Confessions of a Minimalist: 9 Reasons I Miss My Stuff

By Elizabeth Lang on 7 April 2009 (Updated 7 July 2011) 23 comments

Lately, I've noticed a rise in the "anti-stuff" movement. Have less. Buy less. Spend less. Need less. While this is dandy for some, I've survived with "less" for the last 7 months and, honestly, I've grown sick it.

Since September when I quit my job to travel, I have gotten by on very little. We sold or gave away all of our furniture and non-essential items.

For nearly 4 months while traveling I lived out of a carry-on size backpack. Since returning to the States in late January, I've been wearing the same 4 sweaters and living in a semi-furnished apartment. A bed, couch, and table were included. My spouse and I got by with 2 towels, 4 forks and spoons, 4 plates, and 4 glasses borrowed from my parents. (See also: Life Without a Microwave)

I believe in having less stuff, but I'm beginning to miss all the old stuff that I had. I've spent some time trying to figure out why.

It turns out there are 9 Reason I Miss My Stuff:

1. Familiarity

Do you remember the "wagon wheel table" from When Harry Met Sally? Jess and Marie argue over a hideous table and decide to get rid of it. My spouse and I argued over an ugly table. I won. The table now resides with a British woman in DC, but now I miss the familiarity of it.

2. Convenience

Sometimes you just want to curl up and read a book after dinner, and not have to wash the dishes. But then you wouldn't have clean spoons for your morning cereal.

3. Organization

Right now I have stacks of papers on a small bookshelf in our rented apartment. There are 3 other 1-foot tall stacks (no joke) sitting on my high school desk in my parent's house. I don't know where things are. Worse, I'm afraid to throw things out because I might need them sometime soon.

4. Fun/Entertainment

Automatic freezing ice cream machine. No thinking ahead required, just plug it in and go. Pure genius. I miss it. I miss my pasta maker and my non-Teflon pans. No, I never needed these items while traveling. Nor do I need them now. But wouldn't it be fun to make homemade pasta and ice cream one night?

5. Practicality

My dining room table may have been from Ikea, and it wasn't the most amazing table in the world. But by spinning and flipping, it doubled in size and we could accommodate 6 guests instead of just the two of us. Now the only table we have is a small square card table.

6. Memories

Unfolding the futon for movie nights. Three friends (no joke) who had some sort of bodily malfunction while staying overnight on that futon. The memories were countless. My futon is gone, sold to the highest bidder on Craigslist.

7. Variety

I never thought I'd grow sick of the few shirts I own that are currently not packed away. (I'm fairly boring when it comes to clothing.) But I actually miss the colors, the stripes, the variety in having more than a few shirts.

8. Time

You can't live as a vagabond forever (at least, I couldn't). Some day you will want to settle down and have stuff again. When you do, you'll find that it takes time to accumulate stuff. Sure, I could buy everything new. But I'm not one to waste (and I love a good deal) so I've spent hours on Craigslist, and at auctions and estate sales, perusing ads for rolltop desks, TVs, rugs, and chairs. If you don't want to take time to find new stuff, don't get rid of your old stuff.

9. Cost

We sold our dresser, bookcase that acted as a bedside table, and a traditional bedside table for $120 total. We purchased a new dresser, two side tables and bed frame for $600, used from a consignment shop. (Granted, they were a very nice matching set.) It's rare that you can make money selling and then re-buying an item.

I'm by no means advocating that you should start hoarding, or even that you should move everything you own across the country with you instead of selling it. But I am saying that there's something to be said for having stuff — especially familiar stuff. Getting by with less can be liberating, but there are upsides to having more.

In the end it's about finding the balance that's right for you. Don't have so much stuff that you're overwhelmed, and don't have so little that you're tempted to raid Cosco to acquire more.

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Guest's picture

Wow, that really is minimalist!

My husband and I have decluttered and never looked back, but we still have PLENTY of stuff -- and I think most people could find plenty to get rid of without major regrets.

We could minimalize more -- and may still do so -- but I think we've found a pretty good balance. We finally have plenty of room and everything has a place. Plus it doesn't take us long to put everything in its place when we do get unorganized.

But after a certain point, I think you do have to slow down the decluttering. Throw stuff in boxes and date the boxes. Return to them in a month, in a year, whatever. If you haven't missed the contents, THEN get rid of the stuff.

Guest's picture

This is a very interesting perspective. My wife and I are in the process of selling all of our stuff and moving to Australia. I wonder if we are going to feel like this in a year or so?

Guest's picture
Colin

Here's an alternate philosophy which suits me great and may work for you.

Buy less, but buy the best. And by best, it doesn't need to be most expensive, it should be best for you. Like you, I love to travel and my suitcase takes a beating. In my parent's attic, they have 6+ suitcases all kind of broken. I have one, a tumi bag I bought 4 years ago with a lifetime guarantee. When it breaks, they fix it for free. As far as I'm concerned, I'll never personally need another suitcase.

Another example is kitchen equipment. I used to buy inexpensive knives but ended up with a drawer full. I now have 2 knives, a wusthoff chef's knife and a wusthoff pairing knife. They are amazing knives, and I'll probably not need to buy more knives for 10 - 20 years. I don't get sick of my stuff, because it's all great and well researched before I buy it.

Guest's picture
Khürt

I agree w ith what Colin says. I still have a Sony Dream Machine alarm clock that I bought for college in 1986. I still have a Gucci wrist watch that I received in 1987 as a gift from a close friend. We still have a vacuum cleaner we bought in 1996 just after we were married. We paid a lot of money for that vacuum cleaner but other than replacing the HEPA filter and a rubber belt it has served us well. I buy comfortable higher priced shoes that with care can last over 5 years. My wife shops at payless, replaces her shoes often, and complains about foot pain.

"Buy less, but buy the best. "

Guest's picture
Guest

Colin I agree with you sense I've lived by that rule I don't get stuck with unused items or things used just to collect space!

Guest's picture
Guest

I downsized over a year ago to travel. I do miss my stuff occasionally, but when it's cleaning day, it's a breeze. I do fight the urge to replace stuff constantly, though

Nora Dunn's picture

I too, sold everything to travel a few years ago, and between semi-furnished dwellings and caretaking gigs, I haven't even really missed the 6 boxes that remain of my old life, stored in a friend's garage.

I do, however, echo the sentiment that you will not make money selling your stuff and re-acquiring it down the road. The only way to justify it is when you factor in the the cost of storage or shipping. If those expenses will outweigh the financial loss from selling your stuff to being with and acquiring new stuff later, it warrants consideration.

Then again, I do miss my super-funky couch with so many fun memories...

Myscha Theriault's picture

It's a balance, that's for sure. Nobody wants to take the pasta maker in their backpack to Asia. On the other hand, if you love to cook and enjoy certain types of culinary adventure as a frequent form of family fun then you do start missing some stuff after a while. The comfort factor has come into play for us before. You don't realize how amazing a soft comfy couch with a well placed lighting source and end table feel until you haven't been able to sit in one for a while. Then, when one becomes available for reading or even has a TV across from it available for watching . . . oh man.

I also agree somewhat with what the person said regarding putting it in boxes and setting it aside for a while. Out of the all the belongings that got delivered here at the new place after having been in military storage (the stuff that never got delivered to the lake house and therefor never got trashed in the flood), we were seriously surprised at some of the stuff we kept. Bear in mind that we also did an ENORMOUS amount of downsizing before we ever packed up and sold the house in Arizona. It was a 12,000 pound shipment (gotta stop accumulating so many books) and I would say that somewhere between 30 and 50 percent has been given away, donated or sold since it arrived here in early December.  And I am still finding a box load or two per week that we are giving away. The boxes are getting smaller though, so that's a plus. Some of the things we have agreed to enjoy for the time being but won't have a problem selling when the travel bug strikes us again.

Having lived at both ends of the spectrum and now firmly in the middle, we are finally at the point where enough of the clutter is gone that we can begin to start making more "precision choices" for lack of a better term. This is where it gets a bit more time consuming, because more thought has to go in to each decision as we live with the stuff for a while and see if it still even fits who we've become over the last few years. Also, not that we want to go and accumulate stuff just for the sake of doing it but sometimes there is a smaller, more space efficient sturdy model available now that we didn't know about before. If something's on its last legs, we use it until it drops. But if it's something we use a lot, and it's cumbersome, we try to research an affordable quality replacement that better suits our lifestyle when the time comes to replace it. This becomes easier to find the time for once there is less in your life to worry about.

I guess this is a long winded way of saying I agree with you, but don't have all the answers yet myself . . .

Guest's picture
Health

Thank for article ^^

Guest's picture
lucille

There is a line between purging everything and getting rid of excess junk. Probably one of the best things that helped stop the accumulation of junk was buying things for longevity. We are throwing (or donating) less because we simply are buying fewer things and those that we do don't wear out or fall apart as fast.

I have to agree with Kurt on shoes. I quit buying cheap shoes. Better quality shoes fit better and don't pinch or cut as much. They also tend to have a better structure to them at least with heels.

Guest's picture
essdee

I think the key is being mindful in what we choose to live with -- and live without. Life is too short to deny a hobbyist cook the true pleasure of, say, a pasta maker or an ice-cream freezer if it will be used often and happily. Similarly, there's little joy in buying and caring for an inventory of cooking tools that rivals Surly Table's.

Just as considered choice helps us stick with diets (birthday cake once a year) and budgets (that new album from a long-time favorite band), mindful choice is key to making it work.

Guest's picture

Interesting perspective . . .

I am trying to move toward having only what I need and use. Things that save me time or money or makes me money.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

@ Meg - I like the idea of putting stuff away and returning to it later.  It will be interesting once I unpack old clothes to see what I actually want to keep.

@ Colin, Khurt, Lucille - I agree that there is definitely something to be said for buying quality items vs cheap junk.  

Guest's picture
Malcom Reynolds

Great post!

Been gradually drawing down over the last 7 years. Started off with a big house and have since found that living near my employer in a small apartment with my wife is much more convenient.

That being the case we are down to one car (paid off) and have spent the better part of the 7 years reducing our debt and increasing our savings. Currently debt free and building savings to a point that we can bail anywhere if/when the hammer falls at the corporations we work for.

The rule of thumb we followed to minimize our stuff was to get rid of stuff that we haven't needed in at least a year. Similar to getting rid of unused icons on the desktop.

We are now offloading everything on Craigslist and Ebay and could easily move into a studio apartment with what is left. Similar to Baker in the the first post, we hope to sell everything in the coming 10 months and make a move to either Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Keep up the great work at Wisebread! I believe the world economy will stabilize as a result of the thoughtful actions of the populous to embrace the concepts of thrift and sustainability.

Guest's picture
Livingonlessandwithless

Good post!
My husband and I just sold our 2,500+ sq feet house and downsized to a one bedroom 550sq feet apartment... I don't miss any of it... I have never been attached to things... my philosophy is that you can replace things, but not the people you love or your health. I am actually glad that stage in my life is over -- where I had the desire to live in a huge house with 3 bathrooms, sauna, den, etc., etc. Since I already know what is like to live in a studio apartment, I am certain that I won't miss any of it in the future. I am sure that I don't miss cleaning for two days every week or 2 weeks straight of spring cleaning! Now we have what's necessary. I can clean almost every day (I have allergies) and it takes me little less than an hour (30 mins if my husband helps me) and I have time to do other things. I still have somethings stored at a friend's garage... but hey, I will be having a garage sale soon, and I can save that money for a rainy day! Keep what you use, what you need, and what you absolutely cannot leave without. Store what you know you can't replace. The rest is junk. In two years time, evaluate what you stored away -- you will be surprised at the fact that you don't want it as much anymore.

Guest's picture
Guest

You really should've thought about keeping those positions you'd need most upon returning and asked friends/family to "host" them. Maybe a bartering agreement. You host my stuff and I'll help you "X" when I return. There's being frugal and then there's making mistakes. Of course it's easy to look back and say, "I should've...I could've."

Carrie Kirby's picture

About a decade ago, my husband and I packed backpacks and spent 12 weeks traveling from China to Wales. Oh, how we grew to hate every single item of clothing we'd brought with us! Of course, our lowered hygiene standards as we traveled contributed to our dislike.

In London, we happened upon a clothing chain with really cheap clothes. We each bought whole new outfits and several pairs of socks, and it felt _so_ good. We didn't even mind having to discard some of our old clothes to make room for the new ones. Actually, I think the ones we threw out all had pretty serious holes in them by then anyway.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
Guest

So timely. I've been home for just a week after an 8 month around the world trip, before which I narrowed down my belongings to near nothing. I sold my apartment before the trip. I have a bed and dresser in a friend's house, (being used), a few boxes of kitchen stuff and a few of clothes and books in my Dad's basement. Oh, and maybe a few things at my sister's. That "Organization" topic really hit home. I can't seem to find anything, and the things I can find I wonder why I kept in the first place.

I've also been thinking a lot about what the article and comments said about having to acquire the necessities of a more sedentary life all over again. I neither want nor can afford to do that, especially now. I ended up leaving most of my clothes on the road at one point or another, so I'm rediscovering my wardrobe from within dusty boxes.

It IS all about balance. I'm not ready to give up vagabonding yet, and though I do occasionally miss my "Stuff" and yearn for just a little of my own space, the sacrifices have all been worth it.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

Very interesting. I wonder if you do still save money overall by selling all your stuff and then buying back only the things you've realized you really like.

It does seem like it's hard to be sure ahead of time which things you will miss. At least now you know.

I'm a big fan of the pack-it-all-away-for-a-while method, though I've only done it once. I packed away a bunch of clothes. Once I dug through the boxes finding something I was missing, thinking to myself, "How could I have put this in here?!" But the rest was easy to let go of. (Actually, I think I do know why I put that in there--it had metallic threads in it, which are in poor taste, right? But I loved that shirt!)

Guest's picture
Guest

One thought I would like to add is: Consider renting a "Storage Facility" for a period of time (1 Year) if you are taking a long-trip and budget for it as a planned expense. Investing $600 to maintain thousands of dollars of stuff while seeing the world is peace of mind. The military follows this exact approach when they deploy soldiers. Pitch the junk, but keep the quality.

Secondly, when you return and are are probably low on funds, you can feel more settled with your own things in whatever place you end up living. Returning to things that provide memories and keep you from reinvesting thousands more to replace. Or sell something to generate funds if needed.

On a final note based on personal experience, consider getting renter's insurance with replacement cost coverage for your stuff in storage while gone. It will cover your things in storage and anything with you that might get stolen while traveling. A minor investment of approx. $150 will buy $50,000 of coverage.

Opening the door to the storage facility after returning from deployment to find it empty, A MAJOR BUMMER. Calling up the insurance company and dealing with them, a painful process. Receiving a check for $50,000 to cover the stolen stuff I lost and getting a fresh start...BEYOND PRICELESS

Guest's picture

Interesting perspective. As with all things minimalist, there is always the necessity to find a balance between voluntary simplicity and outright deprivation. I think William Morris had it right, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Guest's picture
nyx

Yeah I can't be one of those people who only owns 100 items. Minimalists seem obsessive to me sometimes. I don't have a lot of stuff but I do have enough to feel comfortable with.

Guest's picture
Mrs. Hoisington

You do not have to let go of virtually everything to be a minimalist. I think this illustrates letting go of more than your optimum about of things in the quest for minimalism. I imagine it takes some trial and error to find that balance of stuff that is not too much and not too little.

My vision of my minimalist house still includes many things I love, like my bento boxes. Yes, I could eat off the same one plate everyday, but how much more fun is it to eat out of a two tiered box with hello kitty on it. If I did not use the boxes regularly, then I would want their shelf space. Minimalism to me, is getting rid of all the kitchen junk I rarely use so that I can get to my bento boxes and more easily be able to use them. I want to cut out all the junk in my house, that keeps me from what I love and enjoy in life.