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Stuff-onomics: Hidden Side of What You Own

Photo by Cindy Loughridge

Coming back from India, I feel like a different person. Not because of India, or that this is the cliché thing to say, but because I’ve been so out of touch with my old reality that I see my old life with a drastically different perspective. On top of being away for 3 months, I’m starting a new job and we are planning to move to another country later this year. Sitting here amongst all my things packed in 50 boxes retrieved from storage, it feels as if someone had pressed the “restart” button on my life.

It’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s surreal, and it’s so damn liberating. Gosh, it’s good to be home!

I’ve learned so many life lessons in the past few months, and I’ll start to share them with you over time. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how little we actually need. How little we need in order to be happy.

After traveling for several months in one bag: two pairs of pants, a few shirts, a jacket, several books, and my iPod (which I used once)…. Coming home to 50 boxes full of Stuff, it felt like my world was once again being weighed down by things I didn’t need. It felt as if the things will consume more of me than I will ever consume of it. Thus, my new project: to simplify my life… starting with Stuff.

Why We Collect Stuff?

How little we actually need in order to be happy.

This isn’t news. You knew that, and I did too. But why was it that I couldn’t part with those DVDs I will never watch again? Or, books I’ll never read? Or, clothing that I’ll never wear?

It is the stuff in our lives which we become attached to, because they give us a sense of self, a sense of identity. And by removing them, despite the clutter they cause in our inner space, it will feel as if someone is taking away our identity. It hurts the ego on a subconscious level.

Why do we collect stuff to begin with? For me, I collected stuff, because I wanted my life story to fit a certain persona and I collected stuff that would back up that story. For example, I wanted to be viewed as an artistic person, so I collected art books, photography collectables, and art works. They are displayed throughout my home, so that when I have visitors, they can see that I am indeed an artistic person and validate my story. Similarly, when I was heavily into technology, I wanted to be viewed as a highly technical person. I bought tech books and studied them so that I too could speak the lingo and fit in with my colleagues. These were my stories, but perhaps you can relate?

After playing the part of several personas, I have become the person I am today. What changed is that I reached the point where I was so full of stuff that I didn’t have room for any more. I have played the parts of an artist, an engineer, a fashion diva, a music collector, a dancer, a snowboarder, and an intellectual book worm. All these personas left me with more stuff than I need or even want. The physical stuff clutters my living space and the sense of peace I feel in my inner space. This state follows a quote I once heard: “Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world.”

india-sadus.jpg
The Sadus of India are pretty content with life, yet they own very little stuff. They carry all their possessions in light cotton bags. “… the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how little we actually need. How little we need in order to be happy.”

 

Why We Should Let Stuff Go?

Removing excess baggage will give us peace of mind, clarity and liberty.
We are not slaves to the stuff we own. We are the masters of our lives and the creators of our stories.

 

 

Learning to Let Go

If your house was on fire and you lost all your stuff, what would you miss most? If you had to move to a smaller apartment and needed to cut your stuff in half, what can you let go of? If you had to move across the country on a limited budget, what would you take with you? For everything else you’re leaving behind, perhaps they are not adding to your wellbeing anyway?

Moving is a great opportunity to practice letting go, since the process of packing forces you to realize how much you own. The more we can get rid of, the less we’ll need to carry around with us. Even when we don’t make drastic changes to our living location, it is still a therapeutic experience to periodically remove stuff we no longer need. Good questions to ask are: when was the last time I used this? Will I use it again? Will I use it often?

Make it an annual project to sweep through all that you own and see what you can remove. Just for fun, let’s call this the ‘Stuff Reduction Project’. Here’s what I did to give you some ideas.

First, select categories of stuff that will be included in your ‘Stuff Reduction Project’. For me, they were:

  • Clothing – especially Shoes and Jackets
  • DVDs
  • Music CDs
  • Books
  • Kitchen Supplies
  • Household Supplies – including cables, power extensions and blank CDs
  • Bathroom Supplies
  • Pet Supplies
  • Magazines
  • Office Equipment

Each category is given 3 hours max and treated like an assignment. Try to spread the assignments out and don’t try to do too much in one day.

Start tackling each assignment with several empty boxes, or leave enough room on the floor for several sorting categories:

  • Yes – Stuff I’m keeping with no pending action.
  • No – Stuff I’m not keeping, but I don’t want to throw away.
  • Maybe – Stuff I’m not sure about. I want to keep it, but also can do without.
  • Garbage
  • Recycling
  • Todo – Stuff I’m keeping that has a pending action or needs special attention. Examples: Papers to file, empty CD cases where the CDs needs to be recovered, ripped clothing that needs mending, shirts that needs to be hand washed, folders I need to further sort through in detail.

For each assignment, follow these steps:

  • Sort As Fast As Possible – Go through everything within the assignment category and quickly make a decision of where it should go: Yes? No? Maybe? When was the last time you wore that shirt? If it was more than a year ago, consider giving it away. How many times have you watched that DVD? Will you ever watch it again? Consider letting it go. Was the item too expensive to just toss away? Sell it and get some money back. For anything you haven’t used in a year, consider putting it in the No or Maybe bin.
  • If Yes – does it have pending action? If so, put it under Todo.
  • Put Yes’s Away – Take all the items under the Yes category and further sort them if necessary. Put them away in orderly fashion. Make sure everything has a home, so you know where to put things back after using it in the future.
  • Sort No’s – Will someone else want this? Can I sell it or donate it? Is it garbage? Can it be recycled? Break up the items you don’t want into additional categories if appropriate. In this way, you give each item an actionable next step. Some additional categories are:
    • SellableI even go as far as breaking items in Sellable into where I’ll be listing them: Amazon.com, Ebay, local listings such as Craig’s list.
    • Give Away to Friend – Put a yellow sticky or attach a note with the recipient’s name.
    • Donate – If you plan to give different things to different charities or organization, do the sorting now. Example, while sorting, I separated new and business clothing for Dress For Success, and all other clothing goes to Salvation Army.
  • Tending the Todo’s – If the Todo items can be quickly addressed, deal with them right away. Otherwise, put them in a box and handle them over time.
  • Take Out the Trash – It is super rewarding to take out a large amount of garbage and recycling after filtering through your house. After sorting through all my paper works, I recycled two moving boxes full of paper & plastic, and two bags of garbage.
  • Sell the Sellables – If you have time to list and sell items online, do it right away. It’s best to sell multiple things at once, instead of one at a time, so you can take advantage of batching and minimize trips to the post office. If things don’t sell in a given period of time, give them away in your donations box or to friends. (I have listed over 150 items and more than half have been sold. Here are some things I have remaining for sale.)
  • Move Out the Donations – Bring your donation boxes to your charity of choice. This too is super rewarding. For me, after moving 10 boxes of unused clothing, books and household supplies out of my house, what felt like big weights lifted out of my shoulders. My closet is now organized and minimal, and I can finally breathe again.

 

Ideas for Keeping Your Stuff Under Control

I know how difficult it can be to part with your stuff, even if we’ve never used it or will ever use it again, we save it for that day, when it might become useful, except that day may never come. Often times, I’ve kept stuff I’ve never used, simply because I’ve spent good money on it and felt bad for tossing it. As a result, the stuff ends up owning me instead of me owning it.

The following are some ideas for keeping your unused possessions to a minimum.

  • Re-Gift Box – I’ve told my friends and family not to buy me anymore stuff on birthdays and holidays, instead to give me something of theirs which I might be able to utilize or nothing at all. Consider setting aside a Re-Gift Box in a linen closet or dresser for things you no longer wish to keep and can make great gifts. Great choices include decorative objects of value with no apparent use, books you’ve really enjoyed but will not likely read again, home electronics still in great shape, picture frames which can be easily re-gifted with a meaningful picture. Re-gifting box is not the same as the Donation Box, only put useful or meaningful things that you’d feel comfortable giving away to friends. Re-gifting is not being cheap, it’s a practical and environmentally friendly way of re-cycling stuff by giving it a home where it can be utilized. For example, a friend of mine needs a DVD burner to back up his wedding photos, and I happen to have an extra one lying around in excellent shape. I plan to give it to him on his birthday in a month along with some blank DVDs.

     

  • The Buying & Giving Rule – Try the ‘rule’ to allow yourself to buy something new only when you can remove something you already own. For example, only buy a new shirt if you’re willing to put an old shirt in your donation box. Similarly, only buy a new CD, if you’re willing to give away or sell another CD.
  • Scheduled Sweep – Schedule periodic appointments with yourself to sweep through certain sections of your house.
  • Ask Questions Before Buying – Most stuff accumulation are the result of impulse buys. I am are guilty of this and have found it helpful to ask some simple questions when I feel the urge to buy. Do I need it? How many similar items do I already own? How often do I use them?
  • Waiting Period Before Buying – When you feel the urge to buy something unessential, try giving yourself a waiting period of a few days or weeks before buying it. Often times, you’ll find that you no longer need the item as you had initially felt.
  • Box it. Date it. Toss it. – For stuff that you don’t want to throw away, yet have no immediate needs for. Put them in a box, close it and date the box that’s one or two years from today. Store the box in an attic or closet. Annually check on these boxes, when the date have passed, donate the box without looking to see what’s inside. If you don’t know what’s inside and haven’t used it in over a year, likely it’s not something you need anyways. And by not looking what’s inside, you won’t get attached to these things you don’t need in the first place.

Don’t expect to get rid of everything in one sweep, it’s a step process of letting go and it’s okay to keep a few things from your Maybe pile. I still have a hard time letting go of some things, but with each Stuff Reduction Project, I get better at detaching and end up removing more clutter. Expect to do several sweeps over the next few years. It takes patience, determination, courage and practice to eliminate the unnecessary clutter of unused stuff in your life. You’ll love the sense of freedom once you’re done.

Do you have tips for reducing the unnecessary stuff in your life? Talk to us in the comments. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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122 thoughts on Stuff-onomics: Hidden Side of What You Own

  1. But we all still need some stuff… So when you do buy it, make sure you don’t pay full price. :)

  2. Hello there. I was sent a link to your blog by a friend a while ago. I have been reading a long for a while now. Just wanted to say HI. Thanks for putting in all the hard work.

    Jennifer Lancey

  3. Great article and welcome back!

    -Andrew

  4. Tina,

    I’m a big fan of clutter free life. As you’ve said, we define our life by possessions. In reality, possessions possess our body, mind and soul. To free up our spirit, we need to remove clutter. It’s amazing that just doing the task of clutter management provides boost in our energy and provides pathway to a better life.

    Shilpan

  5. Hey Tina!

    I think this post contains tons of great ideas to keep your stuff under control!

    I think you talked mostly about letting go of the stuff that you might no longer need or want and I’ve got something to add to that.

    If we give away stuff that we don’t want, you know what will happen? Newer and BETTER stuff will be attracted into your life.

    Why? It’s a law! It’s the Vacuum Law of Prosperity!

    I actually do have tips to get rid of the unnecessary stuff in your life!

    I’m talking about those emotional baggages that will make you stress-free if you just let them go.

    Just like pencil in your hand, you can choose to let it go (as Hale Dwoskin demonstrated)

    You ask yourself:

    1) What am I feeling now and can I let it go?

    2) Will I, just will I, let it go?

    3) When? (an invitation to let it go now)

    And you know what, it’s so simple! Try it, Tina and everyone else!

    I’ve had great success in losing all that emotional baggage with these 3 questions =)

    To Constant & Never-Ending Improvement,

    SaiF

    The World’s First Teen
    Personal Development Video Blogger

  6. yaw

    Glad to see your finally back! Nice post.

  7. I’m a big fan of simplicity and decluttering. I’ve recently been donating bagloads of clothing that is too small, not in style, or that I haven’t worn in awhile. It feels much better to own less!

    Oh, and welcome back buddy!

  8. Tina, it’s great to have you back. I’m glad that you learned so much in your journeys. It’s so true how little we really need.

    The art of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

  9. Great to have you back! It hasn’t been the same without you!

  10. Tom Best

    Thanks. I keep forgetting the steps for dealing with something I don’t want. Now I know… throw it out.

  11. Hi Tina,
    This article is fantastic.
    I am in the process of moving into a different house and am dreading taking all of the clutter that I have accumulated with me.

    I am a hardcore pack rat. It’s hard for me to throw away junk mail. :)
    Because of this I have accumulated a huge amount of stuff over the years. A lot of it is nice stuff that I have never used.

    It’s gotten to the point that I have so much stuff that I think it is affecting my life and my work.
    As you said… All this stuff is weighing me down.

    I went to my new house to do some work the other day and was able to get more work done in 3 hours than I would normally have done in a full day at my other house (I work from home).

    Here is the interesting part: I have no furniture in the house except for 2 small chairs.
    I was able to get all of this work done with 2 chairs, my laptop, and a 3-ring binder. Isn’t that amazing?

    I have made a pact with myself to get rid of at least half of what I own by the end of this month. I don’t care if I have to give it all away.
    Just the thought of having less stuff feels totally awesome.

    Thanks for the timely post. It’s good to have you back. Your blog is excellent.

    Peace. :)

    ****************************
    REPLY:

    Congrats Alexander! That is amazing! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Hi Tina!

    You’re back! Wow it’s been like 3 months?

    I see that you still have a strong following =D Anyway, hope to see more great articles from you soon

    Cheers,
    http://RichGrad.com
    Personal Development For The Book Smart

  13. Clement

    Tina,
    I’ve been implementing this kind of thinking for a long time now, It works really well. You have to do these kinds of things even with you computer. It’s really nice to feel you’ve uncluttered your life.

  14. Ben

    Hi Tina,

    Great to have you back – sounds like you had a fab time!!

    Great article – not easy letting go of stuff you dont use. Thanks for the advice

  15. Great post! I’ve been thinking lately about getting rid of the unnecessary stuff in my life. There’s so little we actually use!

  16. Costanza

    I’m a new fan of decluttering. Soon i will move to a new apartment and i really fear a lot that stressing things like making boxes…
    So i started decluttering…i even found broken stuff owned by my ex boyfriend (we split one year ago…) and i feel so free with everithing tidy and a lot less stuff in my house!!!
    And it will be easier to move to the new apt…

  17. Hello mate !!!

    Not bad at all.

    I like what i c here.
    Thanks pal.

  18. Hey Tina – Welcome back!

    I hope you are ready for some full on reverse culture shock. :)

    When I came back after two years in Papua New Guinea I could not go into a shopping mall for a long, LONG time!

    Good luck getting settled back in.

    Mark

  19. This is a wonderful article Tina. Can’t believe how well we’ve synced, as I too have written an article on clutter and useless household stuff. I’m a big believer of the simple and clutter free life, always trying to live my life with as little things pulling me back as possible. Thanks a lot for the post.

  20. Tina your post could not be more on topic for the current stage in my life. I am back home after 5 years at University and my parents just moved house. All of my old stuff is in boxes and I am currently sifting through everything and putting things online to sell, giving things away or making a re-gift pile. I actually re-gifted something that a relative gave me for Christmas (that I never used since it stayed in the box) to a family friend who had been doing us a favor. She loved it, and worked out as a win-win situation!

    Right now I am putting all of books on half.com but I am wondering if I should consider using amazon.com instead. As for my collections, they are going on eBay and being donated. I feel so much better already just knowing how light everything will feel! I am going to China for 3 or 4 months starting in October and so I don’t want to experience the same thing you felt when you came back from India… “Why do I have so much stuff?”

    Thanks for the great post!

  21. Tina,

    Welcome back! :)

    Well, as I think you know I pushed the “restart button” in 2007 when I moved from Australia to Canada. I packed up my life into two bags, so obviously a lot of “stuff” was left behind. And the funny thing is since I have been here there is so much “stuff” I haven’t replaced – I think this is reflective of my new mindset.

    I’m curious, what country are you planning to move to later this year?

    **********************
    REPLY:

    Likely the same country you’ve moved to. :) We might become neightbours. *kidding*
    We’re thinking of moving back to Canada.

  22. Great article. It’s true, how we from a young age tend to give value and feelings to stuff. I use feel a bit sad when I would give away or get rid off old stuff. But years ago I learned that we don’t need material stuff to be happy in this world. We have to find meaning.

  23. Obbop

    Most effective methos of decluttering your life and saving immense amounts of money is to kick out the female living with you, if one is present.

    Doing this improves a male’s life drastically.

    Once you rid yourself of the emotion-laden illogical creature who assuredly is enamored with trinkets and baubles a new world is open to you.

  24. Dan

    Welcome back, Tina! Congratulations again on taking the time to get away, and thanks for a great post. It’s good to read your voice again…:)

    All of our re-entries have been marked by a similar experience. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we go from wide open to stuffed.

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