Have you reached “Peak Stuff”? 6 Tips for Letting Go

This time last year, the head of sustainability for Ikea announced that we’d reached “peak stuff”. (Interesting, then, that rather than shut up shop and consider a job well done, Ikea plan to double sales by 2020.) For many years, in the weeks post-Christmas, I’d feel a little like that myself. I’d have a heap of new stuff, but I’d still have all the old stuff sitting there too – and much of it was still perfectly usable.

I’d definitely reached peak stuff – but what to do about it? What about the waste?

Too much stuff creates clutter and stress, but it took me a long time to realise that too much stuff is also a huge waste of resources. Anything we own and don’t use is a waste. I was kidding myself thinking that I was reducing waste by keeping stuff that I might use at some point in the future (but probably wouldn’t).

And so, I learned to declutter. Decluttering does not come naturally to me, but with practice, it becomes infinitely easier. The most important lesson is to be honest with yourself. Forget about what others think, what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, and ask yourself truthfully: Right now, do I really need this?

1. The Meaning of the Gift is in the Giving

People give gifts because they want to show their love and appreciation. That is where the meaning is. Some people need to give gifts to express their feelings. Some people enjoy giving gifts to others. Those are their needs, and they have nothing to do with you, and nothing to do with the stuff.

Receiving a gift doesn’t mean that you need to keep the gift if you don’t want it, don’t like it, or don’t need it. Be grateful and thankful that you have been given it, and appreciate the sentiment. That is enough.

Of course, you don’t need to tell them that you don’t like the gift, or that you gave it away. There is no need to offend anyone. People rarely remember what gifts they gave others.

Often we hold onto things because we think someone will be offended if we give it away, but it is likely that they have already forgotten.

2. Will it Really be Useful?

Will the gift really be useful? This isn’t the same as “might be useful” or “I can think of an occasion which could happen where I might have a use for this”.

If it isn’t going to be useful right now, or in the foreseeable future, then keeping it is a waste. There is someone out there who needs what you have, and will use it, and it is far better to pass it onto them.

3. Just in Case is not a Reason

I used to keep so much stuff “just in case”. I’m not talking about lifesaving equipment here, I’m talking about random kitchen gadgets and trinkets and other stuff. You never know, we might need to de-stone cherries or translate a Russian sentence in the future, but keeping things for all possibilities just isn’t practical.

I have given away things and later I have thought, ah, if I still had that, I could use it now. A really thick jumper on a very cold day. A can opener when I needed to open a can for the first time in two years and it didn’t have a ring pull.

But I never went to the shops to buy a replacement. Sure, I could have used these things, had I still owned them, but I made do without. I guess I didn’t really need them after all.

4. You Rarely Need Two

The trouble with choosing gifts for the person who has everything is that: they already have everything. Often the presents tend to be a better version of something they already have, or a second one.

But if there is nothing wrong with the first one, there is no need for a second.

I used to struggle with this. I knew the first one would wear out/break eventually, and then the second one would come in useful. But I never knew how long this would take – it could be years. In fact, sometimes it was years, and the shiny new replacement was already old by the time it actually got used.

It would have been much better to wait until I actually needed a replacement, and choose something that I liked and was useful for me now, not the me of several years ago.

Sometimes the opposite would happen. The new one would make the old one look tatty, and the tatty one would be cast aside in favour of the new (there’s a name for this: the Diderot Effect). Only, I’d know that the old one wasn’t life expired, so I’d keep it for when the new one wore out. It would languish in a back cupboard, taking up space, making me feel guilty, and going unused.

Now, I’m much more ruthless. If I need one, and I have two, I make the choice straightaway. Do I keep what I have, or do I keep the new one? One stays, and the other goes. Because keeping both is a waste.

5. Is it You…or Is It Fantasy You?

I used to get confused between me, and fantasy me. Fantasy me wore neon pink high heels. Fantasy me was a clothes size smaller than I was. Fantasy me was going to learn Russian. Fantasy me was the crafty type.

I liked the idea of being many things, and doing many things, but some of them weren’t real me. Letting go of fantasy me was actually a relief. There are already so many things that I want to do, and I don’t have time for them all.

Allowing myself to let go of fantasy me has given me more time and space to focus on the things that I’m already doing, or the ones I really want to do. It’s reduced my expectations of myself and made me less stressed.

6. What is the WORST That Can Happen?

Getting rid of something you don’t want, don’t like, and don’t need – what is the worst that can happen?

The person who gave it to you might find out. They might be offended, but that is probably more about their realisation that they made a poor choice. They might be upset, for the same reason. They might decide not to buy you anything in future (if you’re giving their presents away anyway, that might not be a bad thing).

You might have to tell a white lie. You may be asked where the gift is, if you’ve used it yet, or whether you are willing to lend it back to the giver. Of course, you can tell the truth, but if you don’t want to hurt any feelings it may be better to avoid this. I left it at work. I lent it to a friend. It broke.

You might realise that you actually needed it after all. The likelihood of this happening is tiny, but yes, it could happen. In which case, you’ll need to get a replacement. You can probably pick one up second-hand, and you may even be able to borrow one. Worst case you’ll have to go to the store and buy one.

Worse things have happened.

For many of us, letting go isn’t easy. We ties our hopes and dreams and aspirations up with our things, or we worry about the waste (be it the waste of resources, money ,time or effort on behalf of the giver). We let our emotions and concerns and fears control how we treat our stuff. That’s a lot of baggage to let go of. But underneath all of that we know the truth. The truth as to whether we really need it and we will really use it. If you feel that you’ve got a little too much stuff, ask yourself truthfully – are you telling yourself any of these excuses? For many of your things, the answer may be no. But it’s likely that for some of these things, the answer will be yes.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other tips you’d like to add to this list? Which is your favourite? Are there any that you struggle with? Which is the hardest for you to resist, and which is the easiest? Do you disagree with any of them? Do you have any other thoughts on letting go and peak stuff? I’d love you to be part of the conversation so tell me what you think in the comments below!

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16 replies
  1. Andrea Randall
    Andrea Randall says:

    Even as someone who has already “completely” decluttered and minimized *several* times (!), reading this makes me want to go through me possessions yet again! It feels so good to have just what you need and use :) Wanted to say that I love your idea of “fantasy me” and it does feel good to be realistic and true to yourself while enjoying the calming effects of clutter-free (or clutterless) living. I always thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, Lindsay! And I loved the pictures of your house last post.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Andrea! I do think it’s worthwhile going through things every six months or so even after we’ve decluttered “completely” as you say, as we change our habits without really noticing.

      Haha, fantasy me was responsible for a lot of my clutter! I think it’s also about being comfortable in our own skin, accepting ourselves as we are. Maybe that comes with age, too ;)

      Thank you! Glad you had time to have a look around. Just a shame I couldn’t do the tour in person and offer you a cuppa, Andrea!

  2. rhinophile
    rhinophile says:

    Instead of new year resolutions this year, I’m planning on a new year decluttering, inspired by your suggestions on where to look in one’s habitual thinking and then where to look in the cupboard!

  3. alicatzen
    alicatzen says:

    I have a long term conundrum. We have a relatively low income at the moment, (though it is the highest we have ever had and somehow we only just scrape through because rent and bills have slid up too.)
    Anyway, because of this perceived lack, or tightness, some objects that I want to get rid of have monetary value. Every year I declutter the worthless stuff and box up the other stuff in a box marked ‘ebay’ and there it sits.

    The items:
    Large or rare books, inherited small antiques like old brass scales and an old mahogany and silver box with a glass lining, several large musical instruments, an expensive citizen eco watch which is an unwanted present, and jewelery.
    I also have a BIG box of beads, several boxes of fabric and an inherited second sewing machine, all reserved for my ‘fantasy self’ whom has endless time for that stuff.

    The problem:
    I love shopping on ebay, have a block for selling; it is the postage, packaging and after-sale service hassels. The whole process stresses me, especially if I get a difficult customer. Besides, I always have other things to do with my time.
    Garage sales don’t work around here, car boot sales require an upfront fee. I went to a watch shop asking about selling an expensive watch and they said they don’t take them in case they are stolen. The antique shops will pay about 10% of their value.

    I want to shift these items, they linger like stubborn fat! And I can’t help hoping that if I shift them I’ll shift that fat too. But there is an internal block! I end up feeling like it’s a struggle and give up.
    Or I simply run out of time and life moves us forwards.

    I know I want to declutter so that my children won’t have to deal with all my stuff when I kick the golden bucket.
    And it is horrible feeling opening these boxes every year and seeing the same objects staring back at me. Many with bad memories and associations.

    What is my block?
    Is it OK to just let these things go, even if they are collectively worth thousands of dollars?
    Is this tied to my sense of survival, or the voice that says “think of what I could do with that money”?
    I already donate so much good stuff to charity every year. Maybe I just need to suck it up and ebay a few of the really valuable items and give away the rest, and stop being such a woose about it!

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      It is so hard to donate valuable items, I understand! I have had to go through this also. But I took the leap and donated expensive items as a form of tithing, to places like Lions and I have found that being generous has blessed us. Our income hasn’t changed but I find I am always putting extra money on our mortgage. Now when I read what organisations Lions helping, I feel part of it. And yes, we could’ve used that money from selling items to help our already tight budget, but by being generous it has filtered down into our lives and I now enjoy a more simple lifestyle and have far less to store, dust, move to clean around.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Great question, and I loved Susan’s answer. I feel similarly. I do think eBay is a great tool, and I use it to sell things, and I know what you mean about listing things/calculating postage/trekking to the post office. Over the years eBay has been made easier, so don’t rule it out.

      The first thing I would ask myself, is how much time do you have? Listing stuff does take time, so if you don’t have much free time maybe limit yourself to listing some high value things only, and donating the rest. If you have lots of free time, maybe set aside a day or so to list some things.

      Personally, I would start with anything high value and easy to post. That generally means things that aren’t too heavy or too big. For example, books cost a lot to post as they weigh a lot, whereas your watch won’t weigh much, will be compact and will probably get more. Open your local post office website, and get hold of some weighing scales, and calculate the postage as you go. If you do a few things at once you’ll start to get the hang of it. Always make sure you add an extra 100g 200g for the packaging materials!

      When you list it, include as much info as possible. Include all dimensions, be really honest about the condition, the reason for sale, how often it’s been used, and include pictures of any marks. That way people will be clear about what they are buying and will send less questions your way.

      You might find that using an eBay app on a tablet or phone is a much quicker and easier way to list than on a computer where you have to upload photos.

      Once you’ve listed something, it’s easy to relist it if it doesn’t sell, or amend, or change the price. The initial listing is the time-consuming bit.

      As for your block, I think if you just list a couple of things, you’ll know your answer. You’ll either feel inspired to list more, or happy to give them away. I found this with a couple of skirts I owned that I’d never worn. They’d cost me a bit, even though they were second hand, and I didn’t want to give them away. However, after they’d been on eBay a week or so, I was happy to drop the price, and then eventually I dropped it again, and ws happy to give away. But I needed the process to get there. If you find it draining, it’s best to give them away and remove all that negative energy!

      Another alternative, although not something I’ve tried, is that you an get others to list your eBay things for you – either family or you can pay people (I’ve heard). It might not be an option for you, but maybe you have a relative or neighbour who loves selling stuff on eBay and you could share the profits!

      Good luck with it!

    • sarah
      sarah says:

      Would it help, if you were to take a special/loved/valuable item to the opshop or charity shop, that you took with it a story? Tell then what you think it is worth and why, and give a written description of the item, it’s history or details. That way the charity shop is more likely to pass this on to the new owner, and to handle it with respect. They recognise it clearly as a donation and support of their charity rather than just more stuff.

      I sell lots of old and retro clothing on etsy, things that I think are worth something, and on Etsy are going to reach someone looking for that particular thing, rather than only being seen by a few at the op shop. When I was unemployed and looking for work I had a few days to set up my shop. It takes a lot of time to put together a listing, but I can renew again and again at the click of a button.
      I find I put a price on them that I would like to pay for it (rather than what I should be doing which is pricing for the work and effort I put in). I find I often drop the price if it’s not selling. In the end I find I am happy it it just sells, for what ever price, just that it is going to someone who wants it. I don’t think I make any money, maybe a couple of dollars, but I have more happiness wealth, for keeping something going that bit longer!

  4. rubyslypprz
    rubyslypprz says:

    Thanks for the timely reminder about dealing with our excesses. So often being a “good consumer” is equated with success and being a good citizen, supporting the economy, etc. Not true, when much of the money we spend shopping either goes to large corporations or to international companies. Buy local/hand-made items, buy less, enjoy and appreciate what you have, & create more creative opportunities!

  5. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    I have just come across this and and it is perfect timing! I have recently replaced a very old, very worn and slightly rusty set of cutlery – when I say replace I actually mean a friend who had 2 sets and didn’t use one gave me a set! It is shiny and very expensive looking – I’m almost afraid to use it! In fact it is much better quality than the old set! I started to look at my other utensils and suddenly they seem cheap alongside the shiny new stuff and unworthy of sharing the same drawer! Thank goodness you told me about poor old Denis Diderot!


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