Recovering from the Pack Rat Years

Moving Day

Moving Day

It is finally Moving Week for the Mustache family, and we’re right in the thick of it. The new house, while still sporting plain plywood countertops and missing some frilly extras like doors and trim, is finished enough to sustain life so we decided to make the jump as early as possible.

But the rush to empty and clean the old place while simultaneously compressing our lifestyle by 1000 square feet has been a very revealing exercise. Despite our best efforts to live a sensible, frugal, and minimalist life over these past eight years, we have somehow still ended up with an absolute shitload of unnecessary crap. Boxes of it. Storage rooms, closets, and nooks full of it. Even now as we try to ruthlessly triage the stuff between sell, donate, recycle and trash bins, the torrent seems unlimited. How did we end up in this odd position?

A deeper archaeology of the debris has revealed some useful details. There’s a pair of underused Men’s hockey skates. I haven’t skated since I left Canada in 1999, so these particular bits of life baggage have tagged along for 15 years and 5 US addresses while never seeing a patch of ice. Why do I still have these? Two pairs of rollerblades (his and hers) have a similar history. We’re already up to one medium-sized box.

Then there are the sentimental items like photo albums, mementos from high school romances, cute candle holders that never seem to work in your current house, a once-fancy Yamaha player for the antique digital media known as “CDs”, several hundred discs written in this format, a translucent skull with a strobe light mounted inside (?), and a wooden devil pitchfork that I made hastily for a 1997 Halloween costume that somehow never gets lost*. Plus a well-stitched horse head that my older sister made in home economics class sometime in her early teens.


How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

And all that is before we get to the real source of Stuff: kid-related objects. I have fiercely avoided buying battery-powered plastic toys throughout my son’s lifetime, but somehow these things have still entered our life by the dozen thanks to the generosity of others. An enormous honking driving “Turbo Rig” that got a few laughs around his third birthday. Various other vehicles, humanoid figures, and swords. A pair of detailed pirate ships that he bought with his own money before realizing that his building kits (most notably Trio and Lego) provide longer-lasting entertainment.

My family is living in the happiest and most fortunate of situations, and I actually love the cleansing and organizing effort of moving to a new house. So the above should not be read as a complaint. More of a self-mocking and a reminder that we can do better in curating the things we bring into our lives. After all, most of my own junk turned out to be from my earlier adulthood, when a high income teamed up with a large living space to produce a very low threshold for acquiring new things. In the most recent three years, a stricter approach has delivered much better results.

Minimalism – Isn’t That Just for New York City Millenials?

Even a casual embrace of Minimalism will bring great improvements to your life, so in reality, every smart person should be dipping their toes in its refreshing waters. There are mental benefits: a clearer mind so you can focus better on the experiences and people that mean the most to you. And financial ones too: with less stuff you can live larger in a smaller space, which frees up hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. These dollars feed back into your freedom, allowing you to live wherever and however you like.

Even a vague and fuzzy adoption of minimalist principles can make a huge difference. Without it, I’d be in a cubicle under fluorescent lights on this fine Monday morning in June, furiously typing brackets and function calls into a compiler, still 26 years from the finish line. Instead, I’m currently sitting under a shade tree, 9 years into retirement and casually typing these thoughts into a thin silver laptop which will promptly be folded closed whenever my family wakes up so I can make them breakfast.

So if you haven’t done so already, you might want to change the way you think about new stuff. The tricks that work for me are as follows:

A Lifelong Burden

When presented with a spiffy new object, most of us think only of the present pleasure it may offer. The Sharper Image Digital Bluetooth Wine Bottle Opener will get you drunk while fostering a futuristic vibe at your parties. I try to look past that first thrill and imagine the rest of the life of that gadget – taking up space, restricting future moves to new homes, causing your worry and pain when it eventually breaks, then finally sitting in a landfill for 100,000 years as it burdens the next 3,000 generations of humans. This scenario should be mentally reviewed for all non-recyclable plastic items and bits of electronics.

This applies equally well to gifts: when you give objects of questionable long-term use, you are really handing out lifelong burdens. Similarly, you can safely declare all weddings birthdays, and religious holidays Free from Manufactured Gifts, if you’re the planner.

Some Objects Actually Simplify Life

Adding a handy Yang to the above bit of bummer Yin, you can acknowledge that we are not perfect and you might as well make the most of the society you are born into. So you can let yourself slip and participate in our group silliness in a thoughtful way. For example, I happen to like certain gadgets like digital cameras, sound recorders, music players, and GPS navigators. I also make good use of a phone and a computer. But nowadays the smartphone has integrated all of these things into a very smooth and humanist single object. Owning this one simple thing lets me forget about many complicated things, so I do it gladly.

Similarly, one good resharpenable knife will replace a lifetime procession of cheap ones, a reasonable bike will replace a lifetime of car upgrades (and purchases of ever-larger pants and belts), and a set of core tools and skills will eliminate a lifetime of having to find others to maintain the stuff you do choose to keep around. Sometimes more is less, in a good way.

Never, Ever go “Shopping”

My greatest ally in buying less stuff, has been not even knowing what I am missing. Since 2000, I have done virtually all shopping online. No shopping malls, no clothing stores, and construction materials only when I couldn’t find an Internet or e-mail based way to get the same stuff. We’ve also been without broadcast TV or radio service, and had no magazine or newspaper subscriptions.  This is still no magic shield: Amazon still makes buying stuff far too much fun, and library books, The Economist, Nature, Wired, thoughtful comments and emails from MMM readers, and other geeky online information fountains still provide way more information (both useful and useless) than my limited brain can properly absorb. But making our best attempt at a low information diet can at least allow us to choose which information and products we consume, rather than having them pumped into us.

Preventing Works Better than Purging

Combining the two points above into a single action, I find that the best cure to a cluttered life is to avoid letting the clutter in in the first place. It’s easier to prevent than it is to cure.

So instead of running a “budget”, where you allow yourself a certain amount of waste allowance or “fun money” in various categories every month, I enjoy starting with the idea that Zero is the ultimate budget. Then you carefully evaluate each potential expense and happily admit it only if it truly meets your goals.

As a beginner in a debt emergency, this filter will be very tight because very little is worth more than your sanity and freedom. On the other hand, here in my old age with greater wealth, spending on things like luxury food and more expensive experiences is very open, but the acquisition of new objects is still heavily scrutinized because that “lifelong burden” effect never goes away no matter how rich you get.

Occasionally I slip, and the pain is noticeable. For example, last year I bought a used “Roku HD” video streaming player, and it didn’t work with my projector**. This device has taunted me from my office shelf ever since, as I have tried to sell it and give it away without success. The lost $45 is negligible, but the mental burden is palpable. I should have known better than to buy the thing in the first place, because I already had a perfectly functional way to watch movies by plugging in the laptop.

Still, life goes on and is grander than ever. We are shedding material burden and moving up in the world as we transfer our lives to the new house. I just wanted to share the experience with younger readers so they can learn from our mistakes. A lighter storage closet leads to a lighter heart.


Further Reading:

This piece in UCLA magazine studies our clutter culture and shares some juicy pictures of houses thankfully much worse than mine.

How Big is your Circle of Control, an article I angrily typed out last fall, looks more closely at the benefits of mental minimalism, which is surprisingly similar to careful curation of your physical crap.


* And as you can see if you look carefully at the picture at the top of this article, that damned pitchfork made its way to the new house, when a friend found it while helping me move and brought it along for his lawbreaking rooftop couch ride up the hill.

 ** because of the bullshit invention called “HDCP” copy protection that the movie studios snuck into our consumer products, which ironically makes it much easier to play pirated movies than legally purchased ones unless you happen to have the newest viewing equipment.

  • Nicola June 8, 2014, 10:41 am

    Another fantastic article, MMM! I find that when I go “shopping”, I am tempted by all manner of things that I wouldn’t ever dream of owning normally, due to the powers of advertising and clever placement in shops. The only reason I like to go to the mall is to try things on, to make sure they fit – I hate the hassle of sending things back. That being said, I rarely go into town for anything, purely because I hate the crowds and the shops and the never ending “bargains” that we don’t actually need. I try and live a minimalistic lifestyle, so the burden of having stuff is less and the pressure to have the latest gadgets/etc., is also less. Still, like you say, we have a LOT of stuff that just isn’t necessary. Perhaps another sort out and purge is on the cards…

    • Holly June 9, 2014, 12:50 pm

      Ditto on buying clothes. I am done buying clothes online unless I know for a fact that the fit and size will work. I’ve had to send far too many things back and it really is a hassle.
      I hate shopping for clothing so I am usually in and out of there quick!

    • Oh Yonghao June 11, 2014, 11:31 am

      I commented to my wife before that everything is on sale, so does that really make it a sale? Try buying something at full price, it can be pretty hard to find. Marketing has figured out that people like getting a deal, so 10%, 20%, even 50% or 60% off. I figure that if they can sell everything always at 20% off then the original price is just inflated to the point that it would have originally been the 20% off price. I go with what I’m willing to pay for something and see if after all the marketing gimmicks does it still fall within my price range. If not, is it still worth the extra money, if it is, do I really need this item?

      • Max Schneider June 11, 2014, 2:15 pm

        The beauty of shopping is that if you _don’t_ buy the item on sale (50% off!) you save a whopping 100%.

        If you do that often enough you can buy the stuff you really want (like hiking boots because you hiked the old boots to death) even if they are not on sale – and not worry about it.

  • Will June 8, 2014, 10:44 am

    Inspiring. Thank you for helping me, a young homeowner, ingrain this mindset early.

    • theFIREstarter June 21, 2014, 5:44 am

      Agreed Will. We are about to move from a smallish 2 bedroom apartment to a smallish 3 bedroom house. I will be making sure that we do not accumulate any extra crap due to the (slightly) increased storage space!!! If anything I want to purge as we move as well. Get rid of all the mental baggage! Carboot sales, ebay sales, giving away and junking (as a last resort) as much as we can is the way to go!

  • Jen June 8, 2014, 10:56 am

    Thank you for writing this. If you don’t mind sharing decluttering tips…how did you choose to shed the things that you no longer needed? Goodwill, garage sales, Freecycle, Craigslist, giveaways to friends, recycling, a big dumpster..?

    My apartment has far too many things in it, so I need to get around to decluttering, myself.

    • Chaz June 8, 2014, 5:19 pm

      Hi. Speaking from experience here, as a self-proclaimed minimalist. What I physically own: one pair of pants, two T-shirts, one sweater, one jacket, an iPhone, a laptop. That’s it (excluding consumables like daily hygiene products and food). I rent my place, rent the unused car from family, and work a full-time job. I realize I’m on a far end of the spectrum, and no one would know these things about me unless they lived with me, but the philosophy is this: start with what you need, and discard the rest.

      How do you know what you need? I guess start with the tools you use on a daily basis – if you haven’t used something for a while, you probably don’t need it (or can purchase/borrow it if really needed.) If you’re rummaging through closets or boxes and find things that you’ve forgotten existed, you don’t need it.

      It’ll be painful, I think. Sometimes someone gives me something as a gift (but not very useful) and I have to coerce myself to throw it out. I’m allergic to “stuff,” and it’s tough for me sometimes. I’ve helped roommates move and it’s crazy how much stuff was never used or needed.

      Here comes a real challenge: papers. Receipts, tax records, bank statements, etc. For example, I own several rental properties, so I have plenty of papers. Scan everything, organize them into folders, and save them in a secure place. I have everything scanned and saved in three places in the cloud. If you’re uncomfortable with that, save it on physical USB disks or something.

      Then there’s email. My inbox is almost always zero. (There’s an actual term called Inbox Zero). Everything is filed under appropriate folders, and I’ve been recently unsubscribing to a lot of websites that somehow got a hold of my email.

      For inspiration, watch my two favorite movies: Fight Club & Up In The Air. There are too few moments in life to enjoy – why waste it on acquiring, maintaining, storing, and thinking about stuff?

      Oh, and there’s one thing you can always buy. Assets. Things that either increase in value or put money in your pocket. That’s shopping done right. Any idiot can buy something that decreases in value. It’s more challenging to buy things that increase in value. Somewhere, there are five rental units with tenants living in them, and I smile when I think about that. I might be a strange bird, but isn’t that way cooler than a luxury sedan or a yacht? Which would you rather purchase? A $500,000 yacht or the same amount in a Vanguard Index Fund? I’ll take the asset any day. Way sexier.

      • Ken June 8, 2014, 9:29 pm

        Dude way inspirational, you are living right! Wow! I just went through minimizing my life recently and wow, still got stuff all around. Living in a 450 square foot apartment has sure helped.

      • Rich June 8, 2014, 11:59 pm

        You don’t own any shoes? Socks? Belt? Underwear?

        Just curious why you mention some articles of clothing but not others.

        Other objects that come to mind that you didn’t mention: Laptop bag? Plate? Fork? Pan? Headphones? Pen? Wallet?

        Do you not “physically own” any of these things?

        • Chaz June 9, 2014, 9:11 pm

          Good points. Two pairs of underwear, and I wash stuff by hand while showering. I do have two pairs of socks, forgot about them since I don’t wear socks in the summer.

          The pants dry really fast (outlier.cc). No laptop bag or backpack. I rent a room from family so everything else is not technically mine. But I do pay attention to what I use and it’s a mug, a bowl, and chopsticks 90 percent of the time.

          I think what I want is to be able to just get up and walk away or travel at a moment’s notice. No looking back. But yes, you raise a great point, it’s more useful to think about what I physically “use” rather than “own”. I am mindful of that and am almost borderline obsessive about adapting my habits to require as few items as possible.

          The modern world allows for that, after all. In the part I probably had to own everything I use, now most ownership can be outsourced. Very lucky times we live in.

        • Chaz June 9, 2014, 9:49 pm

          Also: no belt, one pair of sneakers (Merrell Vapor Gloves). The pants (Climbers from outlier.cc) dry in a few hours. There’s really no need to wash pants frequently. I’ve read a lot of backpacking blogs and some just have one pair of jeans (and a pair of athletic shorts/pants).

          So yeah, in my zeal I conveniently forgot to mention a few things. Also my life situation (unmarried, male, no dress code at work, renting from family) allows for this to be possible. If I lived in San Diego, for example, I wouldn’t need a winter jacket. If I lived in a heavily urban area I probably wouldn’t ever need a car and would just walk/public transportation everywhere.

          If you’re female I guess you need more lingerie and feminine products, dresses for different occasions, etc. and if you have kids you need even more stuff.

          I think the point is, you can reduce your life to the barest necessities, and reduce those barest necessities further to just one or two of each item. And throw out/sell/give away everything else and enjoy life :)

          • Laurie June 7, 2018, 4:40 pm

            Old post, and REALLY late comment, but I’ve been thinking about this one.
            It seems to me that while you technically don’t ‘own’ much, you are involved in ‘using’ things.
            If you didn’t have a family to rent the use of the items from (I presume bed, sink, lamps etc etc) you may need to own some more than you’ve stated (unless sleeping on the ground in only your clothes and shoes is, indeed, a viable option for you then my apologies for the presumption.)
            So then what? There are certain things needed for minimum survival, no? Your laptop will not a fire build, nor cook your food nor..um…clean your nether regions.
            Maybe I’m off base, but without the use of other peoples things, you might have a different post to write.

      • GayleRN June 9, 2014, 7:19 am

        What do you wear when you wash that one pair of pants? Must be interesting at the Laundromat.

      • former player June 9, 2014, 7:53 am

        I always wondered how Jack Reacher cut his toenails, and now I can wonder that about you as well.

      • Ryan June 14, 2014, 4:18 pm

        Inspiring outlook! Reminds me of one of my favorite Robert DeNiro characters…

        “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”

        This is probably more easily done when one has already had a successful bank robbery career and stashed a ton of cash (literally).

        • Chaz June 15, 2014, 10:18 pm

          Actually one of my favorite sayings. I think it also applied to relationships as well.

      • The Roamer July 2, 2014, 4:24 pm

        Wow! This just blew my mind! I could actually feel the freedom of having so few possessions. I want to be you right now! I am currently trying to de-clutter stuff. Papers are the worst. I actually brought up movies last week we have so many taking up space and we haven’t even seen some in years. So hope to get rid of those this month.

      • Helen August 16, 2016, 6:48 pm

        Thanks for the advice, Chaz! Marie Kondo’s books have helped me tons, but I still struggle with paperwork, especially for the rentals and tax receipts. Is an electronic copy good enough for an audit?

    • Robert K June 8, 2014, 8:27 pm

      I agree with the principle that clutter is easier to prevent than it is to cure. When I was single and lived in an apartment, I had a rule that in order for me to bring a durable item into the apartment, I was required to eliminate an item of equal or greater size.

      It was a great rule which really did not prevent me from acquiring anything that I needed or “needed” but hastened the decluttering process. I wish that I had the foresight to bring this rule into my married and family life.

      • Andres June 9, 2014, 11:52 am

        That’s a great rule. I wonder if I could get my wife onboard with that…

        I’ve found that living car-free has helped any impulse to buy extra stuff above a certain size. When you’ve got your car and you spot a desk or something, it’s easier to impulse buy (or even the free stuff on the curb) and bring it home. When you don’t have a car, it becomes a much more conscious decision. Is this item worth me finding the nearest zipcar, renting it for an hour, and having to actually spend a stressful hour dealing with traffic and road-ragey drivers?

        For smaller items, the question becomes: is this item worth me schlepping it around in my backpack or in my arms on public transit (or on my bike rack)?

        More often than not, the answer is “no”.

        • Natalie June 10, 2014, 11:36 am

          This. Definitely this. Since starting to do all my grocery shopping on foot or by bike (when I moved to a house within 1 mile of 2 different grocery stores), I have been buying much less unnecessary stuff. No longer do I impulse buy a gallon of fruit juice or sparkling water, because that’s heavy to carry and takes up space that should go to my beans, rice, pasta, and fresh vegetables.

          When buying non-grocery items, it’s become even easier to say to myself “yes, that set of fancy glasses for serving mixed drinks is on sale and very pretty, and it would be fun to serve my friends with them at my next dinner party, but it won’t fit in my backpack with the things that I need to buy today (read: shampoo).” Doing almost all of my errand running via bike or foot has dramatically cut down on my frivolous purchasing.

      • Ultros June 9, 2014, 2:59 pm

        I like this. I keep a fixed number of coat hangers in the closet. If I get a new article of clothing and there’s no hanger for it, something else has to go.

        • Ryan June 14, 2014, 4:11 pm

          Similar to your tactic, I start the beginning of each year with all the clothes in my closet on hangers turned backwards. After wearing an article of clothing, I place it back in the closet with the hanger turned the right way. At the end of the year, anything with its hanger still turned backwards get donated!

          Folded items are treated similarly, but are turned backwards at first.

    • Barb June 12, 2014, 11:13 am

      Not him, but I’ve downsized to move overseas, and downsized to a smaller house. I also do estate clean outs that sometimes look like hoarder houses for family members-it’s my business. It’s easier than doing your own house when it ‘s someone else’s house but..

      That said, I use many methods. When I prepared to move the last time, I needed to get a 2600 square foot house into a 26 foot uhaul. I sacrificed my garage as the organizing space. I had things that might sell at yard sale, things to be donated, and things to be trash. For the donated things in bags I called the Vietnam veterans who will take anything that can be lifted by one guy-I didnt have to drive anything anywhere. I did not have enough stuff that I needed a dumpster, but you can get one of those baggster style dumpsters that they will come and pickup with a forklife.

      I had a three day yard sale and took any reasonable price. On the final day I said that everything was free, I posted lots of pictures and basically everything was gone, what was not gone I added to the donate pile. I did list a few things like some furniture directly on craigslist separately, and my washer and dryer (my home buyers had their own)

      When I do a house or estate for someone I do the same thing, only request that they have the dumpster ready to go.

      Oh, and since I had adult (college student and above) kids, I asked them what they wanted as far as the “good stuff” from my parents and so on. My kids took some of the special things they wanted, I kept only the things I would use, I figured let my kids have what they liked now, not wait another twenty years.

  • jlcollinsnh June 8, 2014, 11:06 am

    As Newton explained sometime back, all objects have gravity and the greater their mass the more they have. This gravity, of course, attracts other objects further increasing the mass.

    This applies to living spaces, from McMansions to backpacks. (When was the last time you saw a traveller with a less than fully crammed backpack with other stuff clinging to the outside?)

    Overcoming gravity requires tremendous energy. Smaller objects, including living spaces, require less energy.

    :) :-)

    • HealthyWealthyExpat June 8, 2014, 11:48 am

      Love the backpack analogy! I’ve spent many years of my life travelling around the world and up and down mountains with a backpack, and no matter what the size, it always ends up full. Fortunately, I’ve managed to get the size down over the years and can now travel very light. No matter the size of the vessel, we humans seem to want to cram it full.

      • Free To Pursue June 10, 2014, 12:02 pm

        So true! I’ve become a much better packer over the years and now only take a medium-sized backpack with me when I travel for up to 5 days. My husband and I even managed to just share a single one on a 3-night trip to San Diego. Yes, whatever pack we bring…we fill it to the brim ;).

        • Chad McK-Stache June 10, 2014, 1:22 pm

          It’s amazing how unusual it is to others to pack that way for trips. Last year my wife got stopped and questioned for an hour at customs coming back from Mexico because she only had a single backpack for a week long trip!

          • Free To Pursue June 11, 2014, 9:07 am

            Wow! Hope she was OK. That’s good to keep in mind for future trips.

            The only thing we noticed about travelling with nothing more than a backpack was how easy it was to get through customs (where would you put tons of purchases when you have so little luggage) and how many flights we would have missed if we were waiting for checked luggage when trying to get to connecting flights.

    • Mr. 1500 June 9, 2014, 1:51 pm

      Tyler Durden once said this: “The things you own end up owning you.”
      And this: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
      And finally, the doorman said this: “If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t.”

    • Derek P. June 12, 2014, 1:39 am

      So true. I’m a huge traveller (more than a few years living out of a tent and hostels) and I always laugh how the travellers with no money and one the shortest trips carry the most stuff :)

    • PFgal June 20, 2014, 8:02 am

      That is so true. I refuse to buy a larger purse because I know that whatever size it is, I’ll fill it, and I don’t want to carry anything too heavy around with me. It amazes me how I can manage to fill any bag I’ve got, even when I’m trying not to.

  • CL June 8, 2014, 11:16 am

    I’m so glad that we’re talking about owning less. It’s definitely a great thing to do, and something that we all should periodically assess.

    I also like how you consider doors “frilly.”

    • still poor June 10, 2014, 5:50 pm

      I lived in my house for almost a year while waiting for my dad to come up and help without any closet doors or a bedroom door. Not the greatest, especially due to having roommates, but optional nonetheless.

      I eventually gave up and had my husband go to work with him and learn on one of their rental properties and we bought the tools we needed for our house. We have used the tools on dozen of other improvement projects (finishing a room that had to be gutted, adding trim, etc.) so it’s just a collection of problem fixers. :)

  • Tom June 8, 2014, 11:20 am

    love the article! I completely agree that it is easier to keep stuff out in the first place than it is to purge later. Also, I think it is true when they say “people are like goldfish and that however big your house (bowl) is.. the more stuff you acquire to fill it up. This should serve you well as you downsize as there will not be so much room for all the extra stuff in the first place. My wife and I intentionally bought a small house about a year and a half ago and I honestly think we save money now because there is less motivation to buy ‘stuff’ when you don’t really know where you would put it once you get home.. and our house isn’t even tiny (1700 sq ft) yet feels so much smaller than everyone else we know.

    • Maria June 8, 2014, 6:25 pm

      I completely agree. My husband and I bought the smallest, most well-built house we could find, and I only wish we had 500 sq ft instead of a thousand! MMM is absolutely right:purging is good, but prevention is better!

    • Ms. Must-Stash June 8, 2014, 9:25 pm

      Yes! We too are in ~1700/1800 sq ft – and like you said it isn’t “tiny” but it does feel so much smaller than everyone else’s houses. Isn’t that so weird? In fact earlier this evening we were having a lovely dinner with a few neighbors (we’re all in identical town houses) and we all talked about how happy we are living in our comparatively “small” houses and yet how there is still this lingering odd feeling about it.

      As always, delighted to read this blog and soak up the sane and sensible community atmosphere. I think the next step is to look over all our stuff pretending that we’re going to move, imagine what we would really want to take with us, and ax the rest.

      • Angela June 9, 2014, 8:04 am

        Yes, our house is also small by most standards here in Houston, TX. We have 2,000 square feet to store all of our worldly possessions. Housing is cheap here. You can live in a really nice area with a large home for around 150k. Most in our peer group live in 3,000 square foot homes. I just don’t get the appeal. More stuff to buy to fill the place up, more house to clean, etc.

        Just today I turned down an offer for a free floor steamer from a coworker. She’s cleaning out her house and trying to pass on her junk to others. That’s one thing I never do, pass my junk on to others.

        • insourcelife June 10, 2014, 8:20 am

          I do it all the time – it’s called Craigslist :) People seem to want my junk and pay good money for it, so who am I to argue?

  • Tristan Hume June 8, 2014, 11:21 am

    I find something that helps me is keeping detailed accounting of every purchase, it really helps prevent impulse buys. I also sometimes include a comment rationalizing my purchase when I buy it, so I can look back later and learn about what kind of reasoning I use to justify purchasing things that in retrospect were poor decisions.

  • Melissa June 8, 2014, 11:25 am

    I’m just getting into minimalism and I must admit, getting rid of stuff (crap) for good is a lot better than spending hours trying to organise that same stuff (crap) so it looks tidy.

    • Eldred June 8, 2014, 4:55 pm

      From Flylady.net – “You can’t organize clutter! You have to get rid of it!” I’m still working on that…with little success.

    • Holly June 9, 2014, 12:52 pm

      Don’t forget the time it takes to dust and clean all your junk! That’s why I got rid of packed up the knick-knacks around the house. Now dusting is a breeze.

      • Eldred June 9, 2014, 1:05 pm

        There’s a lady on one of my newsgroups who keeps saying that all your clutter costs you money. You have to spend money to heat it and cool it. Odd statement, but it actually makes sense…

        • Oh Yonghao June 11, 2014, 11:58 am

          Mr. Money Mustache has a good article on heat and cooling. Her statement is only partially true. In way you do pay to heat and cool these objects, but they also hold the heat and cold longer than air does thus allowing you to spend less on heating and cooling if you take advantage of temperature swings and lighting.

  • insourcelife June 8, 2014, 11:26 am

    That’s it, I’m taking pictures of the 2 pairs of rollerblades last used over a decade ago and putting them on Craigslist! Somehow they’ve survived The Purge up until now but the time has come!

  • Giovanni June 8, 2014, 11:43 am

    Great post MMM. Three years ago I moved from a 3 bedroom house with an office and a garage that rarely ever had room for a car in it. In the process I unloaded via 2 garage sales, CL, donations and the dump about 3/4s of all I’d accumulated, including a pair of rollerblades that hadn’t seen the light of day for at least 10 years. The effect was amazing, like a giant weight had been lifted that I didn’t even realize I’d been dragging around. I highly recommend unloading the dead weight of possessions from your life.

  • Emily June 8, 2014, 11:43 am

    I discovered your blog a couple of months ago and have been reading diligently. I’m a single mom to two kids. I adopted my kids as a single so I’ve always been the sole provider. I’m not anywhere near where I’d like to be financially but I’m working on it step-by-step. Unfortunately, I’m still paying daycare costs for afterschool and full time-summer care -ouch! I think I’m only about a year away from being able to drop that to at least half time, if not completely. I hate to shop (thank the gods!) and have no issues getting rid of “stuff.” Still, as your mentioned, things do have a way of accumulating none-the-less. Funny how that works! Our house is fairly small, less than 1200 sq ft. I used to want something bigger but the last few years I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism and it’s a philosphy I’ve come to embrace. I can now appreciate that our house has more than enough room for us and I’ve gotten rid of some things to free up some space.

    I also want to mention how much I admire your family’s use of bicylces as your main form of transportation. I’m not quite to the point that I’m willing to bike to work, but I’m thinking strongly about it. That said, my girls and I have started running almost all our errands on our bikes – grocery store, Target, Co-op, library, etc. I’m keeping my eye out for a cheap used bike trailor to use for when I have to do bigger grocery trips.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your posts and how motivating it is to me!

    Take care,

  • RJ Simpson June 8, 2014, 11:53 am

    Next time we move the doors are coming with us, they were not in the contract.

    We got rid of 75% of our stuff recently and our 800 sq ft condo seems huge now. My wife is still a little stressed from all the missing stuff. But she is donating more and more every week. I feel liberated, I hope she feels the same soon.

    • Katherine June 8, 2014, 3:22 pm

      Haha, I wish I could get away with that! We are about to move and we are renting, so this article is pretty timely for us.

  • Aarchman07030 June 8, 2014, 11:54 am

    The usual good, clear-thinking perspective from MMM.

    The siren call of ‘New!’ and ‘Improved’ is powerful, but learning to pause–even for just few minutes–before putting the new whatzit or thingamajig into your basket or clicking ‘purchase’ can give your common sense a fighting chance to evaluate what need is REALLY being satisfied with the purchase.

    Odds are it has very little to do with the function of the whatzit or thingamajig itself, and we’d be smarter and happier if we deal with the actual need–boredom, sadness, anxiety–in a more direct and productive fashion.

    There was a time–not so long ago–when everybody had, as my grandmother says, “Everything but money”–and they “Made do” with what they had. Re-use, adapt and re-cycle–and leave your wallet in your pocket.

  • HealthyWealthyExpat June 8, 2014, 11:59 am

    This post came in just as I was writing an article on “Community Recycling”. By this I mean recycling your “stuff” rather than the cans, bottles, paper, etc. As MMM states, first we need to work on not buying stuff we don’t need, but for the stuff we do need, like clothes, we can help our friends and neighbours save money – and save space in the landfill – by giving away a bag of kids’ clothes, an outgrown bike, or any number of other items that have outlasted their utility to us but are treasure other members of our community.

  • Annie June 8, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Thanks for this one, Mr. MMM. I’ve been reading for the past year – I don’t have a full mustache as of yet, but it’s growing. Your perspective gives balance to the people I so often feel surrounded by – living in $500k homes at 28 and lecturing me on interest rates, “best times to buy”, and “overly aggressive” 15 year mortgages. Sometimes its difficult to keep perspective on life, that less is so often more & minimalism is a choice gladly made because it sets you up for success (i.e. doing whatever the hell you want, when you want) down the road.

    Thanks for giving me that ally to cling to when I’m weakening and starting to believe the “you’re an odd bird if you don’t buy the nicest house you can w/ a 30 – 40 year mortgage” message.

  • Kush Sharma June 8, 2014, 12:16 pm

    Minimalism really is the answer to most of life’s issues. I recently went to a shopping mall god knows after how long(I went to a restaurant) and felt like my head was going to explode. Seeing people buy all that stuff like mad is suffocating and liberating at the same time. Consumerism is an ugly affair that moves people far far away from their souls, not matter how rich they are.

    • cvand June 9, 2014, 7:58 am

      “Consumerism is an ugly affair that moves people far far away from their souls, not matter how rich they are.”

      I think this is the theory that MMM has proven with his lifestyle and his blog. I unfortunately am still searching for my soul so to speak, but I think I am on the right path.

      My wife is vehemently against minimalism and really believes the crap she buys makes her happier. To me it is so obvious that all of that crap stresses her out by cluttering up the hallways and stuffing the already completely full shelves in every closet in our house… As we become more affluent (higher income) the clutter unfortunately seems to be building at an increasing rate and thus further increasing our stress.

      I am still trying to help her “find her soul” by demonstrating that I am looking very hard for mine. I am setting the best example I can by passing up things that (I must admit) are very tempting.

    • unbranded June 11, 2014, 10:20 am

      I was just at an upscale mall a few days ago meeting a friend for lunch. After not stepping into a mall for two years, I felt like a fish out of water. Almost everyone seemed to be carrying shopping bags, Coach, Prada, Louis V! All I kept thinking was how most of these people probably kept a balance on their credit cards, and were living paycheque to paycheque. I must admit that the lure of the storefronts did grab my attention. Then I looked down at my $6 cargo shorts and my Grateful Dead tee that I picked up for $2.99 and realized that I really was a fish out of water, and I started to struggle to catch my breath. Malls are fish tanks, keeping all the fish swimming in circles, over and over. I needed to get out and back into my own pond. Needless to say that I will not be swimming into a mall again for as long as I can avoid it.

      • Joe Average March 25, 2015, 12:49 pm

        BINGO! I rarely walk into a mall but the prices people pay there are eye opening. I totally get the fish out of water feeling. I get it too. Spell check said i should use “fleeing” instead. That too – the urge to flee.

        We wear shoes that we get from a local store that sells returns and demo shoes. More or less half pric, name brands, and there is no evidence that these shoes were ever on anyone’s feet. I’ve told friends about this option but I guess these shoes just aren’t “cool enough” so they go buy something for $XXX or pay for the cutrate discount shoes that fall apart in weeks. I bought a pair of those cutrate big box shoes and they came apart on ONE hike. Popped seams, glue came part, etc. I didn’t even bother taking them back.

  • Kristin June 8, 2014, 12:27 pm

    A year ago my husband and I made the decision to quit our jobs, freelance for a few clients we still enjoy working with, and move into a 160 sq foot, 1965 Airstream travel trailer that we spent a year renovating ourselves at a total cost of about $30k. That’s 1/3 the price of a new one, and it’s renovated with high quality, sustainable materials to last many more decades.

    In addition to getting rid of 90% of what we owned, we now consider the more realistic “costs” of anything we buy – the space it takes up, fuel to lug it around, satisfaction or stress it will bring us, whether it adds or detracts from living a healthier, freer life.

    It’s been the most liberating experience of our lives to downsize so much and look at the entire world as our home instead of____ sq feet in one location. Our impact on the world is much more evident now that we don’t stay in one place so much. I highly recommend backpacking or RVing to anyone who really needs to break the “stuff” habit!

  • Andres June 8, 2014, 12:41 pm

    There’s a tool library near my house (created/run by a local non-profit). It’s really convenient in terms of not owning stuff, as well as a good place to meet folks in the community. I’ve been buying stuff with the tool library in mind these days.

    For example, our 1920s house has old crystal doorknobs. I hate ’em for various reasons. People appear to be selling them on ebay for a good chunk of change, so I decided to upgrade to better knobs and sell the old ones. Of course, I’m not going to throw away the perfectly good doors, so I bought a door knob installation kit that attaches to a drill for $40. I figured I’d use it to upgrade the doors, and then donate it to the tool library. Others will be able to make use of it, and if we buy another place in the next 5-10 years, I can just borrow it from the tool library rather than keeping it in my garage.

    Likewise, I use a sewing machine about once a year or every two years. I end up with clothes that have a rip (from getting caught in a bike chain or something), but are otherwise perfectly good. I make a pile of those, and after a year or so I borrow a sewing machine from the tool library. I don’t have to store it, I don’t have to maintain/clean/fix it, etc.

    • lian June 8, 2014, 2:52 pm

      A tool library is a great idea! I’ve got some sewing to do, but don’t own a machine & don’t want to buy one. Is there a fee for a tool library, or does it work like a book lending library?

      • Andres June 9, 2014, 9:39 am

        It depends on the library. The one nearby to me (in Seattle) suggests a donation to join, but loans are free. You can borrow items for a week, and renew (by email or phone) for up to three weeks. There are also late fees.

        The biggest problem I have with the setup is making sure I can get there during their open hours.

        • Lian June 9, 2014, 1:32 pm

          Got online to look for one – there is a group that is starting the process of developing a tool library in my city. I never would have known if I hadn’t read the blog and comments – Thanks!

    • Saskia June 8, 2014, 5:53 pm

      Thanks for the reminders. They’re needed often to keep the junk from piling up. I find my biggest weakness is not a bunch of physical “stuff”, but information, in the form of paper or digital articles, recipes, ideas, etc. I’m swamped with: piles of recipes I’ve collected from magazines and blogs; stacks of articles about near and far travel destinations we might eventually consider, clipped from magazines my mother-in-law gives me; inches worth of great teaching ideas I *might* use if I ever teach __ grade again, etc., etc. There’s a lot of mental energy that goes into collecting, keeping, filing, etc. all that information, and that’s what my clutter fight is about these days.

    • Eldred June 9, 2014, 1:54 pm

      Interesting concept! There isn’t one near me, but there’s one about 25 minutes away. I guess depending on the tool needed, it might be worth the trip.

  • Pretired Nick June 8, 2014, 12:41 pm

    Every time I move, I’m amazed at how much volume I throw away on the packing end as we prepare to load up for transport. And that’s with relatively modest lifestyles. Then, I’m amazed AGAIN at how much I throw away again on the other end when I unpack! What the hell??
    The best progress I’ve made on the junk accumulation front has been in trying to subtly tell people not to buy us gifts. I don’t know if I could put a percentage on it, but a huge amount of this stuff was given to us for birthdays, anniversaries and the like over the years. People have somewhat been getting the hint and the velocity of accumulation has slowed down.

    • Kokuanani June 8, 2014, 1:06 pm

      A friend and I have a scheme that I’m trying to spread: instead of “giving” each other items for the traditional occasions [birthdays, Christmas], the “gift” of each of us to the other is that we will come TAKE something away and recycle it [if at all possible].

      The lucky celebrant can designate one or more items, and can direct where they should go, or leave that up to the “giver.” The “giver” picks up the item(s) and voila, celebration!!

      This provides a two-fold benefit: not receiving new stuff, and getting rid of some old.

      • PtboJES June 8, 2014, 4:27 pm

        What a great idea Kokuanani!

      • Pretired Nick June 9, 2014, 10:22 am

        Love it!

      • Free To Pursue June 10, 2014, 1:58 pm

        Love it! My family and friends have eliminated gift giving if it isn’t experience or consumables-based (gift cards for services we use regularly, food, wine, etc.). It would be even better to help them declutter. Great food for thought Kokuanani.

  • Mortgage Free Mike June 8, 2014, 12:42 pm

    Great article, MMM. It’s like we are living parallel lives. I just moved, too. I always thought I had minimalism down–until it came time to pack. Way too much “stuff”– especially in the kitchen. I made a pledge not to buy any more “things” at my new place unless they add value to my life. And no, having 8 frying pans that all do the same thing doesn’t add value. :-)

  • Mortgage Free Mike June 8, 2014, 12:44 pm

    Also, I want to second what Pretired Nick wrote. I don’t ask for gifts– EVER. My family knows not to buy them for me. I’d much rather spend time with them doing an activity or going out to dinner. That keeps the amount of “clutter” entirely in my control.

  • Marianna June 8, 2014, 1:17 pm

    How timely! I just moved into my first place alone after living with roommates and boyfriends since college. The result is that I don’t have a bed, desk, bookshelf, table, plates or shower curtain. So I have this URGE to buy enough stuff to fill this space (so my sneezes will stop echoing) but I’m fighting it VERY hard. Still sleeping on the couch, doing schoolwork at the kitchen counter, and eating salads out of cake pans, but it’s really helping me decide which new “stuff” I really *need* to acquire. It’s really satisfying to not even be able to fill my closet shelves with “stuff”, whereas the previous tenant had stuff pouring out of ever corner when I viewed the apartment. I have a love-hate relationship with minimalism – I envy those dudes in Brooklyn who only have 100 belongings or whatever, but then I’m like “those dudes only hobbies must be reading blogs”. Somewhere along the line I picked up the motto “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and that keeps me in line, acquisition-wise.

    • Max Schneider June 11, 2014, 2:47 pm

      I found it very helpful to *ask* friends, family & acquaintances for these things you eventually decide to really need (except the shower curtain may be…). You will be amazed how much of these things (plates, desks, etc) they “saved” just in case someone might need or want it, or squirreled away because they bought a new set of tableware and put the old set somewhere in their attic where it has been taking up space ever since …

      However, be polite but ruthless what you accept (a dining table large enough to fit a party of ten in a small apartment? – No thank you! Crockery for two dozen people? May I only take for four people and hold the fish knifes? – Thanks you very much)

      It’s free (this makes it much easier to re-gift via Craigslist if you move again and want to leave it behind) and you take a burden off your friends’, family’s and acquaintances’ shoulders’.

  • Rebecca June 8, 2014, 1:21 pm

    There are so many gems in here! I try to describe how nice it is to not focus on “stuff” — wanting it, acquiring it, using it, storing it, and getting rid of it — but it tends to fall on deaf ears.

    We hit rock bottom the last time we moved. We were downsizing, and emptying out the nooks and crannies of our apartment led to an entire garage full of stuff we didn’t want and wouldn’t be able to fit in the moving truck. We had to move it all the next weekend, which was a complete waste of time, energy, and money. After that, we started having annual yard sales with our neighbors and annual drop-offs to consignment sales.

  • Rob June 8, 2014, 1:23 pm

    There’s a German saying that translates to, “three moves equals one fire.” Even with the impetus to throw stuff away when I move, I still find myself bringing along stuff just because “it might be useful one day!” My wife and I are on our sixth move in seven years so I think we are finally making some progress!

    • chris June 10, 2014, 9:53 am

      As someone who has had three moves and a catastropic fire in the last four years it is pretty true on the literial sense too.

      The fire drove home that the stuff I really loved and used all the time I bought the ecact same thing agai

  • laura June 8, 2014, 1:35 pm

    I’ve been downsizing our possessions for the last 5- years and now it’s time to take it to the max as we move into <700 sq ft.

    I like the idea of giving yourself zero to spend and seeing how you go. I add a miscellaneous spending line to our monthly budget which is perhaps my permission slip to spend that much!

  • AnnWilson June 8, 2014, 1:36 pm

    The lowest priced Roku HD on ebay is $40, with the next highest at over $50. Sell it!

  • Al June 8, 2014, 1:40 pm

    There’s probably a sophisticated term invented for it, but we humans always expand our accumulation of junk to whatever space is available to us. Doesn’t matter how big the closet is, it will get filled over time. So your example of moving into a smaller house is really one of the best ways to control the madness. My wife and I have tried to abide by a rule of thumb when choosing our lodging: we start by thinking of the size of house that we “need” to fit our current lifestyle and then move it one notch down. The feeling of our place being just “a tad too small” keeps us innovating on ways to save space and prevents us from accumulating a mountain of junk. Not a bulletproof solution, but helps keep us intentional about it.

    • Karl July 24, 2016, 11:33 pm

      It’s called “induced demand” and it’s also the reason why widening roads doesn’t solve traffic congestion..

  • jeff June 8, 2014, 1:51 pm

    I’m very happy to read this post. Having done 6 major relocations in the last decade, the burden of ownership is something I am constantly being reminded of. When acquiring something new, it is almost never about the price in money for me, but the cost in terms of burden. Things that make the cut: good art (I’m a professional artist and value art from others highly), tools (no duplicates), my streamlined tote of camping gear, and important career-related files. All else is sold before a move on craigslist, and purchased again, usually for the same price, in the new city, on craigslist.

    Even so, I always have an active box of purge going. I recommend keeping one of these, as it helps remind you daily so you can avoid the mistake of purchasing anything that will end up in that box. Also, it IS refreshing to purge things from your personal inventory. When it is time to replace something, I am now trying to buy very high quality things. I replace 4 crappy knives with one that is so nice it brings joy to me every time I use it, etc. If I have things of value in the purge box and an open weekend, I occasionally sell stuff on craigslist. I also am always paying attention to things friends want but don’t have and if there’s anything like that in my purge box I give it to them. This is what I do with Xmas presents, sadly my family continues to force me to participate in this. Finally, if the box is full and it’s time to start a new one, I just run it to St. Vincent’s.

    “Even a casual embrace of Minimalism will bring great improvements to your life, so in reality, every smart person should be dipping their toes in its refreshing waters.” -is my favorite line from this article. I seem to get the same hit of dopamine from purging that others get from acquiring.

    • Curtis June 9, 2014, 6:36 am

      “Even a casual embrace of Minimalism”

      That would make you make you a “Minimal Minimalist”.

  • Catherine Jean Rose June 8, 2014, 1:53 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about the joys of a minimalist lifestyle! Thanks to this blog which I discovered about six months ago, we just sold our $12,000 boat for $11,200 (after owning it for six years). I can’t wait to ditch the 15mpg SUV we “had” to have just to tow the stupid boat. Next on my list is a smaller house. Oh, and I bought a great bike (cruiser) with a large basket up front for $17 at the Goodwill. That way I can keep the SUV parked while I wait for a buyer and ride around town instead. Cheers!

  • Elizabeth Johnson June 8, 2014, 2:08 pm

    About two months ago, I dropped a long-unopened box of “second-tier” family photos and memorabilia straight into the dumpster without opening it. The box wasn’t hefty but I mentally lost 50 pounds.

    • Barbara June 8, 2014, 6:12 pm

      I threw away a large box of photos, letters and memorabilia from old boyfriends. Liberating.

    • Ken June 8, 2014, 9:37 pm

      Me too a few months ago in my dehording process, I dumped 8 yearbooks from high school and collage, been toting them around for over 15 years! Arg!

      • Barbara June 9, 2014, 4:36 am

        I still have my yearbooks. I’m actually glad that I’ve lugged them around all these years–they don’t take up much room and they’ve stimulated some fun walks down memory lane with old (very old) friends.

        • Jennifer N June 9, 2014, 2:41 pm

          My best friend on the planet and I went to high school together (and I am still in touch with many of my other high school friends), so I do treasure my yearbooks. They don’t take up much space and very little on this Earth could convince me to voluntarily part with them. I never did both with college yearbooks – if my university even offered them.

  • Barbara June 8, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Here are some more really inspiring ideas on how to downsize from Courtney Carver who writes the blog Be More With Less:

  • Frugal Paragon June 8, 2014, 2:19 pm

    Mr. FP and I have moved no fewer than 10 times in our married lives, but we STILL found ourselves ditching giant piles of crap in the last month or so as we prepared to move from the East Coast to Denver–using only a 16-foot truck for our family of four humans plus cat. Piles of old negatives and photos from camps we went to in the mid 90s, all the journals I kept as a teenager but now just make me cringe, an American Girl doll I was hoarding that turned out to be worth serious money.

    And even then, we had to take some stuff to Goodwill when we arrived! No place for the microwave cart, the floor lamp broke in transit. And turned out to be totally unnecessary, as we have a surfeit of table lamps anyway. It’s amazing how stuff piles up.

  • Eric June 8, 2014, 2:26 pm

    This is tough. I’ve been feeling an overwhelming urge to purge a good portion of our basement and our garage (our two main ‘junk accumulation’ sites), however haven’t found the time nor the energy to tackle the undertaking. My fear is the next time we move, the boulevard will look very similar to the last time we moved 6 years ago – small mountains of junk that isn’t worth selling and thus is just thrown away in a huge bout of inefficiency.

    • snu00z June 9, 2014, 7:05 am

      Start easy. Give yourself a half hour limit or whatever amount of time you can spare or stand. Or choose one box or one drawer or closet or corner, and then stop. The next weekend, another half hour or another box. Then it’s not so overwhelming but you’ll be making progress. And it’s easier to deal with hauling off all the rejects in smaller amounts. It’s so worth it.

      • Free To Pursue June 10, 2014, 2:00 pm

        I second that suggestion. It worked wonders for me over the last month and I’m over 500 items lighter as a result.

    • Emily M June 10, 2014, 1:31 pm

      I strongly suggest you recruit a friend or two to help! They can give you the boost needed mentally – many hands make light work – and they can say your junk for what it is with fresh eyes. Pay with beer. A win win.

  • Alex Alexander June 8, 2014, 2:35 pm

    Good thoughts MMM, but I have a criticism.

    Though buying things online can help prevent us from being sucked into “shopping,” and it’s often cheaper and easier too, it means that much more of the money you spend is being sent away to corporate headquarters and added onto the high high salaries (plus bonuses) of executives. If you spend your money in a local shop instead, most of it will be re-spent into the local economy, having more job-creating/maintaining power. And if you can get what you need at a one-of-a-kind family-owned shop, you can help perpetuate the existence of honest, wholesome business rather than helping the giant corporations who lobby our government in only their own interest.

    I still buy plenty of stuff online of course, but I just think this is worth keeping in mind, especially if there are any exceptionally Bad Ass stores in your locality. When I find one of these, I try to make use of every opportunity I have to support them, so that I hopefully help to perpetuate the existence of a place that brings a little bit of extra Awesomeness to the world.

    • Ron June 9, 2014, 4:47 pm

      Alex – I completely agree with your assessment of internet -vs- local shopping. I try to source everything local first and even willingly pay a little more to buy local for the reasons you outline. Sure, I may save a small percentage by buying an item online but by doing that my belief is that I will lose a few percentages over time in other ways by further empowering giant corporations instead of supporting my local tax base, for example. I’m fortunate to live in a neighborhood with lots of locally owned and operated stores who’s staff I enjoy getting to know, some of which become friends.

      Found MMM about 1 year ago and my savings rate has skyrocketed from about 22% to 51%. Life altering good stuff indeed.

      As they say, buy local or bye-bye local!

  • lian June 8, 2014, 2:47 pm

    I live in a small 1 bed/1 bath condo (converted apartment) that was meant to be my starter home. A few years ago I realized I like my little home and didn’t want to upgrade; but it was overstuffed with things meant to fill a larger home. I sold a lot on CL, and donated many carloads, including the “storage solutions’. I like lighter living so much that I’m still getting rid of stuff – a box here and there; and only buying replacements as needed (except for an unfortunate tendency to fall for Really Good Deals in clothing). Just got rid of a huge box of electronic clutter at a recycling event yesterday – put me in a great mood for the rest of the day. I enjoy getting rid of the stuff more than I enjoyed buying it. Embracing minimalism has allowed me to pay off a large debt (including my home) and build financial security. I expect to keep finding ways to simplify my life, and gain more value and satisfaction with the things I keep.

    • Matt (Semper Fi) November 6, 2016, 5:41 pm

      Yeah, I’ve grown to really dislike the term “starter home”. Our 130k, 1979 starter home will be paid off in 6 months, and over the ten years that we have owned it, I added a small addition (cash flowed) and did customizations to the rest of it. Over the years, we have grown to love our 1,600 sq. ft. home, and see no need to “upgrade” to a larger home just to fit in with the cash-poor Joneses up the street. As George Carlin said, people buy bigger houses so that they have room for all of their “stuff”.

  • William June 8, 2014, 2:50 pm

    I adopted this minimalist lifestyle when camping as a boy scout. The more stuff I brought to the woods with me, the further from nature I felt. I could not just pack up at a moments notice and hike to a better view/better fishing/whatever. To this day, the less stuff I have, the better I feel.

    Plus, stuff we buy we never care about in a few months anyway. I can’t say I even remember what I got for Christmas.

  • Marcia June 8, 2014, 3:08 pm

    Oh, I almost wish I could move so I could purge. I started the year strong, but lost focus.

    Our house is small, and packed. It’s hard to purge when you are one of four, and everyone else tends to bring things in, and is not bothered by the clutter.

    The sheer amount of paper generated by the school is mind boggling.

    Plus in a small house with no garage, there is not a lot of “storage”, for even the important things. I can’t find anything, and I hate it. Except for the JCPenney gift certificates from 1995 and 1996. I found those. I cannot get rid of the CDs. Husband won’t let me. “I want to go through them first!” Ugh.

  • Geek June 8, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Thanks for reminding me I need to join freecycle again and get rid of some Stuff, MMM! Right now we are suffering from too many desks and flat surfaces, as well as storage spaces to hide things in.

  • Ohio Teacher June 8, 2014, 3:31 pm

    What a perfect day for you to post this article! I just spent the last two days de-cluttering the basement, including dismantling two couches as best I could and then lugging them up the basement stairs. These couches were offered to me “free” when my homeownership was in its infancy. I thought, “Yea! I can have so many parties and visitors and people can sleep on the couch in the basement!” The second couch made me think, “Free couch #2 and it’s a La-Z-Boy!” Now, four years later, these couches have been seldom, if ever, used. They just took up space and provided an ecosystem for an innumerable amount of insect species. I now realize that even for the price of free, clutter is clutter. Plus, the hours I spent getting those behemoths out of the basement made the true cost non-zero. I’m really going to feel this in my back tomorrow.

    • Ken June 8, 2014, 9:38 pm

      great point, free is still clutter

  • Scott Howard June 8, 2014, 3:40 pm

    Lots and lots of parallels with our life right now. A week ago we moved to a smaller house, going from 2500 square feet to just under 1500. We reduced our living space by 40% and our stuff by 50% and we are still purging more stuff.

    We lived in our last house for 8 years and decided with all of the kids off and married, we didn’t need or want the rooms we weren’t using. Both houses have 3 bedrooms but the new one has our bedroom, my office, and a retreat room instead of 3 “bedrooms”. We can accommodate an overnight or weekend guest, but no full time residents. We went from 5 TV’s and 3 phones to 3 TV’s and 2 phones.

    Bought a new refrigerator that was 40% off as a closeout and a nearly new washer & dryer. The ones we left behind at the old house were ancient and worked if you kicked them in the side, or crap like that.

    We were able to give away half of our furniture to friends, family, an ex-wife, and neighbors. Gave away most of my music CD collection and nearly all of my books. We had stuff that we had in our attic that we inherited from our parents passing that had been in the same boxes for 30 years. Now it’s gone.

    Money wise, we made a little bit on the sale of the old home. Even after the down payment on the new house, and all the costs, plus buying the appliances, we were able to put some money in the bank. Our payments are smaller with a 15 year instead of 30 year mortgage at nearly 1/2 the interest rate we were paying before.

    We were amazed at how much stuff we had, especially considering we had made a deal 8 years ago that if we brought anything into the house, we would have to get rid of something, for a zero sum gain. I guess we didn’t follow that rule but we will now.

    One thing we have more of is back yard. Instead of 1 hour to do all the mowing, it’s a 2 hour job which means more exercise!

  • Joe June 8, 2014, 3:59 pm

    Oh man… I’m just a few months removed from a move from Buffalo, NY to Tampa, FL. Two garage sales, multiple Craigslist listings, and several trip to the local thrift shops. Nothing better to motivate you to purge than a 1,200 mile from a house with a basement to one without. I like the houses here. No basements to store crap in, and attics too hot to put anything in. Love it!

    • Mrs. PoP June 8, 2014, 4:52 pm

      Welcome to FL, Joe! As long as you keep the garage so that cars still fit in it, and refrain from turning the lanai into a storage area, FL houses are definitely better for keeping the junk to a minimum. Mr PoP’s mom regularly does purges of their house down here, whereas their house up north has a cavernous attic, barn, and multiple other storage areas chock full of things that no one has looked at in decades. She has tried to force mini purges up there, but it all stacks back up again because there are just so many places to store it all!

      • Joe June 8, 2014, 5:45 pm

        Thanks! Well, we’re about halfway there on the garage… And we thought we did a good job (Anyone need a treadmill??) Thankfully, the lanai has nothing but chairs we enjoy the sunsets in.

  • animal mommy June 8, 2014, 4:01 pm

    I constantly purge “stuff” due to my living space being small . But now I am purging animals, which almost seems cruel but is done in the most loving way. I am not replacing the ones who pass naturally and for the dog I contacted a lab rescue to tryand find my boy a better home who will play and take him out more. Ever since we had our child we have no time for these animals and I feel the burden of responsibility heavily.

    • SED June 9, 2014, 2:53 pm

      Animal Mommy, when you say “I feel the burden of responsibility heavily”, I completely understand, and we don’t even have children! We have been downsizing significantly, with two moves in the last five years. I found my way to MMM’s site as part of that (ongoing) process.

      We have three dogs and two cats, all 10-11 years old. Back when we acquired them – four were rescues – we were in a very different place both financially and in terms of our overall outlook on life. Like many people, we got a rude awakening when the economy crashed, and it’s taken every bit of the last five years to get out of our “debt emergency” and stabilize our lives.

      We tried to place two of the dogs after our last move, but couldn’t find a good home for them. Of course we will take care of them now for their remaining years, but it isn’t easy. The dogs have a small yard and get a one mile daily walk and some attention, but probably not as much as they’d like. The cats are fine – mostly outdoors just being cats. :) Quality pet food, twice per year grooming (dogs),regular vet care , monthly medication which here in the South means heartworm + flea preventative at about $30/month per pet, and pet sitting when we go out of town = approx. $700/pet per year (cats a little less, dogs a little more) = $3500 year. This excludes the cost of several serious illnesses and mishaps over the years that have totaled several thousand dollars in vet bills. Multiply just the $3500 by an average 15 year lifespan and that is a significant financial commitment that I wish I had considered more carefully at the outset. Back then, it just never occurred to me to look at the cost of owning pets. It was just something we did because we loved animals, and hey doesn’t everyone have pets?! We just had a few extra!

      Of course there are ways to do it all more frugally, but let’s say we’d been able to manage it for half as much — we are still talking about a hefty sum. At least it is to us today. I also didn’t account for how we would change over the years -in terms of our own health, our finances, interests and priorities. I’ll admit to feeling a bit tied down now because of the pets. We’d like to travel to see family more often and we both have new flexibility in our jobs where we could work from anywhere. This could lead to an adventurous Mustachian lifestyle like the reader in this thread that rehabbed an Airstream to live and travel in. But we’re constrained by the logistics and cost of caring for five animals. If we had adopted a more frugal, minimalist mindset years earlier, I think it would have influenced us to think through the responsibilities and costs of pet ownership much more carefully. We might have one or two pets now, not five. Or maybe we would have chosen not to have any. Perhaps I could have channeled that love of animals differently – volunteer work, donating to animal welfare causes, etc. Maybe starting my own pet sitting service!

      In a sense, we somewhat mindlessly acquired living creatures in a similar way to how we mindlessly acquired “stuff”, the two cars and a big house. Yes, the motives might have been better – “that poor kitten/pup needs a home”, but there was a lack of thinking it through that feels familiar. Only the consequences are clearly much more serious. We’re responsible for five lives, and that means doing right by them. We can’t “Craigslist” our way out of this one!

      I know there are many people who can’t imagine feeling this way and have no regrets about the cost and responsibility of pet ownership. They might even disapprove of my doing the math – as though I’m “putting a price on love”. But, as sensitive a topic as this can be, Animal Mommy I think you make a very good point – one that I rarely see appear in frugal/minimalist discussions, and I just wanted to add my experience to yours.

      • Heather June 10, 2014, 3:50 pm

        I get where you guys are coming from, I truly do (as a pet owner who rides the bus home each lunch hour to walk her needy dog), but I kind of hate to see pet ownership clumped in the same discussion with extraneous junk. Giving to animal charities is laudable, but we still need more loving homes for these living, breathing, LOVING beings. We don’t talk about minimalizing our children, do we?

        • Mr. Money Mustache June 11, 2014, 6:59 am

          Actually, I do have an article in the works about the joys of having fewer children :-)

          • Swiss stash learner June 11, 2014, 8:14 am

            Nah – you’re on a hiding to nothing with that idea. You can’t limit the joy of children – each one brings double joy to each parent and then to each sibling. The joy just goes on multiplying. Would I swap my joy for more savings? Never.

          • AmAnda June 12, 2014, 10:09 am

            Lol of course you do :)

          • The Roamer July 2, 2014, 5:18 pm

            I can see this post exploding with comments already! I personally think 3 is the best but I’m curious to hear your perspective. A hot button topic for sure!

        • SED June 13, 2014, 12:33 pm

          I was touched to read that you take the bus daily at lunch to be able to walk your dog. I’ll bet it makes a world of difference to him/her!

          I would see these comments fitting into the topic in the sense of one thinking carefully before acquiring anything. However, it probably does merit its own discussion for the reason that you point out – these are living beings.

          The question of children makes for an interesting parallel, as so many people are choosing to limit their family size for economic and environmental reasons. And some do so simply because of a lifestyle choice, including those who want to be completely “child free”, without the responsibility of parenthood. Yet there are many children in difficult circumstances who need homes. There are also a number of negative economic consequences to an aging population. Is a preference for few or no children a net benefit to us as a society? (Similar to the “if everyone adopts frugality, what happens to the economy?” question.)

          I’m looking forward to reading what MMM writes on this subject!

      • Joe Average March 25, 2015, 2:16 pm

        Quick math says I’m spending less than $350 per year on the dog and even less for two cats. Looks to be close to $500 for all three. I’m feeding the dog a $28/40 lb quality dry food. The cats get a $20/25 lb dry food. Any baths are done with baby shampoo. I only do flea treatments on the dog during 4 months of the summer. I use the good stuff from the vet office. Maybe $50 per summer? We use the shot clinics that the local vet offices sponsor which puts the critter shots in the $5 range per critter.

        They only occasionally go to the vet – like a rare once in a while. A vet visit here is around $60-$65 per visit. Cats are street rescues and the dog is a sporting dog that we rescued.

  • mike June 8, 2014, 4:12 pm

    Take the BMI scale, go to the middle of the chart and see what is normal weight. I’d venture to say 90% (+) US citizens are above what is considered to be just an average weight.

    Clutter is everywhere and even shows on our bodies. Huge, huge problem.

  • Philosophist June 8, 2014, 4:26 pm

    It’s Sunday. I look forward to the day when my early retirement allows me to lose track of the days!

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2014, 7:47 am

      Haha.. I was wondering if I’d get in trouble for that sentence. I typed that particular part of the article on a Monday, but then ended up finishing and posting it on a Sunday. But you’re right, I do lose track of the days at least once a week and it is a great feeling.

      • Early Bird June 10, 2014, 6:20 pm

        Good to know I’m not really losing my mind. It’s normal to lose track of what day it is when you’re retired and every day feels like Sunday. I love this early retirement gig!

  • Glen June 8, 2014, 4:47 pm

    Having moved last week (not to a smaller home unfortunately), we purged our collection of useless relics, but frustratingly many useless things came along too. I talked about your blog post with my four kids, and they yawned.

    I feel like I’m making progress with them.

    Thanks MMM

  • Julia June 8, 2014, 4:50 pm

    Thanks MMM,

    I always can count on you to make me laugh at myself. I just got rid of my condo and moved in with my boyfriend, and the neighbors have remarked on how “I always seem to be moving stuff”. I have made several trips to my new storage unit and various donation outlets, hauling detritus from a former life. This posting could not have been more timely.

  • Heather June 8, 2014, 5:22 pm

    I am feeling the same way. We just had a neighborhood garage sale. We have one ever 6 months. I actively try to live minimally, but STUFF/CRAP keeps finding its way in. Mostly in the form of gifts for my children. It is kind of sad that these “signs of love” from grandparents and others are practically thrown away within a short timespan. It makes me sick to my stomach when I try to estimate all of the money lost in these items.

    • Barbara June 8, 2014, 6:21 pm

      My daughter in law is a relentless culler. The kids have 3 sets of grandparents so she sends lists and bans gifts not for special occasions. And she constantly weeds out, gives away,throws away. The kids have a lot– much more than any kid needs– and her house is not cluttered. She is my hero.

    • bharati June 11, 2014, 4:31 am

      In my culture it is ok to give money or stocks. Usually cheap to mail, always the right color, fit and no complaints about it being out of style! So I give experiences, food or money.

  • The Stoic June 8, 2014, 5:55 pm

    Congrats on moving to the new house! I can relate to the “enjoyment” of living in a place that is partially finished as I moved into mine while I was doing the rehab work to it. Much easier to do when you’re a single guy, but having all of your stuff under plastic and constantly trying to get rid of that fine dust that comes with sanding drywall gets a little tiresome after awhile.

    I think it’s good to take stock of what we have and examine why we have it from time to time. It’s easy to let stuff “creep” in and why many feel they need more room. I think an occasional inventory is in order and not just when moving. I’ve let far too many things creep into my life since returning from overseas a couple of years ago. Perhaps it’s time for my own inventory…

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2014, 7:45 am

      Drywall dust is definitely a hassle.. this time we took the luxury route and got all the drywall and interior priming (plus ceiling paint) done before installing kitchen cabinets and then moving in.

    • Eldred June 9, 2014, 8:24 am

      Would you actually write down(or type) everything that’s in your house? I’m curious if a deliberate physical inventory would work better than a ‘mental inventory’ as you go?

      • The Stoic June 11, 2014, 5:25 pm

        Personally I would write it down. I have a “mental” inventory of what items I have, but I like having things on paper. I would likely break it down into the various activities of living. The biggest area that has grown over the past year has been tools. I started out not even owning a hammer and now have a little over $2500.00 in various tools.

  • Sir Salty June 8, 2014, 6:50 pm

    This is a helpful perspective for me. My parents’ house just burned. Everyone’s fine, and now the task is deciding what to salvage, replace, or let go. It’s a stressful time, but interesting from the point of view you’ve taken. Maybe they can take the positive side of cleansing & organizing life that you mentioned. Also a chance to help them re-look at adding minimalism – even a “vague and fuzzy adoption.” And a reminder that it doesn’t take a catastrophe – we can all do this on our own at any time.

  • Slackerjo June 8, 2014, 6:51 pm

    I hung out with my brother and sister in law yesterday as it was the annual community garage sale in their neighborhood. I asked my brother about several items and he rambled a bit and each story ended with “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” My whole family is like this. I am 100% sure I am adopted.

    MMM, please, please, please! let us see your workshop in the new house.


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