Sep 28, 2009

Personal Challenge: Paring Down the Stuff

Here's an update on my first personal challenge, which is to get rid of (through donation or other means) ten items a week and then reflect on the process and its implications for both voluntary simplicity and social justice.

I dropped off a nice bag of clothes at Goodwill, sent a few books to family members and friends to keep the books in circulation and clear up some bookshelf space, and sent some cards that I've been meaning to get in the mail for a while. (I'm not counting the cards as part of the 10 things, although my desk does look cleaner without them there.)

I've noticed that since I began making a habit of culling through my clothes and getting rid of things on a regular basis, the process has become easier and easier. With the exception of a very few items, I could almost just go into my closet, randomly pick out a few items, throw them in a donation bag, and never think about them again. This realization got me thinking. What is it about our stuff that we get so attached to and what can we do to detach as we move towards a simpler lifestyle?

One of the primary reasons I think we get so attached to our stuff is that we never stop to think about it. It's as if at some point most of us have jumped on the never-ending treadmill of consumerism and waste and never stopped to think about what we were buying or why. Of course, there are many, many people who are exceptions to this generalization. If you are interested, here are a few links to check out people who advocate and live a non-consumer lifestyle:

But in general, this blind consumerism combined with our susceptibility to advertising and "Keeping up with the Jones" and here we are... in a mess.

At one point in time my parents, brother, and I lived on a 27-foot sailboat. We had very little stuff. Now my parents own many cars, many homes, and many things to fill all these homes. I am not pointing this out to be critical, but rather to show how it is so easy to go from so little to so much in a relatively short amount of time. 20 years is a short amount of time in the whole scheme of things, I think. The ironic thing is that as a general rule, more stuff does not equate to more happiness. There are numerous studies that have shown this. Relative to the rest of the world, most people who live in the United States have A LOT of stuff... and yet we as a society are not happier than people in other parts of the world who live with less.

Moving beyond my political rant, I also want to recognize that there are many other valid reasons that people get attached to stuff. Our stuff has sentimental value. Ask me to go through and get rid of my photographs, or some of my most treasured books, and I will look at you like you have asked me to sell my soul. Seriously. And there might have been a point in time when I felt the same way about some of my clothes (which seems ridiculous to me now). But the more I've given away, the easier it becomes. Every time I drop a bag, or a trunk-full, or a truck-full of stuff off at a donation center, I can immediately feel the elation, the sense of peace, the space that I know I have now cleared in my life. So I guess the point of all this is that the more you give away, the easier it becomes. Try it. See what happens. Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts. Why are we so attached to our stuff and how can we detach? Do you think you could participate in the 100 Things Challenge? This guy just took up the challenge. You can follow his progress here.


  1. I've had a similar experience in detaching from our stuff. The more I give away/donate, the less I seem to need, and the easier it gets. As long as I had enough clothes to have some on and some to wash, I'd be okay with it. It's the social stigma associated with wearing the same outfit numerous times that, I suspect, causes us to keep a closet full of clothes. When I sit down and think of it, it occurs to me that if for some reason I lost everything, the only thing I would be sad about losing would be photographs of my children. But even then, is that something we absolutely need? Are my memories of them not enough? Does it have to be something tangible? Photographs are a fairly recent phenomenon, so obviously the human race got along fine without them. What do we REALLY need in this life?

  2. @ Alissa - What do we REALLY need? That is an excellent question and maybe something I'll explore in future posts. Thanks for visiting my blog and posting such insightful comments.