Minimize Stuff, Maximize Happiness?

Say what?!?

Everyone has their own path in life. I have chosen one of simplicity and minimalism. Although I believe this path may not be for everyone in the long-term, I do believe that creating some version of this in your life, for a short time, can make you more appreciative of what you have and what you find important in your life. Does your new iPhone 7 make you ecstatic every time you pick it up? Or does it lose its “wow” effect a few weeks after having it, and it just becomes part of the day to day life you are accustomed to? Do you ACTUALLY gain pleasure every day from each of your 500 channels beamed to you from space, or do they sit idle and you end up watching something you have seen before?

The reality is that most of us surround ourselves with THINGS that don’t bring us any pleasure at all, many times they only add layers of stress. To make it worse, many of us find ourselves slaving away our life-blood drowning in debt paying that debt by working at a job we have come to despise… All so we can get the iPhone 8 as soon as it is released… and the cycle repeats itself over and over… Ask yourself after reading this blog by Kristen, does the STUFF in your life really bring you that much happiness? Or is happiness derived by simplifying your life by creating experiences and finding within yourself what truly makes you happy?

Kristen’s story is similar to my own around the same age, and those experiences led to the inspiration to start Northwoods and offer similar experiences to other young people in an attempt to help them find their happiness. Enjoy.

Can you have less stuff and be happier?

Kristen here…

So, let’s face it… money does buy happiness. But to what extent? Sometimes when we learn to simplify our lives and remove ourselves from the daily grind of outspending our neighbor, we not only find happiness but freedom!

Rory has touched on this topic, the idea that one can minimize the things in their life and still preserve happiness. I think that’s fine and dandy coming from Rory, who came out of the womb a minimalist. But what if you’re a tried and true consumer?

We all start as consumers… It’s our culture

I consider myself a consumer. I remember working 2 jobs (waitressing and lifeguarding) in high school. I would typically make $8,000-$10,000 in a single summer and would systematically blow it all on clothes (I know Rory is going to laugh when he reads this, as my clothes addiction is an ongoing battle in our house). So, how does a consumer learn to change their wicked ways? And how does someone who derives such happiness from “things” learn to be HAPPIER WITH LESS?

Travel-away your consumerism?

I can’t speak for others, but I recall the exact moment I no longer wanted to live a life of consumerism. My first trip abroad was Tanzania. I was 24 years old and had never stepped foot outside the country. Here I was, a blonde, single, white girl about to hop on a plane to third-world East Africa. To say I was a little freaked out would be an understatement. Packing my bag was a whole other ordeal. I remember meticulously and painstakingly selecting everything that went into the XL North Face duffle bag. I would be gone for several weeks and couldn’t fathom fitting my entire life into this bag.

When I arrived, the simplicity of Arusha and the surrounding villages was nothing like I had ever experienced. I lived with a family in a very modest three-bedroom house (although considered upscale by African standards). To get around I either walked or took public transportation (more affectionately known as a chicken bus). The grocery store was basic at best and lacked many of the conveniences we have at home. I washed my laundry by hand. My food was simplistic. I had no internet. I did have a TV that managed to get 2 channels, one that broadcast ONLY East African news in Swahili and the other African hip-hop music videos. For entertainment I read books, watched the sunset across the road at the local school, and on exceptionally warm days I would walk to the local roadside stand to buy an ice-cold orange Fanta (to this day orange Fanta makes me exceptionally nostalgic). The point is, despite all I DIDN’T have, and the very few things I did have, I was surprisingly happy… almost FREE!

Reverse culture shock

When I returned home, my flight came into Boston. I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer extravagance just in the airport. I came to recognize that some of this was shock in moving from one environment to the other. However, on my bus ride home from the airport I took some time reflect on my trip and all the memories I had created. I remembered sitting with the elephants in Tarangire National Park and listening to the wildlife from my tent in the Serengeti. I remembered the orphanage I stayed at and my days spent picking vegetables, cooking dinner, and playing with the children. I remembered the crowded buses, the long walks in the African heat, and dancing in the rain when it finally came after a several week long drought. The point is, I didn’t remember not having internet, a washing machine, a big house to stay in, or the 5000 other things I normally had in my daily life when I’m at home.

Experiences over things

I’ve never lost this memory. The memory that happiness is not derived from what we own but by the experiences we have. It changed the way I viewed my life and inspired me to use my money with the purpose of creating experiences rather than a collection of things. This isn’t to say that some “things” won’t improve our experiences. That’s for you to decide. But I encourage you to evaluate your relationship with money and how it drives you.

As an ER nurse who knows all to well how precious the gift of life is, I’ll leave you with a departing piece of advice… ENJOY YOUR TIME ON EARTH. Whatever that may look like, however that may feel, take the time to create a life that brings you joy. You won’t regret if you do but you may regret it if you don’t. 


Kristen McLaughlin (Marketing Director, RN, Rory’s wife)