Who Moved My Stuff?

If you ever want to take stock of all that you’ve worked hard to purchase over time, and how much stuff you think you need to hang on to, go through each and every possession you own and decide what to keep and what to sell, or give away. You might be surprised at how attached you are to your stuff.

I’m, of course, talking about packing up and moving.

Moving requires that you take some serious inventory of your stuff… and of yourself. Because it’s not just about the things, it’s about your attachment to them.

You might find that after the dust settles from garage sales, selling through ads placed in the local papers and, of course, shipping your packages to your soon-to-be-happy eBay customers, parting with your black suede bean bag, your two coffeepots or the lawn gnome collection wasn’t so painful, after all.

Certainly, I’m not saying everyone should travel the road of Life like David Carradine in “Kung Fu”; there’s nothing wrong with keeping things that are unique and special to you, or are irreplaceable. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with hanging onto some keepsakes and reminders of people, places and good (or bad) times.

But a material detox, like packing for a move, will bring you face-to-face with how much baggage you’ve been building up… and how much hard-earned money you’ve spent on things you thought would “make you happy” at the time, only to find that, now, you might not remember why you had to have it in the first place.

You don’t have to be packing up for a move to do this; just set aside a little time – maybe on the weekends or in the evening – to go through a box or a drawer. Look at what you are holding, and think about it: I have this; do I want it?

Many people are fortunate in that they have the luxury of acquiring a vast amount of things for later scrutiny, as I’m suggesting. Some have only the bare essentials, but harbor a desire more. And still others have very little, yet are perfectly content. While it seems paradoxical that the less-is-more principle could apply to some, but not all, I will stress, again, that the influence of advertising and television shapes values and priorities so that, despite a chasm in interpersonal relationships, the missive is to feel a little closer to complete with each new acquisition.

Moving On

I’ve read about a flourishing, worldwide group called The Compact that espouses the following ideas:

  • To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step that, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact.
  • To reduce clutter and waste in our homes
  • To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

Basically, the members go for months – or even a year – without buying anything besides basic medical or hygienic needs and food (obviously). They barter or find things second-hand on craigslist.org, eBay, garage sales, etc. The concept is simple: buying more stuff is not the road to happiness.

I wanted to mention this group because, after you’ve cleaned house, inside and out, consider this core idea of escaping the tight grip of media influence and material acquisition.

In a sense, it’s like packing up, moving and starting anew.

The Compact Blog

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Guest's picture

This post comes at an opportune time since I may be moving soon and even if I wind up not moving, I've still got more than enough junk to get rid of—though I doubt anyone would pay for it. ;^)

Ed O'Reilly's picture

You'd be surprised at what people buy.

 I had a couple of garage sales over the past couple of years and I said the same thing: "Who'd want this?"

 Sometimes, people would ask me to put it aside so they could go get cash from the ATM :-P

And some of the stuff that changes hands on eBay still fascinates me. I've bought a few things that were useful and were good deals, but I think some people buy a lot of stuff because they love the thrill of the chase, so to speak. 

Guest's picture

Is it National Garage Day Sale weekend in the states? There's a garage sale everywhere I go.

Ed O'Reilly's picture

It would be summer, now, in the States so I think everyone's doing a bit of Spring cleaning.

Here, it's unusual for a house to have a basement or even an attic, in some cases. Perhaps this lack of available storage space forces people to really assess how much stuff they hang on to, if they just don't have the room for it.

It's odd, in a way, to store things out of sight (and, presumably, out of mind); yet what's the difference between not  having something at your fingertips and not having it around at all? Sentimentality? Anxiety?

I feel a new post brewing...  ;-) 

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

Ed: your question of "do I want it?" is too gentle for me. :)

I have the packrat gene (thanks Dad!) and it's way too easy for me to rationalize how much I want or "need" something.

"Oh, I'll definitely be curling up by the fireplace re-reading my advanced molecular and cellular biology book. Definitely this time."

How many times have I moved those stupid textbooks?? And how many times have I opened those boxes these last ten years?? Sadly, the answers are "too many times" and "never".

Thanks for the reminder. It's time to do some purging...

Ed O'Reilly's picture

Man, I hung onto all my textbooks (and even some notebooks) after college. I think, after a while, the only valuable stuff I had in them were all the doodles I made in the margins :-P

Admittedly, I, too, am a bit of a book packrat... also, thanks to my dad who single-handedly kept amazon.com on their toes.

It was difficult, though, to part with some books, since I do tend to re-read things... but I looked at it like I could make room for new books, most of which I bought used, online, for a fraction of the cover price. 

Will Chen's picture

I think a "material detox" is exactly what I need in my life right now.