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How much stuff should you own? The answer is simpler than you think.

Owning the right amount of stuff (and the right amount of house or car) is something that probably occupies your mind if you’re trying to be more frugal or more conscious of your footprint on the planet.

A view of a dining room with gray walls and a white table and chairs.

Sometimes I feel conflicted about this when I read about minimalists or about those who have chosen to live in super small dwellings.

Do I own too much stuff?

Is my house too big?

Is my car too big?

Do I have too many kitchen items?

But the other day, something occurred to me.

The right amount of stuff = the amount you can fully and regularly use.

Yes. That feels just perfect.

This principle prevents living in excess but it’s still flexible enough to allow for the many and varied situations each of us lives in.

Trying to adhere to some random minimalist law is sort of silly, after all. Not everyone can live well with 100 belongings, you know? On the other hand, none of us really need to own eleventy billion items either.

So, somewhere in the middle is where most of us will end up. And thinking about your capacity to fully use your stuff will help you find the right place in the middle.

I don’t have a tiny house, but I don’t have anything approaching a mansion either. I think it’s just the right size, because our family uses pretty much every square foot of the house every day. There’s not a room that is untouched.

I know I own the right number of dishes because at the end of the day, almost all of them have been used.

a sink full of pyrex dishes.

I know I own the right number of pots and pans and Pyrex because none of them ever sit in the cabinet long enough to collect dust.

I know I own the right amount of clothing when everything has been worn over the course of a season (if I reach the end of a season without wearing something, I usually get rid of it.)

I know my kids own the right amount of clothing when their drawers get a little bit empty if I put off laundry for a while (if you can go for days on end without doing laundry, you’re probably not fully and regularly using the clothes you bought for your kids.)

little girl dresses on wood hangers.

This thought can be applied to all sorts of things.

Your yard is probably the right size for you if you can use the whole thing.

Your car is the right size if it’s full most of the time (single people who commute in Hummers might not be in the right size car. ;))

Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to have a full-blown case of lifestyle analysis if you have an empty cabinet or a piece of clothing you forget to wear for one year.

But if you’re trying to find that sweet spot on the owning-stuff spectrum, just ask yourself how much you can really use.

I think that question can help you to avoid feeling guilty about what you own and use and also will assist you in knowing what you might want to get rid of.


How do you decide how much stuff is right for you?

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Wednesday 18th of January 2023

I appreciate your timing on this repost. Right now this is a real tough one for me because of all the recent and upcoming changes. What do I have now that I won't need in the soon-arriving next stage of my life? What will I need in my new home? I changed shape in the past year, is it a permanent change or a temporary one? My roommate has changed circumstances as well, what will he need next?

I don't really have answers to many of these questions and even the ones I do know - frex, I won't need most of my professional wardrobe - I don't know which clothes to keep until I know if my shape is going to change again.

First world problems, in spades!


Wednesday 18th of January 2023

It's definitely harder to figure this out in times of transition!

Cindy McCullough

Sunday 15th of January 2023

I mostly agree except for sentimental stuff. When we were moving, I felt like I had to justify to my husband why I did not want to get rid of this cookbook or this book or this box of momentos, etc. Not all the stuff we keep can be used. I did get rid of a lot of stuff and if I go through the momentos box, I am sure I will get rid of some old yearbooks and such, but don't want to do it with someone else egging me on.

Sarah Thunell

Friday 4th of September 2015

I know this is right, but gosh, it would be great if we could quantify it! I want to be able to say, "My kitchen tools should fit in one (something size) tote." If only it were that easy. Thanks for the reminder that what's right is what we use.


Tuesday 3rd of February 2015

My wife and I live in small condo--two bedrooms (my wife works from home, so one in an office) a bathroom, a small closet, another small closet for the washing machine, and a joined kitchen/living room. We recently found out we're expecting our first child, and we will need to stay here for at least a year until we can afford a bigger house. This means the office becomes a nursery, and we have to get rid of a lot of stuff.

Some things that have helped us pare down:

Decide on what shelf/cabinet/drawer holds what, and only keep the items that fit. For example, we used to have tons of books stacked all over and on different shelves. Now we limit ourselves to one large bookshelf. This makes us more choosy about which books we actually purchase (bonus: we've been using the library more). When the shelf gets full, we have to donate some books if we want to buy more. This logic applies to dresser drawers, closets, shoe racks, cabinets, etc. Only store what you can comfortably hold. You'd be amazed how little you actually use in a given week.

Second, digitize what you can. My wife's office was full of papers, note pads, folders, etc. Now 90% of her work stuff is on her computer, backed up on a hard drive. Her "office" is really her laptop, so she can work from the kitchen or a coffee shop, and we can lose the overstuffed desk and filing cabinets. Same can be applied to photos, receipts, personal papers, whatever. Buy a small fireproof safe and a reliable hard drive, and you don't need an office. You also can probably lose the DVD collection, mountain of CDs, and drawer full of take out menus.

Finally, we've been able to keep from bringing in new clutter by asking for gift cards instead of birthday and Christmas gifts. Gift cards to grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies are great--a $50 grocery card allows us to buy regular groceries while still having $50 for savings. Gift certificates to restaurants and movie theaters have allowed us to have "date nights" without feeling guilty. Starbucks cards let my wife work from the Starbucks down the street without paying for over-priced coffee. Instead of gifts for the baby, we've asked for Target and Amazon gift cards to purchase the things we really need/want at our own pace.

Bottom line, make rules, be ruthless, and let your family and friends know that you're trying to declutter.

Anna Laity

Monday 10th of November 2014

Oh yes! I have recently downsized from a LARGE house to a smaller one, and put lots of stuff in storage and kept out only what I need. It feels good! I will eventually sort through my storage items and if I don't need them then I will sell them or give them away. When I thought about how much spending my 'stuff' equates to I felt sick...and realized I can live more simply.

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