Help! I'm a stuffaholic.
October 25, 2007 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I’m not materialistic, just far too attached to my worldly possessions. How can I break my addiction to stuff?

I have too much stuff, and I keep accumulating more. A lot of it is stuff I don’t really need: tchotchkes, clothes and accessories I rarely wear, perfume and makeup in quantities beyond what I can reasonably use. I’m both a shopaholic and a packrat, and on top of it all, I’m terribly disorganized and often can’t figure out where to even put all my stuff. I’d like to have less, but my attempts to simplify, clean things out, or stick to a budget never work out in the long run. I’ve given away countless boxes and bags full of things I don’t need, but I can never pare my belongings down to "just the essentials," and I inevitably accumulate more than enough stuff to make up for what I’ve discarded.

The thing is, I love stuff. I love getting it and I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. I’d rather go shopping than see a movie or go out drinking or read a great book. Even a visit to the supermarket has me running around like a magpie on ecstasy. Gifts with purchase, limited editions, attractive packaging, clearance racks – I’m a sucker for every marketing gimmick in the book, even though I know better. On the other hand, I’m much more hesitant to follow through with purchasing things I truly need: I can’t bring myself to spend $100 on a digital camera, even if I really want it, but I can drop the same amount of money on glittery makeup or yarn without much thought or regret.

Part of my immense pile of stuff stems from my creative nature. Nearly all of my hobbies have been hands-on, crafty things: I knit, crochet, draw, and dabble in several other crafts. I’m comfortable with having a large stash of art supplies if I know I’ll use them – I’m not a planner and like to have a bunch of different things on hand for inspiration. On the other hand, my stash grows faster than I can tackle it, and it gives me a too-easy excuse to make impulse purchases, and hang on to things longer than necessary, because "I know I’ll find something cool to do with this!!"

The bigger reason, I suspect, is that most of the objects I buy and own greatly appeal to my senses. They either look interesting, smell good, or are soft to the touch. I can spend a surprising amount of time experimenting with my dozens of colors of eyeshadow or sniffing all of my perfumes. (Does this make me weird?) I also have a very short attention span with my things: I will love the fragrance of one soap today, but in a week I’ll find a soap that I think smells even better. I can’t imagine accessorizing in neutrals or sticking to one signature scent for years. I wonder if the solution may involve finding another way to stimulate my senses, but I can’t imagine what a good substitute would be.

I have a feeling that I could successfully curb my impulse buying and finally get organized if I could just get over my attachment to all my stuff. Or is it the other way around - should I tackle the clutter and the budget first? Either way, I don’t know what to do to change, or if it’s even possible. How can I learn to be happier with less?
posted by Metroid Baby to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
i've just finished executing my mother's will. she kept a VERY lean,clean, mean house. she was only in her 60s so not a doddery old thang.

having to deal with even her minimalist quantities helped me see that when i'm gone.... no-one will want my stuff, take care of my stuff, or be interested in my stuff. i think i used to keep a lot of stuff because mum told me not to waste things, and also because i had sentimental attachment to things.

i realised what a burden having a lot of stuff was. and i'm getting rid of stuff now. i've had a garage sale and i feel liberated.

you're probably far too young to consider the consequences of your death on your stuff.... but let me say one thing..... you will be loved more if you have less stuff when you die, than if you had more.... by the executor/trix at least.

maybe my watershed/stuffshed also comes from the whole death of a parent thing... and is completely irrelevant to you.... but it helped me see my own mortality/size in the big scheme of posterity....and sobered me up somewhat.

i've also read good things about personal organisers. they're a bit like life coaches for stuff.

i should stop rambling and throw something out.
and so should you.
give it to st vincent de paul... or whoever you fave charity is.
or sell it at a garage sale.
do not go near ebay.... you will regress in seconds.
good luck possum. you have my sympathy.
posted by taff at 4:34 PM on October 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

It seems to me like you have too much empty space in your life, and you're trying to fill it. Been there, done that.

Small things:
Start doing activities out of the house—especially social activities that don't require buying things. No knitting circle, but a reading group, Habitat for Humanity, etc.
Store all your purses in one box, all your scarves in another, and so forth. When you need something, take it out of the box. When you're done, put it away in your closet. After a year, donate everything left in the boxes.

Extreme measures:
Moving to a smaller apartment will help immensely.
Get a significant other. You'll be surprised at how quickly all your stuff becomes less important once you're in a healthy relationship.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:43 PM on October 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

Perhaps suggesting a book is the last thing you need, but this book was just mentioned on today; perhaps you'll find it helpful:

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff

I have the same problem, for similar reasons (damn my crafty nature!), but one thing I did this summer was create an inventory of each and every thing that I own, every book, every sock, every stray hair clippie.

It took me about 3 days and it was super-annoying. However, once I had an itemized list of the ridiculous amount of stuff I had, it gave me a different perspective and enabled me to get rid of a lot of it.
posted by chara at 4:43 PM on October 25, 2007

Actually, I'm going to suggest it's the opposite of what taff says. Perhaps inside you like knowing that there will be a vast collection of things you've personally selected, to remind people of your presence. I think it would be depressing to live so meagerly that when you bite it, nobody even knows you were there anyway. I think perhaps that's why I keep a lot of few things that are sentimental or that are obviously just stuff to keep around.

Maybe its why I had a crappy trilobite fossil for a good 15 years that I found at camp when I was a kid. You already say you give lots of stuff away, it just sounds like you need to up your giveaway to purchase ratio and thus whittle down the pile. Enroll in a class. Learn something new, while still giving away stuff. It'll help you broaden your horizons and realize you can let go of more stuff, because the stuff you have is probably completely irrelevant to what you will learn. I know it sounds weird, but I think it could work for you. Good luck, at any rate, I hope you get it conquered. It just sounds like you need to learn more philosophical things where accumulating stuff shows itself to be completely unrelated to anything you've been immersed in.

Alternatively, back to the whole dying with nothing around/collecting things to leave an imprint - maybe find more friends? I think my rambling shows that I haven't quite figured out my own packrattiness yet, but I am trying to help.
posted by cashman at 4:51 PM on October 25, 2007

Try replacing the stuff you have with higher-quality stuff. If you've got five of an item or items, replace them with a single, high-quality item and toss the redundant stuff. Actually, the first step is to toss the redundant stuff and then deciding whether or not it needs to be replaced, and then replacing it with smaller, better stuff.

I have a similar collection of artsy craftsy stuff, but I went through it and tossed the old stuff and the superfluous stuff. Four half-full tubes of Burnt Umber? I only need one for now. A tacklebox full of pencils? They aren't doing much good in the closet, and half of them are stubs. Toss 'em.
posted by lekvar at 4:54 PM on October 25, 2007

Best answer: There are a few problems here that all seem like one big stuff problem. Depending which of these are larger, you may attack this in different ways. So, reading what you wrote it seems

1. you have a shopping problem
2. you have too many things
3. you are disorganized with the things you do have

So I'd work from the bottom up because you can still shop while you organize, somewhat. First off, give yourself a shopping break, but still make a shopping list. Take two weeks off shopping except for food and whatever else is essential. Get a buddy to help you make your essential list.

Now while you're not bringing more into your house, get some stuff out. Do a serious purge of clothes and crafty stuff and soap you don't like and, again, work with a friend to get that stuff OUT of your house. I do this for my sister form time to time. I just show up at her house, we tidy up and I offer to take away what she can't deal with getting rid of. If you're someplace populated use Craigslist, Freecycle, a free table or your friend's car to get that stuff OUT.

Now assess what you have and make a list of what you will need in order to keep this stuff tidy and put away. You'll probably have to go to Target or Ikea and buy a lot of stuff with little drawers, plastic tubs, rollaway buns, I don't know what. This is your last big no-budget shop, go nuts.

Then take another week off shopping and spend the time at home getting organized. Touch your things, get acquainted wiht them. I've found that my friends with shopping attachments rarely even like or know what they have, so spend some time engaged with your stuff. Maybe some of it would make a nice present, or a good thing to put in the guest bathroom or your friend's guest bathroom. Spend some time sorting while you organize, maybe you'll find more stuff that can go away. Again, you have a finite amount of spce and anything that can't go away someplace really needs to go out.

Okay you've spent some time not shopping. Now make a budget. Nothing wrong with doing some shopping but it needs to stay within limits. People do this many ways

- decide on a one-in-one-out policy particualrly for clothes
- set a dollar amount
- set a stuff amount/limit "I can only buy one shiny thing a week"

Find a buddy to help you with this. Spend some of the time you would have spent shopping actually DOING the crafts you keep buying junk for. Take long baths and use some of the fancy bath stuff. Go out on the town and wear your new shoes and some cologne. Using some of these things helps reduce the totemic significance they seem to have when they're just potential objects.

In short, the more you aren't just a shopper and stasher and the more you have a life where you inteact and engage with your things, to me, the more you're able to make reasonable determinations of what sort os of things are really necessary to lie your life and what are just occupying some sort of hoarding/saveforlater/fear-of-scarcity position. I'm not sure what the trick is to removing the desire for stuff totally, but examinging it and being mindful of it is the first place to start. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:01 PM on October 25, 2007 [10 favorites]

I cured my addiction to materialism by spending 3 months backpacking around a third world country. I saw the way that people live, the minimal possessions and comforts they have. When I flew back into the US, I felt really repulsed by how materialistic everything seemed.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:08 PM on October 25, 2007

Related, previously.
posted by eritain at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2007

Switch to eating and drinking a variety of high quality food and alcohol products. Then you can have shopping funtime at the liquor store, craft beer store or upscale supermarket, acquiring a variety of things which appeal to the senses, but they all go away automatically.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:12 PM on October 25, 2007

Best answer: I feel far less attached to "stuff" than I used to. In fact, I hardly ever even feel like buying things just because I like them any more. This change has happened over the course of a few years, and some things that have changed in my life during that time are:

-I've gotten rid of my TV. I think the combination of not seeing the constant advertisements, not seeing the cushy standard of living of TV families, and not being bombarded with the anxiety-producing yelling of the talking heads on the TV were all contributing to the desire to consume.
-I've had a kid. Suddenly I can't have clutter any more, because it's not safe! Plus, I'm far more concerned about financial security than that lovely x in the shop window.
-I've moved. I lived in my previous apartment for only 4 years, and I can not believe the amount of junk that I got rid of while I was packing. It's nice not to have clutter - I don't want any more!
-I don't really go "shopping" for fun any more. If I just want to get out without anything particular in mind to do, I generally go for a walk outside, whether around the city or through a park.

So, those are the things that I believe reduced my attachment to stuff/desire to buy more stuff. Maybe you'll find some of it helpful.
posted by textilephile at 5:15 PM on October 25, 2007

You know what always works?
Move to a smaller home.

People with lots of stuff tend to need larger and larger places to put it all. I know i did. It was a vicious circle. Get stuff. Need more room. Move to a bigger house.

Problem is the bigger house is, the more expensive. So in order to afford the cycle you have to compromise on life style in one way or another. Such as moving out to the burbs. Sacrificing TIME (time to commute, time clean, time to perform maintenance) for stuff.

And you know there is only one thing you never get enough of and that is time. It is a fools trade.

So we tackled it in reverse. We sought a location we really, really, wanted to live. The criteria was the proximity to all the places and activities we love. We knew in order to afford that the place would have to be much smaller.

We found it. And it was a quarter of the place we had.

So we got rid of about 70% of all our stuff. We prioritized it by things we really rally needed. And sold or gave away the rest.

Our motto now is "quality over quantity."

We buy only goods of very high quality - and we buy with cash, So we have to save and plan for it (thus eliminating compulsive buying).
posted by tkchrist at 5:28 PM on October 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Pick something you want on eBay(It helps to pick something there are a lot of), and sell enough stuff to buy it. I'm currently trying to buy a new celphone, for example.

Throwing actual money into the PayPal account (Or paying shipping with cash instead of PayPal) is cheating, of course.

The classic book for re-prioritizing your life and spending habits (IMO) is Your money or your life, but I suggest you rent it from the library.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:44 PM on October 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

One thing you might look at: do you like acquiring something more than you like owning it? It could be that you're holding onto stuff because you don't want to admit this is the case.

Basically, if I want something on impulse, I make myself wait a day to decide on it. So, you see something you want, you go home and imagine that you've already bought it and what you would do with it, and then the morning think about whether, if you had it, you would still hold an interest in it.
posted by troybob at 5:52 PM on October 25, 2007

If you like to shop, use your shopping skills for good. Buy for soup kitchens, nursing homes, boys & girls clubs, Angel Trees, Operation Christmas Child.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:05 PM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

When getting rid of stuff that I don't use or like but that I find difficult to get rid of, I take a number of a photos so that if need be, I can look at that.

I remind myself that I can get just about any book out of the library.

Some people recommend starting a list in your journal about the things you didn't buy so that after a week or a month you can look back and go, oh, did I really want that?

Also, your home is not meant to be a museum or a library or an art gallery. If you try to treat it that way, there won't be room in it for you. Go to places where you can enjoy that sort of thing regularly, every day if you can.

I think that textilephile has a real point about advertising. Very clever people are paid a lot of money to make us think we want something, even if it's not necessary. They make us feel bad about ourselves if we don't do it. For example, you might have noticed a modern obsession with white teeth causing some people to denigrate those people who either can't afford, or don't value cosmetic dental care as highly.

Keep thinking about the issue. It's not a once off, I come to a conclusion and am cured thing. It's an ongoing challenge to fight the consumerist propaganda. Use freecycle. Sell on ebay or wherever. Learn to value experiences over things.

Great question.
posted by b33j at 6:06 PM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not a quick fix, but I find my own similar mindset slowly changing after having read pretty regularly for the last few months.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:21 PM on October 25, 2007

Visit your local tip/landfill (I hope that's what it's called in American - a hole in the ground where the local authorities allow you to dump stuff you don't want).

If it's anything like mine you will be surrounded by enormous quantities of not terribly old consumer goods which have been chucked by their owners.

Whenever I go I find I cannot help but reflect on the senselessness of most material possessions. I also reflect upon the fraction of your life spent working to ... obtain the money to ... buy the goods to ... send to the tip.

Try going once a month - maybe instead of a trip to the mall.
posted by southof40 at 6:44 PM on October 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: well, there are a lot of issues. one, you're disorganized, so you don't even realize what you have. so you see something in a store and buy it on the spot, and pretty soon you end up like my mom, with seven jars of mustard.

so go shopping with a list. do not violate the list unless you genuinely forgot to put something on it (and you'll know when you're lying to yourself.) if you see something you like, write it down on another list. it has to wait for the next shopping trip.

two, like my mom, you have probably developed a habit of satisfying a creative need with acquisition. buying something is your way of saying you like it, that it appeals to you. you probably can't admire something and walk away from it. it's not a fundamental flaw, it's just a strong habit you've built and reinforced and don't know how to break.

that's something a cognitive/behavioral therapist can help you with, actually.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:57 PM on October 25, 2007 [5 favorites]

Ahoy fellow craftster!

I have the same problem- moving three times in six months sorted that one out for me.

With your stash- put your yarn in ziploc bags with the pattern you intend to use it for. If it doesn't have a pattern, or if you don't have a project in mind, take it to your knitting group and make a donation.

With your make-up: a lot of make-up goes out of date surprisingly quickly. So you may find that a lot of it is expired anyway. This is a rough list of how long you should keep make-up... If it's older than that, chuck it!

Mascara: 3-6 months
Moisturiser: 3-12 months
Powders: 12-24 months
Eye shadows: 12 months
Concealer: 12 months
Eyeliner/lipstick/lipgloss: 12-24 months
Fragrances: 18-24 months.

Clothes and shoes: if you haven't worn them in a year... out they go. If they don't fit, don't match, need repairs that you'll get around to "one day".... out!

Ornaments and general crap: stick it in a box. If you haven't missed it after 4 months, chuck it.

I find giving stuff away to friends easier than donating it to charity for some reason. If you can't stand to put your stuff in a charity bin, get a friend to pick it up from your house and donate it for you. No messy goodbyes!

In my experience, you won't miss the stuff you get rid of, you'll just take a lot more pride in what you still have.
posted by indienial at 7:51 PM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

How did I know you were a knitter? It's way too easy to drop a couple hundred dollars on pretty hand-painted sock yarn these days...

At least with regards to my stash, I'm finding that the more I look through it, the more I realize that a.) I have some really awesome stuff that I want to knit *now*, and b.) I've acquired a lot of stuff on whims that really isn't useful to me. And as far as yarn is concerned, it's just as easy to destash it as it is to acquire it most of the time. Get into the habit of spending quality time with your crafting stashes, and maybe you'll come to some realizations about what is really necessary/interesting/beautiful to you.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 7:54 PM on October 25, 2007

Just different ideas and trying to think if it would be possible to combine your passion for new sensations and creativity yet not spend time accumulating...junk?
--If you like the action and movement of gathering things and bringing them home until your attention shifts to the next thing (in addition to satisfying senses): Have you thought of visiting your local library? You can check out many books and magazines, sometimes for a month or more.
--For the senses part, the library can still help. Check out music CDs - make a copy of the new music. You can probably get lots and lots of new types of music, save them onto that CD or your computer...until you are bored.
--Why not share this 'creating stuff'/energy with those who don't have anything? I'm going to second the suggestion to volunteer somewhere. What about with kids or older people? Bring in lots of your stuff. Lead an art project - I think if you have an audience or others who share this passion, it will be much more enjoyable.
--If you really want the camera, etc. - it's okay to do that. Why not set up a system or set of rules? If you saved ___$ over the course of X months (perhaps by not buying the stuff) or get ride of 10 bags of trinkets, then give yourself so many points, and after you get win so many points, THEN you can get the item you want.
--I don't know the size of the city that you live in (or anything about your friends), but could you run a craigslist af or set up a system with your friends to trade stuff? Trade your yarn for new candles, or soap, etc. I think there is something about making your sensory system happy - why not do that and make your friend happy too by exchanging the items.
-Is there a salvation army near the place you live? Bring in lots of your excess stuff there. Buy second hand..candles, trinkets least you are giving back to the community and not generating as much waste in the process. In the end, you would be trading your stuff.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:56 PM on October 25, 2007

I think there is something in our culture that teaches us that shopping is a valid form of emotional therapy, especially for women. I know I am not the only one who grew up believing this. Besides traveling to see how poorly other people live, here are some other things I do to prevent myself from feeling like I am drowning in stuff.

For beauty and hair products, make yourself use up what you have before you buy a new one.

If you are going to go on a shop-a-palooza, try and buy stuff second-hand. Hitting a consignment shop or thrift store is a good way to satisfy the shopping itch without feeling completely guilty.

Four times a year, go through your clothes, shoes and purses, weed out stuff you don't like or wear. Take it to a consignment shop, clothing exchange or thrift store.

Ban yourself from buying certain types of items. For instance, I love buying kitchen stuff (cute dishes, gadgets). I don't allow myself to buy anything new until I absolutely need it.

If you want to treat yourself, a vacation, dinner at nice restaurants, massages, facials, etc. are good ways to do that without accumulating stuff. Think about how much money you will have in savings if you quit shopping all the time. Really focus on getting your finances organized, so you have a healthy savings and investment portfolio.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:09 PM on October 25, 2007

I had a hard time getting rid of a subset of my stuff that I had emotional attachments to. That's when I whipped out the digital camera, took a few shots of the objects, and chucked 'em.

Another way to look at your stuff is to group it into one big dollar sign. Do you have a thousand dollars of stuff sitting around? That could pay for a trip to Europe. This is a great way to stop buying things as well. Save money for travel, save money to do things instead of buying things.
posted by user92371 at 9:22 PM on October 25, 2007

Best answer: Take a look at all the things you have now. Are you so in love with the stuff you buy that you wear it constantly, use it every day and display it proudly? Or is it just cluttering up your house?

Next time you're in a store, holding a $15 widget in your hand, imagine yourself in six months. Will you still want to be holding that widget in your hand? Imagine that widget in the bottom of a closet, gathering dust.

And ask yourself why you like shopping so much, and what drives you to make stuff. Do you find it stimulating to look at things you haven't seen before, and didn't know existed? Go to a museum. Do you like *having* cool stuff? Then get a subscription to Make and Ready Made. If something is truly worth having, it's truly satisfying to make it yourself.

Are you just compulsive? That's fine, too. Find a satisfying compulsion that doesn't vaporize your money. It doesn't have to be productive. Garden, learn an instrument or fill your head chock full of facts about your local flora and fauna.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:17 PM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get married.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 10:45 PM on October 25, 2007

Put items in boxes and into your storage space, with a date on the boxes. Three months from now, if you haven't gone in and pulled the item out to use, sell the items on ebay or discard them or whatever. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by davejay at 1:11 AM on October 26, 2007

Best answer: I have too much stuff. Most people in America do. In fact, the poorer people are, the more stuff they seem to have. Hardly anyone is so poor that they can't afford a front yard full of old cars.

It wasn't always this way. Stuff used to be rare and valuable. You can still see evidence of that if you look for it. For example, in my house in Cambridge, which was built in 1876, the bedrooms don't have closets. In those days people's stuff fit in a chest of drawers. Even as recently as a few decades ago there was a lot less stuff. When I look back at photos from the 1970s, I'm surprised how empty houses look. As a kid I had what I thought was a huge fleet of toy cars, but they'd be dwarfed by the number of toys my nephews have. All together my Matchboxes and Corgis took up about a third of the surface of my bed. In my nephews' rooms the bed is the only clear space.

Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.

That was a big problem for me when I had no money. I felt poor, and stuff seemed valuable, so almost instinctively I accumulated it. Friends would leave something behind when they moved, or I'd see something as I was walking down the street on trash night (beware of anything you find yourself describing as "perfectly good"), or I'd find something in almost new condition for a tenth its retail price at a garage sale. And pow, more stuff.

In fact these free or nearly free things weren't bargains, because they were worth even less than they cost. Most of the stuff I accumulated was worthless, because I didn't need it.

What I didn't understand was that the value of some new acquisition wasn't the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It was the value I derived from it. Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don't have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

In fact, worse than worthless, because once you've accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn't retire to the town they preferred because they couldn't afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn't theirs; it's their stuff's.

And unless you're extremely organized, a house full of stuff can be very depressing. A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

(This could explain why clutter doesn't seem to bother kids as much as adults. Kids are less perceptive. They build a coarser model of their surroundings, and this consumes less energy.)

I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I lived in Italy for a year. All I took with me was one large backpack of stuff. The rest of my stuff I left in my landlady's attic back in the US. And you know what? All I missed were some of the books. By the end of the year I couldn't even remember what else I had stored in that attic.

And yet when I got back I didn't discard so much as a box of it. Throw away a perfectly good rotary telephone? I might need that one day.

The really painful thing to recall is not just that I accumulated all this useless stuff, but that I often spent money I desperately needed on stuff that I didn't.

Why would I do that? Because the people whose job is to sell you stuff are really, really good at it. The average 25 year old is no match for companies that have spent years figuring out how to get you to spend money on stuff. They make the experience of buying stuff so pleasant that "shopping" becomes a leisure activity.

How do you protect yourself from these people? It can't be easy. I'm a fairly skeptical person, and their tricks worked on me well into my thirties. But one thing that might work is to ask yourself, before buying something, "is this going to make my life noticeably better?"

A friend of mine cured herself of a clothes buying habit by asking herself before she bought anything "Am I going to wear this all the time?" If she couldn't convince herself that something she was thinking of buying would become one of those few things she wore all the time, she wouldn't buy it. I think that would work for any kind of purchase. Before you buy anything, ask yourself: will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?

The worst stuff in this respect may be stuff you don't use much because it's too good. Nothing owns you like fragile stuff. For example, the "good china" so many households have, and whose defining quality is not so much that it's fun to use, but that one must be especially careful not to break it.

Another way to resist acquiring stuff is to think of the overall cost of owning it. The purchase price is just the beginning. You're going to have to think about that thing for years—perhaps for the rest of your life. Every thing you own takes energy away from you. Some give more than they take. Those are the only things worth having.

I've now stopped accumulating stuff. Except books—but books are different. Books are more like a fluid than individual objects. It's not especially inconvenient to own several thousand books, whereas if you owned several thousand random possessions you'd be a local celebrity. But except for books, I now actively avoid stuff. If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I'll take services over goods any day.

I'm not claiming this is because I've achieved some kind of zenlike detachment from material things. I'm talking about something more mundane. A historical change has taken place, and I've now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it's not.

In industrialized countries the same thing happened with food in the middle of the twentieth century. As food got cheaper (or we got richer; they're indistinguishable), eating too much started to be a bigger danger than eating too little. We've now reached that point with stuff. For most people, rich or poor, stuff has become a burden.

The good news is, if you're carrying a burden without knowing it, your life could be better than you realize. Imagine walking around for years with five pound ankle weights, then suddenly having them removed.

-Paul Graham
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:43 AM on October 26, 2007 [25 favorites]

I am very much like this, down to the emotional attachment and odd spending on craft supplies. Luckily, I live with a neat freak, and that helps keep it down to a slightly manageable roar. The books are another story.

There have been a lot of really helpful suggestions in this thread already (which I will be making note of!). I can offer a few practical ways to get rid of Stuff, which helps in seeing one's stuff as more disposable/usable (rather than an endlessly accumulating stash).

--Go on a "No Buy" for a month or several. Set a time limit, and do not allow yourself to buy ANYTHING in a particular category of goods. Have too much makeup/bath supplies? You can only use what's in your stash, and only switch when you've used something up. You'll soon find out how much stuff you really have, and that it can likely last you for several eternities. You'll start to feel a bit of the burden of all of this Stuff. After a few months of this, you will hopefully (like I did) start to wonder why on earth you thought it was so necessary to have half a dozen different body lotions, 4 sets of markers, etc.

--start training your brain to put a lockdown on your impulses. I have a process I now force myself to go through that involves taking careful stock of whether I am COMPELLED! to purchase said item because I am feeling stressed out or have gotten distracted by something shiny and Do I Really Need It? And I don't just ask myself once, I go through the rounds several times, vigorously. If you really seriously dwell on Do I Really Need It without letting your inner magpie trick you into rationalizing, you'll find that ultimately you'll be able to keep your buying urge under control until the danger has passed, and that impulse no longer has such a hold on you. In my case, often I just need to keep it in hand for a little while, as I'll have calmed down in about 24 hours and no longer feel this overwhelming desire for whatever odd widget it is I so *desperately needed*.

--I buy a lot of things because I like the newness of Exciting New Toys and I love getting "surprises" in the mail with more fervor than more than most rational human beings. If you're an internet shopper, substituting letter-writing does marvels for this. Now I drop postcards in the mail all the time for friends and acquaintances elsewhere, and it means that I receive a fresh new "present" in the mail pretty frequently. Also good for this are CD-trading groups and the like.

--Per the Paul Graham above: the fact that it's on sale doesn't make it a good deal for me. Sure, I might never find that $600 coat on sale for 75% off again -- but the question is: do I actually need a leather coat right now? No. I want one, it's pretty, but I already have a functional coat. Likewise with craft stashes, etc. Also -- there will always be another sale, and you can buy new stuff when you've used up your old. It is never the last time you'll be able to buy gorgeous yarn at discount.

--Spend money on experiences rather than things. If what you're looking for is stimuli, blow that money on a concert or a great dinner or a trip instead. It lingers with you in a much better way than the ball-and-chain of Stuff, and you're filled with memories rather than filling your house with more crap.

I can't help you with breaking emotional ties to Stuff, as I am a real nostalgic hoarder, and I have scraps of paper from 20 years ago. It can help to try to incorporate these things into a big visual journal of some kind -- and to just paste them in, rather than leave them hanging around waiting for the "perfect" layout. But yeah, I have a bunch of weird crap in my house that drives Mr. Tigerbelly insane, so no help there.

posted by tigerbelly at 7:44 AM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The best part of your post is the part where you try to identify why you enjoy accumulating stuff. Keep thinking about that. All these tips for getting rid of stuff and buying less are good advice, but until you identify the need that buying stuff is fulfilling, and find a new way to fulfill that need, you're not going to be happy.

I know a lot of people who use things as a substitute for action. They want to be writers, so they buy beautiful notebooks and journals -- but they never write. They want to be beautiful, so they accumulate stashes of lotions and eye shadows -- but they still feel ugly and inadequate on the inside. They want to be a free, creative spirit, so they buy piles of art supplies -- but they never draw or paint.

Become a person of action instead of a person of stuff. The stuff isn't really fulfilling your emotional needs (that's why you keep buying more!), it's only holding you back from doing the things that you want to do and becoming the person you want to be by offering a temporary emotional fix. For a brief moment, you feel like you're achieving something, and your creative impulse is fulfilled -- but the feeling doesn't last. Buying yarn is much easier than actually finishing a sweater, but the satisfaction that you'll get from finishing that sweater will be 10x greater.
posted by junkbox at 8:09 AM on October 26, 2007 [28 favorites]

Junkbox absolutely nailed it.
posted by tigerbelly at 11:53 AM on October 26, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thank you, all of you. These are some really helpful and insightful answers, and I’m going to keep them on hand during my stint in Stuff Rehab.

Putting this question in writing and hearing other people’s thoughts has helped me identify a few things that I could change, immediately and relatively painlessly:

- Change my attitudes about shopping; treat it as a task (even if it’s a fun one) rather than a social activity, a reward, or a break. Go into stores with a list and a mission. I’ve found that if there’s something specific I’m looking for, like a particular style of shoe, I’ll be much more conscientious about buying it and enjoy/use it more. Shopping for “black flat Mary Janes for everyday wear with a non-slip sole” is better for me than simply “oh boy, cute shoes!”
-Remove product-related influences from my life whenever possible. The last seven emails I received have all been promotional offers from places I love to shop. I used to open those emails every time, but from now on I’m making like Strong Bad and deleting that crap. I read several product blogs regularly and even write for one; I can easily stop. I can’t want something if I’ve never heard of it.
-I need to focus on hobbies and crafts where I enjoy the process of creation more than the materials themselves. I’ll still knit, but I can shift the focus from the yarn itself to learning challenging patterns and techniques using my existing stash. I enjoy writing and drawing just as much, and they’re far cheaper activities. A pen and notebook takes up barely any space in my bag.
-I can integrate my need for interesting sights and textures with things that I actually need and can use, rather than clutter. A bright blue bedspread that I’ll sleep under every night would do way more for me than five bottles of blue nail polish.
-I need to learn to distinguish what has genuine sentimental value and what I’ve been hanging on to just because I’ve already hung onto it for years. The stuffed cat I’ve had since birth is staying no matter what. The stuffed Sonic the Hedgehog that I’ve had since 14? We’ve had a good time, Sonic. Bye.

A lot of these are variations on previous suggestions; I’m hoping they’ll help me and maybe anyone else who’s reading this and has a similar problem.

I like thinkingwoman’s point that this is a habit I can break, not a fixed part of who I am as I used to believe. I used to think I couldn’t run, either – and now I run several miles a week. I can do this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:40 PM on October 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

As to the "buying stuff" problem, leaving your credit cards at home and only bringing enough cash for your planned purchases (which are on a written list, of course) will help this immensely. Freeze your credit cards in a block of ice if you have to.
posted by yohko at 5:32 PM on October 26, 2007

Related to what I already posted, what junkbox said, and the first line in b33j's post, read this:

Coveting possessions is unhealthy. Here's how I look at it:

All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.

When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.

This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.

The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. The James Savages of the world are merely curators.

As I am the curator of their things, and thus together we all share the world.
- via the quite brilliant Pastabagel

I don't think you should miss the underlying idea here - there might be a really innovative solution for your problem in making your next "stuff" accumulation a decent digital camera and a year-long flickr account.

Start taking pictures of things you don't need / haven't used recently. Take good pictures, play with the light and the angle and the background. Start making sets and adding comments on your flickr page. Make getting rid of your stuff a creative activity that fulfills you.

This is an awesome question and good on you for asking it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:49 PM on October 26, 2007 [8 favorites]

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