you are not your stuff


Those were some heated and passionate comments on my post on paring down your library last week. If you didn’t get the chance go have a read. There was a fantastic range of perspectives from librarians, paper book lovers and collectors and quite a few people that have drastically pared down their home library and are enjoying it.

A few of the comments, the more vehement and near sighted, reminded me of another once impossible to fathom, now very real, change in our world. It was 2005, I was an avid reader of The Economist at the time, and I was on a date with an American. We were discussing the great potential of China and India and I said, “it’s interesting to think that the US won’t be on top in the future.” What ensued was a twenty minute rebuttal that the US would always be on top and any ideas to the contrary were ridiculous. This from a fairly intelligent person with an undergraduate and masters degree. Needless to say we didn’t have another date.

Change is the only constant.

First, I must clarify that I don’t think paper books will be extinct in my lifetime. The world moves quickly but not that quickly. And, yes, there will likely always be collectible paper editions for books. So while I think my musings about a solely digital reading experience in the future were great for sparking debate and thought – they probably weren’t a reality any of us will see.

Second, there were quite a few responses from people that detailed the joy they get from the look and feel from a book. There were several descriptions of the craftsmanship that goes into a book, the care and diligence of a beautiful type face. And there were comments that took it a step further to insinuate that ownership of these books made them a true reader. That a large library equated a large intellect.

You are not your stuff.

One of the things I let go of and donated to a second hand shop was a small collection of Coach purses. I remember buying my first Coach handbag and reveling in its beauty, how soft the leather was, how smart I thought it looked slung over my shoulder. I also liked that people could see the name tag and know I had spent a lot of money on it. I liked the association with an expensive brand. It made me feel rich – even if I was drowning in credit card debt at the time.

I’ve slowly been letting go of the ego associated with things. Worrying less about what people think about us not having a car, enjoying my small wardrobe even if it means someone might comment that I wear something a lot and caring more that my son uses and is engaged with his toys than if he has a massive selection of them.

I am not my things.

You aren’t either.

If you have an appreciation of fashion and a great sense of style, it’s not because of the labels in your clothes or the size of your closets or because you have subscription to Vogue. Your talents and love for clothing are evident in the way you instinctively know how to create an outfit, the way you make thrifted or inexpensive clothing look great and the hours you devote to reading and discussing style.

This isn’t an easy jump to make in a culture obsessed consuming culture. I still struggle with it. Moving to a small town on an island has helped. Moving to Europe, where vacation is plentiful (5 weeks + 10 bank/stat holidays) and there is a stronger culture of relaxing and work life balance, has also helped.

But the biggest thing that has helped me separate my self worth and identity from my belongings, has been getting rid of a lot of stuff I once coveted but rarely used.

This blog began as a memoir for my own decluttering and has evolved to now include some of my ideas, musings and advice on living with less.

At times it’s a lonely road.

If you read more conventional blogs or websites you know that my contemporaries, mom bloggers as we are called, are running giveaways, aligning with big brands and shilling the latest in X, Y and Z. You’ll see in the upper right hand corner of this page my first ad, for a book about clutter (of course). There is no McDonald’s here, no Ford, no Swiffer Wet Jet. There may be some affiliate links, or a small and appropriate ad on the sidebar, but the biggest thing I am trying to sell you on is yourself. You can get rid of stuff, big or small, radical or gradual, and it will change your life for the better.

I’m not always going to write things that everyone likes. But I will always strive to show the other side, how you can live with less, how you can quietly and discretely buck the trend of debt and cluttered closets, and how you really can live a rich life with less stuff.




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  • Have you ever considered doing something like the Uniform Project or One Dress Protest?
    Uniform Project has a TED talk link as well as a slide show of a year of wearing one dress.

    I keep looking a these and wondering if I could. I have cut my wardrobe down to 33 things without too much difficulty, but I could imagine one dress would be quite liberating as well as challenging.

    • I’ve followed One Dress Protest a bit. Will need to go and see her wrap as I believe her 1 year date was the sixth.

      You always have great suggestion for me, Natalie. :) I like the idea of doing a month in one outfit with a few accessories. It would probably be a dress. Hmmm… wheels turning. It would also be a nice incentive to do some different things with my hair. I used to break out the bobby pins and do fun updos and twists but I’m out of the habit since Henry arrived.

      • I think my problem would be finding the right dress.

        I’ll have a hunt and if I can find one I’ll join you.
        Maybe a February Project? Or March?

  • What you shared about your date with the american made me chuckle. I am american and am married to an australian. He’s told me that the arrogance that most americans have is a joke to the rest of the world. And I agree with him. There may have been a time when we were “it”, but that time has passed. We are too entrenched in tradition and beaurocracy to keep up with the rest of the world and technology.
    It’s not easy living in a consumer world as a minimal consumer. Half of my family are keeping the economy alive while the other half…. well, I always thought I could have been Laura Ingalls sister, if you know what I mean. The consumer part of my family judges me harshly and looks down their nose at me and my chickens, homemade clothes and from scratch foods, but you know what? I don’t care.
    I love who I am and I love my life and the choices I make. If it makes them uncomfortable, that is their problem, not mine.

    • I did my undergraduate degree in the states and have a genuine affection for the American way so to speak. They are generally positive and believe they can be anything and do anything. It is refreshing.

      And a big yes to this:

      I love who I am and I love my life and the choices I make. If it makes them uncomfortable, that is their problem, not mine.

  • Thanks for more insight on the topic. We aren’t true minimalists–hell, we just bought a new chair last week for our empty living room!–but we do aspire to not be owned by our belongings.

    We’ve also been working on our blog since June/July of last year and have resisted the urge thus far to commercialize it. One particular blog I frequent gets 30-50 comments per day when she does her usual type posts. When there’s a giveaway, hundreds and hundreds of people will comment for a chance to win. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I just don’t think I can do it, even if it would bring in a little income in the long run.

  • When I was reading all those comments on your book post, I had the same thought about change being the only constant. But it’s also true that change is very threatening to some people. It’s an unknown and often an unwelcomed new way of doing things. It can be hard to appreciate the benefits of making a change until we’re on the other side of it.

    As always, love your blog and I’ve loved watching it grow and flourish. Keep up the great work, Rachel!

    • Thanks, Faith. So true, change can feel very threatening. Even the small things. I am often caught telling my husband he is “doing it wrong” in some aspect of care for our son when really, he’s just doing it different than me.

      • Wow that statement ‘doing it wrong’ vs ‘doing it different’ really hits me.
        As much as I like to consider myself an open minded person, I am REALLY set in my ways about my kids, and have had endless arguments with my husband and family about how things ‘should be done’.
        I know it is completely off topic, but sometimes its your eyes can be opened by the strangest things.

  • Thank you for this great reminder. I know my husband and I are moving this year and the more I look around the more I want to get rid of stuff. I’m jus tired of carrying it from place to place if I don’t love it. I’m tired of my stuff owning me.

  • That comments on the book post had my blood pressure rising. I had to walk away and disengage. This post was fantastic. I had the ad debate with my neighbor this week and similar comments were made about the integrity of the ads and the purpose.

    I am working on my husband to help him let go of the fear of moving (change, simplifying). I really want to downsize and we went around town yesterday scouting neighborhoods and options and talked to residents. Who knows, but it helped him to see the reality and not focus on his perception.

    I also reminded of RowdyKittens recent transition to using G+ for discussion formats instead of comments. She wrote a good piece on her reasons. If I had a well followed blog with many commenter, I would consider it. I love G+, I just don’t have friends who do :)

    Again. Great post. Thank you.

  • Really appreciate what you wrote today–and just what I needed to hear! My husband took my daughter to the park so I could spend some time with my journal, and really get into why I want us to delve into minimalism. We aren’t consumers like the typical Americans….so we are not THE problem, we are part of the problem, when it comes to resource use and acquisition. I don’t intend on living in a yurt in the middle of nowhere, so we will always be part of the oil/coal/resource consumption equation, but I want to play a much more minor part! And I am realizing that I do have this emotional attachment to things I own…which is a yucky feeling to discover!

  • I liked your last post! I think I own less than 30 books and that includes books for two boys. It is not that I don’t read its that I prefer to take them out from the library instead of spending money on them. Call me cheap or call me thrifty I just don’t see the point in shelling out money for books when I can borrow them for free. Its better for the earth and for the environment.

    And those conventional blogs you talk about…I stay clear. I have no need for posts on Disneyland or the latest kitchen gadget. I want to read blogs that make me think and help to inspire an intentional lifestyle. :)

  • I absolutely agree that we are not our things. I know I’m not my things. About getting rid of books, I personally don’t mind getting rid of books because if I ever change my mind, I could buy them again. What I don’t like about having a kindle type of thing is that currently, I don’t want another electrical device in my home. Two computers and two cell phones are enough for me for now. One of my breaks from technology is reading a book. Also, I don’t mind my daughters seeing me reading a book, but I do mind them seeing me looking at a screen. There’s something about it that I don’t like.

    • @Marizza – Had to interject, I didn’t realise what an effect my sitting at the PC had on the kids…until my second born started pulled me away saying ‘No Mommy no ‘puter’… he told his Dad I’m always on it. That’s bad (and inaccurate) because I’m not, but that’s how he sees it (probably because on the PC I’m concentrating whereas when I do other things like cooking, or even the laundry I’m interacting with him more)… I’m making sure I do my PC work when they aren’t around now.

      • My goal this year is less computer time. Another goal is to increase my freelance writing and income. Those two goals seem incongruous but I really feel it can be done. I can be more efficient when I am researching and writing and I can check my email less.

        Also don’t like being on the computer when my son is up and playing. I’ll do housework, cook or play with him in those hours. Even when I am folding laundry I have more attention for him (and he knows it!) than if I am trying to write a blog post or reading online.

        Henry is currently napping so I am responding to blog comments :)

  • Hey Rachel as usual loving your straight talking style girl! This post was fantastic and spoke to me on many levels. Firstly I haven’t dealt with my sentimental hoard yet, it’s got to be done. I am not my stuff and neither are my children. Without getting too deep (as you know, I’m a shallow gal ;-)) I’m clinging onto their childhood through these useless bits of paper – goodness I’ve even got the positive pregnancy tests among the hoard (not one, no heaven forbid, 3 each) – it’s time to let go (if only for hygiene sakes). Another area I’m grappling with is the adverts and affiliate side of blogging. My site is totally non-income generating. I don’t consume and I don’t want others too – that’s not what I’m all about. Yet I would love to make the blog more professional later this year and maybe do it as a living once both Kids are at school full-time. It needs thought, there’s a balance to be struck. Loved this post, just what I needed today. Hope all good with you Guys? Jo

    • Regarding your blog: I say go for it. I would probably be considered on of “those bloggers” because I have ads and occasionally write product reviews. My message, however, is one of avoiding needless spending and buying the best quality when you do need something (hopefully to prevent throwing away and buying a replacement in the future). Ads are everywhere. I know that I am independent enough not to be swayed into buying something against my will, however I appreciate hearing about good products so that I am well-informed when I do need something new. I assume (or at least hope) that my readers are of a similar mindset. There are no doubt bloggers who cross a line with ads and endorsements (I have little respect for the ones who tell people to “hurry! buy this before it’s gone!” whether or not it’s actually a good product, for example), but I think it can be done tastefully and within your comfort level. You might not earn as much as bloggers who will do anything for a quick buck, but you can get paid for your hard work without sacrificing your principles. Good luck!

      • Thanks Jen – Sound advice, and actually now I think about it one of my favourite blogs The Frugal Girl does run ads, and also has affiliate links, But I know when she recommends something, she really does. I trust her opinion. Saying that I’ve only purchased once since reading her blog almost 3 years ago, so you’re right readers aren’t swayed unless they do feel a need for something! Much food for thought! Thank you – Jo

    • Hahahah! I got rid of my positive pregnancy test (plus all those damn ovulation test strips) in our big declutter. Crazy that I wanted to keep something I had urinated on. Of course, I know I am not alone on that one. Many other women out there like us keeping something to remember the excitement of finding out.

      Everything great over here. Got your note about half marathon – will email you back soon.

      Blog ads: I haven’t spent a lot of time researching ad networks and such. As soon as I start I get overwhelmed. Still figuring it out.

  • This past year has been an adventure for our family. I left work one year ago to be a stay at home momma and there have been financial highs and lows. But God has continued to bless our family and we are finally finding that financial balance. We had to make difficult decisions along the way. We have had to put in extra work making our own or fixing what we already have. But I wouldn’t give up this time caring for my husband and daughter to have more stuff or an easier life. Caring for my family is the most fulfilling job I have ever had and I treasure every day. I don’t take it for granted; I know several women who would like to stay home but are unable because of financial burdens.

    Donating unnecessary or unused items around our home has also been a part of this adventure. I know as a mom, the less stuff we have the more time I have! I spend less time cleaning and organizing and looking for lost items. Also, the act of purging my home helped me to have a heart change about what is important. People are important, character is important. Stuff is not important. It has also helped me realize all I have is a gift from God so I need to be a good caretaker of what He has given me. If I am not using it I should be generous just as God has been generous to me, and pass it along to someone in need. (That included roughly 300 books! Although my books are gone I am still a voracious reader and always will be!)

    This next year is the year of getting out of debt for us. After we have accomplished that, my husband and I have big dreams of him continuing school and our family possibly moving to the country! :) Living a simpler life and learning to not be attached to our things continues to bless our family many times over.

    Rachel, your blog has been an incredible inspiration for me this past year. I understand what you mean that it is a lonely road, but there are others out there who want to live more intentionally. You are helping other moms to do that by sharing what you have learned and not compromising what you believe. Thank you!

    • Thanks you so much, Rebecca. The great thing about this blog is that it seems to be mutually beneficial: I love writing about this lifestyle and putting it on paper(screen) really helps me stay motivated. And by sharing here others can get inspired. Win win.

      Here’s to another great year and no debt for you :)


  • A couple of comments for you:

    Was listening to CBC radios show the Age of Persuasion, I REALLY wish that I knew which episode it was as it was really interesting. The show was all about the shopping habits of men vs women, and some of the tricks that relators use to get you to spend more. At the end they say that the average women spends 4 yrs (could be months but I am pretty sure he said yrs) of her life shopping.

    Secondly just a comment of peoples reaction to my stuff… after we had our third child, we had to buy a new car (old car did not fit 3 car seats) and we ended up buying a high end SUV. We live in a rather wealthy neighbourhood and it was by no means out of place. When my older daughter started a new school I was quickly judged by the type of car I drove and that if I drove’ X’ car I must be a X person. Funny enough I am not an ‘X’ person and people think I am odd because I drive this car but do not subscribe to the lifestyle that goes with it…

    • Searching for that Age of Persuasion episode. If I find it I will link back to it. I am fascinated but those statistics.

      People are quick to judge. Living in downtown Vancouver moms judged other moms on strollers. I still find myself thinking “wow, they must have a lot of money” if I see a woman pushing one of those $1000+ Bugaboo strollers.Need to get that thought out of my head.

      • Found it – the show is now called ‘Under the Influence’ and the episode is called ‘Men are from Sears, Women are from Bloomingdales’ it available on itunes. I only heard the last half of the show in the car, so not sure of the entire show.

      • Sorry don’t mean to bombard your comments, but the stat is women spend 8 YEARS shopping, in 62 yrs of life!!

  • I started following your blog a few months ago and I love it. Thank you for the great ideas! We actually downsized our cell phone plan because I read one of your post about getting rid of the cell phone. We can’t get rid of the cell phone but we can spend less on it. I really like your ideas, of simplifying life. My family found that we had no time, so I started looking around for ideas and found your blog. Just recently I noticed we have time and most importantly energy! It is rewarding!

  • I love your title “You are not your stuff”. The other issue for me (and I expect this is covered elsewhere in your blog, but I’m a newbie here, so bear with me…) is that “You are not controlled by your stuff”. A friend and I were discussing recently how modern life is Stuff Management. You have to sort your mail, and bin the junk, before you can read the important items. You have to filter through adverts when you want to read something on the internet. There are endless pieces of information coming from your child’s school – some to be kept, some to be remembered (if you have any memory space left). Where will you keep the ones you need to keep? How will you remember where you’ve put them? Sorting your bookshelf to make space for a new purchase is a task. Being a Stuff Manager can be a full-time job!

  • I must say I have a hard time with the concept of “you are not your stuff.” I come from a family background of extreme poverty/loss, where (for example) my mother never knew if she would have shoes come Sept so that she could go to school. I’m afraid I subscribe to King Lear’s view of “stuff” – “O reason not the need! … Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.” (Act II scene 4)

    • Great quote, Michelle. I grew up in a single parent family with six children. We were on welfare/social assistance at times. I have a lot of stories about going without, no winter jackets, no money for school field trips and the shame that came with it all. Unfortunately, once I had access to credit I went to the other extreme and started living above my means. I feel like I’ve turned a corner here in my 30’s about my attachment to stuff. Not perfect, still working on it, but I’ve found a lot of peace in it.

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