Stuff

We all want the food, clothing, and shelter needed to live safe and healthy lives. And we all want at least a basic education and access to medical care should we fall ill. But beyond these basic needs, how much more do we actually need to live well and to be free? The Simpler Way doesn’t mean that we cannot have possessions that go beyond our basic needs, but it does involve questioning the amount of stuff that is in our lives. Sometimes, less really can be more.

  • Avoid unnecessary possessions: The Simpler Way involves embracing a form of minimalism. Again, this doesn’t mean not having possessions, but it does involve only having the possessions that truly contribute to our quality of life. Often stuff is just stuff – a waste of space, money, and resources. Avoid unnecessary possessions. Live more with less.
  • Declutter: When people decide they want to take steps to simplify their lives, decluttering their homes of superfluous ‘stuff’ is the perfect way to begin. This can be extremely liberating. Go from room to room and think very seriously about whether you need all the stuff you have. Donate your superfluous stuff to charity.
  • Be aware of the stuff needed for stuff: It seems that stuff breeds more stuff. We often buy something and then discover that it needs extra stuff to make it functional. By reducing the stuff in our lives, we are also reducing the stuff needed for stuff. Stuff can also have hidden ‘time’ costs. Therefore, when in doubt, do without.
  • Be aware of the psychology of stuff: We’ve probably all had the experience of making some exciting consumer purchase, only to discover that the initial buzz quickly wears off. Despite what advertisements tell us, stuff just doesn’t satisfy our desire for meaning, and it is a very poor substitute for an identity.
  • Be aware of the ‘Diderot Effect’: Have you ever purchased something, something you really wanted, only to discover that it made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated? Rather than accepting some disunity in the style of your possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? This is called the ‘Diderot Effect’. You buy some new pants, but then realize you need a new shirt to match. You buy a new sofa, but then you have the urge to upgrade your chairs too. The Simpler Way involves resisting the initial upgrading. Get off the consumerist treadmill and stop the upward creep of material desire. Know how much is enough. Old stuff often has character.
  • Avoid all goods you know or suspect were unjustly manufactured: How can some stuff be so cheap! At first this seems great, but a moment’s thought should tell us that if some stuff is unbelievably cheap, it is probably because it has been produced by wage-slaves in the developing world. Don’t support corporations that are based on unjust manufacturing.
  • Quality, not quantity: When you decide you really need some new possession, it is better to buy quality, so that it doesn’t have to be replaced. This reduces waste. In this sense, the Simpler Way is about caring ‘more’ about our stuff.

8 Comments

  1. I find Christmas gift giving a difficult area to modify because my friends are so resistant. One year I asked not to be given any bought item and explained why. A major backlash of screaming and yelling came down on my head. Now I just grit my teeth as my friends give me gifts I don’t want, even though they know full well my feelings about this. It seems that Christmas consumerism is a very difficult thing for them to rethink. I give very simple hand-made gifts to them.

    I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

  2. Jane – thank you for that link. I am trying to get off the hampster wheel of consumerism and trying to find a start point. I just played this video for the family and we all watched it. thank you.

  3. It begins (on a practical level) with The Stuff! My parents were Depression era, so they were used to saving. I coined a few phrases such as “boxes of string too short for anything” and “a picnic for 800″ (plastic flatware). The houses could be completely wrapped in plastic bags, sheet plastic etc. For me, it was clothes. None of it was terribly fashionable, but if it was in good condition (and some of it wasnt -in case I went on a work party) and it fit, it was to be kept. There were whole boxes full of one item, such as slips. Slips were going out of style when I was a teenager in the 1970s.

    The most prevalent, practical tip I use these days is: even tho it is a worthwhile item, it may be handy, pretty, even valuable. But I cant do everything (this is a mindset). I cant. I must part with it even tho it is a wonderful object if I cannot fit it into my 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this year, next year. I dont live for next year anyway. Next year will take care of itself. I have to realize I want peace of mind more than I want everything. And unfortunately, this is what clutters. Wanting everything. Everything that is wonderful etc. But how many hours in a day do I have, or can I possibly expect to have for all the wonderful things? Having collections of say, ski equipment doesnt make me a skier. Piles of craft materials doesnt get crafts created. After all these years, I just dont like seeing stuff arrive I dont use on a consistent basis. My rationale is to tell myself I am only one person. I cant do it all.

    If I were to use an example some people might understand: so many hot men, so little time. Or so many hot women, so little time. It may be argued “stuff” is not like being promiscuous with other human beings, but I would answer “stuff” is even less reason, therefore.

  4. This is a great little clip on the subject of ‘stuff’. ‘The Story of Stuff’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8

  5. Decluttering can be liberating. Give what you don’t need to charity or others in need.

  6. Apart from charities, FREECYCLE NETWORKS are a great way of disposing of surplus stuff. Also, although avoiding the acquisition of goods that were unjustly manufactured is important, we also need to avoid those goods which cannot be returned to manufacturers at the end of their “useful” lives. On the unjustly manufactured front, there is a current campaign being promoted by GetUp concerning Apple Products.

  7. Do you have an organisation like Freecycle? Where you post what you have and someone else says ‘O yes please!’ and comes to your place to pick it up. No money, just one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. xx

  8. Excellent advice. We try very hard to decrease the amount of stuff in our home by sorting and removing unnecessary items regularly. Two challenges to this are: 1) children, who seem to accumulate “stuff” weekly, mostly by way of events that they go to where they are given cheap plastic toys, stickers, and other junky things, and 2) concerns about how to get rid of things that would not be wanted by others (and therefore cannot be donated) and are also difficult to recycle, such as broken toys and old baby equipment. Suggestions you have as to how to tackle these two areas are greatly appreciated.

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