in Administration, FS

How much stuff does one man need?

It seems like every time I travel, I come home committed to win my war on Stuff. This time was no different. I lived out of a single carry-on bag while vacationing in Belize last week, and even that felt luxurious. Now I’ve returned to a house packed with doodads and gewgaws, knick-knacks and baubles.

The more I purge Stuff from my life, the more I travel, and the more I see (and read) about how little others need to get by, the stronger my conviction to reduce what I own, as well. I’m in awe of my friend Leo from Zen Habits, for instance. At his secondary blog, mnmlist, Leo has been chronicling his attempt to reduce the number of thing he owns. At first, this was his 100 Things Challenge (he wanted to own just 100 personal items). Recently, he’s upped the ante. It’s now a 50 Things Challenge. Wow.

I’m not ready to go to this extreme β€” not even close. But I am beginning to wonder: How many t-shirts does one man need? How many jackets? How many books? And how in the heck did I end up with more than ten pairs of shoes? Ridiculous! How much Stuff does one man really need?

Small Steps

Over the past three years, I’ve made great strides in ridding my life of Stuff. I’ve sold or given away thousands of books (yes, thousands). I’ve purged a garage full of computer parts. I’ve managed to turn off the rationalization switch in my brain and learned to simply donate my Stuff to charity instead of saving it for “someday”. And about a year ago, I started my slow-motion clothes purge.

Based on a Get Rich Slowly reader suggestion, I moved all of my sweaters and button-down shirts to an unused closet. For the past several months, I’ve gradually pulled one shirt and then another into my regular closet as I actually wear them. Unworn shirts and sweaters stay in their temporary holding space. At the end of this process (which should be in June), all of the shirts I’ve worn in the past year will be in one closet, and the Stuff I don’t wear will be purged.

Do you know how many different shirts I’ve worn over the past nine months? I just went upstairs to count. My “good” closet contains 17 button-down shirts and three sweaters. My closet of unused clothes contains 30 shirts (two of which haven’t even been taken out of their packaging) and 11 sweaters.

Sometimes I think I’m the village idiot. I don’t even wear two-thirds of my wardrobe? It’s like I’m just throwing my money away. But rather than beat myself up over this, I can use the info going forward.

For example, Kris and I made a trip to REI before leaving for Belize. I fell in love with one shirt, but I almost didn’t buy it after looking at the price tag. $40? For a shirt? Get real! I rarely spend more than $20. But then I realized: If I really love the shirt and it’ll live in my “good” closet, then spending $40 is much better than buying two cheap shirts I never wear. I bought the REI shirt in two colors (rust and aqua), and I’m glad I did. (But maybe I should get rid of two other shirts from my “good” closet to make up for this.)

I’ve begun to realize it’ll take a few more years to finally get rid of the worst of my Stuff. It took me two decades to acquire these things; it’ll take a bit of time to unload it. But how will I know when I’m finished? How much Stuff does one man need?

The Magic of Thinking Small

It was interesting to see how small the average homes were in Belize and Guatemala. In the U.S., the average new home was 2349 square feet in 2004 (up from 1695 square feet in 1974). In Central America, homes seemed to be maybe 600 or 700 square feet.

Guatemalan Houses
Note: From talking with some of the folks who live there, I think people in Belize want bigger homes, but can’t afford them. It’s not like they’re choosing small homes because they think it’s virtuous.

Seeing these small homes made we think: What would I choose to own if my space were limited? Could I really rationalize my comic book collection? Forty-seven button-down shirts and fourteen sweaters? Two bicycles? My burgeoning pile of shoes? Which Stuff is worth owning, and which is not? And if it’s not worth owning in a small home, why is it worth owning in a large home?

I don’t know the answer to these questions; I’ll continue to puzzle them out.

This weekend, one of our neighbors held a yard sale. Kris and I went across the street to chat. “Wow,” Kris said. “It looks like you’re selling everything.” She scooped up the neighbor’s canning jars.

“In a way, I am,” our neighbor said. “I’m moving into a smaller place, and I have a couple of weeks before I have to be out of this one. I’ve already moved everything I want to keep, and I’m selling everything else.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. “I wish I could do that.”

But who says I can’t? Why can’t I pretend that I’m moving into a smaller place? If I did, what would I keep? What is it I really value? How much Stuff does one man really need?

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158 Comments

  1. Wow – great post, and just when I need it too. I’ve been tempted to do a MAJOR purge with no looking back. You’re giving me courage!

  2. there are many things about GRS to love – but what i love most is the holistic perspective. my mom is a pack rack, so i have that latent trait. i try to remain disciplined and every now and again i look at my ‘stuff’ and figure out if it’s still useful. there have been plenty a times when DH and i took two large garbage bags to the Salvation Army. i’m a book lover as well, i packed up several book crates and donated them to a small suburban library – giving is an act of kindness hoarding is at the other end of the spectrum

  3. Hi J.D.! So glad to see you post this, as it’s exactly what I blog about every day:

    http://www.missminimalist.com/

    Great idea to pretend you’re moving into a smaller place. Better yet, make it an overseas move–that way, you’re really forced to pare down to the essentials.

    My husband and I did just that (for real) last summer. We moved from a 3BR house in the US to a small flat in the UK. We sold almost everything we owned, and brought with us only one duffel bag each. Talk about purging! It was so liberating, and now we’re determined to accumulate nothing more than the bare essentials while living across the pond.

    I’ve been exploring in my posts how many shoes one person needs, how many sheets, how many towels, how many pens, how many keys, how many credit cards, how many pieces of furniture, etc–you name it! I hope you’ll stop by and join the discussions. πŸ™‚

  4. I’ve been on a major purging spree lately. I’ve even “earned” around $500 doing so. πŸ™‚

    It just feels so good getting rid of stuff you don’t need. It also makes you think real hard before purchasing something new.

  5. This is a great reminder. I liked your statement that people in Belize..are “not choosing small homes because they think it’s virtuous.” I drive a 93 Honda accord it’s been in perfect condition since i got it. Do i like driving a 17 year old car? Heck no! i want one of those tech loaded cars, i also want a Honda bike… but at the moment i cannot afford it. What if i was able to afford? That is where judgment calls comes in.
    My wife and i started cleaning out anything that we have not used or worn in two years. I was surprised how much stuff wee accumulate in a year.

  6. Guess what JD? Your $40 REI shirts are going to be with you for a long time — they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. My husband had some trousers whose zipper broke after a year and he returned them and got a replacement pair no questions asked. http://www.rei.com/help/returns.html

  7. A side benefit of divorce.. it’s an excellent way to purge stuff too. I went from a 2400 sq. ft. farmhouse, to a two bedroom apartment, to a single room, then back to renting a furnished home. Sad to get rid of things that were sentimental and not all was thrown, but very liberating to unload the unhealthy weight of stuff. I suspect my ex still has her shoe collection. I still cannot part with the 8 banana boxes full of art/museum books, that’s where I had to draw the line.

  8. One of the many benefits of a historic home is limited closet space. So evertime I buy new shoes or new clothes I really have to think about getting rid (either to Goodwill, our neighborhood yard sale or other charity) of old clothes or shoes. Although we plan to add closets to our home at some point in the future, we will never have a lot of closet space and no basements in Florida so we have to be careful about limiting stuff.

    Books, I’ve really gotten better at books, I get most of my books from the library these days and I’m better at giving away books that I buy (normally I limit my book buying to book club books). I still have lots of stuff that I could get rid of, but I tend to be sentimental so its hard to part with family things and photos even if I’m not getting any use or joy out of them. My Mom is talking about downsizing so I’m afraid more stuff will be coming my way.

  9. Yes! That. All of it. Yay, you. And I thought I was doing good this last weekend getting four pairs of shoes that I never wear, bagged & ready for the Goodwill. (To be fair, that’s half my number of pairs of shoes.) More! I want to unload more!

    *is pumped up*

  10. How much stuff do you really need? I am going to say about ¼ of what many people have. I was out in the shed a few days ago. I had to build the shed because of our junk. I found in the box a brand new well point still in the box that my dad bought in 1964 and he was always going to use it. He never did. I think he paid 30 bucks for it. I was always going to use it. I have come to the conclusion I never will. I asked my kids if they want it. Guess what it is going up for sale at my garage sale as soon as it gets warm with a lot of other useless trash!

  11. I’m a fan of smaller homes and in fact live in a townhouse/semi of less than 1,400 sq ft., but we mustn’t beat ourselves up over the fact that people in other climates may live in much smaller homes. They may be able to comfortably accommodate a great many activities immediately outside the home on their property (and may have more property to boot!)
    Sure, in northern climates we can get out and enjoy winter, but we can’t extend sleeping quarters outside, for instance. Unless we had enough snow and the skills needed to build an igloo!

  12. Before putting our house on the market we purged alot of stuff. It was difficult as you think “I may use that some day” but if it’s been packed up in your basement for the last few years it’s time to let go.

    I have to say that having less junk sitting around feels better. I’m not terribly clean/organized by nature, but when our house was clean and decluttered I felt a bit more peaceful. I’m trying to stick with it.

    Great post!

  13. When I sold my 4BR house to take a job in the US, I did the purge. I was moving into a 1BR apt so considerable stuff had to go. I think I took 7 car loads of clothes & kitchen items to the Sally Anne. While boxing the stuff up, all I was asking myself was “how could one person have so much?” The answer now is what I call the “Occupization of Space” Law or OSL. This involves how much space one has and the unconcious need to have something there to fill the space.
    This brings me to Murphy’s Law. Five months after starting the job, I was let go and had to get my butt back to Canada (NAFTA agreement stipulation). Now, what remains of my belongings (after reducing them even further for the move back)are in a 10ft x 10ft storage unit.
    The OSL is in equilibrium in that small space, although it is a pain when I need to get something out of it.

  14. It certainly helps to imagine that you are moving into a smaller place! For me, I would aim at owning only what can be carried in a 40l backpack. Or perhaps that plus a cardboard box or two.

    Getting rid of books will be the toughest part for me. How did you manage that?

  15. I could really relate to this post… there is pack-rat-itis on one side of my family, which I fought for years. Now I’m going crazy decluttering and purging and boy does it feel good!

    I pulled alot of doo-dads from shelves (took most to a consignment shop) and the place looks so much better. Stuff worth more than $10 is going on eBay (and surprising little is worth that much.) I have a book problem as well – the ones I never plan to re-read went to bookscouter.com, paperbackswap.com, and the local used book store that will take anything.

    It’s quite liberating to get rid of stuff once you start.

  16. @JD, I sure can identify. What’s more, your circumspect wording allows me to share this post with my friends. πŸ˜‰

  17. I live in a 1948 house, so there are limits on the amount of stuff I can have–but the house is almost twice as big as the apartment I was in before, and I have got it pretty full. Stuff definitely expands to fill the space available. I’d like to bring in a second person, but that would require pretty major purging on both our parts.

  18. Yes! It’s a constant battle though. I’ve been on 3 week trips living out of a suitcase, six month trips living out of two suitcases – and yet I can’t bear to get rid of a dress that doesn’t fit me and I haven’t worn in years? Craziness.
    Less stuff = less cleaning too.

  19. When it comes to clothing, I use the 1 in, 1 out rule. If you are going to buy a piece of clothing, get in the mindset that it’s to replace an existing piece of clothing not to augment your wardrobe.

  20. We started implementing a strategy when purchasing new stuff: we always try to buy the best quality we can possibly afford. This has been very successful so far, as the pile of old stuff gets smaller, we use a very large portion of what we own. This also has the advantage of curbing impulse buying and make you really think before buying. There is no 10 pair of shoes or 20 sweaters, only 2 or 3, but they are gorgeous, and much more durable.

  21. That’s a benefit of living in NYC. No attic space + no closet space + no room = no stuff. Even so, I managed to purge about 3 boxes worth of clothes a few months ago. Go me.

  22. According to the Pareto Principle, we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time — which means we could pare down to 1/5 of our current wardrobes, and hardly notice a difference getting dressed in the morning!

    Here are some great strategies for paring down:

    1. One in, one out. Every time you bring something new into the house, get rid of something similar.

    2. One-a-day declutter. Commit to purging one item from your household every day.

    3. Count your stuff. When you know you already have 30 shirts or 20 pairs of pants, you’ll be much less likely to purchase another!

  23. Me and my girlfriend recently had to move because our apartment was going to be sold. Carrying box after box of useless crap really got me thinking about getting rid of stuff as well.
    So instead of having a moving in-party, we’re going to have a β€œfree stuff-party”, where we invite our friends and they can choose items they want from a big box of items we don’t want or need.

    Of course, it would be easier to minimize the amount of stuff if you lived in a warm climate. Living in Finland, temperatures can range anywhere from +40Celcius to -40Celcius, with strong winds and snow up to your knees. In between there are periods of varying weather and temperatures. All this puts certain requirements on your wardrobe that I’m pretty sure people in Belize don’t ever have to worry about.

  24. I started my annual purgefest last week. I found a box of auto parts from a car that I haven’t owned in 16 years. I am going to dig deeper into the recesses of the attic to see what else that I can get rid of. Not only does it remove the burden from my rafters, but from my shoulders as well.

    I come from a long line of packrats and reformation is a constant struggle. Thanks for this post, it has given me yet more desire to win the battle.

  25. I can’t help but think of the movie Fight Club while reading this post. Don’t let your possessions own you.

  26. Great article and excellent questions. Seems the answer to the question of how much stuff does this girl need is – enough to fill the house and keep her from feeling lonely in an empty house. *sigh* Not pretty, right? But you’re inspiring me, stuff doesn’t really keep you company anyway, so I’m starting a list right now of things that I can get rid of.

  27. Is there a diminishing rate of return for minimalism? Sometimes I wonder if we’re taking this idea a bit too far.

  28. My favorite time passing besides running is de-cluttering. Just past weekend I packed 2 grocery bags of clothes. Not much? I do it every month, I haven’t bought anything for myself in a year, and I moved across the country 6 months ago in Honda Civic (with a teenager son and a cat, so deivide the space).
    My mom is a packrat, and my sister and I, when I come back home, ask dad to distruct her, and we purge from behind the shelves and odd spaces. That’s our bonding time:)

  29. Great article JD! I live in a ~720 square foot condo, as I live in a very high cost of living area. Going home to mom and dad’s is a nightmare for me because they are packrats to the extreme. By necessity, I have very little storage space for any clutter and also like to keep all my surfaces neat!

    Clothes and books are my biggest “clutter” items, and I regularly fill a garbage bag of clothes to give to good will. The books, I need to find a way to get rid of them in Canada that doesn’t involve throwing them out.

  30. I’m not sure that I agree with the minimalist aspect of the PF movement. I believe it’s important to consider what you don’t need so that you can save money to buy stuff that you really want. But I don’t consider minimalism by itself to be virtuous but rather an idea that turns the mean (saving money) into an end.
    I want lots of stuff and I want a huge home, but I also want to be able to afford those things without going into debt, thus to me it is a necessary evil not to buy everything I desire – not a preferred lifestyle.

  31. This post resonates with me – I feel like we own way too much stuff, so reading the specifics of your purging process helps me visualize what that might look like for us.

    Sarah Susanka wrote a book a few years back called the Not So Big House – suggesting that bigger is not always better, and a well-designed small house can work better for many families than yet another McMansion. (think of how efficient a sail boat can be in providing storage for necessary items) Wonderful ideas – and yet it still seems that the prevailing trend still favors McMansions as you move up in housing prices.

    My personal goal is to live in a Not So Big House – once we get rid of all the junk.

  32. JD

    Finally I was able to beat Leo at one thing. I own less than what he has :-). I have less than 50 things.

    Of course it is a different matter altogether that he beats me at million other things. He is a really great man. He changes lots of people’s lives.

  33. I agree with those who say that moving is the best cure for packrattery!(Is that a word?) My husband and I moved 11 times in the first 10 years of our marriage. I was very strategic with whatever I bought. Well, kids come along and they bring a bunch of stuff with them. Then, as they grow, they outgrow clothes, toys, etc… and we purged not terribly long after they outgreww their early childhood items. Over the Christmas break, our family took 2 days and did nothing but purge. Both girls were in charge of their bedroom purging, and we all tackled the basemant family room. We had over 10 trash bags full of trash, and 7-8 for the Goodwill, and retained a couple of small boxes of small toys for the girls to give to the little children they babysit for (thus guaranteeing future babysitting jobs!)and for our geo-caching treasure items. It really feels good to do this, and move items out of our life. Right now, everything we buy must have a really good reason for the purchase, or is consumable (food, TP, shampoo).

  34. I may be moving from a big apartment with my SO (1300sqft or so) to a smaller loft cottage/townhouse (950sqft or so). Lucky for us, 1300 is still waaay too big, but I imagine there are things we’ll have to get rid of.

    I don’t know how anyone gets rid of books though. I want to live in a library of my own making, surrounded by them. Maybe with a spiral staircase leading to them. But I guess that’s what’s important to me, and I only keep the ones I’ll reread more than once.

    If my problem is books, his problem is technology gadgets, however. Would be interesting to see if I could purge at least some of the books.

  35. We’re moving to a smaller place next month, and are in the midst of this process as well. In reality it’s not all that much smaller (maybe 1000sf instead of 1100) but we always take this time as an excuse to purge.

    I hate clutter and knicknacks so it’s always a satisfying experience for me. My husband used to be a pack rat but lately he’s been talking about how good it feels to get rid of “stuff.” We do collect some things (records, books) but I think there’s a difference between that intentional collection and just having crap everywhere.

    At my day job I’m a social worker and I spend time helping people get their apartments in order. Often they have poor hygiene and hoarding tendencies. It motivates me all the more to come home to a clean, open, uncluttered living space. It doesn’t hurt that many of my friends are architects with beautiful minimalist apartments πŸ™‚

    *Edited to add: the stuff we’ve sold this month has paid for our move!

  36. I love this topic. I had a similar rant on my blog about it:

    http://quitbeinglazy.com/2009/12/get-your-house-in-order/

    One of my all time favorite quotes is: “People don’t own things, things own people”. If you can get past the idea that you have to accumulate “stuff” to compete with the Joneses, you can easily get past the urge to overspend.
    Cleanliness in you house is a great companion to budgeting and personal finance.

  37. I agree- we are always downsizing! I am bad about my clothes though- I hold onto them because I think that I am going to wear them! I need to just get rid of them.

  38. My husband and I used to live in a 1400 sq ft condo for 8 years. We purged a lot over the years due to space demands. Now we are in over 2Xs as much space, but we still have the same habits as far as buying and storing. I’m a little more relaxed about what I keep since I have more space. But we still have rules.

    One rule is that the garage is for cars. If at any point we can’t put both our cars in our two car garage we’re getting rid of stuff that is cluttering the garage.

    Another rule is that each bedroom has sizeable closets. Our bedroom has two (his & hers). If you outgrow your closet you cannot just move stuff to one of the empty closets in another bedroom – you must purge from your own closet. The exception are coats and suits/tuxedos – that are bulky and used only a few times a year.

  39. I just moved in to a smaller place this weekend and managed to move everything except for a bookcase in a taxi. I love having plenty of books around me, even if I have read them and probably wont read them again. But it would be so great having the freedom of being able to fit everything in a taxi and just go at any time.

    Books or fitting in a taxi… Argghh, tough call…

  40. @Suzanne (#39)
    My baseline for clothing prices are what things cost when I was in high school (I graduated in 1987). If something costs more than I would have paid new then, I think it’s expensive. So, t-shirts over twelve bucks? Yikes. Jeans or shirts over $20? Too much. This makes it very difficult to shop anywhere other than thrift stores or Costco. But I’m learning that it’s okay to spend a little more for quality, and for clothes I love.

  41. After having our 2nd child, I just left my job of 7 years to be a stay at home mom. I packed up my desk and had 3 giant boxes of stuff. Since there is a strong likelihood I will return to the same company when the kids are a little older, I was afraid to throw most of my “work stuff” away. But storing 3 big boxes or buying another bookshelf to accommodate this stuff is crazy. I’ll give it another look and try to get it down to one box. After all, if I were a new employee at this company, surely I wouldn’t haul in 3 big boxes my first day!

  42. If you have less stuff for less space, why have that much space? As long as I have not outgrown my space I don’t really care. I purge things to declutter or simplify my space, or so someone else can use what I don’t. But I don’t really see the need to purge for the sake of having fewer things. More space, yeah. Better aesthetics, of course. But the fact is very often I do use something I haven’t touched in a while. That window scraper I haven’t used in four years didn’t take up much space, and it sure came in handy when I got a glass top range. Old shoelaces and socks are great for little impromptu craft projects with my daughter. And I can’t tell you how many old shirts I’ve cannibalized for teddy bear clothes.

    Yes, stuff can get out of hand. My mom is a pack rat and moving her out of her old house was a nightmare. She has all sorts of stuff in a storage unit now that I will probably get to go through when she dies. And we are constantly fighting her tendency to collect crap now that she’s living with us. But to me purging is just a tool in my quest for organization and a nice looking house.

  43. Wow, you have enough clothing for at least 4 people. For me it feels like stuff weighs me down. I still feel like I have a ton of things, but I suspect I have very little compared to the average American. I just literally feel uncomfortable with so much stuff. Maybe I like the idea of being able to move across the world on a whim, even if I don’t actually do that.

  44. At the risk of sounding like a World of Warcraft player…. can I have your stuff? πŸ˜‰
    I really loved getting rid of stuff last summer. We sold all of our dvds and cds and many of our books. The house feels lighter and more airy without all that stuff!
    On the other hand, I’m not a clothes horse — I shop only at Goodwill and usually at the outlet where you buy clothes by the pound. So, JD let us know when you make that Goodwill run in June so I can be sure to pick up some nice sweaters!

  45. I love Belize. Went there for the first time last spring. I also only took what would fit into one small backpack. At the end of the trip I realized that I took too much stuff.

    I have been on a slightly minimalist goal for the past couple of years. I still have struggles getting rid of stuff though. What was the biggest help was moving. I took so much stuff to Goodwill.

    I am down to one bookshelf, and it holds all my books, cd’s and dvds. Out of necessity my closet now only holds the clothes that I wear. Still too many pairs of shoes though.

    I am always looking for things to cut though.

  46. >>”In the U.S., the average new home was 2349 square feet in 2004″

    Hey, the sky is the limit when you can buy more than you can afford.

  47. I wish our town had a better library. No way am I getting rid of my books.

    Other than that I think we’re doing ok. Mainly because I hate to shop.

  48. I think that sometimes the “maybe I’ll use this sometime” thinking is a cover for “I feel bad that I paid for this and didn’t use it up.” I try to think about “cost per wearing” and not feel bad when I give up something I’ve worn for a while, but it’s hard, I feel guilty over every piece of clothing that isn’t completely worn out! Recently, though, illness made me lose weight and I’m taking that opportunity to Goodwill a lot of old clothes.
    The “one thing a day” that missminimalism suggests was my New Year’s Resolution — working well as long as I include things like old bills etc that should have been shredded years ago…

  49. As a librarian working in a university library that has had terrible budget cuts and hasn’t had a book budget for two years and won’t have one this year…I PLEAD WITH YOU…..

    If any of you are purging books, magazines, comic books, DVDs, Videos, CD’s, etc – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider donating to a local library before you donate to Good Will. The nice thing about something being added to a library collection is that the item can be enjoyed for free to a large number of users rather than go back into one more living room.

    With the bad economy, libraries are having a huge jump in use (Yay!) just as our budgets are getting drastically cut (Boo!). Your gifts actually do help a lot.

  50. I purged my closet before we moved last July, ironic since we went from a small door-sized closet to a walk-in, but realized I didn’t have that much excess to begin with. I try to stay simple with enough work clothes for a week (5 pr khakis with about 8-10 nice shirts to rotate) and enough casual clothes to stay on my once a week laundry schedule (2-3 pr jeans/shorts and a few nice t-shirts).

    I probably have too many old t-shirts laying around but they’re nice to have when I do a project like painting or working in the yard. Or if they get too bad, we’ll use them as rags.

    It would be interesting to count up my “stuff”, but as part of a family it is hard to distinguish what is only mine vs. everyone’s. Personally I find Leo’s “challenge” a little gimmicky.

    @JD – you sound like you have my spending limits on clothes – I usually never spend more than $20 on shirts or $30 on pants. They usually last 5-10 years too which I like.

  51. Can someone post tips for how/where to sell used items like clothes and books? I’ve used eBay to sell more valuable things ($200 boots, for example), but I don’t find it to be worth it for less valuable items. Also, eBay and PayPal are notorious for stiffing the seller and there are fees associated with selling.

    What if I have a large amount of clothes, accessories and other household items? Where would I go to sell things like this?

  52. @kate..

    I’m glad to hear that because I always wondered. A lot of libaries will not take donations by us or only at certain times, etc.. So, I always donate to those “boxes” you see in the parking lots. I know those are not necessarily non for profit but i figure it is better than nothing.

  53. I’m totally a pack rat. With running an e commerce boutique our whole basement is full of ribbon and other materials in order to custom make our girl hair bows and clippies. So it’s hard to keep things organized and those extra things we tend to just throw in the corner end up never being looked at.

    We definitely need to go through our stuff and start throwing some stuff out or donating it.

  54. I have been working on purging over the past year. I think I donated over 200 books alone. Though I will never get to where Leo is due to the fact that I have hobbies that require “stuff” such as sewing and other art products, antique book collecting and cooking, I’ve been working on getting rid of as much as I can, especially since I will be moving again this summer.

  55. If you don’t have the ‘extra’ closet — you can also turn all of your hangers ‘backwards’ on the clothing pole. Any time you wear an item, it goes back on the hanger the right way (forward) on the clothing pole … in short order, you’ll be able to tell which items you wear & pack up all the backward hanger items for Goodwill.

  56. I think about this while I am sitting on my couch. I look around and wonder why all this space and stuff is needed to sustain one person. I need to figure out how to reduce kitchen items, cleaning supplies, and under the bathroom sink stuff. I also wonder about photo albums. They take up space and I only go through them a few times a year.

  57. It’s easy to go past the point of diminishing returns in either direction in this area. Certainly many people have way more than they need, but by the same token, trying to pare down to 50 things is going to cost you things that offered more in utility than they cost in space and maintenance.

    I try not to own things I won’t use. For instance, I’ll read a book once or watch a DVD once but after that, I’ll probably never use it again, so I don’t own these things. Or tools for hobbies I’ve given up — I don’t need tools specific to working on older engines since I haven’t owned one in years. I throw away clothes that are worn out or that no longer fit, because I won’t wear them anymore.

    But the 80/20 rule isn’t applicable. Just because you only peel potatoes once a week (less than 20% of days) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own a potato peeler. There are plenty of things that we enjoy doing occasionally, and just because we don’t do them every day doesn’t mean we should sacrifice them for a few cubic inches of cupboard space. Maybe you only use a christmas tree stand once a year, but if you enjoy having a christmas tree (personally, I don’t) you probably want to keep it.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, I find plenty of people have owned things for years without even taking them out of the box. These were obviously wasteful purchases. Most people keep things forever, even when they’ve completely lost their usefulness — my father has a TV with wood paneling sitting under some other junk in his garage. He has a flat screen one in the living room, and a relatively recent CRT television in the bedroom, he’ll never turn on that old RCA again. He’s also got some Apple IIE era computers, and other things there that he has no intention of ever turning on again, but he keeps them because somewhere in his head they’re all still worth the price he paid for them 20 years ago.

    Still, counting the number of things you own is counter-productive, since none of the goals you might be working towards depend on this. If what you’re trying to do is free up space and reduce clutter, than a single TV counts as much as a whole box full of 20 old t-shirts. If instead what you’re trying to do is make some extra money by getting rid of things you’re no longer using, an extra laptop computer probably counts more than an entire garden shed full of potting soil and plastic pots. The only goal you accomplish by focusing purely on count is that you get to post a small number on your website for people to read.

    I have four surfboards and three bicycles. Getting rid of all of these would definitely make my life worse. Getting rid of some of them would make more room in my shed, but the whole purpose of the shed is to store bicycles and surfboards, and I’m not going to tear it down, so emptying it out doesn’t offer me any utility. There’s something to be said for keeping my bicycle/surfboard count limited to a number that can fit in my shed, but that number is still quite a bit higher than “never more than one of anything”.

  58. I have done something similar with my clothes, but w/out the extra closet: I just hung all my clothes in hangar-backwards at the beginning of the season; I hang them forward after I wear them. I’ve already purged some that I obviously wasn’t wearing. I’ll do the same thing for summer wear.

    I helped my husband purge his stuff a few months back. I guess I was getting a little over-zealous when he said, “I am not Amelda Marcos and we are not on “Clean Sweep”!” At least he had a sense of humor about it.

    Totally agree about paying more for something you know you love. The trick can be the “knowing”.

  59. There are so many facets to this advice, pretty much all of which will have a positive effect on your life.

    1. Cut down the clutter around the house
    2. Spend less on stuff or make some money selling what you’ve already got
    3. Less mental clutter (the “gee, I need to get to that one day” syndrome)
    4. Develop better spending habits

    …and so on.

    Great article – I need to start another purge of the house, I think πŸ™‚

  60. I’m with Ron (#27), sometimes this all makes me feel like I have too much, when I hardly have anything at all.

    Of course I have clothes I don’t usually wear — they’re for special occassions, like fancy evenings out or business situations. I recently went through my closet twice and got rid of a few shirts I don’t wear and probably won’t wear, so I’m happy with what’s left.

    I also have a few collections, but none of my collection things are packed away — it’s all out and displayed. They also bring me a fair deal of happiness, so what one person may see as “clutter,” I see as things I’d rather have than get rid of.

  61. My partner is German, one of the most frugal European cultures. Being around him really has given me “new eyes” on what I originally considered ‘my culture’: what I really need, when I need it, how to evaluate ‘quality’ from ‘what looks good’.

    As for clothing, he has few clothes that he wears, and he doesn’t wash immediately after wearing once if there are no stains or smells. How many times do we as Americans do a huge laundry every week because we only wear something once, and don’t sweat or stain it? Can we do something different, like put it back in the closet or wear it again? – Why, or why not?

    Examining the logic of everything (even our emotional attachments to something) really helps make better sense of our own world. We can now make decisions based on rational thinking and problem-solving. “Big House”? Why? What are the needs of a big house? … or having Stuff? What are the true needs of each piece of Stuff, and what is ‘the cost’ connected to it?

    Btw, JD, I find that my REI clothing are my best-made, most useful, and most adored clothes I own. I am a member, which means I paid a one-time small fee. In return, I get coupons, dividends, and the ability to return any REI item, at any time, without a receipt – no questions asked. It means I can try a shirt, and if I don’t like it, just return it. The slightly higher price some some items had paid of multi-fold for me.

  62. If you want to make yourself feel much better about how good you are at preventing and purging Stuff, just stop by some of your neighbors’ homes to say hello! I spend so much time comparing my home to magazines and reading sites like yours and Unclutterer and Zen Habits, that one trip to a neighbor’s house made me feel like Martha Freaking Stewart.

  63. Before we went on our 18 month trip around the world, we got rid of everything we owned except for —

    1) our books
    2) our cars
    3) our cat πŸ™‚

    All other things were either sold, donated, or trashed. It was incredibly freeing!

    When we came back to the States we had the pleasure of starting our life together anew. As a result, absolutely everything that’s in our tiny little cottage (400 square feet with about 120 of that upstairs in a loft) is something we purchased deliberately. It’s really, really freeing to live in a house that only has the stuff we want (and use) in it! I highly recommend it. πŸ™‚

  64. You remind me of a story I heard. A woman writer said that once in every person’s life, they ought to leave everything behind. She suggested having a new home arranged for rental without ever entering the place. Then have a someone arrange a new set of clothing left just inside the door. Then you would leave your old home, leaving all your old possessions behind, arrive at the doorstep of the new place, strip off your clothing and discard it in a trash bin outside, enter your new home naked, and put on new clothes just inside the door. That way you were leaving every single thing behind, even your clothes.
    I sympathize with this romanticized idea of “shedding your skin,” but it is obviously impractical.

  65. Moving almost once a year is great, it makes me constantly evaluate how much I value an item, especially a heavy one that I have to haul up four flights of stairs!

  66. I agree that small steps are the key, both physically and emotionally. Getting rid of “stuff” in increments makes any loss almost unnoticeable.

    Saturday is a favorite day in our house. We look at any clutter in the house and itemize into the common buckets below:

    1. Can it be sold
    2. Can it be donated
    3. Trash

    Since Saturday is trash day, we ditch everything in the third bucket and take the second pile to Goodwill.

    I also have found Leo’s 100 Things Challenge fascinating. I plan on seeing how I compare by making a list of belongings, and I expect the number will be much higher than I imagine. Great post!

  67. I don’t even wear two-thirds of my wardrobe? It’s like I’m just throwing my money away.

    I’ve often felt that way, which is why I haven’t been buying clothing (on the “I have enough” principle). On the other hand, when the HVAC system at work was blasting way too much cold air for months? I could put together 5 well-layered outfits a week (leggings, slacks, top, sweater/jacket) without having to buy a bunch of stuff. When the HVAC system got fixed? I could transition to less clothes without a problem.

    I had gotten to 5 months without acquiring any clothing, but broke it to replace a couple bras. But I did have a different triumph: I’ve begun wearing the skirt I’d previously only worn to my mother’s funeral. It’s becoming just another skirt. (Okay, it’s a skirt with pockets. That’s why I’d kept it!)

    And if it’s not worth owning in a small home, why is it worth owning in a large home?

    The incremental cost of continuing to own stuff that you already have space for is relatively small? Wearing an uncommon size that’s hard to find makes you want to hang onto things just in case?

  68. Back when I was a residential architect, a good rule of thumb we’d use with our clients to help control “space creep” for a new house was this: Measure the floor area (multiply length and width at the floor, this gives you a number in square feet) of whatever item it is you want to keep around. Could be a bookshelf full of classic comic books, grandma’s china hutch, baby grand piano, whatever. Now add 50% to account for the area needed for you to actually move around that item. Now we’d take that number and multiply it by the cost of construction (typically so many $ per square foot) to get a real $ cost of the space we would have to add to the house to keep that item around. Clients got real about their stuff real fast like this.

    It even works in reverse: just take the amount you paid for the house ($), divide by the area on your tax assessment ($/SF); then multiply by the floor area of your keepsake (($/SF)*sf). This is the cost, in housing dollars, of that stuff you keep around.

  69. I read a book a while back called AFFLUENZA and how the US has become entranced with stuff. Take a look at all the storage places opening up all over the place. IN the book there was a photo of a typical Indian family whose house had all its contents removed and put in the front “lawn”. The same was done with an American household and the difference was staggering. The Americans’ whole yard was loaded with stuff. The Indian family had a few items and they looked pretty darn happy too!

  70. I’ve found lately that the
    β€œThat’s awesome,” I said. β€œI wish I could do that.”
    But who says I can’t?
    thought stream can be wonderful in so many situations!

  71. After living in four different countries across four different continents in the last four years, I can say I am getting pretty close to being well purged these days.

  72. One thing I struggle with when it comes to downsizing is the decision of what to sell and what to donate. I’d love to get rid of a ton of CDs. Part of me knows I can make a few dollars on them if I sold them on ebay or amazon. But I don’t want to do that work, so I don’t do anything. And in the mean time my stack of STUFF doesn’t shrink.

  73. This is a fascinating post. It reminds me of the man who runs http://www.onebag.com for people to travel light.

    However, I often think it’s easier for men to pare down their possessions to a few essential things. I’d like to know how minimalist women tackle this issue.

  74. It helps immensely to hate shopping. I just don’t do recreational shopping. I wait until the irritation of not having an item exceeds the irritation of having to shop for it. Lately I have been trying to throw out something, every time I enter a room. Not too hard, there is always some piece of trash at least. It starts to get harder after a while.

    I think about when I was young and my family consisted of my parents and their 7 children living in a 3 bedroom house with one bathroom. There just wasn’t too much room to accumulate stuff. When I went to college we had 5 girls in a 3 room suite with about 12 linear feet of closet space. I got two drawers and about 3 feet of closet. Believe it or not it worked pretty well. I never saw anybody move in or out of the dorm with a uhaul in those days.

    What the heck happened? I have more stuff than I can possibly use.

  75. My family just moved several hours from the beach, and I’ve been thinking about getting rid of one or both of my surfboards. But there is absolutely no utility in it for me to do so. They’re hung out of the way in the garage rafters and they remind me of great times in my not so distant past. And who knows… I may start racking them up again and taking them to the beach when my kids get older.

    I’m with the folks who have commented that there’s diminishing returns on either end of the spectrum. If my family’s stuff fits in our house comfortably, then I’m not too worried about it.

  76. I’d like to know how minimalist women tackle this issue.

    @Allison —- Simplify Your Life points out that in almost any situation, women have more clothing *options* which means more decisions to be made and more potential to screw it up. The author suggests that women focus their wardrobes around “uniforms” that look good on them — and, yes, limiting silhouettes and colors so that everything goes with everything else.

    I would note that different *functions* in your life may have a different uniforms. If your work requires a suit, say, then you’d likely have a set of work outfits AND at-home outfits. The at-home clothes may also work for working out, or may not. Some folks may have dressier outfits for church or going to events like weddings and funerals, if the clothing they wear to work isn’t appropriate. Someone who goes out to clubs may have outfits specifically for clubwear.

    Simplify Your Life is also why I ONLY buy 1 style of sock, so matching is easy. I have fallen from grace in that I do have socks in both white and black….

    Probably the true minimalist would be able to wear the same thing in all parts of her life and be sure that everything can be worn with everything else. The programmer’s ubiquitous jeans-and-tshirts look fits this — if there aren’t too many of the jeans and t-shirts, of course. (And sufficient underwear. I hope.)

    One woman MADE a work wardrobe along these principles: http://noelfigart.com/blog/2008/06/25/wardrobe-swap/

  77. Great article and great reminder of how we over buy. I agree that most of us have way more stuff than we need. I am trying to purge too.

  78. Watching the show Hoarders has really inspired me to get rid of things that I don’t use. I am no where in the universe of a hoarder and don’t even own that much, but once I saw the patterns and lines of thinking I realized that it’s partly normal behavior run amuck.

    I have no worry that I’d ever “hoard” but I don’t like the thought of hanging on to something I haven’t touched in years because I might use it some day. Or keeping junk because it’s associated with some distant memory. I really want to have a life of simplicity and not put much too value onto objects and clutter makes me feel weighed down.

    Now as a junior pychologist licensed by my television viewing I am kind of worried about a roommate that really does seem to have hoarding instincts. I’m told it was actually much worse in the past, but he works in construction and brings home whatever scraps weren’t used in a job. Or whatever he finds labeled free at someone’s curb. He has a lot of ideas for projects, but they are sitting dusty not even half finished or have no prayer of ever being started at all. When I see him stuffing new arm fulls of wood or whatever else into our nearly unusable garage I cringe.

  79. Leo’s challenge is certainly thought-provoking, but I am relatively certain I have more than 100 pieces of art in my home, never mind all the other stuff!

    I’m a regular reader of Unclutterer, so this post & comments cover some familiar territory. I’m afraid I am a bit of an unrepentant accumulator …

    I have china & stemware service for 12. So far I have had dinner parties for up to ten, so the stuff definitely has been used.

    I have hundreds of books. I read MOST of them over and over again. Those that I do not return to, I am gradually giving away. Ditto with music CDs and DVDs. After all, if I’ve already paid for something, I have the space to store it, it doesn’t distract from the peace & comfort of my home, and I will use it again, it doesn’t make much sense to get rid of it just for the sake of getting rid of it.

    I like my space to be neat, unobstructed, and easy to clean, but it’ll never be “minimal.” I like the layered effect too much. πŸ™‚

    That said … I am as we write engaged in a “pretend we have to move” mind game to try and stop rationalizing certain things that we really don’t, and probably won’t, use.

  80. We recently did some great purging. It was awesome. It felt so liberating! Now, I try and go through certain things and purge every other month. Pretty soon, all of our stuff might actually fit in our house! It is so funny how we accumulate items so easily.

  81. About 4 years ago when my wife and I moved from a 2,200+ sq. ft. house to an 800 sq. ft. apartment, we donated five full size truck loads to Goodwill, sold >$3,500 of stuff on Craigslist and still ended up filling a 20 cubic foot dumpster for all of the crap. I don’t miss a bit of it! Now that we have bought a new (to us) 2,100 sq. ft. house, we love having all of the open space. We have made the conscience decision to not buy new furniture, knick-knacks or baubles unless it meets 3 criteria. 1) We actually need it, 2) It fits the style of the house (it’s a gorgeous 1875 farmhouse) and 3) We can pay cash for it. It has worked out well so far. So good luck to you on paring down on your stuff, once it is done, you’ll love the space and freedom it provides.

  82. To Poster #74, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily easier for men to purge. We are more likely to be collectors and to have hobbies. What do I do with the shoebox stamp and coin collections from my childhood? My 10,000 CDs? My collection of mint concert t-shirts? Probably the first, easiest step in the process is to stop buying stuff. A wise Norwegian friend changed my life with his throwaway comment: It will all get tossed out when you die.

  83. We sold our home last week (motivated by a growing family) and moved in to an apartment about half the sq ft. The other stuff went in to storage. Right now, we’re realizing we have a few “wrong” things at the apartment, and there are things buried in storage that we would like to have.

    We’ve wondered will we “need” the things that are in storage when we find a place to purchase that meets our newer needs?

    I hope that as we continue in the small space, we learn to live with less and purge things more regularly.

    Since the author called out “two bikes” – I will keep (at least) two bikes. Mountain and Road serve totally different purposes. Beyond that? Likely don’t need more.

  84. I think there is a sweet spot of decluttering so you have the stuff you use, stuff for hobbies, and also things you love (photos of loved ones, good books etc). Streamlining can make your place more efficient, open, and relaxing. But after getting to that point, what is the point of minimizing just for the sake of minimizing? Like he got down to 100 items, I’ll get it down to 50 items! It’s not some kind of contest. I guess it’s an American thing, we used to be competitive in how much (or what kind of) stuff we have, now we are competitive at how little stuff we have.
    As an aside even though it is less “minimal” I much prefer living in our 1500 sq foot house compared to the 800-900 sq foot house we used to live in.

  85. I do agree with #84, it does seem like a big competition. Who’s better, more virtuous, how less “American” can you be. Decuttering and buying less can benefit a lot of people, but does it have to be a contest?

  86. After moving into a 650 sf house my wife and I had to do some major decluttering. Books were the hardest thing for both of us to pare down. The rule for me is regular reads, reference, and waaay out of print are keepers. Everything else, sell or donate. I think I have parted with over 12 large file boxes of books, never mind the entire storage unit of other stuff we purged. It only hurt for about one day.

    @ #11 regarding small homes, milder climes, and extended living areas… We experience single digit winter weather up here in our small house. It can be endured, nay enjoyed. The trick is being more flexible and more organized with the space you do have. It’s cozy :). Did I mention being more organized? Aside from being forced to keep the stuff at bay, you will save a lot of money. My utility bills are way below local averages and I keep the thermostat at 72. The rent is also much cheaper. Working on the Landcruiser outside in the snow is a little bracing though.

  87. I agree with many of you: De-cluttering can be taken to an extreme. It’s important to find what makes you happy. I just know that I have too much Stuff, and that there’s a real cost involved with that, both mental and financial. I’m at a point where I want to pare things down, to focus on what’s really important to me. I’ll never cut down to 50 or 100 items like Leo, but that doesn’t mean I need to own so many shirts and sweaters!

  88. I’m still in the accumulating stage of life. I moved into my tiny apartment (300 sq/ft) in a rented SUV, and it’s taken almost 4 years to stock it. I bought my first new couch a month ago (previously I’d just used what I could get cheap/free off the street or craigslist wherever I lived). I used that last garage sale couch for more than 3 years. I slept on an inflatable mattress for 2 years before a friend gave me my bed. I’m finally feeling satisfied with my work wardrobe. I like having things around me that are mine, that I choose to have because I like them. I spent a decade in dorms and temporary apartments with cinderblock walls having little more than what’s necessary. I only need 1 box of kitchen stuff, but it limits the menu choices. I don’t need a mattress, box springs and bed frame, but my quality of life jumped dramatically when I aquired a real bed. I’m cozier with my candles, lamps, books, pictures, music, and stuff around. It makes my apartment MINE, and I like that. When I replace something that helped me get by with something I cherish I make sure to pass the old one on or retire it for good. There is nothing wrong with having things you want, too. Having only what you really need is a spartan existence; not something I aspire to. You just need to avoid buying things you don’t want or need, and when you replace you have to let go of the old. Maybe that’s easier with limited space and money.

  89. We’ve been paring down our belongings lately…not as much as most of the commenters, but enough to make us smile. It feels good to have an organized walk-in pantry and closet.

    The only hazard is that I’m getting a little frustrated with some Craigslist visitors that seem to be flagging me just because my price is low. Anybody in Houston need a wall mount for a 36″-60″ LCD or Plasma TV for $50? LOL. πŸ™‚

  90. A tip for selling a lot of things with less effort:
    Amazon offers a service called “Fulfillment by Amazon”. You can box up a bunch of stuff (say, CDs or books) and ship them out to Amazon, and they’ll package and ship them when they sell.

    My friend did this with dumpster-dove textbooks and said he made over $600.

  91. I am sympathetic to all of this – I live in a smaller house and look forward to getting rid of a lot of junk this spring. But like so many things, people seem to get carried away with this. Often we are feeling disorganized and overwhelmed mentally and/or emotionally, and that can be hard to resolve. So instead we go crazy throwing away physical clutter, as if a neatly organized sock drawer is going to tame the chaos of modern life.

    Also, this desire to be a minimalist and “own less” seems to fit neatly with the “reduce” goal in environmentalism, but is as often in conflict with the “reuse/recycle”. The minimalist celebrates getting rid of anything that you don’t have an immediate need for. Sometimes that thing will end up in landfill, then low and behold, a need arises and you end up buying a new one. Haters – don’t pretend you’ve never done this.

    I also have a big problem with Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, who seems to make his living crowing about how minimalist and low-impact his lifestyle is, and yet he has six kids. Jeesh.

  92. I helped my wife purge most of her clothes when we moved into the new place. It was 4 garbage bags of clothes, some going back to 1996! πŸ™‚

    She beats me though on getting ready for trips and can pack almost everything that she needs in half the time and space requirements. I always think of taking “stuff for maybe the cold” etc..but never use.

    For myself, I have a large box of “electronic stuff” that I really should just chuck but once in a while I actually do need a wire here or there so..

    I also have WAY too many books but hopefully with something like the iPad I can get those all digitized and don’t need the collection except for the art books.

  93. I definitely think there’s a balance… but of us have NOT found it!

    I know I own tons of movies, books and clothes I may never watch/read/wear again, yet they’re still sitting there cluttering up my house….

    Maybe its time for some pre-spring de-cluttering for me….

    Nice post my friend.

  94. @31

    “Sarah Susanka wrote a book a few years back called the Not So Big House – suggesting that bigger is not always better, and a well-designed small house can work better for many families than yet another McMansion.”

    Got that book when looking for houses last year. It’s great! esp. the parts about the underlying principals of why a house feels right.

    “.. McMansions as you move up in housing prices.”

    Yep. We were looking at a place in Corona that was REALLY cheap and newer compared to most of LA (really far is the reason why, and it’s way hotter) and we couldn’t for the life of us find a place under 2000 sq. ft. They were all in the 2300-2500 sq. ft. range which is ridiculous because the air conditioning bill in itself in the summer would be off the charts.

    We eventually got an older house that we did a little renovation to in a better area closer to my work. More expensive but the house was quality and enough for us.

    “My personal goal is to live in a Not So Big House – once we get rid of all the junk.”

    Mine is to eventually have enough $$ to actually build a house using some of those Not-So-Big House architecture plans. That would be really cool. πŸ™‚

  95. I had an eye opening experience because of Hurricane Katrina. What do you take with you when you are evacuating? Me, it was the pets, 1 suitcase with clothes, an external hard drive with all my pictures and files, and my file case with hard copies of tax returns, insurance, retirement info, etc., . When I returned to my house, it was clear I couldn’t stay, and most things in the house had to go. I was lucky in that I’d heavily bagged up and put into bins things like family heirlooms and photos that didn’t get damaged, but in the end I started over – moving from the 1500 sqft house to a 850 sqft condo in the Seattle area with only those few things. While I’ve purchased “stuff” in the last 5 years to furnish the condo and make life comfortable, I’m really conscious about what I buy and think about it before I purchase…9 times out of 10 I find I don’t really need it, and can keep my “stuff” to a dull roar.

  96. My husband and I live in a small one bedroom apartment (maybe about 600 square feet?). I was just telling him the other day that I know we will get a bigger home at some point when we start a family, but I don’t ever want a huge home. The bigger home you have, the more you fill it up with stuff. Also…the more you have to clean! It will be a difficult urge to fight, but I’m going to try. I am also going to try to find a home that was built in the 50’s or 60’s. They have an awesome style and smaller sizes in general.

  97. When we moved into our house I purged- but it was very hard(although our old house was 795sq ft)however, we got lots of “gifts” when me moved, to help us settle in and such to the point it overwhelmed me. During a torrential rain a month after we moved in, the roof gave way (seller hid some things) & destroyed about half of our worldly possessions that hadn’t been un-boxed yet – keepsakes, photos, out of season clothing, etc. Since having to throw all that out (it really hurt) it’s been easier to get rid of stuff… it’s all relative now. & I don’t want to spend my weekends dusting so any “new” kick nacks are kept to a minimum.

    Shara (#43) – we use our open space to make monster sized Thomas the train runs (? – not sure if that’s the right name) with various constructs along the way.
    We also use the extra space for growing plants we sell at the summer farmers market (for fun – don’t know if we make a profit) and science projects. Oh & sprawling out to color or read. When my kids are teenagers in a few years I’m sure it’ll be full of teenagers instead of what we do now.

    Although, my house is just under 1000sq ft so we don’t have much room for stuff compared to most people. As far as people who have 3 or 4 empty bedrooms & empty basements…. I dunno what the logic is.

    Lauren (#62) – I do that with my clothes too – if they aren’t dirty I hang them up to wear again but, I tend to have a ton of clothes hanging up because I only wear my date clothes on dates, etc. It’s amazing the set of hooks behind my bed room door doesn’t fall off the wall.
    My day job & home construction clothes get dirty regularly & are constantly rotating – the rest actually collect dust.

    Jen K (#68)- I do hang on things just in case. I have an odd shoe size that I don’t find too often in retail stores. Whenever I come across my size, say at the Thrift store or garage sale, it’s extremely hard to not just grab them simply because they fit.

  98. Hopelessly unable to do anything regarding this subject..Moved from 900 to 1000sq. ft with my
    10,000+ LP/45 rpm record collection

    2,000+ cd collection

    1,000+ video tapes of stuff recorded off the airwaves
    of music performances,shows,etc dating back to 1978 when I got my first VCR which hopefully I will watch
    and classify as a personal popular culture library(My
    retirement activity?)

    500+ prerecorded Videotapes & DVD’s

    300+ books(Actually managed to throw out about 500 books when I moved)

    The records are well organized and neatly stored in over 100 boxes
    made specially for LP storage,in alphabetical order;
    which I keep all over the 2BR apartment I’m renting
    except for the bathroom & kitchen.
    The books,videos and DVD’s are neatly stored in 8 bookshelves in different rooms.
    I’m hoping to move cross-country to Nevada if I ever
    retire..and it does bother to think of repacking all
    this stuff for a long distance move(My last move was just across town and I packed/moved all the media collections by myself in my car box by box in about a week)
    I just can’t see myself parting away with these collections..though I’ve considerably slowed down the buying of new media.

  99. The time the uselessness of stuff always gets brought home to me is when I move house.

    In the days before, I inevitably find a few cupboards or boxes or rooms I forgot about (okay, maybe not that last one) full of stuff I haven’t used for 2 or 3 years.

    And I’m pretty frugal already! I honestly don’t know what these people I see carrying 5 shopping bags around do with it all.

  100. #91 Katie I think I am in the accumulating stage as well, especially regarding furniture! Since we waited till we are older, somehow skipped the ikea/Target stage and are going straight from hand me downs/thrift, and cinderblock and wooden board bookcases to better hand me downs and now some new furniture. For the first time in my life I bought a nightstand and it feels good!
    But yeah all throughout college and some years afterwards, except for my futon mattress could fit my belongings into one large suitcase.

  101. @Sam

    Oh yeah, the open floor space thing is great. We do the same thing and I love to have enough room to spread out. My point was if you’re happy with your house and how much stuff you have then what are you gaining by purging? In fact your house might look pretty strange if you have half as much stuff as would comfortably fit the space. Right now I’m purging because I want more free space in my house (we got a bunch of new furniture). But once I have the space I want I’m not going to get rid of stuff simply because I don’t actively need it or haven’t used it. At that point I only get rid of things if there is a reason to get rid of it: it’s broken, I don’t want it anymore, or it’s taking up space I want for something else. It so often seems these discussions turn into a warped version of ‘Name That Tune’:

    I can get by with 24 possessions and a toothbrush!

    I can dig the idea of not having a whole bunch of emotions tied up in your possessions. I understand the liberation of traveling with one carry on. But I also see nothing wrong with having 10 throws in your living room and 25 pairs of shoes, as long as you’re comfortable with that reality.

  102. When my boyfriend and I moved in together, we had to seriously downsize. We share an 800 square foot condo (he had a house with a garage), plus a good-sized storage unit. I got rid of boxes and boxes of stuff to make room for him, and he sold or donated at least 50% of his stuff during the move.

    What I love is that it’s much easier to keep the place neat and tidy. There’s only so much stuff to be misplaced, and there’s plenty of room in our closets and cupboards to fit everything. I keep a bag or box in my closet for Goodwill and try to fill it every 2-3 weeks, then drop it off. I’ve also thrown out lots of clothes I was keeping for “painting clothes” or other nebulous reasons.

    I’m also starting to think that buying fewer clothes, but only the stuff I LOVE (even if it’s pricey) is the way to go. When I look at my closets and pick the things I absolutely can’t live without, nine times out of ten it’s the stuff that I gravitated towards immediately at the store, fell in love with when I tried it on, and almost didn’t buy because it was a bit too expensive. If I hold out and only buy items I love, over time I will have a fantastic collection of clothing that I love to wear. Even as those pieces age and go from work wear to weekend wear, they (hopefully) will still fit well and make me happy.

  103. To Sam @ #8, my Dad loves to give me things. Here is what I do. I say thank you very much Dad, then I give it to charity. He never knows…. In the beginning I would either refuse or say that I would give it to charity. He would get very upset. Trust me, this is easier….

    I am downsizing myself. I currently live in a three bedroom two bathroom townhouse on my own and am looking to buy a one bedroom apartment approximately 540 square feet. I have been purging and purging and purging and notice that I have a real problem sorting through and throwing out mail. I have about five boxes of papers ready for the shredder now.

  104. I feel like we are overrun with stuff. But with a family of 6 and 4 kids who are at different ages, interests and reading ability I feel like I can’t get away from it all. I don’t even know where to begin. Every few weeks I get a big garbage bag and fill it with things from around the house and get rid of it, but the stuff seems to multiply overnight. I wish we could get rid of half of the stuff we have, but then I think what if we need it? What if my younger 2 could use it some day? It is never ending!

  105. “In the U.S., the average new home was 2349 square feet in 2004.”

    I call B.S. on this statistic. The huge homes built by the ultra wealthy may skew the square footage higher, but to assume the “average” person with a newer home has a 2300 sq ft home seems much higher than the average I’m seeing. But who knows, maybe things are much smaller here in Missouri and the statistics were taken from homes in Texas.

  106. JD- Thank you for always posting an article that relates to what is on my mind! I was just thinking about purging some stuff in my garage and closet, so now I am inspired to do this tonight πŸ™‚

    I do purge my “stuff” from time to time, and the one thing I can say about the experience is that I never miss anything I purge. Having less possessions produces a sense of great freedom.

    @Alan- Thank you for the tip about “Fulfillment by Amazon.” I never knew this existed!

  107. We moved to our current home five years ago. It has a barn. We brought three moving trucks of stuff. Only a few items got to the house. The barn is stacked. The word is that our kids have five years to figure out what they want from the barn. Everything else goes into a huge sale, even the hand carved dining room set.
    Ah to think we started out together in 280 sq feet in Germany together. He with one duffle bag and me with two suit cases. Twenty nine years later- an airy house and a full barn- aggg!.
    The only things that stay—the art and the books. We continue to use both and enjoy what they bring to us.

  108. I agree that living in a small place is a great advantage to preventing a lot of stuff. We live in a 1000 square foot yurt with 1 closet, a few cupboards and no basement or attic. Yet, when I had to empty my house (because I currently live in China and am renting out the house) I was SHOCKED by how much stuff we had accumulated.

    My husband and I share a regular size closet so I thought we didn’t have too many extra clothes but ha! We also realized we were regularly wearing only half our clothes and never wearing some of them. The same thing happened time and again to things on our bookshelf and even with things on our counters. It was like we hadn’t looked at them for a long time and when we finally “saw” them again we were like, “why do we have this?!” It was eye-opening!

  109. Isn’t that the way it goes? We spend a lot of time trying to get ‘stuff’ and once we realize we don’t need it anymore, we get rid of it. I’m guilty of it myself. I went from saving every dime I could get my hands on to spending every dime I could make and back to saving again.

    Good luck on getting rid of that ‘stuff’! I could use a little housekeeping myself.

    Thanks for the tip about Amazon ‘Fulfillment.’

  110. Hah this is a great post, as demonstrated by the number of comments. I seriously believe I don’t really need a whole lot of stuffs, most of them are either junks that I don’t need, or stuffs I need to donate/recycle.

    If you’re looking to get rid of junks and make some money from it, Craigslist and eBay are good places to go. Especially for big old furnitures, people would go all the way to your house to pick it up, saving you time to organize a yard sale (the weather doesn’t help).

    I’m buying a lot of books, but they are definitely not junks and therefore I’ll continue to get them. Maybe a Kindle would help when my bookcase is full…

  111. Great ways to pass on your books:
    1) Paperbackswap.com
    2) Bookcrossing.com
    3) Donate to my local library

    And Goodwill will take salvage clothing (rip, torn, stained) for rags.

  112. I love the spirit of this post. Longtime reader, first time commenter. I know exactly what you mean. After traveling, or moving, the amount of waste lying around is pretty striking, particularly to those of us who are frugal by nature. How did all this STUFF get here? I believe that by calling attention to it and focusing on it, at least it can be brought to a minimum.

  113. 3 years ago I had to move suddenly, and took only a suitcase and my computer (everything else went in a storage unit). After a year (and no more money to pay for the storage unit or move the furniture) I got rid of everything in it. It pained me (and there are still things I miss) but I did realize how little of those items I actually NEEDED. Over the past few years we’ve replaced some of it (I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want a desk, for instance, instead of putting a computer on boxes!) and while there are still things I wish I could get back from that original storage unit, it has been refreshing to see just how little of that original “stuff” I actually needed. I applaud your efforts.

  114. OMG, 116 comments. So nice to know that there are a LOT of people out there as buzzed about minimalism as I am. πŸ™‚

    @Allison, I agree that it can be easier for men to be really minimal – unless they’re collectors, as @dgdevil said. Inspired by Leo’s 50 things post the other day, I counted my personal items and was rueful to find I had 262. And I thought I was really getting there!

    But then, Leo lives in a tropical climate, shaves his head and doesn’t have hobbies that involve Stuff. I have more clothes (I love them) and toiletries (tho am cutting down on these), plus whole categories of things he doesn’t have. Jewellery, makeup, hiking equipment, bike equipment and clothes, painting supplies, some weights and a yoga mat…

    So it’s not about the numbers, really. Having said that, writing down and counting all the things I own has been very revealing. I’ve taken stock of what I have and why I have it. I highly recommend it.

  115. I’m a student studying overseas and in order to avoid fees I’m restricted to two suitcases totaling 100 lbs.

    I’ve been away 8 months and, funnily enough, I don’t find myself wanting for anything else. Even if, by magic, I could suddenly carry triple the amount without fees I wouldn’t do it. I’m perfectly happy with what I have.

    I think the bigger house is an excuse. Minimalism is a mindset, not something you force upon yourself by shrinking your storage space. Excess stuff is just another kind of lifestyle inflation only this time it’s masked.

  116. I think this idea has been posted here before (it’s not mine) — I think it’s a good one.

    If there are things you are not quite ready to give away (especially clothes or books, that would not have as much resale value), put them in a box, seal it, and date it. Store it out of sight in your basement, a closet, etc.

    After one year has gone by, see if you can remember everything in that box. If you can’t, or even if you do remember some items but don’t want/miss them, just take the box (still sealed) to Goodwill. Out of sight, out of mind, out of the house!

  117. My mom is a huge pack rat. We’ve had arguments over throwing stuff away. She won’t let me throw anything away. Sometimes I sneak clothes out of my house to put them in a drop box for donation.

  118. Our house was built in 1926 (Northern California) and the closet space is what you would call “challenged”. Anything new that comes in requires something to go OUT.
    It’s the best way to PRE-clutter!
    I’m a big fan of the “price-per-wear” philosophy. Spend $ on things you will use A LOT, saves space, money AND time!

  119. @#122 (Dennis) – My mom is the same way, when I used to live with her, on garbage day I would almost literally run things out to the alley, like twenty year old busted dining room chairs before my mom realized what happened
    several posters posed the question, is the minimalist movement germane to the PF blogosphere outside of the obvious interest in saving money? i think a neglected aspect of this discussion is that people often get a false sense of esteem and worth through their possessions. i think having a minimalist perspective forces you to evaluate your worth outside of material things and staves off lifestyle inflation and comparative judgment
    i believe i saw a quote from ben franklin once, maybe here on GRS, it is better to resist the first temptation then to give in to all others. purging is good discipline
    lastly, this post inspired me to watch an episode of hoarders, it was tragic, discipline is magnetic, it has a force field, oftentimes you cannot contain dysfunctionality and it spills over to other spheres of your life and eventually consumes and contaminates your very existence

  120. DreamChaser57 – I agree. I have an old neighbor who is a hoarder and it negativly affects all aspects of her life.
    She is the reason I started to purge 4-5 years ago when we moved to a bigger house. And she’s the reason I question every purchase now. When I’m old I want to be surrounded by the people who matter – not alone & buried in the leftovers of the people who mattered & left or died. I’m the only person she’ll allow in her house. She says she’ll die if someone comes in & takes her stuff. If I say I can use something then she’ll let me take it – and many times I put it in the trash when I come home…
    She’s convinced that her “collectibles” have value & that they are worth over 20K. She’s been trying to sell stuff for over 2yrs now & guess who is buying? No one.

    Ok, done ranting. It’s frustrating to see someone drowning at the end of their life & not get the med care they need because of it.

  121. In 2007 my home flooded. Hot water hose on the washing machine ruptured spewing 300+ gallons of water into my home. Carpets ruined, walls ruined, personal possessions ruined. I didn’t realize how much absolute junk I had until I had to move it all in an afternoon to make room for the loss mitigators. The flood taught me how little I actually really need. I did not replace everything I lost. And I made a lot of trips to Goodwill to get rid of things that weren’t ruined, but I realized I did not need. But I tell you, it is tough to fight the tendency to accumulate for me the weakness is coats and books. So JD I am going to take one coat from the closet and take it to Goodwill!

  122. “It seems like every time I travel, I come home committed to win my war on Stuff.”

    This describes me to a tee!

  123. I have recently done something new to try and reduce my clothing expenses. I purged the items I don’t or shouldn’t wear, and then I wrote down every single item I own (including exercise wear, underwear, shoes, etc.) and figured out what outfits I have for different occasions. I used the following categories:
    Work
    Casual
    Exercise
    Sleepwear

    I found that I have more casual wear than I need, and not enough work clothes – and what I did have didn’t go together very well. No wonder my weekday mornings were so hard! I also didn’t have nearly enough workout shorts. I am currently filling in the holes, which is not cheap, especially suits. However, I now have all the clothes arranged by function and have already purchased the most-needed items so dressing is far easier. I have also finally achieved my goal of doing laundry every other week (I have no kids).

    It makes such a difference to know exactly what I need – I am not overbuying, and moving forward, once I have the outfits set, I will only have to buy new clothes to replace items.

  124. I can’t wait–CAN’T WAIT! for the snow to melt so I can have a big old garage sale! Sell it all!

    We’ve been waiting to find out if our new baby is a girl or a boy so we can purge the 20 boxes of baby/toddler clothes in the attic. I hope the new baby is a girl so we can re-use it all! πŸ™‚

    We face the dilemma of having small closets, but we have big seasonal weather changes here, so you can’t just get rid of the big bulky sweaters because you haven’t worn them in 6 months…they have to be stored somewhere. I’m just trying to cut down on the volume that we store.

    I have more trouble getting rid of my little girl’s stuff than I do getting rid of my own things. (And boy there is a lot of stuff for one little girl!) Why is kid clutter so hard to part with?

  125. Our overriding goal this year is to simplify our lives and reduce the number of physical things we own. So, every day since the first of January, my husband and I have each gotten rid of 10 things.

    Some days, we’re feeling super-motivated and those 10 things turn into dozens. Other days we’re in a hurry or otherwise distracted, and those 10 things are “just” 10 things each.

    Some days my 10 things might be 10 books; other days a pile of books count as 1 out of the 10. There is always a minimum of 10 things every day, but it’s such a small number and the goal can be met in a matter of a few minutes.

    We don’t want to be bogged down in counting, so regardless of how many we may actually cull, we tally just ten things each day.

    As of last night, we were 61 days into the new year. At a minimal 10 things a day each, we no longer have at least 1220 things in out house.

    We are simultaneously happy and puzzled. Happy, because it is freeing to let go of that many things, but puzzled because so far, we don’t miss any of them. It has made us wonder why we ever had most of them to start with.

    I look forward to the day that I can’t find 10 things. I don’t know when it’ll come, but imagine that it will be an interesting feeling.

  126. Great post, and superb discussion! If I may throw in my two cents:

    First – I saw a comment “I like my space to be neat, unobstructed, and easy to clean”. I LOVE this. I don’t see Stuff as my enemy, per se, but pointless accumulation has been a bad habit for me at times. To that end, over the last few years, I’ve been purging myself of much of the things I find pointless, but it’s been slow going.

    Recently, one of the women I work with lost all of their Stuff in a house fire. The family was physically fine, but they literally had nothing other than the clothes on their backs and their car when it was all said and done.

    It got me thinking – if my own Stuff was lost to a fire, what would I actually replace? That question has helped me put together four large boxes of items to sell or donate, as well as having filled my truck with clothing and small kids’ toys that we donated to the woman from work. And before you think we just made our clutter her problem, she thanked me and said “anything we wont use, I’ll pass along to the charity that’s been helping us out”.

  127. Wow, I really love the closet idea! I find that I have about 3 sweaters that I actually want to wear, and two of them beat out the third most of the time (but I will still wear the third). The rest of my closet is filled with stuff that I just don’t choose to wear, although I’ve given away a lot of clothes in the past few months. I don’t know what I’m going to do when it’s no longer sweater season. I’m pretty sure I don’t particularly like many of my t-shirts.

    I keep wondering why I buy these clothes! Why did I like them in the store? Why did I think I would wear them? I don’t know the answer to this question, and until I do, I will most likely continue to have this problem.

  128. @ Tammy # 130:
    I have to agree that parting with kid clutter is SO hard! My kids are 14, 12, and 10 and I still have their first Christmas outfits, Easter outfits, baby blankets, and stuffed animals, dolls, etc., etc.

    It started out that I was having a problem getting rid of things that I thought each kid would eventually have a chance to use. Then it became, “I’ll save that for Aunt J’s kids.” Then it was, “The kids are still playing with these things (i.e. I don’t want them to grow up too fast–the stuff became baby artifacts).

    Sometimes it’s, “I can sell this Fisher-Price farm on eBay” or “The cousins will play with that when they visit” or “I should find someone who has a home day care…they might like to have it.”!!!

    Maddening to say the least, and my basement is stacked to the gills w/kids’ toys and games, etc.

    Now the reasons are: I’ve gotten used to the clutter, have become more lazy (lack the motivation), and just avoid the basement. And many times the kids will not let me get rid of things if they see it going out the door (and I hate seeing their sad faces when I admit I gave something away w/out their ‘permission’.

    Answers the question a bit…

  129. I always liked this comment from Pastabagel on MetaFilter:

    Coveting possessions is unhealthy. Here’s how I look at it:

    All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.

    When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.

    This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.

    The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. The James Savages of the world are merely curators.

    As I am the curator of their things, and thus together we all share the world.

    http://www.metafilter.com/65284/Collect-em-all#1862024

  130. I think those “Only having N”-lists are mostly suitable for writers and other specific lifestyles. For instance, to fix bikes, I need approximately 15 different tools. Without them, I simply can not do the work. Of course one could argue whether I _need_ to fix bikes. It is a worthwhile argument to some extent insofar one would avoid getting involved in activities that involves, say, 5000 things. On the other hand, cutting it down to 50, your work pretty much has to be writing or a similar asset intensive activity, your sport has to be something like running or jump roping, not hockey (which would require about 10 things just to get on the field), and so on. A better measure would be the average time between usage of all the things one has. Harder to calculate and it does not make for a cute title to a book, but a little bit more useful.

  131. I totally agree with Jonasaberg. I, too, live in a climate where I find I need three wardrobes: one for winter, one for summer and one for in between. I use large plastic storage containers and put the out of season clothes in them at the season change. With small closets, I find this is the easiest way to deal with part of the too many clothes conundrum. Now if I could only deal with all my other stuff just as rationally.

  132. I echo Kate (#50) — if you’re getting rid of media items, especially books or DVDs, give them to your local library! What doesn’t make it into the collection will be sold at a book sale to raise money for the library. Last time I moved, I purged half my book collection (painful at the time, but there’s only a few books I miss, and I get all those from the library when I want to read them). I took several boxes/bags to the library, and they were really grateful. I’ll be purging DVDs soon and doing the same thing.

  133. Last June, our family of 4 (my husband and I, 3yo boy, 1yo girl) put our 2100 square foot house on the market and moved into a 5th wheel, about 380 square feet. It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done. We’re amazed at how little we really need and there are very few things that we miss. We spend far less time buying, cleaning, organizing, sorting, and eliminating stuff and instead have far more quality time with our kids. I know this arrangement isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s really taught us that excess stuff is just a burden that makes it more difficult to have the experiences you really want.

  134. I figure its as much as you need to accomplish your goals plus an ‘admin’ category for basic day-to-day living stuff. ie. If you have 5 goals, you divide your finances into 5 categories (+1 admin) and your stuff should also be divided into 5 bags/boxes/categories. If a piece fits into those 5 (+1 admin) you keep it, if not, off it goes.

  135. I want to comment on the one shirt that you love versus several that are just so so portion of this post.

    I grew up in a very frugal home – by necessity. I have seven siblings and my Dad had a modest payig job – until he died at 51. My Mom believed that expensive things were no better than inexpensive things. A cheap book from the five and dime was the same as a well written book from the book store. A dress on sale that didn’t fit well was the same as one that fit better but that wasn’t on sale. I can’t fault her as she got us all through college – even if our clothes didn’t fit too well. We never had clutter as we never had much. I took every piece of clothing that I owned to college in two modest sized suitcases, more specifically, in bright red plastic suitcases that were on sale.

    But since I didn’t have 8 children and I live in an era of tons of cheap consumer goods, I’ve had to retrain myself. Paying more for a pair of shoes that I’ll wear for years and that will be comfortable and attractive beats a cheap pair that I’ll dislike. I’ll end up buying another cheap pair that I’ll also dislike etc. Soon – too much stuff and too little use.

    I too am on a purging mission and hope to be left with only the things that I really enjoy. Thanks for the great post.

  136. To 137: I put my bike tools in the bike tool box and call it one thing. Perhaps the big Park stand, little travel stand, and truing stand all count as separate, but if the tools fit in the box, that counts as ONE thing – the BOX of bike tools.

  137. Interestingly, I’d say that in my family, it’s my husband who has a harder time purging. I’d just as soon that he got rid of all the outdated electronics, but he saves them “just in case” (Amiga’s, maybe even a Commodore 128, old printers, etc.). I’d toss them. But not too long ago he took a part off of an old printer that fit the “newer old” one we had and fixed our “newer old printer”. He told me that it justifies his keeping all that stuff around. πŸ™

    Anyway, I have my own areas of weakness, so I won’t talk too loudly, but I have started to get rid of some music books that I just don’t think I’ll ever use. Last trip I took to the states, I tried to fill up our bags with extra books to give my sister who can then either sell them on half.com or directly to people she knows.

    There are lots of good ideas here. I just think I should start working on decluttering the parts of hte house I control and keep it up…15 min. a day.

  138. Do it J.D. Just start as soon as you can. Maybe you’re like me and you need to purge publicly so that you feel as though you are being held accountable, a la Get Fit Slowly. If that’s what it takes, do it.

    I notice that the post ends in questions, and no clear direction. It’s obvious you don’t want so much stuff, but what I’m interested in above all is what steps you are going to take towards owning less crap. Good luck in finding out what steps those are, and in taking them.

  139. I recently moved from a two-bed apartment where I owned most of the furnishings (my sister was my roomate and she was fresh out of college when she moved in) to pretty much one room plus some limited storage. It was a serious exercise in getting rid of stuff!

    It was also an opportunity to learn about what I store up. I have a list of things I don’t need to buy for a long, long time because I’ve got plenty: pens, shampoo, hair elastics. So that made me want to come up with a storage system that will remind me that I have extras and where to find them, a trick I’ll have to master for my next move (in just a few weeks).

  140. My (former packrat) in-laws have decided recently to start purging their attic, sheds, etc. of junk so that we don’t have to deal with it when they are really old or pass away. Some might think this is morbid, but I thought it was kind of them, the place used to be very overwhelming and it’s slowly but surely getting better and better!

  141. This is one of my favorite posts [probably because it’s about one of my favorite subjects]! My husband and I re renters, but we’ve continued to move into smaller and smaller spaces and thus purge our belongings more and more. We started out in a 900 square foot apartment, then went to 750 and now we’re at 540. We could easily transition to about 350-400, but we’re waiting to figure out our next move.

    My husband wants to get into the tiny house movement – I think it’s awesome, but really not for me. There is a book I’d highly recommend checking out though, even if the tiny movement isn’t your thing: Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned From Living in 140 Square Feet, by Gregory Paul Johnson.
    http://www.amazon.com/Put-Your-Life-Diet-Lessons/dp/1423603176/ref=pd_sim_b_2

  142. JD, thanks for the inspirational post!

    It was the catalyst for me starting my first blog: http://projectcleanapartment.blogspot.com/

    I’m trying to take the 2 bedroom apartment which has all of the “extra” stuff I moved from an 8 bedroom college house, plus what I have accumulated over the past 5+ years and cleaning it to the point where I am comfortable having company over in the next 6 months.

    I come from a family of packrats who call me hoarders, so this is going to be quite the challenge, both in terms of organizing clutter and discarding what I don’t need.

  143. I recommend the book “Material World,” but I don’t think it’s still in print; maybe you can find it at the library. A photographer went to dozens of different countries and, in each, found a “typical” family and took a picture of them with all their “stuff.” Naturally the richer the country (e.g., USA & Western Europe), the more stuff the people had. They also interviewed the families about their stuff: what their most valued possessions were, and what they wanted. In the poorer countries, they wanted things like a bicycle that wasn’t broken. Another thing that was interesting about that book was info on the percentage of income people spent on food. In the poorer countries it was often over 90%. Here in the USA our biggest expense is housing, not food. Interesting.

    I have a problem getting rid of clothes that are a size or 2 too small. I keep thinking that some day I’ll lose the weight. Do others have this problem?

  144. Came over from Trent at TSD and ended up “homesick” for Belize :>) – I spent about a week there during a month long trip for which I packed one large backpack and one small backpack. Good times. Anyway, I linked to this on my weekly roundup, post is under my name. I’ve been doing a 40 bags in 40 days declutter challenge for Lent and have realized that I’m past 40 and have barely felt a pinch. Guess I need to KEEP GOING!

  145. I am a European leaving in the US for 6 months only. I sometimes watch home improvements shows on HGTV and in most cases I am strucked by several points:
    * people seem to never have enough (“It is a pity they don’t have 2 ovens.” What for?) ;
    * people have so many clothes (“I am not sure this closet will fit both our clothes and shoes.”).

    For the first point I think that most Americans are crazy about having always the top-of-the-range stuff that will be old-fashioned in just a few years.

    For the second point it might be only me (10 T-shirts and 10 shirts is all I have and need).

  146. For those asking where books can be sold: there are 2 places online which buy books (and pay for the shipping cost). One is cash4books.net, which is McKenzie Books in Beaverton, Oregon. (If you live nearby, you can walk your books in, and they pay you a little extra for doing so.) The other is powells.com, which is Powells Books in Portland, Oregon (look for the “sell us your books” tab and choose the online option). For any given set of books, try both cash4books.net and powells.com, as they have different tastes and offer different prices. If you live near a Half Price Books (you can find their locations at halfpricebooks.com/find_a_store.html), they often offer good prices when selling to them in person, and they purchase on the spot after a short wait (15 minutes or so, in my experience). For those books which you can’t sell, please do consider giving them to any library; if they can’t add the books to their own collection, they often can offfer them at their own sale (most libraries have either ongoing or periodic sales) — plus it’s a charitable donation (ask for a receipt if the library doesn’t mention it), so if you itemize it may help on your tax return. Finally, paperbackswap.com is a great, low-cost way to give your books to others and get books you want yourself: it’s like giving presents to others and getting presents in return, and really a lot of fun.

  147. I liked this article, I’ve read your past articles on conquering your war on stuff. I can’t really relate to your attachment to stuff because
    I don’t get sentimental about stuff, to me stuff is just stuff.

    Growing up with parents who liked to hold on to things, but they weren’t excessive hoarders, still they are the type of people who keep things for months and even years “just in case”-I just have this aversion to not keeping things I don’t need. I constantly throw things out at the end of the month if I don’t use them.

    IMO you are more than your stuff, you’re an entire human being that isn’t defined by your job, or by your stuff. In the end you can’t take it with you, all we have is our character, experiences, our journey, and our friendships with family and friends.

    I hope you continue to get better at not letting stuff rule you and I really do mean that. No one should be ruled by stuff. In reality, most of us don’t need that much stuff. We can get by on less.

    I’m 27 but it seems to me that many people work so hard for stuff and for the most part, they don’t really end up using most of their stuff, or they lose interest and then they end up storing it in a storage they pay for, garage, or some other place.

    Think of how much time and money we could have if we didn’t spend it on so much stuff, we could retire early, pursue hobbies that are more fulfilling if we as Americans weren’t busy on the pursuit of stuff. Anyway, don’t give up J.D.-you sound like a very nice person, and you are more than your stuff.

    Good luck to you =)

  148. I have been on a significant cleansing spree recently. It simply feels so exceptional disposing of stuff you don’t requires. It additionally makes you think true hard before acquiring something new .