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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.”

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:, 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. Tina
    Welcome back. Desire is the cause of Misery. Lesser the desire to have the stuff lesser the Misery.

  2. Gerald

    Welcome back!

    Your article is dead on. I remember when I returned from my deployment to Somalia, how FOCUSED I was on life, my family, etc. I was looking at things so much differently than when I first got there. I was so grateful to live in the greatest country in the world. I was so grateful for our health, and infrastructure, and economy, etc., etc., but I was soon clubbed over the head with all the advertising.

    Within a couple of weeks, I caught myself considering a new stereo system, car, t.v., I had gotten caught up in the advertising which is foisted upon us by every medium possible, and started to feel more comfortable with my stuff. I then took a step back and reconsidered what was most important, and was able to re-focus.

    A trip like this to another “world” I think is very beneficial, and would encourage others to try it, although the several months you spent over there, Tina, is quite an experience. Congratulations! I trust there will be much more to read in the coming weeks.

  3. Hi Tina! Welcome back :)

    This post is right on…..

    Eliminate, reduce and simplify your work-life and then you will have more space (physically and psychologically) to deal with you real top priorities!

    I’m currently well under way with my own life simplification exercise. It is super rewarding and am so glad I realized how importance living simply really is. We diffuse our focus with so much crap that doesn’t matter!

    Life is too short for that :)

  4. Hi -love your blog. We just posted a story up on you called ‘Go Blogger, Go!’ with some tips we got from Problogger for beginning bloggers. Thought you may get a kick out of it. – Lisa

  5. Paul Damhuis

    When sorting “stuff” I find it works to have a few cups of strong coffee before I start, caffine in excess shortens your attention span, you have to make the keep/trash decisions in a hurry.

  6. Great article, Tina! I’ve been think about this very topic after cleaning out my house to prepare for a remodel. I never realized just how much stuff I had until I tried to cram it all into boxes.

    I enjoy acquiring new things, but I think the key to to make sure that the things we hold onto are important, practical, useful, etc.

  7. I’m floored–this is the most comprehensive single decluttering post I’ve ever seen. Plus, you were able to throw in some clutter psychology on top of it! I fully agree that a lot of stuff is accumulated in an effort to create a persona. I think that’s why a lot of folks get into financial trouble in their twenties; that’s when we’re working the hardest to figure out who we are.

    The box it and date it method is what has worked for me. I work best knowing that I’m not getting rid of something I’ll need to buy later, so if I don’t miss it in a few months, I don’t stress about moving it out of the house.

    Again, truly fantastic piece!

  8. Hey Tina!
    Glad to see you after three months with this great article.

  9. Yuu

    I recently experimented this when I moved to live in Japan. I could only take one suitcaseful of things, and I was kinda sad to say good bye to all that stuff I owned before..
    But you know! now that I’m living here, I notice I’m much more happy without all that stuff. How many times did I really watch those DVD’s I bought?

  10. Collecting is really a passion.

  11. I understand what you mean about feeling a sense of being burdened by “stuff.” Moving from Canada to Europe and then, from Canada to Australia has been a wake-up call for me. The latter was the furthest I had ever moved. I took very little belongings. Conditions have taught me I don’t need stuff wither. I’m drawn to recycling like never before. Its like I’ve awakened or begin to recognize it makes sense to distance myself from stuff I don’t need. You re-evaluate priorities. You sense it within yourself and you feel good about inner transformation.

  12. It’s soooooooo true that we have to let go of our unnecessary stuffs. I am one of those people whose having hard time of disposing these “stuffs”. I don’t know what’s with those things that I couldn’t let go, maybe it’s due to sentimental reasons.
    Thanks for writing this up. I think it’s about time to declutter my room. I’ll also share this to my mom (she also find it difficult to give away things).

    Thanks for reminding us on what we should have done many years ago :-)

  13. Great article! All good tips. I’ve found moving to be the time when I get rid of stuff. It can be a painful process, it’s weird how attached you can get to a dining room table or a car!

  14. I threw out or donated nearly half my belongings before moving from the US to the UK three years ago. I have now more than replenished my Stuff and have a great need to go through all of it again. I regularly go through my clothes, but still have more than can fit in my closet or drawers!!

  15. Hi, its me again… We did it, we disposed of the things that we could no longer use, and those who’s becoming a bother… And we earned a few dollars… Thanks again…


    That’s great to hear Coli! Doesn’t it feel soooo good? I know eh? I made some money from selling all my stuff too.. who knew, all the little things can add up to something significant! :)


  16. Welcome, back , Tina!!! You are completely right, one time we suprisengly realise that the things we need are not so much

  17. Hi Tina,
    It’s been about a month and a half since my last comment on this subject.
    I have moved into my new house and am having a terrible time clearing the clutter.
    I can’t believe I’m such a pack rat.

    I have been able to donate and give away a lot of stuff, but I still have a long way to go.
    It seems that I have emotional attachments to a lot of things.
    This has been a real test for me and I am determined to let go of everything that I absolutely do not need.

    I’ll check back to let you know how everything turned out.

    Thanks Tina. I love your blog. :D

  18. Good practical ideas to simplify! I like it.

    I easily fall back into my old tendencies to collect and horde. It was pretty bad as a teenager. I try to treasure each thing I aquire and keep. If when I look at something I don’t marvel in being able to help it be the best whatever it is it can, somebody else would do better to have it.

    That’s why I thought of my idea for a hand-tool library system at like Lowe’s or Home Depot, where people could donate or trade old tools they used long ago for just that one DIY project. Would work for toys maybe too.


  19. I think the #1 key to making intelligent purchases is as follows:

    Never buy stuff to feel a certain way. Buy stuff because you already DO feel a certain way.

    i.e. Don’t buy to be someone, buy because you are someone. I wrote a bit more about this here:

    As always, we loved the article Tina! ;-)

  20. omg… i have the biggest problem with clutter. i have so much of crap that i dont really need, and lately i moved out of the house and i left 3/4 of my stuff behind and yet i feel like i have a tonne of stuff that i dont need. its crazy. i ‘declutter’ everytime there is a need to, but i still find myself surrounded by stuff. I am a neat freak, so its very frustrating for me to see all my stuff all over the place. Desperately need help.. this article guided me somehow. thanks. i’ll tell you when i have done decluttering for good.

  21. Wow, wonderful post with so much to learn.

    I agree with you that reducing our excessive stuff give us peace of mind, clarity and liberty. I loved your “Ideas for Keeping Your Stuff Under Control”. These little things will make our life simple.

    Thanks for sharing.

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