How little can you get away with?

Having fewer possessions will make you feel lighter and put more money in your pocket, says Zach Holz

Coat hanger on a rail. Getty Images

“He who dies with the most toys, wins.”

This quote has been attributed to American entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes, who was most prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine, founded by his father. And the millionaire, who died in 1990, did have a lot of "toys" — a private jet, yachts, a French castle in Normandy, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and a collection of Faberge eggs.

It isn’t just the wealthy who seem to follow this saying. Whether it be the booming Rolls-Royce dealership I drive by every day on the way to work, or the giant yachts I stroll by on the way to the beach, or the massive malls that seem to sprout like mushrooms after the rain, it seems that many consumers in the UAE love the high life and that often involves accumulating possessions.

It isn't just in the UAE either. Consumers the world over look for that retail adrenalin hit, swapping their iPhones for the latest model, filling up their closets and eventually buying bigger houses to fit all their stuff.

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This isn't about deprivation; it's about challenging yourself to have freedom instead of depreciating stuff.

But you know what the cars, boats, clothes, shoes and gadgets actually make me, when I own them? They make me stressed. Stressed because they could break and then I'll have to pay to fix them. Stressed because they fill up my apartment and garage and storage space and overflow into my life like an episode of Hoarders on steroids. And stressed because eventually they end up in landfills, polluting the environment for hundreds or thousands of years.

So, instead of trying to get the most toys, I’ve decided to see how little I can get away with. I used to have so many pairs of shoes I measured them by the metre as they lined up all down my hallway. Now, I use three pairs. The rest are gone. I realised I can get away with six button down work shirts before I need to do laundry and iron, so that’s how many I have. Honestly, I could probably get that down to three, but I’m not perfect. I only have three polo shirts, four pairs of shorts for various occasions and enough unmentionables to get me to laundry day.

The rest of my possessions got a similar treatment. If I don’t use something for a period of three months or so, I put it in the donation pile. If I don’t pull it out of the donation pile and use it in the next three months, I donate it.

My life feels so much lighter. The clutter is gone. Surfaces are clear. I am free. I am flexible. The metric by which I judge my success is how few possessions I can have.

Possessions don’t bring happiness, money can’t buy you love, and all that. Possessions bring a momentary burst of happy chemicals in our brain, which quickly fades, leaving us to only want to buy more things, not happy with what we already possess.

And it’s not like I’m deprived. My clothes are clean. I have enough pots and pans to cook anything I choose (with a little bit of creativity). This isn’t about deprivation; it’s about challenging yourself to have freedom instead of depreciating stuff.

Another quote I enjoy is: "Look around at all that clutter. It used to be money." With platforms like dubizzle.com, where you can sell your old possessions, you can turn some of that clutter back into money. That money can buy assets like stocks, bonds and real estate that in turn earn you more money. That money can eventually free you from needing to work at all, achieving Financial Independence. But the more stuff you need, the longer it takes to get there, the fewer resources you have to buy income-producing assets and the longer you're chained to a desk.

Don’t be that person. Figure out how little you can get away with, then get rid of everything else. I promise, you’ll feel lighter.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

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