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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

You Are Not Your Khakis: How to Donate 90% of Your Stuff


Back To The Future

I came home one day and it was all gone.

If my 28 year-old self would have walked into the home of my 30 year-old self, he would have thought he’d been robbed.

Where did all my stuff go? He would have thought. I worked so hard to buy all that stuff, and now it’s all gone!

My 28 year-old self would have panicked when he noticed that over 90% his stuff was no longer there. It was gone. Vanished. Poof! He had given so much meaning to that stuff—the car, the clothes, the gadgets, the trappings of a consumer culture that he was a part of—but that stuff didn’t have any real meaning.

He was part of the disease, not the cure.

There were so many lessons he learned in those two years…

Lessons Learned

Most of us know that Tyler Durden quote about how you are not your khakis, right? Well, suffice it to say, many of my learned lessons were similar to that quote.

I am not my stuff. I am not my jeans. I am not my television. I am not my car. I am not my bank account. I am not my vocation.

I am so much more. I am who I am on the inside. I do amazing things, yet I am imperfect. I accomplish incredible feats, yet I make mistakes. I am a caring person, yet I forget about important things from time to time. I am proud of who I am as a person, yet I make bad decisions sometimes. I am a human being, a mixed bag. I am just like you.

And this is what I learned…

  1. Stuff is just stuff. It can be replaced. You cannot.
  2. Stuff is not important. There are plenty of things that are important in life. Stuff is not on that list.
  3. Important things in my life include my health, my relationships with other people, pursuing my passions, growing as an individual, and, contributing to other people in meaningful ways.
  4. You can not purchase a meaningful life. You can only live it, one day at a time.

Donating 90% My Stuff: Baby Steps

But I wasn’t robbed. It didn’t happen over night. I didn’t wake up one day and get rid of the vast majority of my stuff.

It took time.

It started with a pair of khakis that I didn’t wear, grew into an entire basement of clothes that no longer fit, and expanded from there, one item at a time.

Once I got rid of one thing, I started questioning other things in my life.

Questioning My Stuff

I started asking myself better questions to get to the root of why I had all this stuff that I didn’t need (or even want most of the time).

  1. Why did I buy this?
  2. What could I have used that money for instead?
  3. Do I really need this?
  4. What would happen if I didn’t have this anymore?
  5. Could I replace this if I really needed to?
  6. Can someone else use this more than I can?

I kept questioning my possessions and started getting rid of more and more stuff. A carload of clothes here, a piece of furniture there, one thing at a time, donating the majority of it.

And then…

I came home one day last week, walked in, and realized that I didn’t own much stuff anymore. I realized I could have less stuff and still be happy, still live a meaningful life.

I will continue to question my stuff. Do I need this couch even though I rarely sit on it? Do I need these jeans when I have two other pairs? Do I need this watch when my phone has a clock on it? Do I need this, this, or that?

A Certain Kind Of Prison

I don’t think physical posessions are inherently evil or wrong or pernicious. I just think we give too much meaning to our stuff, stuff that doesn’t really matter at all. Every dollar we spend on stuff is a dollar we have to work for, which takes our time away from us. Our precious time. Our time is our freedom. Thus our stuff has the potential to rob us of our freedom.

So maybe I was robbed. Robbed by my stuff. Robbed of my freedom.

No more though. I am in control now. I am aware that I am not my stuff.

I’ll leave you with George Carlin’s parodic take on stuff, which seems to be memetic of our consumer culture in general. Man, this is good.