The Burden of Stuff

Why do we own so much stuff? Like most of you, I purge items that I own and for a time feel good, but overtime stuff piles up and begins to make me feel overwhelmed? Why is it?

Most of us are taught at a young age to buy stuff. Even the American government encourages us to buy stuff to help jump start the economy and keep it moving. We are all told that stuff will make us happy, but I have found that stuff is more of an anchor than a source of comfort. Another thing that I discovered about stuff – it doesn’t change you. Having more stuff does not make you a better person, it simply makes you the same person but with a larger anchor around your neck.

Bernstein Bears Stuff
Bernstein Bears Stuff

George Carlin said, that “A house is just a place to put your stuff so you can go out and get more stuff.” Does it have to be? When I look around at those around me, I realize that I tend to consider their stuff to be junk, while my stuff clearly has more value. Taking a step back, my stuff is the same stuff as their stuff.

When I went away to college in Upstate New York from Chicago, I could only take what filled a car with me. After school, when I moved to Connecticut I again had to reduce what I owned to a car load. However my mother still reminds me that I own a car load of books in Chicago as well as a car load of legos and one of tools. I have now lived in Connecticut for almost 8 years without any of that and have not missed it. It is something that I need to confront head on one day and work to sell and giveaway so that I do not continue to burden my mother with my stuff.

During college, I traveled frequently and generally used a single large backpack. I was able to fit everything I needed and then some, always overpacking. The travel also helped me realize that I was happy without stuff. After college at one point I was living in a small apartment with my daughter. We did not own a lot, and most of this was on purpose. I never felt the need to buy things. We had fun and that was enough.

I am now married and own a house. When my wife and I moved in, I did not bring much with me. We looked at what she had and what I had and if we had any duplicated items, kept the best and donated the rest. One thing we have struggled with and it bothers me far more than it bothers her is that we have a basement half full of stuff she has inherited. Clutter, saps my spirits and at times overwhelms me. I simply want to get rid of everything, but many items have great sentimental value to her while others have a high attached value.

Things and StuffThe reason why too much stuff can be overwhelming, is that there’s less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there’s more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what’s around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

This year is our year of purging the excess from our lives. Our goal is to sell what we can, donate the rest, and live more simply. The ultimate reasoning is that we plan to only own our home for a few more years and someone that works for me just found out, it is pretty hard to move after a lifetime of acquiring stuff.

Stuff is absolutely a burden. Stuff does nothing to make us happy. Think of the happiest times of your life, was it because of something you acquired? Or something you owned? Probably not, it probably centers around important events and people in your life.

When in doubt, throw it out. Or better yet just donate it.