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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.

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.

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.)

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 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.

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

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Joshua’s 365 post: What happens when I have a little too much fun with editing software?

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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.

nick

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.

Vickie

Monday 10th of November 2014

I got rid of the excess and kept what I use and what I wear. I'm not a minimalist, but I have decided to downsize my stuff. I think it's about finding what's right for each person. My husband and I don't have children at home, but our daughter and grandkids spend a lot of time with us; so, our 2 guest rooms are used often. I downsized and got rid of cups, utensils and bowls, etc. that I never used, but I kept a set of China to use during holidays. I decided not to buy new every day dishes, because the ones we have are fine for just the two of us. I don't need to replace the ones that broke. We don't more. I downsized my wardrobe, but instead of picking a number of items, I kept what I wear often and the few nice dresses I use on formal occasions.

I donated the excess to a shelter that helps people who need the things I wasn't using. I gave many of the extra kitchen utensils to my church - they use them during fellowship dinners. Much of the excess framed art I had acquired, I gifted to a friend who gives foraging and herbal classes I attend. It feels wonderful to unburden myself from clutter and excess and be able to help others or gift them with things I no longer use or need!

Chantal

Tuesday 23rd of April 2013

It's always a pleasure to read you. I'm just in that scenario: I'm trying to downsize my belongings. Ouaip! That's not that easy. I have decide already to don't buy new stock except if it's absolutely something necessairy. I have give a big part of what I had over as plates, bowls and all those things.

I suppose that little by little I'll fine my way there!

Chantal from Qu├ębec province, Canada ;-)

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