I love this bit by George Carlin. It so eloquently describes our obsession with our stuff. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, do yourself a favor and watch it now.
Laurie and I have been dealing with a lot of our stuff for the past couple of weeks in preparation for our move to a 16 foot diameter yurt in Duvall, WA. It’s barely over 200 square feet, which is about 100 less than our Tiny House was.
We’ve been selling off things, giving others away to friends and family and dumping lots of stuff at Salvation Army. As we’ve been going through these things we’ve reflected on how attached to our stuff we get, whether through sentimentality or the illusion of usefulness. One of the interesting things we’ve been noticing is how much we buy stuff in preparation for a need, and how often that need never actually arises in reality. In our case, most of that was because we were really planning on living in the Tiny House for a long time and had purchased lots of things to make it functional and comfortable. Our lives just had other plans.
The most interesting phenomena I’ve been going through recently is the desire to buy new stuff to replace the old stuff. My ego cleverly disguises these desires as newer, better, smaller, more efficient and effective versions of what I’ve had before, but at the end of the day it’s still more stuff I don’t need. Some of the stuff we do actually need though. We recently bought a ton of outdoor gear like backpacking stuff, and warmer clothing which are necessary for our new lives in the wilderness. On the other hand, I was able to sufficiently justify to myself (and to Laurie) that I needed a new guitar (because I need a cheaper/smaller one that’s more suitable to life in the wild) and a new bike (also more suitable to the climate and conditions of Washington). See? Perfectly justified!
I think at the heart of it all, my ego does this as a sort of safety blanket. We humans have extended our sense of identity to our stuff. Be honest, if someone compliments or ridicules a piece of your stuff, you take it personally. I know for myself this is especially true when it comes to bikes and guitars. These are my favorite things, so I put a lot of thought and personality into my choices. If someone compliments my bike or guitar, I instantly like them. If they dislike either, I instantly assume they have horrible taste. Aren’t we humans funny?
So it makes sense that when we give up some of our stuff, that it feels like a piece of our self is going along with it. This perceived threat triggers the ego to obsess about new, bigger and better stuff (or in our case, new, smaller, more minimal and rugged stuff).
This is why we are happy to be moving into smaller and smaller spaces. It forces us to do a series of reality checks and ask the important questions like, “have I used this in the last 6-12 months?” or “do I really see myself using this in the future?”
So what’s the benefit of releasing all of this stuff? Peace of mind. It’s amazing how much mental clutter our stuff causes. Last weekend Laurie and I cleaned out a bunch of junk we had stored in the hull of our houseboat in Sausalito. We’ve had the place rented out for awhile now, but hadn’t gotten around to clearing all the storage stuff out. We wanted to deal with it because we could actually feel the weight it placed in our minds. This is junk we have had for years and just kept moving from place to place. A bunch of it was left over storage from my parents after they sold the family home, as well as old audio gear I stopped using a very long time ago. After spending the weekend pulling it out, going through it, and organizing into piles (keep, trash, thrift), I felt like I had actually lost weight. It was like all that stuff was an anchor, slowing me down.
So now, we are feeling trim and light, looking forward to our adventure up north. Lots still to do. We’re still selling and cleaning out the last remnants, but are very close to our optimal amount of “stuff”… for now.
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