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This question hits a sore spot for most people…
Because as much as you don’t want to say yes, you know it’s true.
You love your things. Your clothes. Your special chair. The chef’s knives you got for your wedding years ago.
But there comes a point when you cross a line from appreciating something — and start needing it.
And when you let your stuff rule your life, you’re depriving yourself of a life of freedom.
My story: moving across the country
I realized that I had gotten a point where my stuff had taken over in my most recent move across the country from New York City to San Francisco.
I had moved many times before, moved from the West Coast to the East Coast and back, lived in foreign countries, etc. — but there was something about this move that especially got to me.
Maybe it was because I am originally from the West Coast, and moving back felt like going home. Finally.
Or maybe it was because that during the move, something got mixed up with the moving company, which meant that I had no stuff — no furniture, no cooking supplies, no sweats for the chilly San Francisco nights — for nearly 4 weeks.
Now, I’m not usually very high maintenance, but living in an empty home with my husband, cat and dog for the better part of a month really got me down.
And that’s when I realized I had become addicted to things.
Can you relate?
The consequences of too much stuff
On websites like Zenhabits, there’s an obvious theme of minimalism.
And it’s not just because Leo likes to be self-righteous and suggest that living without an excess of things is the only way to live.
It’s because being too attached to stuff can create ripple effects in the rest of your life. And these ripple effects are rarely a good thing.
Think about the billionaire with loads of stuff. Maybe he has three houses, a few yachts, swimming pools, awesome cars, and enough clothes to fill a department store…
But he had to work 80-hour weeks for 30+ years just to get there. And now he’s aging, his relationships have gone to shit, and he’s all alone, surrounded by his stuff.
Yes, this is an extreme example. I doubt very many of you are billionaires, or are even striving to get to that wealth point.
But it can happen on a lessor degree, too. Go back to my moving example. I was depressed because I didn’t have my stuff. It wasn’t enough that I had the people (and pets) I loved most around me; I wanted my things too.
But stuff rarely makes you happy.
What really matters
In all of the areas of your life, what do you think really matters?
Relationships matter. And experiences matter.
That’s why I try to hard to keep in touch with my family, even though they all live in Washington State and I only get to see them twice a year or so. I keep in touch with my childhood friends. I work on my relationship with my husband, because I know my relationship with him matters.
And it’s also why I’ve always put a priority on experiences — vacations, road trips, adventures, hikes, you name it. Anything where I’m actually doing something and experiencing the world.
You’ll always remember the people around you and the experiences you had — but you’ll rarely remember the stuff you owned.
Of course, there are exceptions…
Now, if you’ve heard of Zenhabits (and most of you have), you’re probably used to reading about minimalism and probably won’t think this post is as crazy as any normal person who has never read of the benefits of less things.
But I do want you to know that I’m not extreme. Obviously, I like some stuff.
There are times when I think stuff actually adds to your life, rather that convolutes it:
- When the stuff adds to experiences. For example, I just bought a car, after not having one for three years (I lived in Amsterdam and New York during that time — I never needed one). I bought the car not just to own a car, but to have as a mode of transportation to get me outside of San Francisco and explore California and the West Coast. This also is the case with sporting goods (think surf boards, bikes, skate boards, etc.), cooking supplies, etc. when the items are more about the experiences than the things themselves.
- When your ideal quality of life would go down without it. There are certain things that make your life infinitely more comfortable. For instance, one of the things that bothered me the most about having no furniture in my house is that I had nowhere to sit. Yes, I could sit on the floor, but it made me more fidgety and restless than ever, and I had trouble getting any work done. Having a desk (or even just a table and chair) allows me to work more comfortably, and therefore get more done. This helps my quality of life in that I don’t dread working every day because I actually have somewhere to sit.
- When it adds to your health. As a former personal trainer, I think health and fitness are should be a high priority in everyone’s life. For that reason, stair steppers, indoor bikes, weights, pull up bars, and anything that will keep you healthy and moving seems just fine to keep around, even if it does take up some room. Of course, you can always get rid of the bulky things and get outdoors instead, but if it keeps you motivated, go for it.
And there are no doubt other exceptions that I’m leaving out.
The key is finding a balance, and not letting the stuff take priority over the much more important relationships and experiences in your life.
So how attached are you to your stuff?
Do you let it own you?
Or does it simply make other aspects of your life better?
Look through your home and take a good look at what you own. Do you have duplicates of things? Stuff you don’t really need? Sentimental things that you haven’t gotten out of boxes for years?
Throw it out. Or give it to someone who would actually use it.
Yes, you may need to start small. Tackle your closet first. Or go through your baby boxes and see if you actually still need anything inside.
You can always take pictures of things that are really sentimental but that you don’t really need to keep in your house. Pictures are nice memories and don’t take up any room; they don’t own you, and these days can even be stored on cloud sites like Flickr so that you don’t even have to take up space on your hard drive.
But keep going. Get rid of trinkets. Useless decorations. Old posters of 90′s bands you love.
You’ll probably have to make a couple of rounds of it, depending on how much you own. Try it now, again in a couple of months, and again a few months after that. That’s what works best for me — it makes it less painful.
Once you’ve gotten rid of your excess stuff, you’ll be one step closer to living a life of freedom. And then you can start focusing on what really matters.