declutter · minimalism

a lesson from dad on owning less crap

One day, a couple of years ago, my dad inadvertently gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

Whether it was during a birthday or holiday or an average Monday afternoon, I can’t remember, but what I do remember, with perfect clarity, was him turning to me and saying, in his signature exasperated-but-still-halfway-smiling way:

“Look, kiddo, here’s the deal: The more crap you own, the more crap you have to buy to take care of the crap you already have.”

At the time, I remember laughing at the inherent truth of his words — we all know he’s right. But it was several years before I really put his words under a microscope and considered them as anything more than a clever joke.

For example: If you own a car, you don’t just own a car. You own the rags, soap, fancy-pants leather upholstery wipes, and all the other materials you need to keep the car clean. You own the fuel, maintenance and insurance costs. You might own a garage or carport to keep it safe from bad weather.

If you own an abundance of clothes and shoes, you need a bigger closet to accommodate them, as well as more detergent, dryer sheets, stain remover, and whatever other (arguably unnecessary) items you use to keep them in excellent condition.

A multitude of expensive outdoor hobbies requires specialized equipment, athletic clothing and training materials.

And of course, any physical item you own requires space in which to store it. The more stuff you own, the more space you need to accommodate it. And in our increasingly cluttered world, space is becoming a precious — and expensive — commodity.

Here’s the kicker: All of the things I mentioned above are just the additional physical items required to take care of the crap you already own. This doesn’t include the time you spend caring for your items (for example, washing your car or your clothes), or the stress you incur from worrying about them (What if my car gets hailed on? What if my iPad is stolen? What if my vacation home in Belize is ravaged by a troop of incredibly aggressive baboons?).

So my dad’s comment, while funny and relatable, also makes a great point: If you purchase an item, it’s likely you’re paying for it more than once.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any hobbies, or that you should only own two shirts and wash them in the river in an effort to cut costs. (Although if you do try that, let me know how it goes.) What I am saying is that you should only own items that you absolutely love and that line up with your priorities for your life.

We pay for our possessions in three ways: with our money, our time, and our attention. When I was going through my initial declutter (and all the declutters to follow), I’d hold an item up to the light, hear my dad’s voice in my head, and ask myself: Do I value this item enough to justify the energy it takes to care for it?

You’d be surprised how often the answer is no.

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