The things you own end up owning you.
— Tyler Durden. Fight Cub.
Moving house is weird. Moving countries even weirder. Why? I think it’s the Tyranny of Stuff. Modern life accumulates possessions at a prodigious rate despite how minimalist you’re trying to make it. We live in an age of material abundance unimaginable even 100 years ago to our ancestors.
One thing I couldn’t believe packing up SG was the sheer amount of things I’d managed to accumulate in a short two years in the new house — even after throwing away about half of everything I owned when I moved-in. It was strange, how weirdly anxious moving out felt deciding on holding and getting rid of stuff. It was trickier than (expensively) storing it. Loss aversion kicked in hard, and I found myself one night sitting going round in mental circles trying to figure out what should stay and what should go. For many things, I really didn’t care about them but was somehow worried about discarding for the fact I might need them in some unforeseen future.
Strangely, many items made no sense to store or have any real economic value (besides their replacement value for new items.). Many made no sense if my lifestyle or home changed. And I wanted to get to an even thinner lifestyle. Compared to when I lived on a boat (where everything had a place and function and form and traded against weight and size), it’s incredible how much of a modern lifestyle seems to revolve around accumulation of “stuff” (and I think I’m much better than most in avoiding this.).
So, how did this happen? And how did I re-accumulate so quickly? I figure there were a couple of things which contributed to it. Hopefully I’ll learn a bit from this experience to avoid it more nexxt time. But these were the things I noticed when I analyzed it.
- More Rooms
My new place had more rooms. This was intetional since I wanted a home office for remote work, but… I think there is a human need to fill empty space and that led to getting more stuff. (Note: Counterintuitively, the new place had more rooms but was smaller in terms of square metres).
Aspirationally over COVID, I kept trying new things out. Often these things required materials of some sort to accomplish. Yet, after failure or success and abandoning or doubleing down on them, the stuff remained.
Strangely, some gifts you receive end up causing you to add-on other things since they are “incomplete” when given, or have easy upgrade/extension paths. (Something something Greeks bearing gifts… )
- Convenience over services
This was probably partly to do with covid. Pre-pandemic, I “outsourced” more: laundry service or cleaner versus washer, dryer, and roomba.
It took a monumental and slightly manic effort to get down to a respectable set of travelling gear for nomading and a minimal re-setup set of things in storage in case of needing to backtrack to SG in case current plans don’t work out.
But the surprise for me was the anxiety the stuff caused when I actually had to do something with it. Things that made no sense keeping. Case in point: Travel guidebooks from 2009. I felt like a book-burning nazi tossing those into the recycling despite the fact they were of no possible use to anyone, their information was completely outdated, if not downright dangerous, and no library would take them. I was swaeting one of my neighbours might catch me doing it when I was feeding the blue bin.
Sure, some of the things I could have probably flogged on some platform, but the annoyance factor and time even an initial foray sucked up just made me feel like it was not worth it.
So, what did I learn for the future?
- I really only need a few simple, great things.
- I have limited “jobs to be done” that really need purchases. I need to review those when I think I need to buy something.
- Anything I own should convey an unambiguous capability or benefit (and not simply convenience).
- Promote interoperability; beware closed ecosystems.
For the moment, this is more note to myself for the future than anything else, but also hoping it will help me reflect a bit and be more mindful of purchases (and the quality and longevity of those purchases). In particular, quality was something almost universal amongst everything that made the cut (slightly correlated with cost, but not exclusively so.). I do like the idea of fewer, better items that last than things with almost baked-in obsolescence.
Perhaps the real secret is to do something like a Marie Kondo decluttering every 6 months or so where I toss things which I don’t totally love and am not using (it certainly has been helpful with clothes). Or extend the hack I’ve been using for large purchases (where I delay the purchase a proportional number of days to its magnitude) to even smaller items. I do find I am often questioning why I’ve made some purchases I make off the cuff.
While it may seem obvious being said, using things as a means to help me express what I’m trying to accomompliush in my life, rather than as a means of attempting to express an identity or cheap economic signalling (which is something we all struggle with - purchases as means of expressing identity) is something I want to get better at doing. Hard to do for any of us with so much advertising inventing reasons for us purchasing things we probably don’t need.
As they say in Fight Club, here’s to never being complete.
Alright, while this was more reflective than helpful as posts go, I hope maybe it helped articulate or at least identify with a similar problem or feeling. It really helped me writing about it since I had a lot of problems simply putting into words to what I was feeling (sure, the Germans probably have a long word for it. 🤣). I’m always curious to hear how similar issues are going for people or hear more about what may have worked for you. Feel free to mention me as @awws on twitter or email me at via email firstname.lastname@example.org.