Throw Away 60% of Your Belongings and It Will Change Your Life

Sean Kernan
Editorial Rights Purchased via iStock Photos

Look around your room right now. How many things aren’t being used? How many things are you keeping for thinly sentimental reasons? Until recently, my answer was “many things”.

Junk, clutter, and purposeless objects have a profoundly detrimental effect on your life. They are scientifically linked to procrastination, stress, and inefficiency. You could turn all three of those problems into advantages. I challenge you to get rid of 60% of your belongings. Here is how and why.

Start by throwing away a stupid printer

My printer is the ultimate bad employee. I call upon him once every six months. And that one time I need him, he still can’t deliver. I get an error or an out-of-ink issue despite the ink being brand new. He groans and moans and nothing happens. He’s like a deadbeat dad that can’t sober up once a year for a birthday party.

My printer is no longer with us. He has been sent to retirement in the sunny isles of the Hillborough County Waste Department. The point I’m making: if you own something that doesn’t do its job, start there. A couch you never sit on, a table that is all looks and no substance, these are things worthy of new homes. Donate it to someone in need. Break it with a baseball bat. Do what must be done for the sake of simplicity.

Take a NASA perspective

I am sitting here typing in my office in the same tiny house I’ve lived in for 13 years. I moved into it when in my mid-20s. It was in this house that I had a girlfriend, who became a wife, who then became an ex-wife.

I’ve finally collected the plunder from my various ventures and invested in a nice home. As I took a tally of my inventory, I was mortified at the amount of junk I owned. I felt like a hoarder. If all my belongings were going on the space shuttle, I’d have blown out NASA’s cost-per-square-foot budget. Heck, they’d have needed an extra fuel tank.

Everything you own isn’t cost-free. Each item requires dusting, cleaning, and mental space. The less stuff you own, the less surface area you need to manage. So think of your belongings like they are being shot into space. Everything must be of absolute necessity. It is too expensive to launch that rock collection into orbit.

A push for more functionality

I used a GPS watch to track where I spent the most time in my house. It was depressing: 90% of my waking hours were in my office. I wasn’t surprised. But is this what owning a home is supposed to be about? A study showed this is a common phenomenon, particularly in larger homes. Shaquille O’Neal famously owned a 16 bathroom house while only using three rooms.

This phenomenon isn’t because our houses are useless, it’s because we fail to optimize space. We have a bunch of furniture that isn’t comfortable. Our dressers are full of clothes we never wear. We don’t give ourselves reasons to go to other rooms. Decluttering isn’t about whether you like something; it’s about whether you use it.

A functional, non-cluttered house feels light and efficient. It almost feels like weight loss. Purging stuff even feels like exercise: it isn’t particularly fun, but the outcome is extremely rewarding.

A simple trick and then some

We moved 14 times in 18 years during my childhood. To avoid becoming hoarders, we had a hard-fast rule: if you haven’t used it in six months, throw it away.

Do you even know what you own? Imagine knowing what and where everything is at all times. I know where my remote is. I know where my one pair of red dress socks are (don’t ask). Everything is accounted for. I feel in control.

There is peace of mind in knowing everything in your life belongs there and has a use. It is not neglected like an abandoned toy. It reinforces a mentality of purpose and deliberacy. Adopt a six-month rule for your belongings, with exceptions where they apply.

Selling on marketplace

The first object to go to was my dining room table. I put it on the Facebook marketplace for only $50. My inbox blew up like a hot dating profile. This is usually what happens on the platform. It’s so easy. Two hours later, a nice, middle-aged Hispanic couple arrived.

After inspecting it, he turned to me and said, “How about $35?” I said, “Sorry. There are too many people wanting to buy.” I wasn’t bluffing.

But then I offered him another table, and several dozen other household items for free. I realized that I just needed to get rid of stuff. Thirty minutes later, we were stuffing his van with three tables, a huge ladder, a bunch of lawn equipment. It wasn’t the most profitable way of doing things, but it felt good to just give it to someone who would need and use it. I jokingly offered him the shirt I was wearing too but he declined.

Decide what you don’t need and isn’t being used, and either sell or donate it. I also called a trash hauler and paid them $150 to haul off a huge trailer full of unused stuff. You can find them easily on Craigslist.

The last step is to buy a big box of industrial bags. Then, each week make it a point to fill at least one with things you don’t want anymore. They fit in the regular trash pickup. Donate what you can to the Salvation Army and get a tax deduction. Sell the rest on Facebook Marketplace.

Don’t think of this as an action but a lifestyle. You’ll reevaluate how you spend your money, taking broader consideration for how badly you actually need something. You’ll have a house that feels bigger, more open, and more efficient. You won’t lose nearly as many things. And you won’t have nearly as much stuff to manage. Throw away 60% of your stuff and you’ll be better off for it. It’s not a dare. It’s a double dare.

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