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Thoughts on the Accumulation of Stuff [Junk]

Aug 20, 2007 • general, web-design

boxesI have been thinking a lot about how we accumulate an excessive amount of "stuff," which turns out mostly to be junk. I'm not afflicted with packrat syndrome. And scouting out good deals at garage sales is not my idea of a Saturday morning well-spent. In fact, I don't even have a garage, nor do I want one. Ninety percent of the people I know who own garages fill them with unnecessary items. Still, in packing and moving, I realized that we have accumulated, in just 3 years time, enough stuff to probably fill a 20 foot trailer.

I like Thoreau's philosophy toward material goods. The more you have, the more time it requires to care for your things. If you have a boat, for example, you have to spend time maintaining it. Or if you have a large house, you have to devote your spare time cleaning it, or making sure it is well-decorated, maintained, used, etc.

Life is much simpler when you keep it simple. When you only keep what you truly use and need, your time isn't burdened by unnecessary maintenance. Instead, you can spend time reading, or writing, or exploring new places.

We finally decided to ship our stuff in boxes via Amtrak rather than renting and driving a U-haul. We sent 22 boxes and 2 suitcases (about 900 pounds) for a total of $480. I loaded up all our furniture and gave it to Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul, family members, or the garbage dumpster.

We often think our stuff is worth a lot, until we try to sell it. Then we realize how little others are willing to pay for it. Its value is zilch. I thought our leather couch set would make a good sale of at least several hundred dollars. It turns out St. Vincent De Paul (similar to the Salvation Army) wouldn't even take one of the couches due to a little hole in one of the cushions! I nearly scooted it to our sidewalk and taped a "Free" sign on it, but Goodwill was less picky and relieved us of it.

Everyone has their de-junking story. I am just focused on it now since we're moving. I've realized several things in all this packing:

  • If you have small children, don't buy expensive furniture. They'll destroy it sooner or later, and it will only cause you stress to attempt to protect it. Get furniture they can ruin without giving you a heart attack. If you have inexpensive furniture, you won't mind leaving it when it comes time to move again.
  • If you bring home a bag of "stuff" each day for 2 years, pretty soon you have a lot of things in your house. It's like the saying, by small and simple things ... Or, little things add up over time. That's a good principle to know for anything in life. It works both in your favor and against you, depending on the situation. For every bag you carry in, carry a bag out. (This is probably an impossible ideal, but it's still valuable advice.)
  • Moving is stressful. If you're torn by heart-wrenching decision after heart-wrenching decision, you need to calm down, relax, think slowly and methodically. It's hard to think clearly when you're knotted up inside. List all the options and scenarios, reflect on them, research them, and make your best decision.

When we went to Egypt, our shipment of 19 trunks and boxes was lost. We were reimbursed and had to start over with things. However, we both considered it a blessing. We didn't miss hardly anything at all from the trunks and boxes. We could hardly remember what was in there. It's strange how we get so attached to worthless things. I remember the day when I had only two suitcases of belongings -- I was perfectly happy. My lack of stuff allowed me to focus on life without distraction.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.