How to Free Yourself from the Grasp of "Stuff"

How to Free Yourself from the Grasp of “Stuff”

A lot has been written about this already but I figured I’d take a stab at it basing it off of my own recent experiences. Not too long ago, my wife and I decided to sell most of everything we own and take our little family out to vagabond for a while. It was a move designed to kick start our “real life” and quit the nonsense of the numbing 9 – 5 treadmill most are stuck in.

So, why do you have stuff?

Let’s get to the basics shall we? Let’s really boil it down. You need food. You need shelter. You need clothing. Pretty simple right? Beyond that, everything is just extra.


So there are some things we need in order to get the food, shelter, & clothing. In my case, I work online so I say I just have to have my laptop! I also need a flat surface to type on (preferably a nice desk) and a power source and an internet connection. Right?

My justification comes in when I say it’s how I provide food, shelter, and clothing for my family. OK. The computer can stay. Stuff that helps you generate income generally doesn’t require too much anyway.

But what about the sweet 42” Sony Bravia LCD TV we had? In this case, it was something that provided entertainment. If it doesn’t actively help you generate food, shelter, and clothing then it’s entertainment. Here is where the line gets fuzzy and here is where you have to focus.

Doll collections, fancy china plates, baseball cards from 5th grade, an absurd amount of candles, whatever –  all of this is really just a form of entertainment.

When stuff starts to own you

I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend money on things or collect stuff (I love scuba gear and books myself). The catch is when the stuff starts to own you. As it’s often said, when you take possession of an object, it begins to take possession of you. It’s your attitude towards the object that causes the possession.

Think of the guy who spends more time waxing his sports car than with his family. Or the woman who has enough shoes in her closet to supply a small country. Stereotypical examples I know, but you get the point.

So how do you know when your stuff is possessing you? Here’s a way to find out. Go to one of your precious objects and look at it. Now ask yourself if you could you sell it? Could you slap it on Craigslist and get rid of it today? Or even better, give it away to someone who would really love it or could really use it? If you can’t, perhaps you’ve become a slave to an object. Not a fun place to be.

Where’s the line between having stuff and materialism?

The other day I read a great post by Adam Baker and it really struck a nerve. I watched a video in awe where people were literally trampling each other to get to into stores to buy stuff. It was bananas!

It made me think about materialism. What comes to mind when you think materialism? Perhaps you think of the countless people shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills? Maybe you think about diamond necklaces and fancy sports cars? Maybe you think about people breaking arms to get the latest Xbox?

Here’s another question – have you ever viewed materialism as holding onto that which you can’t let go? You may not think that you’re materialistic in the traditional sense but the bottom line is you’re possessed by an object and can’t let it go. This is a form of materialism.

Is all stuff bad?

No! I’m not saying to shed everything entirely forevermore. Stuff is good. A grand piano for a talented child is an amazing gift. A computer for a developing writer is perfect. A luxury car or yacht to fulfill a dream – awesome!

What I AM saying is that the most important thing is to recognize is your relationship to that stuff! It has to actively contribute to your life. It has to add value to your life. It has to serve you and not the other way around.

In my case, I’m at a point in life where I’m much more interested in experiencing things than having them. I know, I’m part of a very small minority, but what a liberated group of people we are!

Making space – physically and mentally

Tim Ferriss, in his book, The 4-Hour Work Week, talks about how getting rid of stuff from his apartment not only freed up the physical space, but mental space. As he puts it, “It was as if I had 20 mental applications running simultaneously before, and now I had just one or two. My thinking was clearer and I was much, much happier.”

Letting go of the things is hard at first. I know. It sucked watching my surfboards drive away in the back of someone else’s truck. It was sad to see our beautiful leather reclining sofas packed up. That was made even worse when our 2 year old kept saying, “Daddy, that man is taking our couches. Make him stop.”

But each time something left us, we somehow felt a bit lighter and bit closer to our dream of being mobile and free. As Tim said, we were much, much happier.

Even if you’re not trying to be mobile like me, there comes a time when we all just have too much stuff. It’s inevitable. The universe likes to fill space and the same goes for empty walls and closets. So the time comes when you need to shed some weight.

How to decide what stays and what goes?

One of the easiest ways to decide what goes and what can stay is to decide the sentimental and functional value of each object. I understand sentimental but you have to draw a line somewhere. Get the help of a good friend or neighbor to help you draw the line. That part is important.

To determine the functional value of each object is easier. Just ask yourself, “Do I use this (fill in the object)?” Why not? How long has it been since the last time you used it? Think about these things with everything you see.

You should do this often. Spring cleaning might not be enough. I think perhaps a monthly introspection and then action of selling, recycling, or giving stuff away.

You can also pay attention to what you buy and how often. The next time you’re at the store or mall, just ask yourself, “What value will this add to my life?” If you can really justify it, cool, buy it! If not, walk out of the store with nothing in your hands and your head held high! Take pride knowing you’re smarter than the shiny, glowing marketing laid before you.

The freedom of a minimalist lifestyle

There are a lot of people who are much more experienced than I am to really address the issue of minimalism. I’m just getting started on living in this way. I can tell you that it’s incredibly liberating. It’s hard to describe but life somehow seems a bit more focused, clean, and free.

The bigger picture is this: we’re all simply travelers on this adventure called life. We will die and we will leave our stuff behind. Stuff is good. It adds to life. It’s just important to have the proper perspective. If you can’t bear the thought of living without it, it’s time do some serious reflection.

What do you think? Are you a lover of stuff or is it just you and a knapsack?