Let’s talk about an important principle we can examine as we explore living simply:
You only think you need it.
Our minds have an amazing ability to convince us that something is true, even if it isn’t. This is something I discovered while changing habits, and also while decluttering.
When decluttering (and changing habits), you believe you need something. You can’t do without it. You can’t let it go.
And yet, this isn’t true. It’s a false belief, a false need.
- I need my cheese — this was something I believed for a long time that kept me from going vegan. It turned out to be false. Other variations: I need my meat, chocolate, sweets, burger, etc. None of those are real needs.
- Sentimental items, like photographs, childhood memorabilia, gifts from loved ones — most people don’t want to get rid of these because these represent memories, or love. It’s not true, because the love or memories aren’t actually in those items, they’re in your head and heart.
- I need things to feel secure — not having a bunch of things is scary, because for many people having lots of possessions is a form of security. It’s not true — the things don’t make you more secure. Having less debt does, as does having a backup plan.
- I need to check email — because you’re worried you might miss something important. Of course, this is rarely true, if ever. I’ve never had my world fall apart because I didn’t check email for a few hours, or half a day, or even a whole day. You just catch up.
- I need to be busy — because otherwise my business won’t succeed, or because people will think I’m important or competent. I’ve found this to be false — being less busy means you know how to prioritize and choose, and you are competent at simplifying. Even CEOs have asked me how to do this, because they’ve had the false need to be busy for so long it’s hard to break out of the habit.
- I need nice clothes — we think we need to look a certain way, to project an image or fit in. I’ve found that I can let go of those needs to dress to impress, and instead dress comfortably in minimalist clothing, and no one minds. Of course, certain jobs might require a certain dress code, but even then, those can often be challenged.
There are many other types of false needs, but you get the idea. Start to examine your beliefs, and don’t assume they’re true.
How to Deal with False Needs
Let’s say you’ve identified a false need — how do you deal with it, if you still have the irrational fear of letting it go?
- Test. How do you know if a need is real or not? Well, test it out. Try an experiment, where you let go of the thing you need for a week, or even a month. At the end of the test, if things weren’t really so bad, then it’s a false need and you don’t have to worry so much about letting it go.
- Use a Maybe box. If you have a bunch of items you don’t really use, but are afraid you might need, put them in a Maybe Box. Mark the box with today’s date, put it in storage in your garage or somewhere, put a reminder on your calendar 6 months from now, and if you haven’t needed anything in the box in 6 months, you can safely let go of those items.
- Realize that love isn’t in items. Sentimental items represent love and memories, but those aren’t actually in the items. The items are merely reminders of the love and memories — and expensive ones too, as they take up a lot of space and energy and time. Instead, take a digital photo, put it in a digital slideshow that you play every month or three, and get rid of the item. This is something that it can take a long time to learn, but once you’ve learned it, you let go of your attachment to emotional items.
- Ask yourself what the worst case is. If you get rid of the item or “need”, what’s the worst-case scenario? Often it’s not that bad, or not bad at all. You can safely let go of the thing, and not worry about some disaster.
- Find a backup plan. What if the worst-case scenario isn’t good? Can you fill the need, in that case, some other way? Often you can borrow a tool you rarely need from a friend, or get a book from the library, or look something up online, rather than needing to keep things you rarely use all the time.
Letting go of false needs is about testing, evaluating, analyzing the fears, and seeing things with clear eyes rather than the clouded eyes of fear.
Hereâ€™s an exercise you can try:
- Make a list of things you think you need in life, and also things you acknowledge you just want in your life but donâ€™t really need.
- Each day, examine one of those needs or wants. Is it a true need? Why do you think you need or want it? Does it really add to your life or is it making things more complicated. Can you live without it and simplify your life?
- Consider letting go of the need or want temporarily to see what life would be like without it.
Often when we let go of something, we drop a whole bunch of things that go with it. For example, if you could let go of the need to watch TV at the end of the day, you could get rid of a TV, cable TV service, Netflix, maybe the chips or cookies you eat while watching TV …
Thatâ€™s just one example, but simplifying your life means letting go of things we think we need but really donâ€™t.