Enough with the Stuff Already!

  • Ruth
  • 19th of September 2017
  • downsizing
  • Guest blogger
  • tips and tricks
  • want vs need

Here is a test for you. Without taking your eyes from the screen right now start thinking about a room in your house, maybe the living room or the kitchen. In your mind’s eye look over every surface, every picture, every object. Look through every drawer and cupboard. Can you describe in detail every item that you see? Give it a try.

Once you are done then actually go and have a wander around that room. How did you do? Miss out anything?

I tried this exercise at the dinner table about a year or two ago with Jonny and our daughter when I told them that they could not look behind them but had to instead describe everything they could remember. Bearing in mind we spend most of our time in this room they didn’t do that great a job of remembering what was there!

How on earth can that be? We both have quite an eclectic style in decor which I would have thought would make our house quite memorable. Our house is not painted in shades of Quarter Merino or Half Tea. We have plywood walls, an orange bench top, beehive bookcases and curtains direct from the 1980’s which are so ghastly they are WONDERFUL. None of our furniture matches, we have knick knacks from our travels and adventures and pretty much everything we own has a story attached to it. So, how come they didn’t know every centimeter of the place?

At about the same time as my dinner time experiment I read the book Stuffocation – Living More with Less by James Wallman. You can find it at your library; if you purchase it instead, you are about to miss the point of this blog! As it turned out, reading this book was pretty good timing. Let me take you back a little further and tell you why.

Seven years ago we were having some major interior work done on our house in Christchurch. Walls were being moved, beams inserted and ceilings relined. It was pretty major stuff. This was in an effort to increase the size of our house because it just felt too small to house us and ALL OF OUR STUFF. Stuff was everywhere. In drawers that would not close, cupboards that spewed their contents at you when you opened the door, clothes that we never wore, a workshop overflowing with gear we never needed.

In order to let the workmen in I had to clear the place out so I rehomed a few things and packed up everything else into banana boxes and stacked them down two sides of our double garage. The living room, kitchen, laundry and spare bedroom were empty and there were A LOT of boxes in the garage.

But then the Christchurch earthquakes began and with liquefaction and what have you a lot of the boxes got damaged and wet. Amongst the chaos of it all I had to re sort each box and get rid of things that were broken and damaged.

Then the house renovation stalled… Earthquakes and insurance… Say no more!

Our possessions remained in boxes as there was absolutely no point in unpacking them into an unfinished wonky house with lots of earthquakes still happening.

A year or two rolled by and we decided we had had enough of this “new normal” that was our home and life and prepared to leave Christchurch for the stable ground of Central Otago. I went through all of the boxes again, rehomed a lot of stuff that I had forgotten I even owned, and packed the remainder into a 20 foot container for trucking down south.

I carted all of the boxes, full of our precious mementos, into our rental house and stored them in a room. None were unpacked.

Two months later we had to move again because, what do you know, our rental property was sold and we had to leave. We quickly sifted through the boxes again and rehomed more stuff. The rest of the boxes came with us to rental property number two.

Finally about four years after we first packed up the boxes they were moved into the house we had built in Alexandra, which as it turned out is roughly the same size as our Christchurch house. And FINALLY all of the boxes were unpacked for the last time. Some stuff suited our new place and went back on shelves and up on walls but so much of it had us scratching our heads as to why on earth we had kept is so long and dragged it around the countryside for all these years?

By this time I was really feeling suffocated by all our stuff. What began as an annoyance at myself for holding onto these things for all these years became an urgent need to de-clutter. Whereas my stuff at one point added to my life, now it sucked up my cash and made me unhappy. It was all too much so I steadily began to shed my unwanted items.

And I stopped buying more.

At around the time we moved into our new home our previous home in Christchurch was compulsorily acquired by the government and bulldozed. An emotional visit to the site showed barely an indentation of where our family home once stood. All that remained were the trees we planted and us. It was a sobering reminder of what is important in life.

Fast forward to today and we subscribe to the idea of:

  • If we don’t love it we don’t buy it
  • If we already have it and we no longer love it, out it goes.

The book Stuffocation and then more recently the podcast The Minimalists showed how trapped by the pursuit of stuff we are as a society. Seeing an item I paid $100 for go out the door for $10, or simply donated to a good charity just hammered home the futility of what I refer to as “the endless pursuit of more”. When I tried to sell things, I made a little money back but by and large no one wanted our stuff. Our stuff that we had scoured shops for, trawled the internet for, travelled the world for and handed over good money for. No one wanted it.

A trip to a charity shop often turns up brand new items. Someone used their hard earned money to buy a product that they never even took out of the packet. Then they just gave it away. Next time you think this might be you, just take that $150 that you were about to spend on a new set of sheets and give it directly to those in need at the Salvation Army, Hospice or SPCA shop instead. Would you do that?

For me, the endless shopping trips to acquire pretty things to adorn the walls are gone. Every week I rehome things; getting rid of stuff is a gradual process. I have my giveaway box at the back door which gives my family the last opportunity to remove an item from the box and keep it in our home. Otherwise each visitor leaves with a little something or I drop it off to a good cause. I’m constantly looking around the house at items we have and referring to the line above – if I don’t love it, it goes. And these days an item has to be pretty special for me to bring it into our home.

I understand that without people holding onto things we would not have history, we would not have museums and we would not have videos of kids on Youtube at a complete loss when trying to describe to their parents what a cassette tape is, but it really needs to be looked at in more simple terms. The stuff we acquire on a daily basis will never make it to a museum, but it will make it to landfill one day. What a huge waste of resources and money.

People tie up a lot of emotional intelligence in the items they buy and acquire in the belief it brings them happiness. I am no exception. But the endless pursuit of more costs both time and money. You never get either of those things back so it is my firm belief that you should spend both of them in other areas. Being satisfied with what I have is pretty cost effective and frees up money for what is now important to me, being better financially prepared for whatever life throws at me and valuing the experiences I’m having over the things I’m buying. I own what I have, enjoy what I own and avoid the endless pursuit of more.

These days, our house that once felt far too small now feels a little too big and we are currently debating the merits of not just downsizing all the stuff we own, but the house we live in as well. We have come a very long way indeed. Less certainly is more.


Happy Saving!


The information contained in this article is of a general nature and should not be taken as advice. It reflects the opinions of the writer only and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of New Zealand Home Loans (NZHL).

Ruth - the happy saver Author
  • Ruth Author

Ruth is a guest blogger for NZHL. She lives in Central Otago with her husband and daughter. Her career has pivoted many times, with the one constant being adapting to change. She writes about her personal finance journey in NZ over at www.thehappysaver.com

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