Why do I want to get rid of everything I own?

by 4703 · August 19, 2013 at 12:51 AM

I've always had a tendency towards minimalism, which I assume grows out an excellent case of OCD that makes me hate clutter. Once or twice a year I will go through all my possessions and cull them down to what I view as essentials. However, I think recently my conception of essentials have changed. I have this attraction to the idea that I could fit everything I own into a duffel bag and pick it up and move at a moments notice. I understand the impracticality of this, due to the impracticality of my career (attorney), but it doesn't make me want to get rid of my couches, tv, speakers, books, etc, any less. I've come to view it all as just stuff, but the idea of having so much is sort of overwhelming in a way.

I would assume this is exacerbated by the fact that I hate my job and it makes me unhappy in my situation. Due to insane student loans I can't quit and while I am making changes where I can to mitigate (e.g. interviewing for new hopefully slightly less miserable jobs), I personally am not going to join occupy and cry about owing money no one made me borrow.

My question is whether any of you all have experience a similar tendency/longing to divorce yourself from possessions, and how you have dealt with it. Did you also feel it came out of an unhappy place, or did you draw different parallels?

Thank you for your input.

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27 Replies

2065 · February 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM

I love this question. I've had a recent, cathartic experience with this topic myself. I was living in Colorado and running my own business. I worked 7 days per week to the tune of between 70 and 80 hours - as small business people often have to do, especially in the current economic environment. I made a very nice income and I was miserable. And when I say miserable, I mean really !@#$ing unhappy. So, to remedy my unhappiness what did I do? Well, I stopped using my fully equipped home Crossfit gym. I consumed way too much Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, gourmet pizza and Chipotle burritos. Working until 9 or 10 PM in a high stress environment left me exhausted and completely drained. A high calorie meal and 3 or 4 beers later, I could plop down into bed and wait for the 6AM alarm clock. This went on for years, but really started getting bad about 2 years ago. I put on some weight. My belly got big and my arms got skinny. Not good.

So, one day I had just had enough. I shut the business down and sold my house. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I just walked away. I decided to move myself across country to North Carolina to be closer to family and the ocean - I had really missed being near the ocean. As I was packing for my cross country adventure, it occurred to me to rent one of those POD things and let them move my stuff. The problem was that they are too small for all of my stuff. For a single guy in his 30s, I felt that I have too much stuff. I ended up having to rent a 26 foot moving truck, the largest one that you can get without a commercial driver’s license, and even then not all of my stuff fit in the truck. So, while I may not have your desire to the same degree, that is being able to fit all of my belongings into a duffle bag; I do desire to become a “POD person” and be able to fit everything that I own into a 16 foot POD. For me, some sense of minimalism goes hand-in-hand with freedom.

As a side note, this dramatic change that I made a couple of months ago seems to be working. I’ve flirted with the Paleo Diet on and off for several years, but I’ve recently recommitted to it. The weight has come back off and I’m back to working out hard. I feel great. Life is good and I’m looking forward to an awesome summer. The clouds have lifted, the sun is out, the birds are chirping and I see some new business opportunities. Life is far too short to spend it being unhappy. I hope that you find your way out of your situation soon.

11476 · February 13, 2012 at 07:39 PM

Times that I have wanted to get rid of all my stuff: right before moving, right after moving, when I was depressed, when I was under a lot of stress, every pregnancy scare at every point in my life, before surgery, after surgery.

So, I think a natural response to stress it to want to gut your place, because it allows you to exert control over your environment in a big way. By moving things up and out, you can actually see the changes that are happening in your life that you are causing.

That being said, I think everyone has a different "stuff" level that they allow and feels comfortable to them. During one particularly stressful time of transferring programs, I got rid of our couch, kitchen table, deck table, and bedside table. This made me feel fantastic for about 3 hours, until I realized we now only had our bed, two desks, and a chest. It is now 6 months later, we still eat dinner off that chest, and set our bed up as a "couch" for the daytime. Does it make me feel better now? No. Would I like to eat dinner on a surface that I can fit my legs under? Yes.

Sometimes responding to the urge to satisfy your de-cluttering need is something you should pause to consider. Would your life be better with item A? Then get rid of item A. You always have to realize that no matter what the problem you are responding to, getting rid of all your "stuff" ultimately will not make that problem go away. Confronting the problem, not the piles, will be what truly makes you feel better.

3608 · February 13, 2012 at 06:37 PM

I became minimalist halfway through college, and have never looked back since.

From 10 pairs of shoes, a closet full of clothes, and crazy amounts of books and boxes to essentially...nothing. I can move to a new location right now if I wanted to.

I own no books, no boxes, enough clothing for a small suitcase, and one pair of shoes. My room consists of a simple table, chair, and bed.

Wake up to what's important to you.

4145 · May 27, 2012 at 01:00 PM

I'm in pretty much the exact same boat. Law degree I don't want, debt I really don't want, job I DESPISE, and a bunch of stuff in an apartment that is suffocating me. I am completely fixated on moving deep into the woods. I came up from pretty meager beginnings and I always thought things would be easier if I could just finish school / get a better job / move to the right place. Day to day money is better (I don't worry about affording food, still worry about rent) but the debt feels like a giant weight.

I am mostly amazed at how few people in this profession I really like. Most people are so obsessed with coming off fancy and one upping each other that I can't stand it. It is a difficult profession to be in when you start to realize that we're all just chimps in a not-too-complicated social web with arbitrary class systems and methods of obtaining power.

Dude, I just get it. It is like you've peeked behind the curtain and now you can't go back. Once you realize you don't give a shit about the carrot, it is really difficult to continue plodding through life chasing after it. I don't think there is an answer to this. Give your stuff away to someone who needs it. Take a few pro bono cases. Live as meagerly as possible and divert ANY extra income to aggressively paying down debt. My awesome future spouse, who has also peeked behind the curtain, shares these views and we plan to live off one person's salary and use the other's to pay down debt and then hoard money for our eventually crazy retreat into the woods. Did someone say bunker? There might be a bunker.

8487 · February 13, 2012 at 05:11 PM

I think at some level it is to do with responsibility, attachment and control. The less you have the more control you have over it all, the less you have to be responsible for and the less you feel may effect you if you are dependant on it and it is removed.

This is not a bad thing in my mind. Also I believe the less choice we have the lower the stress. It goes for clutter too. For me this extends to even my computer usage where I have a very 'clean and lean' organisation and display of information. Predominately white typface on black consoles.

And perhaps the saying is true: a tidy house/desk/computer/space = a tidy mind. I also think the less we have puts us in a position to value things differently.

Also kipple can creep up on your if you don't watch out.

JR: Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.

Pris: I see.

JR: There’s the First Law of Kipple, “Kipple drives out nonkipple.” Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.

Pris: So it has taken over completely. Now I understand.

JR: Your place, here, this apartment you’ve picked--it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apartments. But -

Pris: But what?

JR: We can’t win.

Pris: Why not?

JR: No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968.

11251 · July 12, 2012 at 07:32 PM

You are not a minimalist. You are someone who is finally realizing you are in a completely untenable situation and you now want to run away. Law schools are engaged in outright fraud, and, unless somehow you stipulated before signing up for these degrees that you understood they were handing you worthless crap in return for a lifetime of indentured servitude (not to mention the time and attention necessary to actually achieve the degrees), you are pretty much right to want to run away.
Yes, you agreed, but it is still fraud. The idea of $300,000 in loans- they've got to smile and pretend you are going to have the capacity to pay it back. Is it Harvard Law (can't be-the price is too low, right)? The school has to be elite, and you've got to go read pick-up artist sites and start modifying it for sharks to have a prayer in hell.

So you can run. There may be other things you can do as well. The main thing is to know the emotion is valid. It is coming from a legitimate place. If you understand, then if an opportunity comes up, you can take it. Fight or flight. The only 'wrong' choice is going catatonic. Play dead for a while if you must, but be ready to act.

Your stuff is just a proxy for your ire. You can throw stuff away. You can kick stuff around. It is your own stuff; you can win over it.

I noticed a similar thing; I pushed hard and lost weight. I succeeded with what was in my territory of control. If I could extend my territory of control, I could succeed there too- and in a more public sphere, more people benefit. Unfortunately, fraud has grown from a cottage industry to a massive, globe covering system.

410 · July 12, 2012 at 05:15 PM

I get an urge for a big clearout at least twice a year too, usually when I'm back home from university. I was a little confused when I got back for the summer this year because I imagined my room to have a whole lot more clutter than was actually there, so aside from a few old clothes which I donated, there was nothing else to do!

I started realising that having too much stuff wasn't healthy for me personally when I was 10 or 11 and my family were driving to France with suitcases strapped on the top of the car and I kept turning around in my seat every ten minutes to make sure the cases hadn't fallen off and my clothes weren't flying all over the motorway.

I asked myself "so what if you lose that pair of jeans/ those shoes? Sure, they fit great, but they'll wear out eventually and you'll have to get more and they are in no way indispensable." I worked backwards from there and ask myself the same question about pretty much everything I own/ buy.

Also funnily enough, though I view my desire for fewer possessions and therefore fewer things to stress about losing as a pretty primal instinct, technology sometimes really helps me to enforce it - much easier to slip a kindle into a backpack and head off into the wilderness than it is to drag a suitcase of my favourite books with me wherever I go.

I think my parents would have a whole lot less stress if they cleared out some stuff from the house too, but my dad refuses. He's one of those "but what if I need it again in 5 years time and I don't have it?!" (talking about a copy of MS Office over a decade old...) people. My mum constantly stresses about what would happen if the house was burgled (my answer - "well, they'd take some saucepans and a five year old computer, everything else is too big to even get out of the door!")

7249 · July 12, 2012 at 03:48 PM

I love this topic. I was in business banking for a while, and finally had enough of corporate America. I quit, and in 2009, lived in a Toyota RAV4 for 6 months traveling around. Then I did move into something larger, a van, and did that for 2010, basically traveling and rock climbing. I moved back into a small condo in early 2011, and it feels so huge. I still find myself going minimal as often as possible, and love times when I get back in the van and leave for an extended period. Freedom from stuff is amazing.

4236 · February 13, 2012 at 07:32 PM

I was actually a minimalist long before I was paleo. My views of paleo are very much in line with that philosophy, e.g. if I have my mate, and good wholesome food, do I really need anything else? Not really.

Stuff takes my focus away from what I really want to do with my life, from something personal like time with my mate, to familial like cooking, to public like making theatre. I think you hinted at it in your question, but it's worth saying explicitly -- minimalism must be personal. Frankly I think the same is true of paleo.

One other thought. The stuff I really do want to keep (my one pair of Vibram shoes, my cookware, etc) are things which help to keep me focused on what matters, especially from a paleo perspective. I'd rather be outside having fun than inside surrounded by stuff.

8004 · December 26, 2012 at 07:15 PM

I go back and forth between wanting to jettison a fair share of my possessions and build a yurt somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with as big a garden outside as I can manage (thanks for the inspiration, Mother Earth News magazine), and wanting a nice big (ish) house with cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, a chef's kitchen, and a huge, warm-colored dining room.

See, I'm 34 and have spent most of my life in dorms (college and then a few years in the military), or renting rooms in other people's houses or apartments. With my current income, I just can't make the leap to living on my own in my area (outside DC). If I had any courage whatsoever, I would quit the job I loathe, do a full-season apprenticeship (or 2 or 3!) on a farm and then eventually farm full-time, long-term, but my concern is always what I'm gonna do in the off-season during these apprenticeships. I've taken advantage of the fallback plan of "live with mom and dad" enough times in the past in between jobs or after school and my self esteem can't take that kind of beating again. (We get along great; it just doesn't do good things for my psyche to be unemployed and living with the folks.) So it's always the question of where to live and have an income from, say, November to April.

The other thing is, while part of me wants to go minimal, part of me also wants a big enough space to be able to entertain and provide a nice place for other people to be, because I've been the recipient of so much warm hospitality over the years and I've not been able to reciprocate in the way I'd like. (I do have people over for dinner, and I never go to anyone else's home empty-handed, but you know what I mean. It would make me feel good if, in the future, my house could be a place my friends and family think of as where we have holiday meals or make other nice memories. I'm so far from that right now it's almost laughable for me to think of it.)

Anyway, the main point I want to make is that I think part of the reason some people can have minimalist existences is that other people don't. Nobody could have a big family gathering with lots of food and wine being passed around the holiday table if they didn't have a place for this gathering to happen--not to mention enough dishes, glasses, chairs, couches, a guestroom, etc. (And I do realize I'm mostly talking about cultural norms in the U.S., because obviously there are populations all over the world who have mere fractions of our incomes and luxuries, and they have wonderful, rich social lives and traditions.)

I also acknowledge not everyone wants to have those kinds of experiences or thinks they're important. And it's a lot easier for single people with no kids to think about chucking it all and living out of a backpack or a camper long-term. (Again, at least in our society.) Maybe that's the problem -- possibly false underlying assumptions about the importance of "stuff," even for kids. (Not every kid "needs" to be on a soccer team, take trumpet lessons, do cheerleading, and be totally overextended just to keep up with the neighbors' kids.) Sometimes I think the entire notion of the lawn, white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and all that jazz is completely whacko, and it's only because that kind of home & family existence is so engrained in us that people who don't want that type of life are considered the strange ones...

These kinds of discussions really get me thinking about the bigger issues. Now, if only I could work up the courage to make some serious changes. I could be eating the cleanest Paleo possible, but if my everyday existence is out of sync with what really speaks to me, I wonder how badly my health will suffer down the line.

20 · August 25, 2012 at 04:17 AM

Quote: While that may or may not be true, it doesn't really help me. I'm of the opinion that I made my bed, and I will deal with the consequences. I would just like to deal with them the best way that I can. Thinking someone else should take care of it is not that way. – j3wcy Jul 13 at 0:58

For more Paleo Diet hacks: Why do I want to get rid of everything I own? - PaleoHacks.com http://paleohacks.com/questions/97359/why-do-i-want-to-get-rid-of-everything-i-own#ixzz24WlRVdRI

My Answer: If your going to minimalize, go bankrupt. The only thing that would stop you would be your ego. What would people think of me? Or I am a bad person if I default. Do you think the law school would care if they screwed you out of money? There's the OTHER part of the whole minimalist equation. Not trying to be mean, just trying to state that "what will people think?" plays a HUGE role in why we do not downsize.

I have a sister who is building "stuff" while I am trying to get "rid of" of stuff and today I felt weird justifying my position to her because I used to be of the same mind. I have been downsizing for 4 years now little by little and it never seems to be enough, however, each time I downsize "stuff" I feel better so I KNOW I am going in the right direction.

I bought a new RV trailer which is nice but small compared to what I am used to. I want to live in it all year as it is equipped winterized, but no campgrounds allow it. I'm in Canada. Major money grabs in most parks. I wish there was somewhere people could just go and live for cheap and simplified.

638 · March 19, 2013 at 05:39 AM

So many comments! I just moved house and got rid of soo much stuff. It felt like a good time for a clean out. Ended up taking about 2 car loads to the salvation army and sold over 40 items online. We still have alot of stuff, but it felt good to have a clean out :)

20 · December 07, 2012 at 07:00 PM

Upper middle class/affluent hipster? Try poverty level on a part-time teaching salary with no benefits. I've never been accused of being affluent or a hipster either. It's not like I even have that much "stuff" anyway. I drive a 40-year-old car that's completely paid for. How is that affluent or hip? I own five pairs of slacks for work and two pairs of jeans. Yep, definitely a richy-rich trendsetter there. Pfft.

Thanks, for the links Amy B.

8004 · July 12, 2012 at 06:22 PM
20 · May 27, 2012 at 12:21 PM

I feel the same way lately. All of this "stuff" feels overwhelming. I have no desire to read any of the books I've collected, so I'm getting rid of them. Who has time to read anyway? All of the junk and mementoes from my childhood just make me wish for days gone past when life was so much simpler. I don't want the junk and neither does anybody else. It's not that I want to get rid of absolutely everything I own, but I can't stand clutter. Life would be so much easier with less. I'm unhappy in my job situation being underemployed for five years now since being downsized. I can't make enough money to pay my student loans and other debts. At least if I sell my junk, I can buy meat since hunting was so bad last year. I've got my vegetable garden which makes me happier than seeing stacks of junk. I like clean surfaces on my countertops or desks. Wish my partner agreed! It drives me nuts to clean and minimalize only to see crap piled all over. Also, if I get rid of all my stuff, there's less to worry about if I have to move or decide to run away. (grin) Sometimes I wonder if a touch of depression or the need to control my environment might have something to do with the desire to declutter. I don't care if it does. I just need to simplify my life so I can better concentrate on the important things like pulling an income out of thin air. Besides, I can always buy more stuff if I ever need something again.

785 · February 27, 2012 at 01:11 PM

Yeah backpacking will definitely ease your mind and give you a whole new perspective. I am on my way up the Aussie east coast right now, hell of an itinerary. Have become really good at keeping my backpack below 20kg, and i tend to carry a lot of stuff :)

Having traveled for 11 months now i can hardly see myself going back to cluttering my future flat, but oh well, things change quickly once one is settled in again ...

Sidebar: why does a guy in his twenties have 300k in college debt? How in Cordains Name did you accomplish this feat?

465 · February 13, 2012 at 07:24 PM

It happens to me too. I sometimes am afraid it means I am sick, but getting rid of stuff that I don't need (and not buying new ones!) makes me feel good. I guess it is a bit of control, as someone mentioned, but I think for me it has always been related to a desire to run away. It's funny (well, not that much) because I'm between two countries (where family is and where goals are) and I keep bringing some things that I can't get rid of back and forth depending on where I think I'm more likely to be living in the future. I've reached a point where I don't have much more I would get rid of, but I still think I have too much (currently I think it would be about 6 large suitcases (and I'm a girl)). It happens more when I'm more uncertain of my future. Also, the fact that I didn't pay for many of my things perhaps makes me feel bad about them (just a thought, since you mentioned a loan).

Your question is making me more aware of my minimalism. :)

12405 · February 13, 2012 at 04:52 PM

We've been progressively down-sizing every time we re-locate... with the one exception of our books (which are not negotiable). Since we relocated to our current city, we've been renting, however, we are looking to buy a house now, and we're not looking for 6 br/3 ba 'castles' (which seem to predominate down here!) -- it's been difficult, since we're looking for something much smaller and more 'cottage-like', and those are all being torn down to build 4 story townhomes with far too many rooms to keep up... it's like your HOUSE owns YOU!

37013 · February 13, 2012 at 04:37 PM

My perceptions/desires aren't the same as yours but there are some similarities.

I do crave simplicity and serenity in my life but that didn't start with ancestral eating--I've always been that way. I'd rather shake out throw rugs than listen to a vacuum cleaner. I'd rather hand-wash/dry my dishes than listen to a dishwasher. I'd rather be over-warm than listen to the air conditioner and suffer cold drafts (my thermostat winds up above 80.)

But there are many noisy things I love about modern life: sports, the Internet, occasional bingo sessions, etc.

I recently replaced both my coffee maker and my slow-cooker when they broke so No, I don't have an urge to get rid of all my stuff but I do consciously minimize the noise I live with.

19504 · February 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM

This may help: http://guynameddave.com/the-book/ It is the 100 thing chalenge.

0 · August 19, 2013 at 12:51 AM

Great ideas I know too much stuff has caused me mental illness

0 · January 25, 2013 at 07:19 PM

I've experienced a similar desire to pare down my "stuff", and I do probably have too much of it. I think it's a healthy impulse, because otherwise the stuff will continue to accumulate.

0 · January 25, 2013 at 04:34 PM

You're definitely not alone j3wcy I'm currently working on minimizing my household as much as possible too. Interesting discussion everyone, thanks! Carry on...


680 · August 25, 2012 at 08:04 AM

Ah, I love it when upper middle class/affluent hipsters fantasize about a life without all their 'stuff'...

8883 · July 12, 2012 at 04:27 PM

I had this three times in my life. Once when I was at my healthiest point, but don't ask me why because I was eating only fast food (though I was seeing a lot of sun and had an extremely stimulating life). I started giving away all my money to the homeless, because I thought that, as I had enough money and I had everything I needed, they could make better use for it.

The second time I had it was when I took LSD. Suddenly I had the urge to give away a lot of money to anyone who seemed to need it and seemed to be able to make good use of it. Like poor people who just don't get a chance, or sick people that need to pay medication or other stuff. LSD gave a whole new meaning to the bible, it made me believe Jesus just took some acid. I still believe that :).

The third time I had it was when I was at an awesome school, I often called it paradise because I had so much fun back then, everyone was befriended, there was no bullying and all we did was play soccer in the huge park around the school and chasing girls. I remember having such good friends back then that I tried to take responsibility for everything that other people did wrong. When a friend ringed the fire alarm just to show how cool he could be, I told others I did that though the friend refused to let me do that :).

Back then, I was not more kind than anyone out there. It was not my personality that made me do these things. It was not my personality that made me shy later on, when I got unhealthy. It was just... health. Stress, I guess. The better my health and lifestyle became, the more friendly I became. Some illustrations of this point is how, when I'm on holiday at the beach or in the mountains, nobody is mean. But when I go to Prague, where altitude is low and sun is sparse, or other similar places, people all treat each other like enemies. I think this gives a whole new meaning to the bible again, and how eating a forbidden fruit transformed a paradise into hell.

My grandfather was a very kind person, lived a long healthy life and always had a boyish look. He seemed to age less rapidly than people around him, and never ever got angry or moody. He ate a lot of sugar, milk, potatoes, ice cream, chocolate, ... and disliked fish (like me). Every time I went there, he gave me presents, and he did that with everyone. He regularly paid money to help out other people, and would always see good in people (that's probably why he got robbed once when he thought the people ringing at the door were just kind persons offering their services).

His sister ate tons of sugar too, but she was more moody. Still, she had the constant urge to give away stuff too. She gave me money every time I saw her, and she had a very young face (big blushing cheeks).

I also used to have a very rich friend, and he always gave stuff to me and others for free, never asked for anything in return, and when I accidentally broke his computer he didn't even mention it or talk about it or ask for money. I'm probably gonna look him up now and pay him back.

Last example, I had a friend who was eating practically no animal products (I think that's a horrible mistake) and was pretty weak and feminine, and he never ever ever gave anything to me, though he constantly asked for stuff.

I think stress makes you needy.

100 · February 13, 2012 at 05:40 PM

I grew up in the military and having to move around every 3 years (literally) has made me a minimalist. I definitely embrace it now that I'm an adult. George Carlin's "A place for my stuff"


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