How To Decrease Your Attachment To Your Stuff

The very things that made you giddy when you bought them can fill you with anxiety when they become clutter or high-maintenance burdens. There’s an exhilaration to decluttering your home, and in turn, your life.

20 And Engaged offers some help to make it easier to part with things you may not need:

* Part ways with heirlooms. Maybe that big, unwieldly hutch in the kitchen reminds you of Grandma. Dab your toes in the possibility of living without it by putting it in storage or hiding it in the garage. If you don’t miss its presence, consider that a green light to unload it.

* Take an inventory of your closet. It’s tough to get rid of old blankets and clothing. Dig out the dark recesses of your closet and only keep the things you’ve used in recent years and can imagine using again.

* Ditch the filing cabinet. It’s easy to succumb to the urge to hoard documents, but you can free up some space by scanning old tax returns, contracts and other important papers, then shredding the originals.

7 Smart Ways to Free Yourself from Your Stuff [20 And Engaged]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    scanning old tax returns, contracts and other important papers, then shredding the originals.

    Mmmmnope. I’m pretty sure the Canadian tax code says you have to keep the original copy of your last (I think) seven tax returns.

  2. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    * Part ways with heirlooms. Wasn’t that one of the main themes of the recent South Park?

    • Kevin411 says:

      I found a great way to deal with this one recently. I needed to lighten my load of decades worth of memorabilia, souvenirs, heirlooms, etc. Even though many were in storage, I had trouble letting go because when I did see them, they brought back good memories. I took photos of them all, gave some to family members, and had a yard sale for charity, raising $600 for Saint Lost and Found, helping homeless gay youth in Atlanta. The digital photo album, which is backed up online, is more accessible and enjoyable, takes up no real space, and weighs nothing. I’ve never once regretted it. In fact, I keep adding photos to the album and getting rid of more and more things. I’m tired of being a packrat and love the clean garage, closets and drawers, and there is nothing in the attic but boxes to reuse the next time I move.

  3. madrigal says:

    Attached to your website? Get your account suspended.

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    I say, go the other route. Increase your attachment so you always use the same thing over and over again so you won’t need to replace it.

    a blanket since you were 6?? sew some more stuff to it so it’s bigger.

    that old cast iron grandma used? it’s still good. you don’t need machine pots and pan.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I would like a machine pot and machine pan. Where could I get a robot to cook dinner? I guess a crock pot is as close as I’m going to get.

      • MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says: has what you need.

      • KyBash says:

        We had a serious problem at one shop after someone figured out that the chip grate on one type of ASM makes a perfect replacement grill for a barbecue (they were cast stainless steel and really, really expensive to replace).

  5. MaytagRepairman says:

    I have a serious attachment to college text books. I studied Mechanical Engineering. Even went so far as to work on a PhD. My career for the past 15 years has been in Computer Science. (And then there are the computer books). Something in my head is stuck on the thought that I might have an opportunity to go somewhere back in that direction. I don’t just have the books I went through college with. I also picked up numerous books from garage sales and used book stores. I need to come to terms that I am a book hoarder.

    • shinseiromeo says:

      How many of them have you read though…?

    • KyBash says:

      “I need to come to terms that I am a book hoarder.”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. ;)

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Don’t be ashamed. For the amount I had to pay for those things during school I’m never getting rid of them. In fact, I’ve only donated a handful of books over the years, mostly ones that were so god awful I didn’t want them around (I’m looking at you ‘Twilight’ gifted from Aunt who forgets I’m over 25).

      My shelving will continue to expand as necessary.

    • eezy-peezy says:

      I helped my neighbors pack their books for a move. They both had many old college textbooks. They are in their sixties.

      Pretty sure those books are out of date by now.

    • comedian says:

      I once heard bibliophilia of this sort referred to as “A gentle madness.”

      I like that.

      Seems a lot nicer than book hoarder.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I saved all my college notes. One thing that helped me get rid of them is that nearly everything I saved *for research purposes* can be found on the Internet.

    • tooluser says:

      I too fetishized textbooks, until I got my PhD. Then they all went into boxes somewhere out back and I never look at them or use them at work. At a certain point one can simply *discern* what is required and not have to read about it.

  6. vliam says:

    Get a divorce. Worked for me.

    • saltyoak says:


    • eccsame says:

      Yep. Worked for me too. Asked for a divorce, wife locked me out of the house and I lived in an apartment with some books, a tv, and an air mattress. Six months later, I didn’t even really want my “stuff” back.

  7. Rob says:

    Have your adjorning neighbor infest your apartment with bedbugs. Then have your landlord hire an unlicensed (and obviously untrained) exterminator to use the wrong pesticide and further infest everything you own.

    Didn’t think twice about ditching all of it. Though I did forewarn the crew emptying the place it was infested.

  8. KyBash says:

    About a decade ago, I hit one of those “my life is up in the air” moments. I decided it’d be best if it landed in a new place, so I packed the car with everything I could and sent all the rest of my stuff to an auction.

    Making decisions between stuff I’d had forever and stuff that I’d lose 94% of the value was hard, but it obviously didn’t hurt me.

    I’ve regretted selling rather than keeping only one thing, but taking it would have meant leaving many other things behind, so I guess I did it right.

  9. consumed says:

    Move into a new apartment. Moving’s always a bitch, and it always sucks more when there is more stuff to be moved. Make 3 piles of stuff – one donate pile, one throw away, and one keep pile. All 3 piles should roughly be the same. It is such a relief to throw a bunch of crap away and donate a bunch of stuff so your pile of items to move is a lot less. And it’s like a fresh start being in your new place with less clutter.

    • KyBash says:

      I helped a friend move from a three-bedroom house to a basement apartment. We made at least six times as many trips to the auction house as we did to her new digs.

    • floydfan says:

      Equal piles? If you can part with 2/3 of your stuff, you’ve been hoarding it too long anyway. If you regularly purge, this shouldn’t happen.

      • j2.718ff says:

        Also, if you can’t part with any of your stuff, you’ve been hoarding too much.

        I once made the mistake of helping a friend move. He was moving from one place to another, within New York. I noticed he had an old California phone book. Surely he had no reason to take that with him. “Well, actually that’s my brother’s. I don’t want to throw it away in case he needs it back.” (His brother lives in Florida.)

        There were also at least 3 fish tanks, 2 bird cages, and a dog car carrier that could not be parted with. He did not own any pets.

        In the end, I don’t believe he was able to part with anything – no matter how useless. He always found an excuse as to why it might be useful in the future.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Or pretend you are going to move, if you aren’t. It’s working for me. Since I’m unemployed, I might have to move at some point to find a job. So I’m trying to think “How much of this stuff do I want to stick in a storage unit I have to pay for?” The answer is, not much.

      Having trouble with the crafts stuff though. If I USE it maybe I can sell some of the results. Cleaning up the crafty room makes it much more likely that I actually will.

  10. MikeVx says:

    I’ve been doing the paperwork scanning thing for years. I do keep originals of things like tax returns for around a decade, most other things are only useful for the information they hold, and so are introduced sequentially to Mr. Scanner and Mr. Shredder.

    The upshot of this is that between the use of a cyber-locker storing encrypted backups and the massive sizes of USB stick drives these days, I can keep multiple redundant copies of most of my important records in a physical space smaller than a soda can.

    I’ve been working on the other aspects of decluttering. I have recently been excavating the kitchen and have struck tile. :-)

  11. crispyduck13 says:

    I find that having crappy stuff effectively decreases my attachment to it all.

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      I get most of my stuff violently used (the opposite of “gently used”), so giving it away is no problem. I see myself as just one stop of many on a items life-cycle: manufacture, retail, original owner, subsequent owner, ME, goodwill, etc., landfill. The circle goes on.

    • tooluser says:

      Lurves me the Ikea furniture. Easy to part with.

      I also own a non-Ikea desk in solid pecan with burlwood inlays that weighs 300 lbs. Curses. Luckily the tree can support all that weight.

  12. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Don’t “buy new things”; but rather, replace old things. Eg. whenever you buy something new, try to find something old to throw out.

    • pamelad says:

      I like that idea. I have done this for years with papers put into the filing cabinet: “One in, one (or more) out.” But I never thought of doing it with things.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I’ve been happily finding new homes for some of my stuff, or just throwing it out. One of my friends said “I wish I still had my VCR so I could watch my old movies on tape”. I had two I wasn’t using, and she happily accepted them.

    I’ve been using this criteria: can I sell it? If not, could someone use it? If neither apply, it goes into the garbage. Freecycle is my friend during this process.

  14. giax says:

    “This Account Has Been Suspended” is the only thing showing in the link.

  15. KenZ33 says:

    Hey Phil, Way to torpedo someone’s blog….

  16. Kate says:

    Apparently you got 20 and engaged kicked off it’s web site

  17. VintageLydia says:

    Mr. Vintage and I purge our stuff one to two times a year. I have some decorative knicks knacks Im having a tough time parting with, but our current place is small and not really conducive to displaying things, but it’s a rental. When we buy a house within the next one or two years and I still can’t find a home fore them? They’ll be gone, sadly…

    I also hoard books and to an extent kitchen appliances but I have space for it all (with room to spare) so I’m not worried about them.

  18. thomwithanh says: has been suspended?

  19. dwtomek says:

    I have the exact opposite problem. I have almost no attachment to any of my stuff. Well except for a few of my guitars. I’m not sure which side is worse, although I can say it’s nice to have virtually no clutter.

  20. Starfury says:

    I can relate a bit to this. I used to paint Warhammer 40k and other gaming miniatures. I still have them on a bookshelf in my hobby/computer room. They’re anywhere from 8 to 15 years old and just gather dust. I’m at the point of selling them off (other than a few of the best ones) and using the cash for other hobbies I’m currently into.

    • AuntieMaim says:

      My husband does this kind of painting! We have, at rough estimate, one million angry men squirreled away throughout the house. It was hilarious when I moved in, because I kept saying, “Oh, I’ll store X in this closet … nope, all the shelves are full of minatures.” He enjoys it, though.

  21. nautox says:

    One thing that has worked for me in the past is that if I want a new trinket, I have to sell some stuff on ebay to pay for it. That way I save money and get rid of crap :)

  22. corridor7f says:

    Being laid off in 2009 helped me realize what “stuff” really means. Nada.

  23. AuntieMaim says:

    On large heirlooms/keepsakes — think creatively about how to memorialize the person.

    Maybe you can talk to relatives and find a nice vintage photo of grandma taking dishes out of the hutch to set the table for a holiday meal or whatever. Frame that on the wall to remember her and see if any of your other relatives would like the actual hutch.

    Another example: we recently came across my husband’s grandfather’s PhD research notebooks. We are going to pick a few visually interesting, representative pages to reproduce and hang on our family photo wall rather than hold on to all the notebooks (the notebooks themselves are going to my brother-in-law, who is in the same field as the grandfather was).

  24. Alessar says:

    1. Get sick
    2. Lay on couch for a week
    3. Watch 2 seasons of Hoarders back to back, with a chaser of Clean House
    4. Bring out the dumpster.

    In all seriousness, those shows are great motivations and they can really teach you something about your attachment to stuff. It’s very easy to cross the line from a handful of collectibles and mementos to having a ton of stuff you don’t really care about and don’t need.

    I think one of the biggest hurdles is that people don’t like to trash “usable” stuff, but with freecycle and Craigslist (and in my case, an apartment complex trash area that is patrolled by pickers) you can give away a lot of those usable items. A good hard look at them can also point out things that are more worn/used than you like to admit and that they are a good candidate to toss.

    Finally, I found that having a lot of storage area invited me to fill it. I got rid of an extra dresser (which was only holding clothes I fit in 50+ pounds ago and were also more worn than I realized) and an extra TV cart. Suddenly the air quality in my bedroom was better. Sometimes while in the middle of my big StuffPurge I did feel a little overwhelmed. Taking breaks, and watching the Clean House episodes helped. In the end I got rid of SO much stuff, but I still have plenty of things. But, they’re the things I really use.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Most of the people on hoarders have tons of just garbage, aka things that have nothing of value. So in that case its just a matter of throwing it all out. Some of the people on hoarders had stuff of value, but the majority of people just have garbage and bugs and well, use your imagination. Another problem is that sometimes the good stuff ends up under the trash, which makes it unsalvagable, and you couldn’t sell it even if you wanted to.

      I continuously sell things on ebay, I have cleaned out a room and 2 closets within the past couple years, which I now use the extra space to store my good stuff, stuff that is usable and has value on ebay or at least would be easily given away should I ever have to up and leave. Now I have much less junk, more nice stuff and more room for the good stuff. Its very easy to motivate yourself to clean once you are able to have all your good stuff organized and accessable for instant use, plus you get to see how nice it all looks when its out in the open.

  25. Kenshiroh says:

    Well, I haven’t ever used my fire extinguisher. I guess I don’t need it.

  26. tooluser says:

    Not going to sell my wives.