Wednesday, June 25, 2014


In one month I'm moving to Panama City, Panama, and have to decide what to take, what to keep here, and what to sell and throw away. When I recently was unable to toss a queen-sized air mattress that leaks badly, Stuff reminded of the very powerful hold it has over my life.

We work hard to acquire Stuff.  We cherish it, guard it, care for it. We get mad if its broken, stolen or misused.  Sometimes we are so worried about Stuff we don't even use it for its intended purpose, lest it suffer some harm.

Here's an anecdote.  I know a well-to-do man, very wise with his money.  He bought a nice used car for $10,000 cash.  Not a Mercedes or Lexus, think Honda or Toyota.  He was telling me how nice it was, and how he got such a great deal on it.  I noticed it was in his garage.  So I asked him,

"Do you drive it to work?"

"No" he said, "I drive my old beater.  I don't want the wear and tear."

"Do you take it on trips?"

"Not during the winter, I don't want it to get chips."

"So you bought a $10,000 car only to drive it on long trips on the summer?"

The irony hit him, then he tried to hit me, but I skillfully dodged his blows. But I'm just as guilty of having the same mindset.

Why do we love our stuff so much?  I don't know. Perhaps our possessiveness of our possessions is some evolutionary vestige. Stuff was once very difficult to acquire because it all had to be made by hand. That's different now. Industrialization and globalization has made stuff so cheap and plentiful that 1 out every 10 families rent space to store their extra junk. It's a 22 billion dollar industry.

How we see all the crap we've collected.

How the world sees all the crap we've collected
The Woodburn Auction I've written about here and here and here provides a stark reminder on the true value of our possessions. Often you find all the worldly possessions of some deceased soul, divided out into little brown boxes for all the world to see and finger through. It can be a little haunting. All the trinkets, souvenirs, dishes, drawings, pictures that they cared enough about to keep all their life end up going for $2-$15 a box.  So there's your answer. Most of your stuff is worth about $2-$15 a box when it's all said and done.

All those things we own own some little part of us. If I can't throw away a leaky air mattress, that air mattress clearly has a hold on me. Just typing that made me feel stupid. An air mattress has a hold on me?!  All possessions should be judged on one thing only: their utility. 

If you have a car that can't be driven, or a carpet that can't be walked on, a bike to expensive to use... then why do you have it?

Paring down my life recently has brought a sense of freedom and clarity. I'll only be taking to Panama the things I really need, and only keeping here the things I really love (mostly my bike and snow shoes). If something has outlived its usefulness to you, sell it, give it or throw it away. Keep the things that are truly sentimental, but if you can buy it at a Wal-Mart, it's probably not that special.

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