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I Don’t Want Stuff Any More, Only Things

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I have been a bad parent. I only did what I knew, but I can no longer deny it: I never gave them a good home. I never made them feel useful or showed them any respect.

Today I dropped off hundreds of former possessions at the Goodwill shop. Maybe they’ll find adoptive parents who will be better than I have. I don’t even remember ever deciding to take them on as my dependents. They just happened. But somewhere along the line, all those things became stuff, and lost my respect.

Most of us live amidst stuff. We do have a few things too — well-used, well-enjoyed, and well-respected items that have an established place in our lives. But most of it is stuff.

Stuff makes us feel bad. It fills the mind with fading hopes about what we might one day do with it, taunts us with our obvious inability to manage it, and gives us the ominous sense that we’re losing track of something crucial, either in the physical mess of stuff itself, or in the mental mess it creates in our heads.

I don’t want stuff anymore, only things.

My black, square coffee table in the center of my living room is a thing.

My set of puke-green plates, which sit on the shelf above the nice white plates I actually use, are stuff.

My stainless steel water bottle, only four weeks old but already a close companion, is a thing.

My Beatles Jigsaw puzzle, which I got as a gift and immediately loved the idea of — but never assembled — is stuff.

I donated about a hundred pounds of stuff today. Sometimes it’s sad to get rid of some items, particularly if you had high hopes for them, if they were a gift, or if you associate them with someone you miss.

But how much sadder is it to hoard something in your home for years for some inane psychological reason, without actually putting it to use or giving it a proper place?

If I’m going to own an item, the least I could do is be a good parent to it. And the most fundamental responsibility of a parent is to give your children a decent home.

Stuff doesn’t usually have a home. Items of stuff are transients, surviving day-by-day in a temporary stack somewhere, leaning sadly against a garage wall, or sleeping in the darkness of a junk drawer, never sure of their fate or purpose. A particularly fortunate piece might get a chance to hibernate in a half-full cardboard box in the storage room, with some other hard-luck outcasts.

Nor do they have jobs. Just ask my broken acoustic guitar. Sorry, pal, but as a chronically disabled possession I just can’t keep you busy here. But feel free to mill about the closet behind the well-employed shirts and pants. I’m too insecure and sentimental to boot you out, but maybe one day, by some unlikely turn of events, you’ll become relevant again.

Those of us already spoiled for possessions sometimes have the nerve to wish for more possessions, even feeling deprived of the possessions we really want, while we hoard ones we evidently don’t want. Comparing my lot to that of a proverbial caveman’s, I would still be a supremely superpowered human being with only my ten favorite possessions. Thog the caveman sure would make better use of my stuff than I do, even just the contents of my junk drawer. A Bic lighter and a silver boxcutter and he’d be one grateful human being.

So maybe, out of respect for others (if not for myself), I shouldn’t own anything I’m not willing to give a proper place in my home. If I take it into my home, I should provide a place where it’s properly, officially away, or I shouldn’t pretend I have any business owning it.

Eliminate homelessness from your home

I will not be a cat-lady with my things anymore, taking on more and more tenants I can’t take care of. I don’t have them all because I love them, I accumulate them because I don’t love them.

We’ve all heard the adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” I have yet to meet a person who actually lives this reality (although I haven’t met Leo Babauta or Everett Bogue, or anyone else who limits possessions to double-digit quantities.) But now I think it is the only sane way to live, and I’m determined to make it my reality. I will eliminate homelessness from my home.

If there is anything in your home that does not have a home — a place where it can be properly, officially put away, then I dare say you are taking it for granted. If you can’t bother to even give it a home, either its value is lost on you, or it has none.

The truth is most of us don’t have enough space in our homes to give our possessions the self-respect of having a permanent address. We have too much, and this undermines our gratitude for each possession.

On especially clear-minded days I’m able to live with the persistent amazement and gratitude suggested in A Day in the Future. The more I have, the less often I feel that kind of gratitude for my possessions, and the incredible things they allow me to do. Here is my new mantra, when it comes to possessions:

If you value what you have, then give it a home, or stop pretending you need it.

Is it asking too much of ourselves to own only what we have the capacity to respect? Most of us own far more than we have the energy and patience to really own.

Getting rid of things is such a freeing experience. I’ve cut my possessions in about half over the last two weeks, and there is much more to do.

Owning things has a cost, and money is the least of it

I’ll get into this more in an upcoming post, but there is a host of psychological costs to every thing we keep, especially if those things exist in a state of disorder. Clutter just feels bad to be around. As I continue to toss and donate, I’m witnessing some dramatic changes in my life.

My sleep is markedly better-quality. I stay asleep longer and dream deeper. I get up earlier and I’m never tired before bedtime.

I’m much more organized. I no longer drag my feet when it comes to errands or work. I eat at the table (the dinner one, not the coffee one) and I always clean up before bed.

Rooms take about five minutes each to clean now. Somehow, it used to take half a Saturday to clean my apartment.

Every possession I get rid of makes the others more useful. There’s less in the way, less on my mind, less ugly plastic crap, less to dilute my gratitude.

Eliminating Homelessness in my Home – Raptitude Experiment No. 9

I’m going room-to-room, closet-to-closet, getting rid of anything I am not prepared to use, properly service, and give a permanent home. With all this technology, I have so much power at my disposal it’s the least I could do.

Once I’ve decided what stays, I have to give each item a proper home — a place where it is properly “away.” If I can’t find a good home for it, I am not worthy of owning it and must give it up.

Every night, I will put every single thing I own to bed.

I’m giving myself 30 days from today, which is more than enough time. You can track my progress on the experiment page, which will be up tomorrow.

I urge you to join me, and eliminate homelessness from your home. I imagine your poor, unemployed stuff would too, if it had a voice.

Photo by Striatic


This and 16 other classic Raptitude articles can be found in This Will Never Happen Again. Now available for your e-reader, mobile device, or PC. See reviews here.

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How To Make Coffee April 24, 2014 at 8:05 pm

” But soon in 17th century it became a part of ceremonies involving the Ottoman court where coffee makers with the help of assistants ceremoniously prepared and served coffee for the sultan. To make a good cup of coffee it is best to start with bottled or filtered water (but avoid processed “soft” water or distilled water). Packaging with venting systems means that the beans can be packaged as soon as they cool.

Samantha May 12, 2014 at 3:53 am

Hi David,

I read this blogpost a long long time ago and it has always stuck. I have looked at things in a different way and am in the process of purging my home from stuff, so it changed my life for the better. Thank you for sharing your words with me and tons of other people.

Skip Hire June 6, 2014 at 8:44 pm

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