Have Less Stuff, Do More Things 2


In my efforts to try and understand myself and how I would like to grow, I’ve decided I have too much stuff.

I’m a pretty neat guy. Wasn’t always. But living on your own for a while will make you want to be neat because you’re accountable to your mess. This is especially true when you don’t have an even neater person living around you pestering you to clean all the time and doing it herself instead. Which was me until the age of twenty. Or so. Let’s not sweat the details.

So because I’m a neat guy, you might walk into my office and see how everything is squared up. There seems to be reason to the placement of everything. A little dust, sure, but that goes away when it becomes unbearable. I’m OCD about my bookshelf to the point that when books go missing, not only do I notice, I know exactly what’s missing.

You would notice that while I have a game console set up, you won’t see a single game in my room. Unless you open the Ottoman, which contains games, DVDs, additional controllers, strategy guides, and even board games.

So, I’m organized. But I still have too much crap.

Let me explain.

Every time I’ve had to move, it’s been backbreaking work. I have a couch I’m attached to (which goes with the aforementioned Ottoman) that requires the hinges of doors to be removed before I can move it in or out of some places. I have other large or awkwardly shaped items that add more trips to the move than should be necessary.

I have a short filing cabinet that is literally bombproof. And by “literally” I mean it was given to me by someone who works with explosives. So I mean literally. And I’m attached to that as well, even though after removing the drawers it’s still difficult to carry by oneself.

All of this has triggered some of my dad’s words to echo in my mind. One of these expressions I’ve already written about: The more things you own, the more things own you. More recently, he told me that the best advice he ever got in the military was this: Travel light.

I started to think about what that meant for me. To “travel light” means to have only what you need on you. And maybe a deck of playing cards to pass the time. As for why, it’s so you can pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

When you have a lot of crap, especially a lot of heavy crap, it tends to anchor you into one place. You get attached to the place because if you move, you have to lift all the heavy stuff again.

But there’s something even more important here. There’s something of investment, especially of the financial kind.

Have you ever spent a lot of money on something and thought, “Well, I better use this or else the money is wasted.” Go ahead and admit it. I’ll make you feel less bad about your purchase by telling you that a close friend of mine recently told me she bought a drum kit for $6000 and barely gets to use it.

Well, I get the same way, and it results in me locking myself in the house.

Back in 2008 or so I built my desktop computer. It was only as powerful as it needed to be and I occasionally bought better parts for it. It was a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. (Or Shankenstein, if you will. Please stop groaning.) By the end, when the second motherboard fried and took the CPU with it, the only original components were the case and the CPU itself.

I’ve wanted to rebuild it ever since it broke, but I haven’t felt like saving up for it. I usually wait for a windfall of money like a tax return or financial aid disbursement before I spend money on expensive things.

But here’s the thing. The only reason I want to rebuild the desktop is because it’s more powerful than my laptop and can run much fancier games. And if I spend a couple to a few hundred dollars replacing the motherboard and CPU, I’ll feel obligated to use it more often just to justify the money spent.

This happens with other things as well. Those games I start and feel guilty for not finishing, for instance. Sure, they don’t take up as much of my money, but they take up a lot of time.

I end up right back being a homebody.

But what if I minimized completely?

I posed this question to myself this way: If I were to backpack across the country without straying far from civilization, what would I really need?

First, my laptop. I’m a writer. Hard to do that nowadays without a word processor. Definitely possible, but I’ve gotten way too comfortable with typing. My thoughts are keyed up to be just fast enough for my fingers to type them out and too fast for my hand to keep up with a pen. I do keep a longhand journal, though, because that’s much better than letting it get lost in a random file on my computer.

Second, my Kindle. To read, of course. And not one of the backlit ones. I have one of those and it’s good for browsing the Internet and playing games but terrible for reading. Save your eyes, folks. Spend a little more to have only the features of the Kindle you really need.

As for everything else, just the necessities. Money and clothes, mostly. Maybe a notebook for handwritten notes. And like I said, a deck of playing cards is a good way to pass the time without using electricity.

The reason I posed this question in such an extreme way is because it was the best way to figure out what else is important to me. I could live in a studio apartment off of a futon, with just a closet to hang my clothes, and a couple cooking implements to make breakfast.

So, basically, I’m going to start getting rid of all my crap. I have a bunch of books I’ve read and I’ll never read again, and while I enjoy the look of them all there neat on the shelf, why should I keep them around? I’ll sell them to a secondhand store and give them the chance to be read again by someone else. I have a few I’ll keep, either for sentimental value, because I’ll read them again, or because they’re signed.

As for games, that’s another investment, isn’t it? A time investment for sure, at the very least. I don’t need them. I feel like ever since I became a “gamer” I would always rather be at home playing a video game, instead of doing whatever I was doing at the time. It’s caused tensions. I’d want to be at home playing a game I’d gotten invested in instead of being on a boat, fishing with my dad. It might have been subconscious, but still. I haven’t even touched a game in over a week as of this writing, and there are none remaining on my computer.

And don’t get me wrong here. I don’t regret a lot of my time spent gaming. Breath of the Wild was magical. Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII were epic. Mega Man Legends and its sequel will always have a solid place in my heart.

But there comes a time when playing games stops being about having fun and enjoying oneself and instead becomes a way to stave off other feelings. Gaming has become one of my “pacifiers” if you will. I even once did a speed-run of the first Mega Man Legends (which I can proudly do in under an hour) when I thought my then-girlfriend left my car unlocked and my GPS got stolen. Turns out, it was just buried in the glove box. I still feel bad about that.

As for furniture, I can sell it when it’s time to move. And what doesn’t sell in time can go to Goodwill. I can get whatever I need from thrift shops and Craig’s List.

As long as I have my laptop and my Kindle, I’m set.

I’ve mentioned this to a couple people just to make sure I’m not insane, and two of them said they could totally see me living in a Tiny House. One of them pointed out that my truck is powerful enough to haul one and I could just go around the country like that. Unfortunately, while that *sounds* awesome, there are two things holding me back. First, I couldn’t afford the gas and have a continuous income unless I actually make it as a writer. Second, my dog needs to move around a little more than that.

But even with all that in mind, I could still see myself settling down in a small, spartan dwelling, with little to bother with, and just go out and spend my time out in the world all day every day. I could find places to write in coffee shops and such. Some of these are cool with dogs hanging out, too, even inside. And Melody is everyone’s friend.

One friend I told about this downsizing of things referenced the story of a mathematician who lived out of a briefcase, going from math conference to math conference.

The point is, “home” takes on different meanings to different people. When I moved out from my mom’s house and lived with a girlfriend for the first time, even in my second apartment where we had another roommate, I refused to leave my computer in the bedroom, because I felt like I’d holed up in my bedroom for years throughout high school, and I wanted to get out.

This is just an evolution of that.

There was one naysayer, who pointed out that I would spend thousands of dollars replacing all that I sold. Which is true in a way, but not immediately.

I’ve never lived in a place for longer than three years since I was fourteen. Even before that, I was in rural Ohio for four years from fifth through eighth grade. And that was the longest I ever stayed in one place. But because I’m the son of divorced parents, I bounced around a lot and got used to only having the belongings I brought with me, divided between a suitcase and a carry-on item.

Once I settle down with the person who I expect I’ll be with for the rest of my life while we raise a family, then I can allow myself to get attached to things, and furnish a house with nice stuff, and cherish my living space. Because then I’ll be coming home to someone, instead of things.

Until then, my investment in things has left me rooted to the spot. And it’s time to change that.


Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

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About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.


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2 thoughts on “Have Less Stuff, Do More Things

  • A.S. Akkalon

    Trust me, having someone to come home to doesn’t entirely eliminate the urge to sell everything and live out of a backpack. Then you just plan to take the person with you. Except the cat wouldn’t approve.