A new pair of jeans. A new shirt. A new pair of sneakers. A couple of more books. Tv. Larger TV. More home decorations. At some point, my apartment was full of stuff I didn’t use, nor wear. It was becoming suffocating to keep so much stuff around. But that wasn’t all. Even though I understood that there was a “too much stuff” problem going on, I kept buying things.
According to our friends, family members, neighbors, your schoolmates, the guys in the groceries store, the whole world, you need to have a lot of stuff in order to be considered as a successful person.
Everywhere we go, we see stuff. Stuff to buy, stuff to rent, stuff to look at. The conversations you have with your friends is most probably about what new stuff to buy.
So, why is that? Why we so desperately want more things in our lives?
In short, because we pursue the short term pleasures because we don’t have the discipline to wait for the greater good. A couple of years ago I was spending all of the money I earned on clothes and nightclubs. Even though these two activities were bringing joy, It was only a temporary fulfillment. I was never truly satisfied. That’s why I continuously shopped. This was the only thing that was making me truly happy. I did this to a point where my life was full of clutter. I was becoming suffocating.
Now, I feel quite better living a simple life, a life of a minimalist.
Today I will do my best to deconstruct the reasons we have and keep clutter in our lives. More importantly, I will explain why the clutter you have around is keeping you away from being productive, and actually happy.
Why Too Much Stuff Around you is Bad?
It’s not only bad, is anti-productive.
You can cut the time you need to clean your house by half when you remove all the unnecessary things laying around. Think about the times you’re cleaning your apartment or your house: you first move the things on your shelves so you can clean the dust. Then, you clean the dust from every individual item. If you have 100 items, you need to wipe the dust off from all 100 items. However, if you have only 20 items, the time spend for cleaning will be probably reduced by 80%. Yes, I’m kind of geeking out here, but that’s what happens in reality.
Too much stuff can be suffocating. If you live in a small apartment and if it’s crowded by stuff, you will feel depressed. We all need room to breathe.
Finally, having a lot of stuff means you spend a lot of money. But not only that. At some point, you might even need to rent a garage to store your shit, which means more money wasted.1
If you have a lot of things laying around or you go to the store to buy storage boxes too often you have a problem and you need to admit this. The longer you don’t do something about this problem the worse it will get.
Short History of Having Clutter Around
I will start with the fact that we’re mammals. And like every living creature on this planet, we have an instinct for self-preservation. It’s deeply rooted in our DNA. There was a point in time when large supermarkets didn’t exist and people had to do things on their own in order to survive. Stuff like: hunting, collecting greens, building a shelter, sewing clothes, and other activities we no longer do. Since all these mentioned actions are hard, and nearly impossible to be done by hand for a long period of time, people invented different tools. These tools helped us, and still do, to create safe surroundings where we can thrive.
But that’s not all…
Apart from the lack of supermarkets, thousands of years ago we also didn’t had refrigerators. A place where we can store our food to stay fresh and also in case of a bad hunting season. I took humanity years to figure out how to preserve food for a longer period of time. Eventually, they found out that salt is the ingredient that keeps food from spoiling.2 People were stuffing their homes, basements, with food and resources because they had to. The more they had stashed, the greater the chance the population to continue.
So in other words, the most common reason we are continuously accumulating more things nowadays can be traced back in history, is because years ago, owning a lot of things was a sign of well being, greatness, wealth and social status.
So, in conclusion, from a historical standpoint, there are 3 mains reasons we have too much stuff laying around:
- It’s deeply rooted in our DNA to have more stuff.
- More things mean more ways to gather food and more food means that you’re alive for longer.
- When you have a lot of possessions you’re considered a royalty.
These things are mainly what happened years ago, but let’s now see why we keep so many things in our present times:
Why we have Clutter Around Nowadays?
Take a good look at your house and the stuff laying around and think about this for a moment: “How much of the stuff around you are barely using and they are not essential for your survival?”
We surely don’t need a TV, a shelf full of home decoration, coffee machine, loudspeakers, fridge magnets, coffee table, and other things to survive in the world. We obtain these things for different reasons.
Let’s see what are the main reason we have a lot of excesses around in our home, office, or whatever.
1. You’re not using your space properly
If you’re not so much of an organized person, you probably always have stuff laying around. You might even have only a few possessions but your inability to organize them might cause a mayhem in your house. This is especially true if you’re a guy. We’re naturally disorganized. Not all of us, but some. Even though I’m striving to have a well-arranged wardrobe, desk, and apartment in general, I sometimes naturally leave stuff here and there. This innocent thought “I will just put this here for a while and I will put it back later” is causing a lot of chaos in my home. That’s why I now try to put all of my stuff into their original places immediately.
The idea here is to find the right place for all of your items. Each piece of equipment, item, book, glass, should have a predetermined place. It’s your own home and you should be able to find a place for your possessions. Don’t simply grab all of the stuff laying around and put them in a drawer. Organized them. Categorize them. Use boxes if necessary.3
Before I was keeping all of my t-shirts in one drawer. It was irritating because I was never able to find the shirt I’m looking for. Now, I put my different t-shirts in different drawers. I have 3 types of t-shirts: for going out; for at home; for exercising. This way, I know where to look when I’m getting ready in the morning.
Learn to optimally use the space you have. This also applies when you pack. Arranging your suitcase the right way will allow you to travel more with less.
2. A lot of Just In Case Stuff
So, how many things you own at this moment which you haven’t used in the last year?
Probably you have two, or three, handbags and you don’t want to throw away neither of them because you “might use it someday.” Of course, this day never comes and the bag, as well as the rest of the stuff you have but you never use, sit quietly in your apartment. You might think that they’re not causing you harm, but they are. You flip through them everytime you’re searching for something, and this single activity is wasting you a lot of time.
Stand up, and collect everything you kept throughout the years that supposedly had to be used someday. Throw away the stuff you absolutely don’t need and can’t be sold. Sell or give away the others. This way you will earn something and you put a smile on someone’s face.
I’m sure there will be things to which you’re emotionally connected and you won’t be able to throw away. In this case, read below:
3. You can’t let go
We constantly argue with my girlfriend about the home decoration we have on our shelves. We have all types of candles, little statues that are gifts from our friends, things with no real purpose.
Personally, I’m thinking about throwing them every time I clean. I don’t do it, of course, because I know what will happen – my girl will be mad and we’ll have an argument and I don’t want that. The funny thing is, that I’m sure she won’t notice that something from our home decoration is missing. At least she won’t notice the missing stuff right way. Probably a few months later she will finally see that something is not in place – and here I mean more than 6 months. I know this because I’ve done it before.
So, what I don’t get is the following: You keep stuff that you don’t even notice and use, inside your apartment and you’re OK with this. I’m sure everyone has such things. A candle that was never been lit. A little statue standing behind your books. Why you keep them?
When I ask my girl she tells me that they are a gift, or they look cool and she can’t let these things go. If you have only a few of those is probably fine, but not if stuff are falling off from your shelves.
We’re emotional creatures. Emotions are what is helping us thrive as a species but learning to not attach emotionally to a physical object is the best thing you can do for yourself.
A lot of people will tell you to take a picture of the things with a sentimental value before you throw them out. It’s a good advice. Still, every time you see the picture you might feel guilty that you threw a gift. I personally don’t quite care about throwing away something that was given from a friend, which I don’t quite like and use. Yes, I’m kind of dead inside. I’m sure a lot of people are not like me. If that’s true, see what you might do:
So, the right and the long-term solution is to set the right expectations. To explain to your friends that you don’t want additional home decoration, candles, or whatever thing you don’t want as a gift. Surely there will be stuff you’ll get that you won’t need, but you need to learn that emotionally attaching to things will only cause you pain, nothing more. After all, things are just things.
As for the stuff that you currently have but you know you don’t need: put them inside a bag and put it away for a while. If after 3 months you don’t feel like you need to open the bag, you can simply throw it away.
4. You’re trying to Impress Others
The most common reason I see people buying more things, that eventually pile up, is to impress other people.
I’m sure you know friends who constantly tell each other what new thing they bought, how much it costs, and how this new item changed their lives. If you fall into this trap to compare yourself with other people in terms of owning more stuff, you will end up owing a lot of money to the bank and living in a place where you don’t have enough space to breathe.
That’s the most common reason people end up having a wardrobe full of clothes and still having nothing to wear. I have a couple of female friends who constantly talk about what new piece of clothing they bought. Every week there is a discussion about their new purchases and often when we hang around I see piles of clothes in their apartments.
Even though they’ve convinced themselves that they do these impulse purchases not to impress others but because they absolutely “need” them, you can tell by how needy they sound when they talk to each other.
The solution here is not so obvious, but in 90% of the cases, the reason you want to impress others by buying more stuff is because you’re not confident in yourself. Thankfully, I’ve created this practical guide to gaining self-confidence.
A lot of people buy stuff only to tell others they bought something new. This way, they think that other people will think that they are rich and cool. Newsflash! Nobody cares about you. Haven’t you noticed? Everyone talks only about himself!
When you gain confidence in yourself and in your looks and skills, you will understand that abstinence is the key to true happiness and you will stop buying things you don’t actually need.
5. You lack self-control
People who smoke can’t quit either because they don’t want to or because they lack willpower.
There are hundreds of articles about impulse purchases and after reading a bunch of them I can clearly state that people who can’t control their purchase habits can’t control their emotions. The mood of these people changes dramatically and repeatedly during the day. These people are rarely truly happy and they seek outside things to satisfy their cravings for a happy day. One of the things, as mentioned, is the consistent push of the Buy Button. We all want to experience pleasure, to get a hit of a dopamine. Indeed, it can be a lot of fun to go shopping and imagine owning the products we see throughout the window.
Gaining self-control needs to be practiced in order to be mastered. Parents send their kids when they’re little to karate classes not so much to learn how to fight, it’s more about teaching them how to become more consistent. Martial arts, and basically any type of sport, helps a lot if you want to boost your willpower.
There are two main things you need to do if you want to work on your self-control:
- Create a morning routine. Be mindful of your daily habits and do your best to replace the bad habits with good ones.
- Think about your ultimate goal in life. And more precisely, know yourself.
I want to add one more thing about impulse purchases. When you find something you like and you’re considering purchasing it, take a 24 hours break. Take a photo of the item you’re thinking of buying and think for a while. This simple process will surely lower the amount of junk things you own.
6. You buy a lot of stuff
Obviously, buying stuff and clutter are tightly related. Having clutter around is the by-product of you, buying stuff. There are a lot of reasons people buy things they don’t need and a lot of them I cover in my article about the reasons we buy.
Be mindful about your purchases and even consider creating a plan about the things you actually need in your life. Write down the things you currently have and right next to that list add the things you need. But add only stuff you absolutely need. This inventorization, will help you understand what you currently have and give you an idea about the things you need in the future.
I notice that the people who tend to own, buy, and emotionally attach themselves to stuff, are people who don’t have anything else better to do.
They seek and buy more stuff because it’s easier. It’s easier to buy a new t-shirt today and feel good, today, than to exercise for 30 minutes every day, lose 10 pounds after a month and feel awesome.
The examples here are countless:
- It’s easier to read social media posts than writing them.
- It’s easier to play video games than working out.
- It’s easier to buy a burger than to cook your own healthy meal.
- It’s easier to pile up clothes and things in order to feel better than to create a purposeful lifestyle with real meaning.
At the end of the day, not the stuff you own defines you as a person, it’s the things you do.4
- I have friends who recently rented a garage to put their extra stuff. Personally, I think that this is absurd. They have a huge flat and are renting additional space to store their stuff? Probably some of the readers are doing the same. Are you?
- I found an interesting history guide where you can trace how humanity found out about salt.
- Keep in mind that if you need a lot of boxes to store your stuff, you probably own way too much stuff. If that’s the case, start removing.
- The original quote is from the movie Batman. I just paraphrased it. This is the original text: “It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me.”