Owning stuff is a trap – why we always fill time and space with stuff


Over the last 13 years, I have moved 10 times. From multiple trips, cars, boxes, and rental trucks, there were costs to picking up and going somewhere else. Thousands of dollars were spent.

Every time, I upsized, I accumulated more stuff. Every time, I downsized, I donated and sold stuff. I spent more when upsizing my living space. I lost more when downsizing as most of the stuff we buy, depreciates in value.

It took me a long time but it became clear: having more meant spending more. I got fed up with the acquisition of goods that would be later sold or lugged along.

If you ever needed motivation for minimalism, try moving six times in five years.

Why do we buy more stuff than we need?

If you ask most people about their end goal, they would probably say something like happiness and freedom. But, a lot of us believe that happiness lies in earning more money and owning more stuff.

Actually, research shows that when people become more materialistic, their emotional well-being takes a dive.

Accumulation of stuff isn’t just in your home. It’s our tendency to fill empty space in all aspects of our life.

Filling time at work

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion — Parkinson’s law

We always find ways to fill free-time at work. You have 5 hours of work, but the office requires to be 8 hours. So you fill the three hours with emails, meetings, setting agendas.

Focusing on a few important tasks results in better outcomes than splitting your time into multiple tasks. 

A quick note on meetings: “Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”

Filling stuff in a backpack

When you have a big backpack, you find ways to fill it. If you only buy a big enough backpack that meets your daily need, you will be forced to put only the essentials. 

If you don’t carry your laptop charger, will it make you more focused? Try it next time you’re working from a coffee shop. You can only work while the battery lasts.


More money we have sitting in a checking or savings account, we find ways to spend it. A better way to save is to make it hard to access the leftover money, e.g., put in Certified Deposits, ETFs, 401k/IRA accounts. Accessing money from such accounts has some form of withdrawal penalty/tax. Thus, making it hard to buy stuff.

Another approach that works well for me is questioning all major purchases

It takes time to earn money, and my time is my freedom, so by giving up my money I’m giving up small pieces of my freedom. Before I make a purchase I say to myself, “Is this $$ worth of my freedom? and what’s the frequency of usage daily/weekly/monthly.” This has significantly changed my mindset.

Filling wardrobe

Having more clothes often means we enjoy them less. We have a full closet, yet nothing to wear. By owning less, we free up the time, energy, and money to get the most out of life. 

How to solve your closet problem? Pay twice as much and buy half as many. Apply this rule to everything you wear: hats, shirts, pants, shoes, suits, coats — everything you wear.

Filling fridge

The bigger the fridge, the more we stock it up with groceries. The bigger the car, the more we stock up the trunk. The stuff keeps piling up in our garages.

Do we really know where is what in our fridge? What’s expiring tomorrow? Eventually, we surrender and throw the expired food that leads to a lot of food waste. We repeat this behavior every month —  re-stock, expires, waste. 

Compared to emerging markets, most people commute by scooters and have smaller fridges. This constraint leads to a smaller grocery basket and less food waste. Yes, you buy more frequently, but you eat fresh and waste less. Alternatively, walk or bike to your supermarket, you can only carry a limited amount.

The less you have, the more you can focus

I used to have a huge book collection. Most of them have been sold and/or donated. My books are mostly ebooks or audiobooks. I do enjoy physical copies, so when I get a chance, I borrow one from a local library.

I used to rent a storage locker filled with things that I haven’t touched in months/years. I spent money to store things I didn’t use. Most of these things are donated and I’m saving the storage rent money.

I bought a bigger house with a guest bedroom that rarely gets used. I paid property tax, utility bills, mortgage, furnishing costs for a space that’s mostly unused. Think about the savings it brings to your financial freedom.

Now my life consists of things that are essential to me, to accomplish what I want and choose to do in life.

You can design a simple life, a life of purpose. Removing the clutter you don’t need is a tool to help you get there.

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