Does the American Dream Require Accumulation of Stuff?

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Head Full of Stuff

I never had a tendency to accumulate things.  It wasn’t by nature.  Rather, I was forced keep things light because our family moved around the globe, A LOT.  4 countries in a span of 4 years, and countless moves within each country.  That’s why when I first saw the George Clooney movie Up in the Air, I felt like his character’s philosophy was identical to mine.  However, it hit me really hard when we moved my stuff from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas a few months back.  Somehow, I accumulated a shit ton of things at some point down the road.  Like, a U-Haul-truck-full kind of shit ton.  I found this really puzzling because only 7 years ago I arrived in the US with one bag pack and a large luggage.  So, how/why did this happen?

I don’t want to generalize and by no means I’m saying ALL Americans accumulate things.  But I have to say, there’s something about this society that makes people hoard stuff.  This could be due to social pressure (“keeping up with the Joneses”), due to how empty today’s corporate world makes people feel, or due to the non-stop barrage of marketing shoved into our faces every waking hour.  I don’t know the answer, but I’d argue it’s a combination of all of them.  M & I both felt this weird sensation while we were staring at our pile of stuff we didn’t even use stacked up in our garage (we have a two-car garage, which we couldn’t use for a full month).  It was a feeling of depression and senselessness.  Why did we even bring this stuff?  When did we acquire all this stuff?  Why aren’t we throwing all of this away?  Most importantly, why is it so damn hard to throw away things?  These questions rushed through our minds as we were stuck in a moment of clarity.

I started to look for ways to simplify.  I think I was searching for an answer as to why we found it so hard to get rid of stuff that clearly didn’t add any value to our lives. Surely, there had to be someone out there who has gone through a similar experience.  I started by googling “how to get rid of stuff” and “how to become a minimalist”.  The good news is there wasn’t a shortage of stuff we could read about other people’s experience with getting rid of their stuff in their attempts to achieve a simpler life.  Although we considered a lot of different methods, I found this one guy’s video the most helpful.  He has this technique he calls the “3 Pile Technique”, where he compartmentalizes his belonging into 1) things you want to keep; 2) things you want to donate/trash; and 3) things you want to put in your “box”.  The box is for the things that you don’t use, but have sentimental value.  The idea is, you put those things in a box, put it away for a couple months, go back and see how you feel about it.  He says this method helped him.  M & I have only done technique number 1 and 2, but I could see why putting things away in a box could ease the process of getting rid of things with sentimental value.

Empty Bin

Empty Bin

Full Bin

Full Bin

We did use his technique number 1 and 2 a lot though.  Especially the number 2.  We kept a fairly large plastic bin in our garage in a spot that was visible to us everyday.  The idea was to fill it up, donate it, put the bin back in its spot, fill it up again, donate it, and so on.  We made a commitment to donate/trash everything that we could, with our new goal in mind.  We started with small things.  DVDs (we don’t even have a DVD player), books, and small knickknacks.  I don’t even know why it was so hard to get rid of books.  We had 3 full boxes of books that we never read and will probably never read.  So they had to go.  Then we went bigger.  We got rid of electronics, more clothing, excess coffee mugs/tumblers and other kitchen stuff.  M has a habit of changing her clothes multiple times before she leaves for work in the morning. She likes her clothes the least when she’s trying to put together an outfit (and it takes her forever to get ready). She started throwing clothes that repeatedly didn’t make the “cut” for an outfit into the donation bin every morning. Her closet is left with fewer clothes, but clothes that she enjoys and is able to put together an outfit with. I didn’t keep track of how many times we’ve emptied our bin at our local Goodwill, but if I had to guess it’d be close to 20 times or more.  The first 4 weeks of doing this, M & I found ourselves swinging by Goodwill every other day.  This process has slowed down a bit, now that we’ve worked through the easy part.  We still keep our bin, continuously working on our process of getting rid of things that weigh us down.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to whether it’s good or bad to have a lot of things.  What I do know is that a lot of that stuff takes up a ton of space and we don’t ever use them.  I’ve heard this from somewhere, but you know that feeling you get when you arrive at a hotel room in an unknown city with nothing but your carry-on?  That feeling when you first arrive in your college dorm with nothing but your bag pack and a luggage?  It’s the kind of feeling you get when you sense true freedom.  You are not trapped.  Not bound by your things.  There’s nothing you need to take care of or protect.  It’s just you, the empty space and all the time you don’t have to waste in worrying about your stuff. That’s the exact feeling we get every time we get rid of more things that don’t truly add value to our lives.  I think it’s really worth a try.

How do you part with things with sentimental value? Any ideas?

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6 thoughts on “Does the American Dream Require Accumulation of Stuff?

  1. Hmm, I don’t know about the sentimental stuff. I find I have less things of sentimental value than I thought, and the things I have can stay. For now. The idea of keeping it and returning to it later is really good though.

  2. I’ve tried really hard since our most recent move in October to not get any new useless stuff. It helps that I’m not bringing in any income so I feel less desire to spend money on “stuff”, haha.

    I get caught up in sentimental items too. I’ve started taking pictures of sentimental things before getting rid of/donating it. That way you can remember the item but you don’t have to keep it!

    • god, Im right there with you, I’m doin bar prep right now and I’m not making any income so that kinda forces me to not buy anything.

      I haven’t thought about taking pictures of the stuff! I’ll definitely try that and the “box” see if I can get rid of my youth hockey stuff and my college apparel…

  3. I like your bin idea a lot! When it comes to sentimental things, I try to think to myself if the item actually has sentimental value, or if I just think it does (if that makes sense)… for example, I have a lot of t-shirts from college and thereabouts, and the shirts would bring back great memories, and I would say I can’t get rid of them because of sentimental reasons. Then, I slowly came to realize that I would have those memories and think about them whether I had to shirt or not(!), and that helped me to declutter a bit. So that is the key for me I think… does the item have sentimental value, or does it just make me think of great memories. If it’s the latter, it’s probably safe to say I won’t actually miss it, because the memories will always be there.

    • Jon, I know what you mean. In the process of emptying our bin, I noticed that I had a ton of stuff from my alma mater that I never wear, but I just couldn’t let go of. I think I felt like that stuff was an extension of myself. However, when faced with that dilemma, I reminded myself of Tyler Durden’s quote from Fight Club: “you’re not your fckin khakis.” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwSh9uhRJRA. That one line helped me get rid of a LOT of my clothing I didn’t use. 😉

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