Thursday, September 20, 2012
Three Ways to Figure Out What Stuff You Should Keep
by Carl Richards
We really like being able to store stuff. So much so that there’s now 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in the United States. To give you a better idea of how big that is, think of it, as the Self Storage Association does, as “an area well more than three times the size of Manhattan.” And about 10 percent of us are using that space to store our stuff.
Now maybe you’ve managed to keep all your stuff in closets, basements or garages. But many of the more than 300 comments on my post from last week indicated that we have mixed feelings about getting rid of our possessions. Those feelings become even harder to sort through when we’re dealing with stuff that we have an emotional attachment to.
This takes me back to the main point I had hoped to make: Does what you own add to your life or take away from it?
To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy and own things. For instance, my family owns some outdoor equipment that we probably use only three or four times each year. But we take good care of it, and it adds something positive to our family activities. For us, it’s worth storing because we know why we own it.
On the other hand, we still own a lot of stuff that seems to take way more time and effort to deal with, and we’re constantly trying to cut back. Like a garden, our house seems to take constant work to avoid being overrun.
A few additional thoughts came out of the conversations around last week’s post:
1) Move out I have some friends who just moved for the first time in over a decade. They were shocked at how much stuff they had just taking up space. They commented that it was scary to think about how long all that stuff would have continued to take up space and mental energy if they hadn’t been forced to deal with it in the move. Since they had to move, they had to deal with it. I’ve heard people say they like to move every five years or so because it forces them to become cold-blooded stuff killers.
So while you might not be moving, go ahead and pretend that you are.
“Move” everything out of the house or apartment and be ruthless about what you allow to stay. You can do this room by room if you need to. Move everything from your bedroom into another room. Live with it bare for a day or two, then slowly start inviting the stuff you love/want/need back. Repeat with every room of the house.
2) Go on a trip Put together a pile of everything you’ll need over two weeks. I’ve discovered that most
people are surprised by what they actually use compared to everything they have around them.
3) Figure stuff per square foot If you have so much stuff that you’re renting extra space to accommodate it, how much does that cost you? The cost per square foot will vary depending on where you live, but it can be incredibly helpful to do the math and understand how much your stuff costs you after you’ve bought it.
Again, I’m not advocating that the only way to live a happy life is owning a small pile of stuff. But I do support the many comments that caution against letting your stuff own you and the value in gaining some perspective about what you own.
I don’t think there’s a magic number of items to own that guarantees a happy life. I also don’t think it’s automatically a bad thing to rent storage space. But I do think there’s something incredibly valuable about taking the time to understand why you own what you own and making thoughtful decisions about buying new stuff.
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