalism is all about. Take however much stuff you own, and make that number smaller. The criteria you use to go about doing this is up to you.

But what do we gain from owning less, and why should we want to?

When Joshua Becker (Becoming Minimalist) began to question his possessions, he realized:

“My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it.”

He’s not alone in this observation. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) define minimalism this way:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”

Courtney Carver (Be More With Less) echoes a similar sentiment:

“I write about decluttering, paying off debt, and living more simply, but those are just little chapters in a bigger book about love, connection, light, and living. Really living.”

Owning less not only gives us more physical space, it gives us room to explore ourselves and connect with others. It frees us from many of the burdens assumed to be an inherent part of modern life.

The idea isn’t new. Many of the world’s religious practices have eschewed material possessions for spiritual value. In the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ taught:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna said:

“People think that all they gain in life is really theirs. They boast of their wealth, and revel in it. But by being addicted to the gratification of their senses, they will create hell for themselves.”

(quote excerpted from Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, & Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings by Richard Hooper)

In more modern times, Mahatma Gandhi exemplified simple living. His grandson, Arun Gandhi, describes the way affluent people waste the world’s resources as a form of passive violence.

As for me, I see owning less as an act of self-improvement, a spiritual practice, and a responsibility. The less I own, the more that I can give.

I can give more thoughts to other people in my life. I am more considerate of their wellbeing, their emotions, and their needs. I try to improve my relationships rather than my collection of games, music, or clothing.

I can give more to people whose lives I may never encounter. With less of my income going toward purchases and subscriptions, there’s more opened up for donations. The less time I spend binge-watching videos or cleaning dishes, the more open my schedule is for volunteering and being civically engaged in my community.

I can give more to the planet. Fewer plants, animals, and landscapes are destroyed to maintain my way of life. I produce less waste. I do more to preserve the environment for future generations and whatever forms of life exist after we humans are gone. I open my heart to the many species that share the Earth with us now.

I can give more to myself. What truly makes me happy? What helps me relax? What are my values? How do I want to be remembered after I’m gone? Buying and owning more things, I’ve found out, isn’t the answer to any of these questions.

Some of this giving I’ve already made room for. Others are future goals. All are a work in progress.

Each day is part of an ongoing effort to own less and give more.