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Why It's So Hard to Get Rid of Our Excess Stuff

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Why do we accumulate so much stuff we don’t really want, and why is it then so hard to get rid of it all? Most of what we own should end up right here! 

(Many of us have found getting rid of enough stuff  so the we can fit inside a van or RV is extremely difficult! Today I want to give you a guest post from a blog I follow at by Leo Babauta (he offers universal permission to reprint his posts). I was so impressed with this post I thought I would share it will all my readers. Find this post on his site here:
While we might want to get out from under the mountain of possessions we have, and have all the best intentions of simplifying our lives … the truth is that we continue to have too much stuff.
Part of that is laziness, an attitude of “I’ll get to it later” … but the real driving force behind our too-much-stuffitis is fear.
Fear is what causes us to buy things we don’t really need. Fear keeps us holding onto stuff we don’t need.

  • You pack too much when you travel, and have a garage full of stuff, just in case you might need it. This is a fear that you might need something and not have it. It’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
  • You buy a lot of things for an upcoming event or trip because you don’t know what you might need. Your fear is that you’ll be unprepared. Again, it’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
  • You hold on to things you don’t use anymore because you might need it someday. You probably won’t, but you’re really not sure. Again, it’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
  • You keep books and other aspirational items (guitar you never learned, elliptical machine you don’t use) because you hope you’ll get to them someday, and letting go seems like a loss of hope. You fear not being the person you want to be. This is a fear of not being good enough as you are.
  • You hold on to sentimental items, because you don’t want to lose the memories, or because it means a lot. Really, you’re afraid you will lose the love or relationship that these items represent (grandpa’s jacket represents your loving relationship with him). You fear the loss of love. This is a fear that the love you have now is not good enough.
  • You don’t want to get rid of things because you paid a lot for them, and you fear that letting go would be a waste. Actually, if you’re not using them, it’s a waste to keep them. It’s hard to say what the fear is here … but you likely fear that if the original purchase was a mistake, things might not turn out well in the future. This is a fear that the present moment won’t turn out OK, or again, a fear of uncertainty.
  • You keep a lot of clothes (or other similar items) because they’re a means of self-expression for you … and getting rid of many of those clothes would feel like you’re limiting your means of self-expression. You fear not having those options, not having the ability to be who you want to be. This is a fear that you’re not good enough as you are, without those items.

I could go on, but nearly all our possessions that aren’t absolute necessities (shelter, a bed, very minimal clothing, food, personal hygiene stuff, etc.) are bought and kept because of fears.

Although the size of American homes has tremendously increased, we still can’t fit all our junk in it so we have to rent self-storage units in hugely increasing numbers.

We want these items to comfort us, to help us cope with fears and anxieties, to help us feel prepared and more secure, to help us feel that we’ll be OK, to help us feel more certain about the future.
And of course, these items don’t actually do any of these things. We hope they will, but they never do. We never have more certainty about the future, and we continue to want more things to cope with fears that we’re not good enough, that things won’t turn out OK, and so on. The cycle doesn’t end.
So what’s the solution?

A Better Way to Cope With Fears

If we could find a different way of coping with these fears and anxieties, we wouldn’t need the stuff. We could pause before buying something out of fear, and decide not to buy it. We could finally get rid of much of the stuff we have lying around taking up space and mental energy. We could downsize, and live a more minimalist life.
So what’s another way to cope with these fears? Try this:

  1. First notice that you have fear. Notice that you’re being motivated out of fear. Notice that there’s some anxiety, some worry about uncertainty or insecurity, some desire for comfort.
  2. Stay with the fear. Our tendency is to run away from the fear, to try to seek comfort by buying something or eating comfort food or doing something relaxing. Running from the fear is what causes many of our problems. Stay, sit still, face the fear, breathe. Find the courage to go to the places we’re afraid of.
  3. Smile at the fear. Face this fear and smile at it. It is just a scared child inside you, nothing to run from, nothing to be upset about. It’s perfectly OK, perfectly natural, for fears to arise in us. Accept this fear in front of you, and smile at it. This smiling dissipates much of its power.
  4. Develop a friendliness with it. Be open and curious about your fear, see how it feels in your body, what is its quality? Investigate it with friendliness, get to know it like a new friend. Once you really learn what this fear feels like, really become unconditionally friendly with it, you begin to trust that you’ll be OK, that it will float away eventually like a cloud in the wide open expanse of the sky of your mind.

Friends, with this fear, you can now decide how to act, unencumbered by the need to alleviate the fear with possessions. You can close the tab with your favorite online shopping site, you can put it on a 30-day list to look at later, when the urge has faded and the fear is no longer with you. You can let go of the possessions you do have, finally freeing yourself of this burden.
And in the end, you’ll find that you’re perfectly OK as you are, without needing to change, without needing anything to “express” who you are or improve you. And that’s worth more than all the possessions in the world.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James YouTube Channel. See them here:

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  1. mayble

    Then there’s the fear of donating something to Goodwill or selling it for pennies at a yard sale, and then learning it was some obscure artists’ masterpiece worth millions.
    Another good and timely post, Bob.
    I’ve been wanting to simplify and minimize for years, and just started actually sorting through my stuff and boxing things up to be sold/donated. I feel burdened by all these possessions and it feels so good to move forward.

    • Bob

      I understand Mayble, it is very bitter-sweet both at the same time. You want to get rid of all that stuff with part of you, but hate to do it with another part! Bob

  2. Al Christensen

    When I was married, my wife was distressed by how easily I could let things go. She had an abusive childhood, so her possessions helped her feel safe. She also carried two huge shoulder bags everywhere filled with “just in case” items. She never used any of it, but I couldn’t convince her to at least winnow down the load to one bag. She was convinced she’d need an object as soon as she left it behind. Meanwhile, I’d go out into the world with just my wallet (containing driver license, one credit card, some cash), keys (only the car key and house key) and sunglasses. Because my life, unlike hers, had proved that was all I needed 99.9% of the time.
    Getting rid of the contents of my house was easy, unemotional. However, I did think long and hard about what I would actually need as a vandweller. I thought I had it down to a minimum, but I’d overestimated. Perhaps my emotional need was to not appear foolish and unprepared.

    • Bob

      Al, that is a big leap forward in self-awareness that most people never arrive it. I admire that you can do that! Bob

  3. Elaine Patton

    I just emptied out my house , the feeling of gtting rid of all of my stuff was great!!! My house is the next to go. Hopefully we close on August 12th. I am excited and anxious…….but ready! Love the info, it is comforting when I am feeling anxious about the journey that I am about to embark on! Thanks Bob!

    • Bob

      I’m very glad to be of some small help Elaine! Bob

  4. Wayne Wirs

    What you own, owns you.

    • Lucy

      SO VERY TRUE !!!

    • Bob

      I agree 100% Wayne! Bob

  5. Rob

    “Stuff” was (and is) the hardest part of downsizing.

    • Bob

      It is for me too!! Thanks Rob! Bob

  6. Patricia Taylor

    I have completely different “stuff”. I have a lot of hobbies. Sewing, embroidery, quilting, crochet, reading. I have a ton of stuff that represents all of those things, which I do need, and do use all the time. Any type of on the road life for me would only be for short periods of time since I can’t be away from my type of “stuff” without ceasing to be who I am.

    • Bob

      Patricia, it would seem you could make it fit in something like a Class C. I have a friend in a Class C has a wheel to spin her own yarn. Something to consider. Bob

  7. Ming

    Yes, stuff is definitely my biggest challenge. The rest is just little problems that can be solved with the right… Stuff!

  8. Ming

    Yes, stuff I no longer have a need for is definitely my biggest challenge. The rest is just little problems that can be solved with the right… stuff!

    • Bob

      I can relate Ming! Bob

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