In a world that measures success in material possessions, owning less is countercultural.
But through the years, I have found motivation to own less in the many studies that support the decision.
Though culture and marketers encourage us to buy more, those who study the impact of excess possessions on life encourage us to own less.
If you ever find yourself needing a little bit of extra motivation to own less and embrace a more minimalist lifestyle, I encourage you to come back to this article. Bookmark it if you need to.
No matter who you are, you’ll find something here to encourage you.
Ten Scientific Studies that will Encourage You to Own Less
1. Owning Fewer Possessions Reduces Stress
Clutter makes us feel stressed. When you concentrate, you can actually feel the weight of excess possessions on your shoulders.
Studies confirm the feelings we have. Research confirms that possessions can make us feel stressed, anxious, and depressed. Clutter produces a chemical reaction in our body.
Even more fascinating, according to a study published in 2011, people who value their possessions highly tend to experience higher levels of stress and depression. Not because of their quantity necessarily, but just because of the value they place on them.
Not only can minimalism help clear clutter from our homes, it can also reframe the value we place on physical possessions. Win-win.
2. Owning Fewer Possessions Boosts Well-Being
The modern growth of minimalism as a lifestyle is still relatively new. But according to all of the research and evidence collected thus far, a consistent positive relationship has been found between voluntary simplicity and well-being.
This 2021 paper (Minimalism, Voluntary Simplicity, and Well-Being: A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature) reviewed 23 empirical studies to reach that conclusion.
3. Owning Fewer Possessions Can Improve Relationships
In 2021, research was published in Frontiers in Psychology by three researchers in China. According to their findings, people who were less materialistic and focused on experiences rather than material possessions had more positive social interactions and stronger social bonds.
Owning less paves the way for stronger relationships with others.
4. Owning Fewer Possessions Helps Us Sleep Better
Sleep researchers have discovered that cluttered bedrooms were associated with poor sleep quality. In a physically cluttered environment, it can take longer to fall asleep and experience restful sleep.
As a result, the study suggested that removing excess possessions from the bedroom can lead to a better night’s rest.
5. Owning Fewer Possessions Boosts Productivity
A study by scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that clutter in the workplace can have a negative impact on productivity.
Participants in the study who worked in a cluttered environment performed worse on tasks that required concentration and problem-solving than those who worked in a clean and organized space.
6. Owning Fewer Possessions Can Help You Save Money
A recent study, released only in March 2023, studied the impact of minimalist practices on consumer happiness and financial well-being and discovered “adopting a minimalist lifestyle saves substantial money.”
According to the study, this happens for three reasons: 1) reduced purchases saves money on items that add no life value; 2) adopting a prudent and thoughtful stance when controlling consumption; and 3) balancing spending according to budget limitations avoids debt burdens.
I’ve been writing about minimalism for 14 years… and I am really excited to see more and more research emerging on the impact of it on individuals and society at-large.
7. Owning Fewer Possessions Can Help Bring Happiness
According to research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas, experiences tend to bring more happiness than material possessions. The researchers concluded that people are happier with experiential purchases over material ones irrespective of when you measure happiness: before, during, or after consumption.
In fact, after studying the data, the researchers said, “If you want to be happier, it might be wise to shift some of your consumption away from material goods and a bit more toward experiences. That would likely lead to greater well-being.”
8. Owning Fewer Possessions Improves Our Physical Health
In a 2016 study titled “Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption,” researchers studied the impact of a cluttered environment on habits—in this case, overeating. Participants in the chaotic kitchen condition consumed more cookies and calories than those in a standard kitchen.
An orderly environment, on the other hand, can lead to healthier habits and personal choices—including increased physical exercise.
9. Owning Fewer Possessions Can Improve Memory
Increased physical possessions around us increases the visual noise in our minds and lives. This visual distraction of clutter increases overload and even reduces our working memory.
10. Owning Fewer Possessions Promotes Better Play for Our Kids
A 2017 study from The University of Toledo makes an important observation for us as parents, “when provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively.”
This is important for us to realize. Constantly adding more toys is not the best way to help your child grow and develop.
And based on all the studies above, constantly adding new possessions to your home for your own sake is not the best way to grow, develop, and live your most meaningful life.