The Rabbit Hole of Stuff: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to Happiness

“Happiness can only be found if you free yourself from all other distractions.” ~Saul Bellow 

When I was twenty I bought my first serious piece of furniture.

It was a sofa covered in a nubby sort of fabric, a creamy shade of white with tan and light brown threads woven through that made the modern style seem warm and welcoming.

It was beautiful. And on the day my sofa arrived, I celebrated. I celebrated not only a beautiful addition to my little apartment but also a step into adulthood.

After all, I bought it on credit, and I was thrilled that a social authority as important as a fancy furniture store should give me and my waitress job a nod of approval.

But my joy was tempered by a sobering thought that felt like a weight on my shoulders: I can’t fit this sofa in my backpack.

I’d been traveling, working, writing, and figuring out life for a few years already, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. And I didn’t have the words to express the feeling that I was only vaguely aware of. But I was feeling something. And I ignored it.

Over the next ten years or so—and almost as many living situations—my sofa and I took in a bedroom and a kitchen set along with an entire house full of furniture.

A husband, too. I had just (finally) finished grad school, and my goal was to write full-time as a freelancer instead of part-time as I had been. I wanted to write more poetry. Teach writing. Play my guitar. Travel. Live my life as I’d dreamed of living it.

The sparkle of shiny new toys pulled me in directions that made my goals almost impossible.

But two incomes suddenly made lots of other stuff possible: a lavish wedding, a big house, complete remodeling, and a new patio. Redecorating, buying just the right outdoor furniture, planting flowers, trees, and bushes… I even built a koi pond with a waterfall.

I taught for a few years, but I was hardly writing, and I was losing my focus. I was getting confused with too many choices, no planning, and too little experience. I struggled with time management, and I usually failed.

I became a wine expert, and I drank it far more often than I wrote about it.

I fell into the rabbit hole called stuff.

I’d never had much, but now, closets were stuffed with games and skis and skates and snorkeling gear.

Expertly organized closets promised to restore order, but they sagged with the weight of suitcases and carry-ons, cameras and camcorders, and clothes for every situation. Tools stuffed a garage and a shed, while the finest wine glasses, china, and gadgets took over the kitchen.

An enormous 100-year-old piano rolled into place in the mélange.

The house was bulging and sinking at the same time.

I wasn’t writing. I was falling apart, and I couldn’t work. I saw doctor after doctor for muscle pain, chest pain, and insomnia. Nightmares, even.

The hot tub was supposed to help with the stress, but it was just more stuff. There were other problems in my marriage, too, serious problems, and I finally gave up trying to get things back on course.

And I got rid of the last of the stuff just a few days ago.

I have other, more important things to do than take care of stuff.

I’m a bit older now, a bit wiser, and I’m listening to that inner voice I ignored so long ago. I’m catching up on what I should have been doing—writing, improving my writing, and teaching it—what I wanted to be doing but couldn’t because I wasn’t focused.

It’s time to strap on my backpack again—it was never meant to carry a sofa, but my laptop fits just fine.

I’m glad I recognized the crazy path I was on while I’m still relatively young.

My lessons were painful, and I wish someone would have given me a good, swift kick and made me look in a mirror. Why didn’t anyone shout, “Why aren’t you writing? What happened to your goals? Focus!” Maybe I had to learn my own lessons, but I’m not afraid to shout them out now, nice and loud.

1. The stuff you can buy is a distraction that won’t help you reach your goals.

It’s like an addiction or a temporary fix. And no matter what you see online, in magazines, or on TV shows that promote home and garden ideas or lifestyles—even simple or minimalist lifestyles—remember, it’s a business trying to sell you products that promise happiness. Don’t fall for it.

2. Stuff creates a false sense of self.

I’m creative, and I love beauty. But somehow, unconsciously, by creating a beautiful home—with lots of stuff—I was also fashioning myself into someone I thought I wanted to be, something others wanted me to be.

But I was already myself, and the path with the least resistance, the path that offered the most immediate reward didn’t leave time for the hard stuff: my goals and my writing.

3. Stuff can blind you.

The friends I made back then are long gone. I was naïve, and if I hadn’t been seduced by stuff—expensive dinners, flowers for every occasion, a huge diamond engagement ring that really wasn’t me—I might have seen that my relationship could never work.

I was the poet in black trying to fit into someone else’s upscale suburban lifestyle, and there wasn’t room for anything else much less me.

4. Material stuff keeps you busy with…material stuff.

My life plan didn’t include all the stuff money can buy. But the money spent wasn’t the problem; the problem was that I worshipped at the altar of materialism, and I sacrificed myself and my goals.

What’s the point of spending time and effort on stuff when it leaves little or no time for your real goals?

5. Stuff distracts us from ourselves.

A solid relationship is created with empathy, love, and communication, not stuff. But we nurtured our marriage with Home and Garden TV or the Food Network, furniture showrooms, and glossy magazines with products that promised the good life. And underneath it all, I just wanted the space to work on my own goals, not another set of china, a new TV, or a new iPod.

Some stuff is important, and there’s nothing wrong with buying what you need.

But it’s about priorities and the price you might pay for stuff that doesn’t support your goals and dreams. Think about it.

Are you working toward your goals and the things that truly matter to you?

Or are you down the rabbit hole?

Stressed woman shopping image via Shutterstock

About Leah McClellan

Leah McClellan is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and writing instructor who is finally living life and reaching goals as she planned. Learn more at Simple Writing, and sign up for a free, 6-week writing course called The Fast Track 6-Week Mini Course

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  • Jack
  • graceb

    Thanks for your article. I have to be honest, a lot if not all over the articles I see written these days about scaling down or minimalism are written by people over 30 such as yourself. I’m 24. Maybe there is a generation gap? But I feel a conscientiousness about stuff and objects that I feel my parents are not even clued into. For me I think the focus about using your discretionary money on what you TRULY want. If that IS wine–then go for it. For me it is nurturing a recently re-discovered hobby of horse back riding.

    Basically I think that stuff and life goals/focus/doing what you want can co-exist. I think that those who completely ditch materialism all together have the financial means to do so which really puts their lifestyle on the fringes of society. And I’m really not interested in leaving the mainstream world altogether but doing my part to change the course a bit. I appreciate how your article is bringing to light these issues for others who struggle with it as well. Always a great reminder to pay attention to YOU. Thanks.

  • Eugenia Pashnina

    I like this article very much and I admire you, because at one point you had enough of everything and you turned your life around, you had the courage to start all over again. Thank you very much for sharing 🙂

  • Shanasmiles

    Another point is that amassing ‘stuff’ breeds paranoia: will someone steal my stuff? Do people only like me because of my stuff? Will my family fight over my stuff when I die? How can I protect my stuff? There’s an anxiety about what to do with your stuff. People may not even want their stuff but they don’t want to get rid of what they worked for even if it is no longer useful to them. My personal philosophy is to collect experiences and not stuff. In the end, I don’t think I will regret not having a fancy car or a giant television. I will reminisce on the experiences I’ve had with my family, friends, and strangers.

  • cynthia

    I just saw on the news this morning about selling old phones and ipads…families had boxes of them! I was amazed at the waste. And oh, my goodness, they were 3 whole years old! We donate ours to the battered woman’s shelter. Things we don’t need get sent on to charities. That way, I am free and things are recycled.

  • Stacey Kim

    I have goose bumps right now!!! It’s like I’m ready something I wrote! Other than I’m not a writter, I am a poet! Thank you so much. I came to this ah ha moment recently and my family and some friends have me feeling like I’m just crazy. Thank you! I was just thinking about if the things that did bring me a lil happiness, my boat and fast car, if I will miss it or am I doing the right thing getting rid if it all to follow my dreams. Then I decide to check my Facebook and found this article. Everything happens for a reason ! I feel better and excited again. It helps to know that I’m not alone. Btw i left my materialistic husband last year

  • Lea

    I think those distractions can be sources of happiness for people who are trying to attain that. Some people dream of having their own place that they can make their own.

    Once you’ve identified your goals, you’re right, you have to keep them in focus and continuously work towards them. Life has all kinds of distractions but it’s up to you to bring what’s important back into focus.


  • Chris Velcro

    How much does your life weigh?

  • Haha! Thanks for sharing–good one.

  • Hi Grace,

    I’m not sure if it’s about age, though you’re probably right. People in their young or mid-20s are probably busy with other things, as they should be (and as I was), rather than examining how much stuff they’re collecting or not. But you’re conscious of it just as I was.

    I agree about using discretionary money on what you really want and what adds to your life rather than detracts from it. Horses, for example…why not have a well-made, expensive saddle or boots or whatever equipment you need? The best care for your horse? And so on.

    I would never call myself a minimalist, because that’s just more “stuff” to carry around, in a sense. And yes, it’s about balance and co-existing with *some* stuff and your goals 🙂

  • Trixie

    Excellent comment.

    I live in Orange County, CA, and the minister at our spiritual center in Newport Beach cites the anxiety that several of the congregants have is from worrying that their amassed wealth will be taken from them by one means or another. In fact, that’s the main reason most of them come to him for counseling. These are good, kind and otherwise generous people, but this paranoia stands in the way of their being aligned with Source and having peace.

  • Beth

    Ironically, this article inspired me to look into buying some writing software so that I can better organize the book that I’m working on right now. Irony or genius?

  • Good point, Shana.

    The more stuff you have, the more care it requires and more investment of time and energy. And there’s definitely the pressure to be liked–or not–because of your stuff or using stuff to be liked or get approval in whatever social group you want to be a part of. Not that some conformity is all bad, though…Anxiety–definitely. I like your goal of collecting experiences. 🙂

  • ohsolinda

    As a professional organizer for over 20 years, I’ve seen how life’s “stuff” often blocks people from really enjoying and living their lives. It’s amazing what happens during the process of letting go of the physical. It’s not just their spaces that get transformed, but also their outlook. Less stuff equals less stress, less time to manage the stuff, and more time to focus on what’s truly important to them. I am so grateful to be part of their letting go journeys.

    I love what you said, “Stuff distracts us from ourselves.” Just beautiful and so true. If we surround ourselves with what’s meaningful and useful and release the extraneous, we become poised and ready to pursue our goals and embrace the possibilities.

  • Hi Lea,

    I agree: what I see as distractions might be part of someone else’s goal. But I don’t think “stuff” for the sake of stuff ever gives anyone much happiness. The stuff that goes along with a goal, like maybe owning a home so you can grow your own veggies organically on your own plot of land (which requires at least some basic tools and equipment), well that’s not a distraction. That’s part of the goal. Just like my office “stuff” is a part of my writing and associated goals (oh yeah I do need my iMac and this app or that app 🙂

    Love your name 😉

  • Good one! Great that he talks about a backpack, just as I did. And good point about relationships–I’m been weeding through those, too 🙂

  • Hi Stacy,

    That’s great when we find someone else thinking about the same thing as we are, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s just the confirmation we need. But as I said in a few other responses, it’s not necessarily the stuff but what it supports or how it helps us (or not) with our goals. A boat, for example, isn’t necessarily a bad thing or just “stuff” unless it’s not serving you in ways that are truly important. Glad you’re feeling better and excited, and nice to know I’m not alone in this either 🙂

  • Hi Beth,

    Let’s chalk it up to genius on your part 🙂 And it definitely sounds like “stuff” you need to reach your goal (Scrivener, maybe?). Best of luck with that!

  • Hi Linda,

    Wonderful to hear from you, a professional organizer. Boy, did I work on organizing! But no matter how tidy and well-organized my stuff was, it was just too much (I was supposed to be writing, not organizing stuff!). It was like I was splintered into a million tiny pieces with all my hobbies and interests–I can’t do it all (even though I wish I could).

    What a fabulous service you’re proving to people. More “poised.” Yes, seems like I have so much more confidence and feel so much more sure of myself *without* all that stuff that I thought I needed.

  • Hi Cynthia,

    I still have a few small boxes of technical stuff to deal with, and that includes a few old phones but also some old laptops and a pile of cables and who-knows-what. Phones to a woman’s shelter–definitely. Have to figure out the best place for the rest; the laptops are really old. At least they can get recycled, probably. I don’t like putting stuff in trash because almost anything can be re-used or recycled if I find the right place. I took carloads of other stuff to Goodwill!

  • Hi Eugenia,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I guess, after some time, what else is there to do but move on and start over? Not that it’s easy! I think getting rid of all the stuff helped a lot to close some doors. It feels great 🙂

  • Brittany

    As a 22 year old, this is a very important life lesson that I will always remember. I will graduate in 1 year, so I have some tough decisions ahead of me, but I will definitely be choosing to live authentically rather than by having a job in which I can afford all the material things we are told we ‘need’. It really helps in the confusion to have this confirmed. Thanks for a wonderful post!

  • Hi Brittany,

    Glad you liked it and that it gave you some food for thought. As you find your way with things, I’m sure you’ll find just the right balance between work and money and the things we can buy or experiences we can have. Part of it’s about exploring and learning as we go, and finding our own individual paths. So there’s never really any mistakes, as long as we keep learning and growing 🙂

  • ohsolinda

    Leah- It’s true that if you have an overabundance of stuff, no matter how well organized you are, the stuff can still be cause for overwhelm. The focus becomes maintaining, organizing, and managing the stuff, as you discovered. Bravo to you for figuring out what works for you.

    If you’re interested, I blog at the about organizing and life balance. Many of the posts focus on letting go. Thought you might enjoy this one:

  • Shanasmiles

    Wow. What a profound statement! They can’t find inner peace because their stuff is getting in the way.
    Thank you Leah and Trixie for your kind comments. 🙂

  • Shari

    This is so true!! We had a flood in our town a few years ago, which pretty much destroyed our basement and most of the stuff in it. Since then, I have ridiculous anxiety whenever it rains, and I finally realized that my problems are all based on worries about losing all my “stuff” again. I’m trying really hard not to let it get to me now that I know that is what the problem is….but it would be easier to just have less stuff to worry about.

  • Shanasmiles

    Oh honey! I identify with that trauma. Our home flooded last September during hurricane Isaac. The stuff wasn’t so hard to part with but the repairs were overwhelming. I’m so sorry you went through that. I hope you can find a way to pare down your stuff so that you have the things that are sentimental and useful to your family. Precious things are easier to protect, take with you or recover if there isn’t a whole lot of them. My rule of thumb is that if I haven’t used an item in two years, I donate it. Of course that doesn’t apply to family heirlooms, baby photos, and such. Good luck. I wish you peace, prosperity, and happiness!

  • Jill Sessa

    I’m up early/ can’t sleep for excitement and came upon this article. Today, I move from a series of motel rooms into my very own mini-motorcoach. I’ve been traveling the USA on my Vespa, with only what will fit into my packs. It was an exercise in “needs” to get to this point, with careful practice of what I would carry.
    Interestingly, over the past week while I’ve waited to close on the motorhome yet stayed in the same location, I found myself shopping. Adding in an extra pair of shoes, picking up a toaster oven (although a Goodwill score at $4 for a Krups, lol) And then thinking about how this “stuff” won’t fit on my Vespa. Nothing I can’t re-donate at a moment’s notice, but it still has me pondering accumulation.
    Meanwhile, I left a tiny apartment into which I had moved from a large, over-stuffed house. Sometimes I feel like a Russian Nesting Doll… going more and more inward, smaller and smaller.
    The journey has been freeing in so many ways, made me truly thoughtful about “stuff” and enabled me to experience more that I could have even imagined. I’m looking forward to not packing and unpacking each night, but also staying mindful that the motorhome should not just be a way to move around my “stuff” but rather a way to experience more.
    Thanks, Leah, for so eloquently writing what’s been in my head!

  • Lea

    Your name is great too! 😛

  • drumgoddess

    Ah yes! I struggle with this consumer luxury problem all the time. I too, am creative and love beauty. When I see beautiful things I want to own them to show others and support the artist. Yet, the things I buy end up buried in my closet or gathering dust. And the money I spent to help support the artist, is not there to support my dreams.
    I think about how the environment is effected by all the plastic we consume; how workers are badly treated and paid nothing so I can have this moment’s gadget or fashion; how I contribute to this sad cycle when I buy something I do not really need wrapped in shiny plastic.
    Thank you for this beautifully written reminder to be true to myself. We cant take any of this stuff with us when we go. Its getting in the way of my doing and being now.

  • Love your message Leah. Thanks for sharing! So true, it’s about the non-monetary and much deeper price we pay for the stuff we have and whether we are trading off our goals/dreams in order to have and maintain that stuff, stuff which doesn’t really contribute to the type of life that our hearts truly sing for. Your message mirrors my own experience in so many ways. I smiled when I read about the piano too, same here! And, we almost got a hot tub too… just before we became minimalist, sold our house and all our belongings, left our careers that we didn’t love, and started travelling and doing things we love. We live as digital nomads now, setting up our own online businesses and creating a whole new way of living.
    It astonishes me how many people are now living this way… without the burden of an excessive amount of ‘things’ and all the responsibility that comes with it. I was totally unaware how prevalent this experience and awakening was around the world, and how many people are in this “movement” to simplicity, but my eyes have been opened after connecting into a few blogs dedicated to minimalist living as a path to living a more authentic, connected, loving, happy and healthy life… free to spend our time and resources on things more meaningful to us.
    I really resonated with what you said about recognising that some stuff is important and there’s nothing wrong with buying what you need. For me, minimalist thinking and lifestyle is much more about awareness of why we buy what we buy, why we build our lives the way we do with all these things, and whether that really serves us in the way we intend it to.
    I wish you every joy on your adventures ahead! Thanks for provoking more thinking on this topic.

    Best wishes
    Bernadette 🙂

  • Wendy Krueger

    Great post Leah.

    As someone who grew up with a mother who was a collector of antiques (i.e. antiques hoarder), I can’t stand to have lots of things. Too much clutter makes me think I I will turn into my mom. It has its downside though because establishing roots and feeling grounded have been harder as I don’t want to have too many things, so I can pick up and move at a moments notice. Not that you needs lot of things to feel settled, but there is definitely a flip side of the coin.

  • Thanks for sharing your article! Those are exactly the kinds of things I’ve asked myself. And it happened in stages: some things were easy to get rid of. Others had to be tucked away to be reconsidered at a later time. And I probably should say that I just haven’t had room to put things in any proper place–but if there’s no use for them, what’s the point in finding a place? That set of china…no, I’m not serving up a dinner for 15 people any time soon 🙂 Thanks.

  • Thanks Wendy! My mom always had loads of “knick-knacks” and my older sister tends to collect antiques–both love flea/antique markets. And I just saw all their stuff as dust collectors, but then I collected other kinds of stuff myself (so I know what you mean about not wanting to be like them). I wonder: can we feel grounded and establish roots even if we don’t have a lot of stuff? I *am* moving, and I have to admit what is most difficult giving up are all my plants, indoor and outdoor. Bulbs, bushes, trees…almost like pets, living things I’ve taken care of for a long time. But I’m going to think about what you said–what makes me (or anyone) feel established somewhere, and is that a good thing or something to strive for?

  • Thanks Bernadette,

    So nice to read about your experience; I know I’m not the only one going through this, but it’s still great to hear from others. I’ve been working online too, so I guess I’ll soon be joining the ranks of digital nomads (I’m moving, which definitely gave me a push with this though the last time I moved I hauled it all with me!).

    It’s making more possible what I’ve always been, more or less. I’ve never had a proper “career” because I couldn’t handle corporate stuff, didn’t fit in with academia, and so on…well, I always knew I just had to write but I got pulled in other directions and tried to fit where I didn’t belong. Back on my right path now, though 🙂 I love what you wrote about “awareness.” Exactly. No need to get drastic for the sake of some minimalist goal (which in my mind is more stuff, in a sense), but the idea is to be aware, be discerning, mindful, not just consuming blindly or shoveling food in our mouths (so to speak). Best of everything to you as well. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again 🙂

  • Thank you so much for your kind words. And it’s very interesting that you mention supporting artists, drumgoddess (love that name!). I had rolls and rolls of prints I bought in Paris and Prague and who-knows-where-else–New Jersey beach?–from street artists. They’re nice, and I thought I’d put them in nice mats and frames for the walls around the house (to replace “cheap” stuff), but 25-30? What the heck? Even a few from the NY Met and the Philadelphia art museum…compulsive buying or what? And I don’t really see myself that way, in general. But going through years of stuff…wow. What a glimpse into myself over a period of maybe 10 years.

    Good point about the environment and workers. I can’t stand to just put stuff in the trash, so anything usable was either sold on Craigslist or taken to Goodwill. Nope, we can’t take it with us. Thanks 🙂

  • dannyboiii

    This post is so refreshing. Even at a young age, I had found a way to box myself in a little constricted world of stuff. Luckily I realized it early on, because even not THAT much stuff can be TOO much stuff in a very small apartment. I eventually got frustrated with the fact that I worshipped my “stuff” so much that I didn’t have any space to actually work on my goal of producing my own music. I got rid of all the stuff I felt like made me look put together to the outside world, and started working towards my goal of producing music day and night. I’ve come a long way, but the journey is still long, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

  • Rachel

    very cool read!

  • James

    I appreciate you sharing your experience. I’m currently at university and I’m about to start my final year in September. I have a goal of studying in the Netherlands and I am maximising every opportunity to make my dream happen. Just two days ago, I deactivated my twitter account; it doesn’t sound like much but I acknowledged that I was caught in an endless cycle: logging in, seeing friend’s complain, hear the latest gossip, flick through the stream of photos, repeat cycle shortly after. I now realise that I can spend my time much more effectively and perhaps overcome the thirst to waste my time being the complete opposite of proactive.
    That’s not to say that allowing some time for yourself isn’t important – we aren’t robots! But every situation can be viewed from an infinite amount of angles. The way I see it, now I have far more time to delve into my Buddhist books (i.e. the Tibetan book of the dead) when I get bored.
    Thank you once again for sharing this inspirational experience. You have consolidated my plan to adopt a routine that will make my dream happen.

  • justme

    Lean, I’m curious: how is a minimalist goal more stuff? Thanks.

  • Good question. I guess I’m thinking in terms of taking something to an extreme and sort of making a career out of being a minimalist (which is fine, if that’s what your purpose in life is). Taking on a new identity, a new role (in addition to all the other identities we generally have or roles we play) and then fitting ourselves into with whatever goes along with it. An analogy: I don’t eat meat, and I consume very few animal products. A vegetarian, in other words. But I don’t call myself a vegetarian, normally, and I don’t think anything of it (I stopped eating meat as a teenager gradually just because I couldn’t deal with it, not to become a vegetarian) unless it’s for convenience in a restaurant or something like that. To take on the identity of a vegetarian is like a weight (or stuff), sort of, because it something additional to think about or care about (like household stuff), or it restricts freedom: freedom to enjoy some hot clam chowder on a cold winter day if I feel like it. A few years ago I lit a cigarette while out for a drink with an old friend (we both used to smoke though I quit) and he gasped “What! You–a vegetarian! Smoking! lol Apparently not smoking is part of the identity of a vegetarian to him.

    And that’s what I’m thinking of when I say “no need to get drastic for the sake of some minimalist goal.” Like make a fuss about it wherever we go, or something. Does that make sense?

  • Thanks Rachel!

  • Hi James,

    Good point: Twitter can be seen as “stuff” too just like anything else. It doesn’t have to be–it can be very useful or interesting. But when it’s not used mindfully–even if that means we’re taking a fun break–then it can just be useless stuff. Good way to explain what I meant by “drastic minimalism” being more stuff, too (in response to a question someone had).

    Thanks for your kind words, and best of luck in the Netherlands! I love the islands (Terschelling etc.)

  • Thanks Danny,

    Great story! That’s pretty much what happened here–I just can’t do what I want to do if I have so much stuff–tangible and intangible stuff. So glad you’re finding your way now with your music and enjoying the journey. Not caring what we look like to the outside world can definitely be a part of it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Hi Jill,

    I missed your response somehow! Traveling around on the country on a Vespa– Wow. What an interesting experience in gradually stripping things away. I can relate to packing and unpacking every night having traveled around Europe for 3 months with just a backpack and a tent. Boy was it a luxury to rent a car a few times! But I slept better than I had in years on cold, hard ground rather than a king-sized bed in my over-sized, over-stuffed house in the suburbs (that was the beginning of looking at the mess I had got myself into–how could I be so happy alone with a backpack when I had all the stuff that’s supposed to make you happy?).

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m going to remember what you said about staying mindful as I move into my small apartment coming up soon. No, I will not re-fill it up… 🙂

  • Kathleen Cristoforo

    Wow…I wish I’d read this 30 years ago. Thank you for the great advice. I suppose it’s never too late.

  • Steve M

    Your thoughts resonate so well with me, especially the comment about building a better life via HG TV and The Food Network ( I had to chuckle ). Six years ago I lost everything I had worked so hard to attain. Marriage, Career, Retirement, so called Friends -all gone. It forced me to take a serious look at what was really important to me. Today, at 47, I’ve gone back to the little beach town I grew up in. I’m debt free, renting, working part time and enjoying the little things in life that ( really matter to me). I’m even surfing again. It’s never too late to make positive changes. My hand was initially forced but now: I’ve never felt more peace or been more content in my life. Thanks for the good read.

  • Steven

    Almost 13 years ago I decided I was going to be Straightedge; no alcohol, no drugs, no sex outside of a committed relationship. As I took on that label, that persona, I identified myself more through the lifestyle than who I was on the inside. The label became more important.

    The same can be true about anything. Think about how you identify who you are. Are you a rock climber, a Vegan, a minimalist? These labels create an identity, and in a sense, are another burden to bare.

    Now I no longer identify myself with any label. I’m not a minimalist, I’m not Straightedge (despite the huge tattoos across my body proclaiming such and that I still haven’t broke my promise to myself), I’m not a Liberal or Conservative.

    Without the labels, I’m free to be me…whoever that is when I wake up in the morning. 😉

  • HaveLipsWillSmile

    Great article Leah. I often feel overwhelmed with the ‘stuff’ that I own and whether it’s good enough, what people are going to think of me etc. I’m in the process of learning how to think about life in a different way and I really would like to place less value on gathering possessions. I like how you said there’s nothing wrong with buying what you need. I hope to differentiate between need and want. Do you think a minimalist type approach is the way to go? I don’t mean that modernistic, trendy, white walls, concrete floor type deal but more clean lines, no clutter, one of each necessity type of thing?
    Thanks for a great post.

  • Ivan Ivković

    This article changed my mind about a whole series of decisions. Thank you, Leah!

  • Ivan Ivković

    Yes! Even if we’re supposedly careless, the awareness of having stuff totally cloggs up our subconscious.

  • lux8x

    I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, almost a year… I’m single, in my late 20s, and a freelance programmer earning solid money, but I feel I’m tied to the house I rent, and to the furniture I purchased over these last few years.

    Sometimes I think I should buy a house, other times I think I should just sell everything and live freely, traveling around. Many days my head hurts from thinking about this, going back and forth with both ideas, unsure on what to do with my life.

    I do want to keep saving money, because in a future I might like to buy a house –for example if I wanted to start a family–, but I feel I don’t need to live in one place right now, in one house, hoarding stuff. Or sometimes I’m thinking about traveling, and then I look at a wall and say ‘I should buy a painting and hang it in there’…

    I’m extremely confused. Do you have any suggestions on how I can think about this clearly??

  • This hit me hard…

    I’ve been building a business for the last 5 years. It has been fun, but something has always been missing. In the last few weeks, I’ve been doing some deep inner personal work, and the feeling that keeps coming up is a strong desire to be creative. Specifically, to make music.

    I’ve already got the software, and I’ve written 2 songs, with the third on the way.

    But I still need to take care of business, and I’m struggling to call the music anything more than a distraction… yet I have this weird feeling that it’s what I’m meant to do. It’s the inner feeling, like your’s, the feeling that calls you to write.

    I’m scared of following the feeling, because it would mean giving up on some ambition with the business in order to create space to focus on music.

    This blog post helped crystallise some of my thoughts. The more I go down this path, the more it seems we’re meant to follow these artistic urges… wherever they may lead.

  • kdizz

    I love this article a lot, I come back to it periodically (especially now during the holiday shopping season) to re-align my priorities. Thanks for sharing, I think it’s a great message.

  • Ennui

    Sometimes when you have less– material items matter more.

  • Ennui

    I’d prefer a nice car to a luxury vacation. I’ll have the car longer and it will be useful. This philosophy doesn’t really apply to people who aren’t middle class.

  • Hans Thorsen

    My wife and I have been collecting early antique furniture and artifacts for years. We buy, and sometimes sell, or give to friends when “space” becomes an issue. We own our things, they don’t own us, and what we get from them – beauty, a sense of history, continuity, and connection to the people who owned them before – is rewarding. My point is that “things” need not be a hindrance to living one’s life. ANYTHING can get in the way of doing that, or constitute an attachment, including a backpack and a laptop. We can even be attached to notions and “ideas” which can “own” us and be every bit as stifling. Balance is they key – and “freedom” in life is a state of mind that is found under many guises and conditions.

  • Hans Thorsen

    You point out some good things, but I would note the following: have you ever read “Walden”, by Henry David Thoreau? In it, Thoreau also addresses the issue of “stuff”. He too didn’t want a lot of it; he wanted to pare down and “live simply”. The problem is, he did this on the backs and efforts of others. He built his cabin on a friend’s property, and felled trees with a borrowed axe! I thought of this when I read your comment about collecting experiences, not stuff. Our life experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist on a “stage” and that stage requires “props”. When you collect the experience of attending a party, a show, a wedding, or just sitting and talking with a friend on a park bench – someone, somewhere, worked to buy and accumulate the stuff that made the experience possible. I am not at all knocking the concept of owning less. It CAN have a freeing effect, but USING THE STUFF that others have worked for and accumulated – when having life experiences – is no different than Thoreau bragging about having achieved “simplicity” when the lives of others – in his case – are what made it possible.