in FS, Psychology

The Idea of Having

My mother has been out of the hospital for two weeks now. She’s home and recovering well. The past two Sundays, Kris and I have driven down to see her, and the three of us have spent part of the afternoon sorting through mom’s Stuff.

“Do you still want this?” I asked mom again and again, holding up an old computer printer, a plaque with a pithy saying, or a calendar from 1998.

“No,” she’d say, and sometimes we’d laugh. Who still needs their calendar from 1998? But not everything was funny. “It seems a shame to get rid of some of this,” she said as she sorted through her clothes. “They’re all still good.”

We’ve thrown away some of the Stuff (calendars from 1998, for example), but last Sunday Kris and I hauled a lot of it to Goodwill. We dropped off nine large garbage bags filled with clothing and a couple more containing books and gadgets.

The idea of having
When we got home, I spent some time alone, thinking. I sat in my office and looked at the bookshelves. I looked at the rows and rows of comics. It occurred to met that although I’ve gained control of my current and future spending, I still struggle with the past.


“Will I ever read these?” I wondered. “Or are they just clutter?” I remembered a conversation Kris and I had last week.

“You know why you can’t get rid of Stuff, don’t you?” Kris had asked.

“Because I want it,” I said.

“You think you want it,” she said. “You like the idea of having certain things, but you don’t actually use them. You’ve got dozens of books stacked in the guest room. They’ve been there since the last time you purged Stuff a year ago. Have you needed any of those books in that time?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s my point. You can’t bring yourself to get rid of them, yet you don’t use them, either. You don’t even really want them. So they sit there. You wouldn’t even notice if you got rid of them.”

Kris is right. It’s the idea of having that appeals to me. When I look through my stacks of books, it pains me to think of purging them. Yet it also pains me to have them cluttering my life, always within eyesight, taxing my mental energy. I like the idea of having them, but not the actual possessing.

Who we were or wished to be
After I told my friend Amy Jo about our clutter conversation last week, she shared her own thoughts. “We each have so many interests, and certain things — like books — keep us connected to those interests, or give us the illusion that they do,” she said.

“But they also clog up our lives and make us less efficient at doing what we are and what we want to do right now. It’s hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time — not who we are right now.”

Looking around at my collection of comic books, I had to ask myself, “Is this who I am? Is this who I wish to be? Are these books a part of me?”

I didn’t have an answer, and I don’t have one now.

The purpose of money
I truly believe that by gaining control of my desire to have things, I can better control my personal finances. Many people struggle with lifestyle inflation — increased spending with increased income — which is nothing more than a battle with Stuff. This problem is common, even for those who don’t spend beyond their means.

I’ve become adept at preventing new Stuff from entering my life, but it’s difficult for me to part with the Stuff I already own. This is a very First World problem, and in a way it makes me feel guilty. We’re trained not to be wasteful. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it can prevent us from making smart decisions.

I also continue to struggle with sunk costs. I know that I spent $30 on this book, for example, or $20 on that pair of pants. It pains me to think of getting rid of them. It feels like throwing money away. And so I stack Stuff in piles and carry it to my workshop where it will sit, doing no good to anyone, for months or years.

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

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  1. J.D. you’re so right. We all struggle with this. Books are my particular weakness too. Learning to take advantage of the wonderful library I have nearby has helped prevent so many books from taking up permanent residence in my home, but parting with things I already have is a different matter. I’ve found that it helps to realise that the things I no longer need could bless others. I have given away many of my ‘things’ recently (including books!) The hardest part has been maintaining the faith that, should I need to replace them one day, I will have the money to do so. For me that’s been the answer; bless others with what no longer blesses me and have the faith that my real needs will always be met.
    Sentimental value is the biggest challenge though. Some things are irreplacable.
    Three years ago, I spent 3 mths without my ‘stuff’ while it was being shipped from Europe. Living in an empty house for so long showed me that I could easily live without it all. The only things I really missed were the pictures of my children as babies.

  2. Top 10! The Spirit! Astro City! And is that Eisner’s Hawks of the Sea? Don’t trash them! You can’t trash them! You’d sell them at least, right?

    If I had your collection, I’d have trouble giving it up too.

  3. Even more than the (considerable) amount of money I spent on my old college math textbooks, it’s the amount of effort I put into learning the material, which I have since forgotten, that makes them hard to get rid of. Especially since I’m pretty sure the used-book store would just toss them in the dumpster–who needs 25-year-old textbooks that teach math at a level that hardly anyone actually ever gets to?

  4. Books and eating out are my weakness, but I don’t feel as guilty because debt, retirement and college savings are paid before I indulge in wants.

  5. I believe that we are the first generation in the history of the world in which just about every member of our society struggles with managing the vast amount of stuff that we own. Many of us think of all of our stuff as assets. In truth, I suspect that much of it could more accurately be classified as liabilities.

    We all keep stuff socked away in our basements or closets because it’s valuable or because we might use it someday or because we just like having it. We spend time and money organizing it, storing it, cleaning it, and maintaining it. Speaking personally, I find that I often never get around to using any of this stuff. Even if I do need something that I know is hidden away in my basement, I will often just buy a new one because the one that I have been saving for all these years is lost, or broken, or out of date, or something.

    Whenever I see old homes, I always look at the size of the closets and try to imagine living with only the amount of clothing that would fit in those small closets.

    I also like to think about what it would be like to live in a Tiny Tumbleweed House. (the floorplans start at 65 square feet – for a whole house).


  6. Lifestyle inflation doesn’t have to take the form of Stuff. It could also take the form of “experiences” – for instance, getting into the habit of going out for drinks, out to dinner, lavish annual vacations, whatever.

    Anyways, I was thinking this last weekend about a book I never thought I would part with. But this weekend I realized that I might never read it again. It was a great read for the past me, but the current me has more refined tastes. Just one book but how much of the rest of my Stuff represents aspects of some former self?

  7. The “stuff” conversation has entered our household many times. I think we often fail to realize that this “stuff” takes time as well as money just to have. Once you bring it in you are responsible for it! Dusting, heating, moving, storing, disposing(hopefully ecologically)…………time is money! The amount of time we have spent removing the unnecessary stuff has really caused us to take a serious look at future purchases and their “real” costs.

  8. I had a “throw away everything that has no function”-athon a couple years ago. The hardest part is when you’re going through your old stuff and find things that bring back memories, and then you want to keep it. You’d never have known it was gone, but now that you can see it, all of a sudden you have to keep it.

    I toughed it out and got rid of a good portion of my clutter. It’s tricky though, to avoid justifying what things “you might need” in the future. I still have a huge garbage bag of cables (A/V, power cords, CAT5, etc.) and my family laughs at me, but I’m always routing through it to find the “I know I have one of those kind of cables” cables. Too bad that not everything I kept turned out to be so useful.

    Spring cleaning… in September!

  9. I too have struggled with the book issue. I dealt with it by giving a lot of the reference / business books I had to the public library. They’re good and relevant, so the library adds the books to the stacks, and then should I need the information, I have still have access to the books.

  10. I struggle with this. I can get rid of “frivolous” items, like fictional books, CDs, etc. But I have a hard time getting rid of the crap I pick up at conferences, in the classroom, etc.

    Selling my car was my tipping point. I called a detailing service, and when the guy came by for the estimate, he almost cried. What’s the point, he asked, of owning the car if you can’t take care of it properly? That’s when I started realizing that I was addicted to the idea of having too.

  11. Wow… this one hits home for me. As I am trying to find my voice. Figure out who I am. I have been hiding behind a mound of paper (literally, my “current obbesion -hobby” is scrapbooking) and I just keep buying more. Only using a small fraction of the items I already possess. Keep up with the Joneses or the Suzy Q scrappers… silly, silly me! Now if only this helps me to actually change things!

  12. I agree with Steve on this one (as far as events taking over lifestyle inflation). When I moved a couple months ago and purged my stuff I found that I don’t miss any of it. The only thing I can’t get rid of is my box of concert and sporting tickets. I know they are just slips that stand for the event, but i can’t force myself to get rid of them. Luckily, the clutter is contained within two shoeboxes, but it still is definately unneeded stuff.

  13. I’ve lived every word of this. For me, it’s not the comic books, it’s the obscure books from college courses that make me seem really smart (at least in my own head).

    I don’t know what I actually think happens when people see these. No one I know is actually impressed by my obscure knowledge, unless they’re looking for a Trivial Pursuit partner. Even then, my disturbing knowledge of ’80s hair bands trumps any info I have on postmodern architecture or whatever it’s cool to know about these days.

    This issue has been one of the last holdouts of my efforts to simplify and declutter, and you pretty much just called me to the carpet on it. Time for some soul-searching. Great post.

  14. I had a horrible experience whe nI was unemployed and deep in debt where I defaulted on my storage unit (I was staying at my mother’s) and lost about 80% of my stuff.

    For the most part, I made it through and all that stuff is just stuff now. There were a couple things in there that were not replaceable and I start hyperventilating when I think about it, but mostly, I don’t miss a lick of it.

    I was forced to give it all up, and so it all went away without my having much of a say in it. I know how painful it is to get rid of books. But I think if you just took the plunge and did it, you wouldn’t regret it.

    You could always try the old trick of taping everything up in a box with the date on it and if you don’t get into it for a year it goes to Goodwill, unopened.

  15. I have a love affair with my books – I’ve been a voracious reader since I was a child and easily have over 1,000 books in my house. Are they all on display? No – a good portion are packed away in boxes in my attic. But I yearn for the day when my husband and I build our dream house (we already own the land) and I can have a full-scale library for all my books. Books have helped form my identity when I couldn’t find the words to do so on my own – my interests, my passions, my curiosities. The idea of giving those away is like giving away a piece of me and never being able to get it back – at least not in its original form. I also look forward to the day when my own kids (who already show a love of books at ages 4 and 5) will read the very same books that I once cradled to my chest in heady anticipation.

  16. I had the same feelings with my CD collection. After I converted it all to electronic files in iTunes, they just sat there. I finally got rid of them (sold them over the web) after moving in with my girlfriend. (Who was not excited about using an entire wall for CDs). My only regret has been that I didn’t do it sooner.

  17. This is a good article. Once I learned to control my wants and my sense of “having” I got control of my spending. Now I re-sell books as soon as I’ve read them. I belong to Netflix and can see my favorite Dvds over and over again. And I just don’t spend as much money. I have more, too. So in a way I can’t say “I have that.” But I know that if I wanted to, I could AFFORD that.

  18. Great post.

    Over the last ten years, I’ve worked away from my home for 3-9 month periods intermittently. When I lived with only the items that I could squeeze into my car, I realized that all of my “stuff” I had left behind was totally unimportant.

    The lifestyle inflation that I fight on a weekly basis is almost completely related to “experiences”. Vacations, dining out, happy hour and other activities with friends and colleagues. Sometimes it seems like everyone else lives in a different financial world, free of any constraints…

  19. If you decide to get rid of your books in the future, I will gladly pay you for them and shipping too of course. Just drop me a line if you do.

  20. My best example is this:

    In high school, I painted miniatures, for Dungeons and Dragons and for Games Workshop[1] tabletop games (Warhammer 40k, etc). This was the *one* artistic thing I could do, and I did quite well. I stopped painting and playing in college as I simply did not have the time. A few occasions since college I tried to get back into it. Due to hanging onto the idea that I might try to paint again, I kept all my miniatures and supplies, and have moved several times in the last 10-15 years with all this stuff.

    I went through the shelves and stacks of this stuff a couple weeks ago and threw it all out. Hundreds of dollars worth of paint, pewter figures, brushes in the garbage. I got realistic. I knew I would never find the time to do that again. It is a bygone hobby from my youth.


  21. Great post! There’s someone I want to send it to! Please consider adding an “E-mail this page” link to make it easier for visitors! Thanks!

  22. I have a hard rule that if I haven’t used something in 6 months to 1 year, it goes in the trash. There are only a few exceptions (old family pictures or extremely sentimental items).

    When you go through your stuff and throw so much away you realize how little you really need “stuff”. I remember throwing away things that I had bought and never used. Obviously now I’m much more careful in my purchases.

  23. Funny that you bring up this topic. My wife an I are trying Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, which start with raising $1,000. In an effort to speed up this process, I am divorcing much of my stuff. I had well over 200 DVDs. I’ve managed sell nearly half of them online already and have raised nearly $800. We’re having a garage sale this weekend, which will allow us to get rid of even more stuff.

    But the reason your post interested me is I was having very similar thoughts. Initially, when I went through my DVD collection, I picked out about 20 to get rid of. But after giving it more thought, I’d think “How often am I really going to watch this?” and that number soared. With the exception of about 20 of my DVDs, everything else became fair game. I’ve decided to keep many more just because they probably wouldn’t sell for more than $2 — but they may go to the garage sale.

    The weird thing is… it’s actually felt pretty good to get rid of this ‘stuff’.

  24. Thanks. This quote is very helpful for me:
    “It’s hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time – not who we are right now.”

    I’ve often been known to keep things far longer than I need to. This will be helpful!

  25. This rings so true for me. I have been carting around art supplies, books, old magazines (to cut up and make collages with!), etc. for years and years, across the country and back, because they represented who I wanted to be, or would be someday when I had the time or inspiration. I use the library like mad but never read the books I own. It’s a combination of keeping things “just in case” and attaching some identify to them – and so worthwhile become aware of.

  26. I have a lot of novels. The truth is this books have brought me a lot of pleasure over the years, and I’d love to read them all again. But in our current house, they’re all hidden away under the stairs where they do no one any good. So why not find a place that can use them? Why should everyone else be denied the pleasure of good books just because I am?

    So I made the decision this weekend to try to find a library to donate them to, but found my wife doesn’t want to. She knows they are important to me, and doesn’t buy into the “At least someone should enjoy them!” argument. So that’s where things sit for now.

    The whole situation seems backwards to me somehow…

  27. My family loves their reading material. My mom’s house overflows with magazines. It’s like they breed!

    My brothers have entire walls of bookcases.

    When my parents moved into a house in 1967, they used the same moving company from their move in 1960. The movers remembered my parents because of all the books.

    Me? I have a 550 square foot apt and a library card.

    Obviously I don’t have not a lot of room to store books. My brother’s argument is that they like to see their books to be reminded of each story.

    Back in May 2006, I got a book out of the library and the writer had a friend who would write down a review of every book he ever read.

    I thought that was a good idea and after a dollar store investment in a journal, I was set.

    So here I am two years and 121 books later, a few thousand dollars richer, and I have a record of my thoughts on each book. Maybe that’s the way to go for those who are watching their dollars and worried about clutter. My journal is nearly full so I will have to invest another $1.13 at the dollar store but I think it’s worth it.

  28. Books. Like many people I can’t get rid of books. I don’t read print very often these days as I’m busy on t’internet, but they are all books that I have/will read multiple times. They still represent who I actually am, rather than who I want to be. But that might change in the future.

    I have some rock climbing gear. That’s a lot more about someone that I want/used to want to be. I’m afraid of heights, but spent about a year learning to climb indoors with a partner.

    It’s probably not something I’m going to do again, but I keep hold of the stuff, because it’s like if I’m a climber, I’m exceeding my own expectations. Except that I’m not a climber.

  29. Books are like warts…. Hard to get rid of. I remember dragging old college textbooks from one apartment to the next…And I just moved my daughter. What did she have; 3 cases of old textbooks. When my wife died, I hauled 12 large garbage bags of books down to the Goodwill….

    jegan 😉

  30. Books are the single hardest thing to get rid of. When I recently moved house I realised a disproportionate amount of my belongings was just damn books. I have one proper bookshelf, so I made a deal with myself that I could keep one bookself worth’s of books. It was easier to trade them off against each other but it was still really, really hard.

  31. 🙂

    I do have The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. I intentionally used it as a prop in my first TV interview, and they ended up using the clip. Makes a geek’s heart sing.

  32. Actually, it was the Carl Barks anthology I used: Uncle Scrooge: His Life and Times. (I have the other book, too, though.)

  33. Some people have security blankets; others have security libraries.

    The blankets are cheaper and take less room, but you can’t read them.

  34. The biggest problem I have in terms of keeping stuff is actually keeping the boxes that the stuff came in! I have a problem that whenever I buy something I take out the product, set it up, and put the box in a spare room or closet. I went in there the other day and there are like 50 empty boxes.

    I try to convince myself that they will be useful someday. I’ll be able to you them to pack Christmas gifts in December! I seem to forget that most things I’ll be giving will come with their own box!

    Some boxes really do seem to make sense to keep though. Such as the box for my computer monitor. If I ever want to sell it or if I move to a new apartment, it would be nice to have the box to make transporting it easier.

    Others I have no reason at all to keep: I have boxes for a yogurt maker, a tea maker, a tent, a TV antennae, a paper shredder, and the list goes on and on. There is no reason to keep these boxes! Yet I can’t seem to get rid of them.

    I even have the box for a computer printer I bought at least 8 or 9 years ago. I gave the printer away about 7 years ago…

  35. Very good post. Lately I feel like I am drowning in stuff. Your post has prompted me to take a deeper look at why I have kept many items. Hopefully I can let go of them and par down my belongings. Thanks for the post.

  36. The space and energy that you free up — physical, mental and emotional — are so worth giving up stuff. The crazy part is that you don’t even realize how much it weighs you down until it’s gone. And then suddenly you can breathe again.

    Good luck, JD. The struggle is well worth the effort.

  37. This is a perfect example of taking things to the extreme. There is nothing inherently wrong about having 10-15 books on a bookshelf that you don’t read that often. Say you discard the books, what will you do with the empty space?

    There should be a point to reducing clutter – just doing it for the sake of doing it accomplishes little.

  38. Wow.. Great Article to start my day with..

    I am a movie freak and I always loved to buy DVDs to have the pleasure of watching the movie at home. I have bought many DVDs and if the movie sucks then I dont dare to touch that DVD again better if I had rented it but the thought of having it made me buy the DVDs and now I do repent for buying few of them.

    After regularly reading your blog, I have realized how to cut short on my expenditure which in turn helps me to build my wealth in the long run. Thanks for being such an eye opener. I am sure many of the readers like me would have got benefited from your writings.

    Thank you.

  39. I’ve recently been on a purging frenzy, getting rid of countless items that were once expensive but are now essentially useless. But when it comes to books I simply can’t dispose of them. Instead I let them drift away by “lending” them and never asking for their return.

  40. I too have been dealing with my parent’s clutter and it has me on a roll to get rid of my own. Believe me, you see “stuff” in a whole new way after moving the 10th box labeled “kitchen plastic”

  41. i don’t know what it is about books. my husband has tons of them and he insists on keeping each one.

    thankfully, he’s been selling textbooks as he’s through with the ones he won’t refer back to in the future. he kept the algebra book to review while taking physics, for example. the books he has for his major and handbooks like electrical codes will stick around for a while. i’m ok with that, i still have some high-end subject matter books from college that are relevant to my current studies.

    we’ve also got a large cache of parts for one of our cars (just in case!) that drives me a little batty.

    my husband has always been a collector of Stuff, but he’s getting better about it.

  42. I struggled w/ the “sunken costs” issue when it came to food. Similar to your occasional stress eating, it pained me to think that less fortunate people in the world went without, while I’m throwing away food and my money.

    Did two things to combat this problem – bought a treadmill (one of my best purchases ever b/c I use it everyday) and learned to say enjoy leftovers.

  43. Thanks for the great post! Even though making the decision to get rid of things I don’t use anymore is often difficult, it always feels so good to have fewer things in our house. I feel much more at peace when the clutter is gone.

    Sometimes I get in one of those moods to get rid of things and I’ll throw things away mercilessly. I did this once with a box in our basement. We had moved the box from one apartment to another and it had sat in our new basement for over a year without being opened. I concluded that since I hadn’t opened it in a year, it must not have anything that I really needed in it, so I threw away the entire box without looking inside. A few months later, I was looking for my engagement ring and realized it was in that box. The box was from our den in our former apartment and I had often taken my engagement ring off when I was working at the computer. Since I didn’t wear it often, I hadn’t missed it — until I had already tossed it. That was the most emotionally costly trip to the dumpster I’ve ever made.

    Even so, I still prefer to get rid of clutter than to keep it around.

  44. I do agree with this article, but I am going to focus on actually wearing that shirt, reading the books, starting and finishing the projects, etc., that are gathering dust.

    And not buying another similar thing, since I have perfectly good ‘stuff’ at home.

    Although, there needs to be some clutter control…and I give it the one year rule.

  45. Despite being somebody who regularly purges her stuff, I too think this is a bit extreme. It seems that everything now must be clutter, not valuable and just disposable. Paradoxically, this is a consumeristic view.
    True, it’s not stuff that define us as persons, but what’s wrong in keeping part of the books that were important in our life experience? Shouldn’t we even discriminate anymore?

  46. I’ve never had a job I didn’t enjoy even though some weren’t totally enjoyable, because I always learned something from the experience!

  47. The biggest challenge for me is that, unless you just toss it in the trash, it’s a lot more work to get rid of stuff than it is to acquire it. I want to get rid of my unwanted belongings responsibly, but it takes time to research all the possibilities. Sure, you can sell used books or donate them to a library, donate used clothes to Goodwill, etc. That’s easy. Other stuff is harder: old software and manuals, miscellaneous bits of hardware and bike parts that I no longer need, etc….individually they may not be a challenge but when you consider them altogether it’s overwhelming. I’ve got a pile of stuff to get rid of in my basement but have no idea when I’ll find the time to dispose of it properly.

  48. This is why I actually prefer living in a smallish space. I can only fit the essentials and I know that if I want to buy anything, something else has to go first.

    I have the same rule for my bookshelf. I’m a bibliophile myself but before I buy a book to “keep” I must review the current books on my shelf and be prepared to replace an old book with my new purchase.

    It’s only difficult in the beginning (when you have to be ruthless) but once you’re in the habit, it’s not as painful to let go of Stuff.

  49. I think if you have books that are really important to you- keep them but seriously- are 1000 books really who you are? Do you have a good place for them- if not, they will mildew, they will attract silverfish or other bugs and they will be doing no one any good. I had a large cookbook collection which I gave to a younger co-worker- I wasn’t using most of them and so got rid of all those except a few(and then added 2 Nava Atlas and a Deborah Madison). I have had friends whose houses are a wreck because they can’t get rid of stuff-books, furniture, clothing- and then buy more-I think buying “stuff” is how some people keep at bay thinking of more important things- and doing more important things. I am downsizing(although my living space is large) by giving things to people who want them (people I know and via Freecycle) and to charities. I just gave away a lot of clothing so I am keeping only what I really wear. My next project is a sale of items I bought thinking they would increase in value- they didn’t so they are going up on EBAY. Unlike “the comics”- the items have no meaning to me so it is easy to part with them.

  50. When cleaning out my stuff I try and apply the law of use to it. I often donate stuff like clothes and such due to weight gain and loss which I struggle with. I ask my self if I got $x use out of it and it makes it easier to donate. It also helps that I often shop at Goodwill and garage sales so I don’t spend so much in the first place.
    George Carlin once did a routine about the reason people move to bigger homes is that they need more room for their stuff, he was right.

  51. I’m currently a university student, and for me, an uncluttered space = an uncluttered mind. I regularly purge items I haven’t used within three months of using them with two exceptions: (1) Books. I can’t. I won’t! (2) Pictures. Ah, pictures. In the days before the digital cameras when I would take 24 pictures of random things, never really being sure if they were actually good shots… then printing all of them, and storing them — in shoe boxes, photo albums, memory boxes, drawers, even behind other photographs already in frames. I never look at them. Some of these photos aren’t even of interesting things. And yet I hang on. And the negatives! I have so many negatives! Like I’m ever going to get those printed… I can’t even make out what’s in the darn picture.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for storing photographs or learning how to get rid of ones that are just completely useless? I did try to get rid of pictures and it worked when I didn’t recognize the place. But I even had a hard time when I didn’t recognize the people (at a party, for example) because I felt like I was being rude or something.

    I have one friend who uses an online program to store her digital photographs and only prints the ones she really loves. I think that’s great, but I fear that somehow I’ll lose those digital copies or that the internet will self-combust or something, and then I’ll no longer have a record of my usually prosaic existence… sigh.

  52. I try to get rid of Stuff in stages. Over the last two years, I’ve pared my wardrobe down to 1/4 its original size, but I didn’t get rid of everything at once. Some things stuck around because I wasn’t ready to part with them, but over time, I realized I wasn’t using/wearing them, so they’ve gone to the resale shop. It’s a process for me.

    I try to think about the house we want to build and the places we want to travel when I’m itching to add Stuff to our lives. I also carefully evaluate a purchase now, thinking about it for a couple of weeks or more to decide if we’d really use it.

  53. even the most frugal struggle with this. what a great reflection. the real question should be – do you use it, does it bring you pleasure? if we had everything we wanted, most of us would need a lot more storage space for all that Stuff we would accumulate.

  54. Boo, someone beat me to the calendar comment. I was going to point out that you threw them away one year too early!

    Ultimate frugality = calendar reuse 😉

    Ok, ok, we all know that is just plain CHEAP! lol

  55. During our last move, I still had a lot of books. One friend commented that it would have been a lot easier if I was illiterate. I have been slowly parting with them. This article really hit home for me with the idea of identity. I think it will allow me to purge more on my next attempt.

  56. I never understood the draw of simply having, nor that I was prone to it, until I met Roo.

    Roo is a white dumbo rat my sister brought home one day. He’s the sweetest little thing in the world, and always comes running when there’s food about.

    The thing is, half of the stuff he obtains, he doesn’t actually eat. He’ll stuff his cheeks full of delectable morsels, scamper off to a dark corner, and emerge a few minutes later. It’s only upon furthur inspection that you find little caches of foodstuffs hidden away.

    This wouldn’t be so strange if he were faced with the prospect of going hungry, but at almost just over 500grams (just the way the vet likes ’em!), this clearly isn’t the case.

    It occured to us then that Roo, rat extraordinaire, simply likes HAVING. I think it makes him feel secure.

    I think simply HAVING makes us all feel secure. It’s the “more is better” assumption, it’s the reason we collect, it’s the reason we buy (most of the time).

    That being said, i don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting something simply to HAVE it. I think that, so long as you’re responsible with your money by paying off everything every month, by automatically saving for retirement and emergencies etc…, you can be as irresponsible as you want with whatever’s left.

    You can read more about my feelings on the subject in one of my very first blog posts:

  57. Hi, I’m dale and I’m a pack rat. I really only have two problem areas, clothing and books. I pretty much refuse to discard a book that I’ve enjoyed reading, or one that is instructional in nature. I do pass on some of my books to the local library and my used magazines, too. But I like to hang on to my investment books, text books, etc… I have several paperback novels from my favorite authors that I will re-read from time to time. I’m not going to pitch them! 🙂

    I could stand to go through my closet and pitch some old stuff, but I just hate doing it. I have several old exercise t-shirts that I could pitch, but just never get around to it. I suppose there are worse habits….

  58. I have exactly the same problem with comics, I do not have any advice for you, but to make you feel better….you have excellent taste in comics!

  59. JD- this post is so true. I have been saving my college textbooks (5 years old) for the “One day” I might need them. However, they are science textbooks, pretty much outdated from the day they are printed. 🙂 I am in school again, but this time I sold my text books. WOW did that $250+ feel nice in my pocket and all the room it saved in my apartment felt great.
    Also on the STUFF note- we are helping my grandpa get rid of stuff and we removed 93 TONS of rusted scrap metal from his back yard!!! Now if I can just convince my mother to clean out her house!!!

  60. Great post. I recently sold a huge chunk of my book collection when I realized that I was keeping many of them for the *image* that my collection projected to the world, not because I truly enjoyed the books. I felt pretty silly when I realized that I was trying to let my book collection speak for me, depicting me as an edgy intellectual… instead of freeing up the space, getting those dollars toward debt reduction (did I really buy some of those books on CC?), and having a lending library I actually loved.

  61. JD I used to struggle with books and cd’s as well. Now, I choose which books to keep, the rest get re-sold or donated to the library. I do re-read some things, so I feel good about keeping some. Several times per year, I do another purge and sometimes I realize something I thought I would re-read I likely never will.

    I feel good about “setting my books free” for others to read, rather than them sitting at home with me. Re-selling has gotten me some good $$ also.

    I now primarily use the library, and if I love the book and want to read it again, then I might buy it for the permanent collection.

    All of this is only possible for me now that I can afford to replace things. When I made a lot less money, I kept EVERYTHING in case I might need/want it cause I didn’t have any money to buy new things.

  62. I’ve seen many references to “life-style inflation” in your blog recently. I’m actually not 100% certain that this is a bad thing. I took an internship after college and then worked for a non-profit. In both cases I lived on almost nothing. Learning how to live on nothing has made it difficult for me to spend money on myself in general. It seems like what I’ve needed over these past few years is some “life-style inflation.” I think if a person is living below their means it’s okay to upgrade. It would be silly for everyone to live like a broke college student after they’ve been at a company for a while. I’m all about being frugal. Obviously. I just wonder if you’ve ever considered (even maybe as a blog topic) when “life style inflation” is good and perhaps even necessary.

  63. Hey #38 I have the exact same problem with boxes that you do. Whenever I buy something I always save the box, thinking that if I sell it down the line the box will give it added value. So at my parent’s house sits all the boxes from everything I’ve bought in the last 5 years (minus the TV boxes, they’re too large).

    I also started collecting videogames 2 years ago, which I’m putting up on ebay now after realizing that I can just download most retro games on my Wii.

    I’m moving into my first condo this month, so I’m trying to do a purge of all my unnecessary things. Otherwise I’ll have a storage locker full of stuff I’ll never use.

    Just wanted to add that I’ve been reading your blog for the last 6 months JD, this entry is one of your best imo. I think everyone struggles with getting rid of stuff.

  64. On a recent trip to my parents’ home (3000 miles away) I recently discovered that I still had a lot of stuff from the past; things I kept because I would ‘eventually’ use them. But how could I use/miss them if I didn’t even realize that I still owned it. That wake up call made it easier to toss most, if not all, of the items. Of 6 boxes (including a box full of vhs tapes where I recorded every single 1998 World Cup game…no idea why) I walked away with only a handful of things. There were some things that were difficult to part with (like my childhood Goofy paraphernalia collection), but it occured to me that if I took a DIGITAL IMAGE of said items, it would be with me for a lot longer without taking up precious space. Getting rid of this only awoke my need to simplify.
    Thanks for a great post…a great motivation.

  65. @Stephanie

    I understand what you mean about some lifestyle inflation not necessarily being bad. After living on a minuscule wage as a graduate student I found it difficult to not under spend- even in cases where it was reasonable and would have made me happier. I would suggest that you budget a certain amount to invest for the future as well as certain amount to spend for leisure activities today. Then spend that money without guilt knowing you are wisely balancing today needs and wants with tomorrows.

    -Rick Francis

  66. @Lauren (#11): I’m right there with you, on the scrapbooking and the piles of paper . . . and ribbons, and stickers, and paint and every other thing that caught my eye that I thought I could attach to a piece of paper. I love scrapbooking (In fact, I took a day off work today and have spent several hours of it making scrapbook pages) but recently I’ve come to see The Dark Side of Scrapbooking: it encourages a person to be a self-centered, lazy consumer. Really, it’s the ultimate hobby for our times, because it’s all about acquiring more stuff, it’s very “all about me,” and it’s sedentary.

    I “joke” that every time I go to a scrapbook store, I’m “deferring my retirement;” but that’s true. Every dollar I spend on paper now is several dollars I won’t have when I retire. Plus, I have all these piles of stuff, more than i could ever use in this lifetime or two more.

    @Dotty (#56): one thing I did to deal with film photos is to use a scanner convert them to digital. I would trash the old negatives, because, like you said, it’s hard to know what the images on them even are. Alternatively, I think there are websites that will convert them to digital images for you. If you’re worried about storing digital images at an internet site, you could always burn an extra copy of them to CDs or a flash drive and keep them either at your home or at work.

    (Full confession: after scanning in the old photos, I scrapbooked them, which means that with all the paper and stuff, they now take up more space than before . . . but if you don’t suffer from the same addiction, then scanning and trashing the originals would get rid of the clutter.)

  67. One thing to remind yourself is that a book (this goes for novels, not text books) is a piece of entertainment. Your sunk cost on a book that you read once and then give away is the same as the sunk cost of a ticket to a movie, concert, sports match etc.

    Another thing is that you can often get good money by selling things on eBay – DVDs especially but books as well.

    Or you can give books away through BookCrossing ( and other books will flow your way in return.

  68. I totally agree with this post. It is sad how drawn we are to the things that do not really matter but we really do not give attention to the things that do. For example, I have so much “stuff” (old clothing, electronics, magazines, etc) that I have bought for my own “happiness” but ironically I never feel really “happy” until I am donating it to the Goodwill. I know you have probably have written an article about it before, but one thing we must do in order to take control of our personal finances is to take control of our imaginary need for “stuff”. I am slowly starting to realize that “stuff” does not bring happiness, but rather giving that “stuff” away.

    My 2 Cents

  69. I have lots of books too. I actually got around to cataloging my book collection and they number over 1000! I’ve sent out some of those books through but there are many that I haven’t decided what to do with yet.

  70. I love books. I used to have a problem buying and keeping books but once I found the right place to donate my books, it was easy. For me, it is a local coffee shop that accepts the books and puts them out for people to “buy” but all the proceeds go to ovarian cancer research. Suddenly, being able to help with that cause made it easy to decide to part with my books.

    I don’t think JD is saying people shouldn’t have stuff. If you like it and it makes you happy, then enjoy it. For me, before I buy anything, I ask myself where I’m going to store it, and unless it is consumable, if I like it enough to pack it up and move it in the future.

  71. Here’s a suggestion for the bibliophiles out there:
    I go through my books and haul some of them to a local used bookstore. (And not all used bookstores are created equal, so make sure you choose a fair one that YOU like shopping in – they’ll more likely buy books with your taste.) Don’t take cash for them – get store credit, since most bookstores will offer you more in credit than in cash. You can then use your credit not only to buy yourself more books for ‘free’, but also to buy books for others as gifts.
    This system works really well for me.

  72. Jaynee (11) and Daedala (36) are women after my own heart! My books represent me through all the stages it took to get here. The books I buy today will someday remind me of who I am right now. I’ve gone back to my books and found that there was a clear path from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Robert Heinlein to Ken MacLeod to . . .

    I know what my values are, but I don’t always remember how I got them until I pick up a book that I read when I was 10, or 15, or 37 and discover how profoundly it’s influenced my thinking and development.

  73. I own a lot of books, too, especially graphic novels. Really the only time they’re a pain is when I have to move. (That isn’t infrequently, as I’m a college student, and if I find a renter with a better overall cost/benefit than mine, I move there ASAP.)

    I guess I don’t see how these books are a sunk cost. My comics aren’t getting in the way of being efficient, or of getting done what I need to do. The only time they’re ever really a pain is when I have to move them further back the shelf when I dust the shelves & house.

    I do reread them, some far less than others, but I know if I ever need a gentle cheer-up after a stressful day, I can always pick up a Mad magazine paperback and unwind with Don Martin. I do get rid of a lot of things I don’t use — in fact, I get rid of my husband’s stuff sometimes when he’s not around and he’s never noticed so far. But I don’t see how owning Things or Stuff like books is a problem, especially since I hardly ever buy them, or I trade them in at the used bookstore for other ones.

    I suppose I don’t understand how austerity is a big goal of frugality.

  74. Loved the article. I love having only those things around me that I love and use. I can part with most things easily except for some of my boys well loved toys.

    I save those and use them to decorate the Christmas tree each year. It’s a great time of year for remembering how much they loved Barney and Bananas in Pajamas!

  75. I watched reruns of the original Star Trek as a kid (yes, I was destined to become a geek) and to this day I remember one of Mr. Spock’s lines: “Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.”

    I try to keep that in mind before I buy things. By now, I know I won’t derive the same pleasure from those things after I’ve had them for a week or month or year as I thought I would.

    It’s hard to quit the book habit though. I have managed to whittle my collection down to novels by favorite authors (which I do read again) and quality non-fiction books (which I do reference again for my own writing). Also, I dig the idea of supporting authors since I want to be one some day. 😉

  76. This is a great post. I’ve been selling off my CD and DVD collection on ebay, but it’s been an on and off kind of thing. I’m going to bookmark this post to maintain my motivation.

  77. Very reminiscent of some Tyler Durden ramblings (the stuff you own ends up owning you). Which is to say, good post.

    I’ve decided to do away with some of the “things” that have been ego enforcing purchases or things that have served to define who I am…but don’t really get used enough to justify having them. I’m talking about my $3,000 road bike and accompanying accessories, a boat load of books that prove how smart I am, a bunch of CD’s I could do without, an audiophile stereo system I can’t listen to loud enough to make worth it, a small hipsterish record collection, and some misc. electronic gadgets…GPS, SLR camera, etc.

    I figure with the economy in a general state of continued tanking, I might as well get rid of it while I can and save for the money for stuff we really need. It will all be at a loss…which is why I like JD’s “sunk cost” analogy…no reason to live in the past, what’s done is done.

    We are also thinking of moving into a MUCH smaller place soon to save money…and ridding ourselves of crap can’t hurt.

  78. I only recently found this blog, and I’m so glad I did!

    I’m going through a major lifestyle change due to suddenly becoming the sole financial support for myself and my son AND remaining determined to continue homeschooling. We’re leaving a house that had walls of built-in bookcases (double-shelved with books) to a two-bedroom, no “extra space” home.

    Reading this post was the kick I needed to be “okay” with purging my library. Truly, the only other option would be to rent a storage unit, and that’s sounding sillier by the second.

  79. Very timely post. For quite some time I was a confirmed bachelor packrat. Eight years into marriage, I am still purging lots of
    “gotta haves” that have not seen the light of day in ages. Probably 90% of pre-marriage toys and whatnot have been sent to new homes. I look back at a lot of things that I thought defined me then and find they really no longer apply. I still deal with the sunk cost issue, but I am getting better in accepting that the past is the past.

    My wife is very anti-clutter, so we make the perfect Odd Couple, although I have been slowly coming around to her way of thinking. She does keep me in check, which definitely helps our financial and spatial situation.

    Now if I could only get my parents to start purging a little…

  80. i started collecting first vhs tapes and then dvds because i like a lot of semi-obscure movies that are often not stocked or are lost/stolen/or out-of-print at video stores and libraries. it’s frustrating not to be able to see or show a friend a favorite movie when you can just buy it and not have to worry about it anymore. also books, especially picture books/coffee table books are wonderful things to fall back on when you can’t afford to go out and they can give you a lifetime of pleasure for a relatively low cost. my wife is a graphic designer, and though we don’t look at all the books often, she gets a lot of pleasure and inspiration from perusing them at her leisure, which you can’t do if it’s at the library and it’s midnight or if your library doesn’t carry that title and/or it’s out-of-print or stolen as seems to often happen with especially interesting titles.

    also we collect things, artifacts from previous times that we love to occasionally just look at or marvel over. true, so much stuff we don’t look at very often, but it makes for a wonderful rediscovery when we do. i look at our books and think, “if financial hard times come, we have lots and lots of hours of now-free entertainment.”

    but yeah, i have stuff that i have kept for the wrong reasons. one time i upgraded my laptop’s memory and the store was going to give me a measly $5 for my old stick of ram and i thought i could get more on ebay, but i never got around to putting it up and now it’s essentially worthless. i have lots of junk like that unfortunately.

    also, one big difference between our ancestors and us is that they did save a lot of fairly useless junk on the chance that it might be useful later. they were always finding creative ways of reusing things and prolonging the lives of the things that they owned. part of the reason why we live in a disposable world is that we are too quick to dispose of things rather than fixing things up or finding clever ways of reusing them.

    junk can enslave us or set us free. a lot of it is in our mind. i don’t really understand the bare home aesthetic. homes like that strike me as not having as much character.

  81. You’re totally right – every time I go through and purge I’m stuck with a pile of things that i don’t need or really want but I don’t want to get rid of because of some deep seeded need to keep them. I don’t use the items and the honest truth is I probably never will yet I still keep the stuff. I’ve been thinking about this junk lately and I think it’s time for another purge but this one will need to be much more brutal and I’ll get rid of more things in that middle pile.

    Had I known what I know now I might not be nearly as in debt as I am. The idea of buying things simply to have them is very wasteful and oh so costly.

    Great post JD

  82. JD, I’m sorry if I’m reposting but I’ve not the time to read through all the (I’m sure) wonderful posts. I’ve been going through much the same recently and have gotten my mind around the fact that it’s not wasting the $20-30 you spent on the book, shirt, etc if you give it to someone else who needs it. I’m going to give most of my books to a local library in hopes that someone less fortunate will have them available. Same with the clothes to Goodwill, and other odds and ends might end up on Craigslist. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to have things, just anything, to say you possess it. It’s a struggle to end that.

  83. I am another book person. Books and art are the two things I collect and can’t part with. I am a voracious reader and get huge amounts of pleasure from my books and although they take up room I made a decision a while ago that I could choose one thing to collect and everything else was purged. So overall I agree that we can’t let stuff overtake our lives but I personally think that keeping some things are ok and for me that is books. Whenever I read a book I write the dates (start and finish) on the back inside cover. I now have some books that up to 10 dates in them. Others only have the one but that’s ok. What I have become strict on is books I have never read. Mostly old ones of my brother’s or parents’ that I inherited. When I see a new book come out that I want to buy I go to my bookshelf and find a few books I haven’t read. If I read them first I can have the new book. If I don’t want to read them before I buy a new book then they go straight to goodwill. I figure if I don’t want to read a ‘free’ book over one that will cost me money I am never ever going to read that free book so should give it someone who might.

  84. Spot-on post. I just went through the latest phase of purging books, mementos, CDs and clothes. And cassette tapes from the 80s! The way that I’ve handled not being quite able to part with my desire to represent my Identity to myself, is to enter all the books I’m getting rid of into my acct and take photos of the cassettes, mementos and clothes. I am calling this my ephemeralization process. It is a positively reinforcing activity.

  85. I have converted all things to digital formats. Books that are not special and that i have read but am unlikely to read again are carefully taken to pieces and each page scanned through a high speed scanner into PDFs. The book is then placed in paper recycling.

    I did the same with my music etc. In all I have rooms full of clutter on a single small hard drive. When i am moving from country to country all I need to move is a single computer instead of box after box of stuff

    Now that the world has finally caught up on digital distribution I now buy everything in digital format to start with.

  86. its a great feeling getting rid of books that don’t represent who I am any more. I also know that if I get a sudden urge to read something I can go to the library. I’m not going to end up in some kind of book famine !

    I do think the hording is related to some kind of sense of lack and the stuff is to fill the space

  87. J.D.,
    That picture of a rack of graphic novels reminds me of my own book space. I had two thoughts:
    a. You’re a comic book aficionado. How about a blog like maybe on tumblr ( listing your favorite books, reviews of any recent buys etc? Interestingly of all the major spandex heroes only Spidey had money troubles.
    b. If you are going to give away books, why not pass them along to someone you know and start them up on the world of comics/graphic novels.

  88. Hello,

    If your looking for a spot to purge your items to look my way. I need Christmas gifts for many. I always enjoy your blog and I love the updates!

  89. Funny, for me it is exactly the other way around:
    it is dead easy to me to let go stuff. books, CDs, furniture, whatever. I bought it, I feel good, I don’t have immediate need for it anymore, I give it away or sell it (usually for less than I paid).

    Books especially: either they are good, then I give them to someone to read them (until they hit someone who forgets to give them back, or I tell them to give the book forward to spread it). Bad books I give to charity or sell them on ebay or just throw them out.
    Clothing from last year, that I don’t wear anymore? Giving it away.

    My problem is buying. I buy a lot of stuff I love, use for a short time, then sell it again. Especially brand new high-tech stuff like the newest DSLR or lenses.

    I can afford it, but it is a real waste of money, so right now I’m trying to cut down my overexpensive shopping of brand new stuff, making it a fun exercise not to buy the newest, but instead buy the 2nd hand stuff of those who sell, who always buy the latest and greatest (just like I did before).

    I’m not very good at it, though … yet 🙂

  90. Great idea and something I think most of us can relate to. For me, the idea of purging brings about as much satisfaction as the idea of having. It clears the mind to clear your space of things. Even better if you can make charitable contributions while you’re at it.

  91. I’m going through the clean-it-out routine now. Given that I am a pack rat of the worst order, this will take years to complete, as it took decades to get here.

    Not that it helps make it any easier, but I have a known cause for my pack-rat behavior. My mother was a terminal neat-freak. When she went into tidy mode she decided what got thrown out and nobody got any input. It is therefore baked into the deepest layers of my personality that tidiness means the loss of valued things. Quantity and clutter became a defense.

    Now I am clearing out things in a GTD sort of manner. I pick a space, and work at it until I’ve cleared away all the clutter. I find an item, decide is it useful or not, ask myself if it can be replaced easily/cheaply if I need one later, and such. Still stressful and I have to take multi-day breaks to avoid stress-induced damage.

    Who knows, if lifespans keep getting longer, I might even live long enough to finish this job. 🙂

  92. I know this isn’t very relevant to your post but I think I see the Spirit by Eisner on your bookshelf. You know, if you don’t want it any more (or are trying to get rid of Stuff) you could always send it to me. (laughs)

    I have a comic book habit myself but it’s not nearly as bad as your and I repeatedly read them. It’s more of a problem for me in terms of novels and stuff.

  93. I used to have the problem with collecting books (most of them rarely see light), but one way technology has come to save the day is the e-book. I know many people complain that it’s not the same as a real paper book, can’t turn the physical pages, etc, but honestly and logically speaking it makes no sense to go on with the old fashioned book. Most of the old classics are free for download and today’s books are constantly being added on the net.

    With an e-book reader you can store thousands of books in this one little device. The two main competitors are Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s reader, but the Amazon doesn’t even support PDF and the Sony supposedly doesn’t show them well.

    After reading hundreds of reviews, I decided the BeBook looks quite appealing. The battery lasts basically forever and the screen is marvelous, never seen anything that looks so close to real paper. Supports plenty of formats too. Gotta love technology. Check it out!

    PS- if interested, save 35 bucks on the thing at by entering in “[email protected]” in the discount coupon page upon purchasing.

    Save space, save tree, and relax with less stuff! 🙂


  94. Old cooking magazines.


    I tell myself that I’m going to use the recipes. But that’s a lie.

    Okay. I’m dumping them in the recycling bin tonight.


  95. “It’s hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time – not who we are right now.”

    Amy Jo is absolutely right. These are virtually the words I used to describe some of my own Stuff, much of which has been irreplaceably damaged, after I spent years trying to take care of it – yes, and additional money every month, so that I could have it. It was both valuable in and of itself, and represented a severe financial loss; but it was also symbolic of hopes and dreams I had, and a life I hoped to live, which is no longer possible. The loss of the Stuff also meant letting go those hopes and dreams, and saying goodbye forever to the person I was, and wanted to be.

  96. Books DEFINITELY represent identity, it’s true: When my husband and I purged our personal library after college, we set everything in neat stacks on the floor and invited our friends to come over and have their pick. There must have been at least two bookcases-worth, with about three cases we kept… However, one guy, impressed with the quality of our “rejects”, bugged out his eyes and exclaimed “Oh my GOD! Are you committing suicide?!?” Just goes to show you.

    Since then, we divided the collection in half, and I’ve given away boxes and boxes to people, including a big bookshelf of classic Russian, German and French literature I couldn’t bear to part with to my mother.

    Sometimes I leave books one-by-one the L or 2 train (Manhattan) at rush hour, where I know they’ll find a good home. I always wait to see who nabs it– very interesting!

    Now I live in a one room studio, so I have to be ruthless. I have two bookcases of the books that A) mean the most to me and represent who I am and B) classics on my “to read” list…personally, I like think of it as the nicest decor element available. But hey, I’m incredibly spartan/minimalist in all other respects, so why not. Like a secular nun, really: books excluded, everything I own that I took with me when I moved with me fits in a car. The books just added one more trip.

    Truth be told, my two big bookcases feels rather meager, but it fills up a whole wall so it looks like a lot, haha!

    Whenever I see a home without a lot of classic books, I think less of the inhabitants. Sad but true. If I could find a place to donate everything that would keep it as a collection, I certainly would.

  97. It hurts to purge books, but since I keep many mostly to lend, I’ve just started lending more and stopped closely tracking returns. If I don’t remember someone has the book, I probably don’t need to get it back!

  98. “I also continue to struggle with sunk costs. I know that I spent $30 on this book, for example, or $20 on that pair of pants. It pains me to think of getting rid of them.”

    I am still searching for the answer/solution, how to get over this.