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

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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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Jason January 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm

When you hang on to things, you never move forward. I was involved in the past for years. I would not get rid of anything until I found a (person)home for the items. I was under so much stress with my belongings. I live in a small condo and had no room for the things that matter. I was spend endless weekends trying to locate a person that wanted my items. Sometimes, I would leave in bags items on people’s door hoping that they would find a home in their unit. They items I speak of were quality items, not junk you throw out. But now my life is different. When I turned 40 I woke-up to reality! My life was passing by and I had no fun out of it. I packed loads of stuff and gave away to the goodwill and have not regard it one bid. I kept telling myself did you miss any of it? Answer: No. I moved forward because I was able to read blogs like this to help me move forward to a better life. I currently live in the present. Thank you to all you bloggers, writers for this reality check.

margaret January 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Thank you for your encouragement … when we have less, we have more.

Jessica January 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Good article, or post. I agree. However, if you throw children into the mix, somehow your space is no longer your own. Watch things multiply! No control! I dejunk rabidly, but you have to save things to pass down to the next one. That, in a way, becomes minimal–saving things to use at a later date instead of re-consume. Anyway, after dejunking a couple of weeks ago, I will definitely be at it again after reading this post-icle. My husband and I intend on consuming experiences with our children, instead of things. If you have any ideas on organizing and dejunking things of a filing nature, get on it!

Steve January 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I have a lot of stuff. I don’t hang on to it. Instead I think of myself as the intermediary between where it was and where it should be. My ears are always open for someone in need of something that I can give them. I take it in for free and give it for free

Justin February 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Great post. You’ve inspired me to clean the clutter.

Kristin April 26, 2012 at 12:40 am

Needed to see this. Thank you!

Lois August 27, 2012 at 11:39 pm

David, I have recently found your blog and enjoy what I’ve been reading so far. When I got to this article, it really resounded with me and how I’ve been living. I’ve just nominated you for the beautiful blogger award as a result.

Jason Glover January 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm

This is the second article of yours I’ve read – it won’t be the last. The subjects you are touching on are real solid gold.

I LOVE getting rid of stuff; I started a few years ago after separating from my wife of 9 years. Looking back I realized that I’d become a hoarder of stuff. Since then I’ve been ditching Stuff like crazy and concentrating more and more on Things.

Jason Hartgrave February 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

The real kicker will be when you apply this thinking down into your phone and your computer, clearing out old files, orphaned emails, and obsolete programs. Those apps you download on the phone and never open again, and the list goes on. I think of all the receipts and papers I accumulate in my car, and suddenly I am feeling like a “hoarder.”

karin February 14, 2013 at 6:27 am

OMG. I’m leaving Burma after 9 years and having to ship stuff home. I’ve got so much ‘stuff’…eik! But my next posting has only a 2 suitcase policy… Busy decluttering and it feels good. Stuff keeps me chained. Bought a house I can’t possibly live in for 2 years…so now have to find someone to look out for the place….headache!

Jeremy March 28, 2013 at 10:59 am

We got rid of nearly everything we owned before we started traveling full time. I thought that we didn’t have much stuff, but when you actually go through the process of selling, donating, and discarding, it is amazing how many things we accumulated without a conscious effort

Now everything fits in a couple backpacks and we still have more stuff than we need

Dawn June 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Hooray for your beautifully written post!! I already shared it on my FB biz page.

I’m a personal organizer and what you wrote is exactly what I’ve been telling my clients for years. The clutter of stuff affects you in so many ways. It’s not just about time wasted searching for things or throwing $$$ away. It runs much deeper. Thank you for sharing!!

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris

fabe June 12, 2013 at 6:23 am

Hi,
Wonderful article. I don’t know if anyone has already mention this, but I have an other way of reducing stuff and be more concious in my consumtion.
I called it 2 for 1. Every time I want to buy something new I have to give away two of the same kind, either to charity or a friend. So if I want to buy a new pair of shoes I really have to consider if the new pair will be more useful to me than 2 of the pairs I already have. And then I can’t buy the new shoes before I have found new homes for the other 2. So in this way I have eliminated impulse shopping for stuff. It might go slower than your method, but it changes your way of thinking about the thing you own and their importance.

//fabe

Angela July 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

It’s so hard for me to get rid of “stuff” because I always think I’m going to use it someday. This article inspired me to work on clearing out the clutter. I hope I can stay motivated!

Ulrika August 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

Today I didn’t have to pick up the kid from daycare do I had some time on my hands. I sat down in the park to ponder what I most wanted to do. There was really nothing urgent so I could choose. I realized what I most wanted to do was go home and throw out a lot of things around the house. However, I stopped for a coffee while biking home (actually tea and rhubarb youghurt). And thought I’d look at this blog which I’m quite new to, maybe a week only. And this article came up! Now that’s serendipity! Am now off to go home and throw out “stuff”! :-) Love this blog!!

sunny September 1, 2013 at 5:52 am

Well said. Changed my thinking about a few areas in my home. I know which items are “things” and which are merely just “stuff”. I want to find homes for everything!

Two years ago, I too narrowed my breakfast choice down to one: a healthy smoothie. then if I crave any breakfast food items, I’ll have them for lunch or dinner.

Am new to your blog (found it via Becoming Minimalist) and will now explore your other posts.

Nick October 26, 2013 at 8:37 am

Well, having read this post I am quite literally ashamed of myself. Although I would never admit to being a hoader – it looks as if that is what I truly am.

I buy everything in 2’s sometimes 3’s. I have an obsession with collecting things, currently multitols. How many??, at the last count it was fast approaching 400!! I simply buy, open, put away…buy, open, put away…buy, open, put away…etc etc. On the rare occasion I do get them all out, I feel utterly miserable and vow to never buy another. but before the week is out there is always something else on it’s way.

Why I am like this, I have no idea. As a child my mother and father were very aloof as to my being there, as in not many cuddles, not much love and not many toys. Now in my 40’s living with my partner for the past 17yrs we have a 6yr old son who I absolutely adore. Yet I still buy stuff, either for me or my son…especially my son. I want him to have a childhood I never had. My partner, although knows I hoard, turns a blind eye to it.

But as much as a hoader as I am, I am intently tightfisted, the thought of “lining someone’s pocket” fills me with dread, so half the time I will do without but yet then spend it, sorry..waste it on more pointless stuff!!

I really need to declutter, really do. But no-one has ever given me anything, everything I own is from sacrifice or hard work, so why should I give it to someone else. Same with the rubbish tip, take stuff there and the guys say “put that to one side pal”, so I’m then basically lining their pockets as it will probably be sold at the carboot come next weekend!!

If I could press a magic button and all but the bare necessities disappeared – I’d press it in a heartbeat!!

We have a lovely house and thanks to both of us being focused during the early years it’s now paid off, we are totally debt free, which means more money to waste.

But having read this post, I see that I’m not alone, nor am I at fault. Modern living comes at a price that we are all only just beginning to realise.

I’m going to attempt to shift 50% of what I own within the next 3 months be it in rubbish bin or the online auction sites. I am determined I will sort myself out.

kate December 31, 2013 at 11:42 am

this is a great posting…..but now, really……tell me the difference between stuff and things…=)

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

Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download
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Cheers

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