Less Stuff, More Life

Stuff steals your joy and suffocates your life. Do you believe this? I do. I’m on a mission to become weird.

Dave Ramsey says, “Don’t be broke. Be Weird”.

He suggests to look at what everyone else is doing and run the other way. The Joneses want stuff: cars, houses, furnishings, clothes, and the bills that pay for the stuff put a noose around their neck that one hiccup in life–an accident, a car repair, a broken appliance–leaves them “stuffocated”.

Nerdwallet says the average household is $135,924 in debt.

Bloomberg says $16,000 of that is credit card debt.

No. More. Stuff.

More than a year ago my family of four took a vacation and all of our needs fit into two backpacks. If we had taken more stuff we have checked bags and missed flight connections. We each had three or four sets of clothes and washed them in the sink and hung them to dry. We were minimalists and it was an experience that left us thirsting for more–I mean less–stuff.

Over the last eight weeks we have sold so much stuff. At the same time we put our house on the market to sell. Last week we closed on the sale. No one would have said our home was cluttered. Judgments say we lived simply. We didn’t pour additional concrete for the driveway or build a shop, or fill the house with furnishings. Simply to others felt “stuffocated” to us. We leased a 997 square foot 2-bedroom apartment for four people. The girls share a bedroom and we have a dog. No amount of downsizing prepared us for the transition. No matter how small our material goods are there was still too much stuff. We still have a few boxes of stuff to take to Goodwill, and we are 100% debt free. We are FREE! Here’s what we’ve learned.

Less stuff means more life.

Travel:

Remember that backpacking trip? We can have great experiences like those more often. We can move quickly with less stuff, even be more spontaneous. There’s no house, yard, or anything else to maintain. We can go whenever we want, where ever we want to be. That thought alone leads to a lot less stress. Stuff doesn’t hold us back.

If your income comes from online sources the world becomes your playground. House sit for people around the world and your lodging and utilities are covered. Go have experiences stuff will never let you have.

Declutter:

My mom is a pack-rat. She still has my grade school worksheets. I recently convinced her to shut down a storage unit where she was storing stuff because it has cost her more than $5,000, for stuff that fit in her garage. My husband’s mom is a pack-rat. She doesn’t understand why we want less stuff when stuff can be handed down, passed around, or is generally useful. My Dad wants to know when I am coming to pick up my late Grandma’s china. It’s beautiful and I don’t have room for it. Dad chuckles when we talk about our next move. We get the, “Oh you kids…”. We’re in our 40’s, hardly kids, and this feels better all the time.

Be charitable:

Shopping is fun, and what if having extra money leads to helping causes you care about. Start a foundation to touch people and needs with care. Do the work only you are meant to do.

Be Creative

I am not saying you don’t need to buy things. Plenty of people need a house. I think people need a place to live that doesn’t own them. For my family a house is a liability, not an asset. We move often. I wouldn’t call us nomads, but history says we move every 4-5 years. If that means selling a house in a downturned financial cycle then we have a lot to lose. Luckily, we sold our house while the market was high. Now we get to plan next steps. If you enjoy living in a house as part of the American Dream, that’s great. Hopefully the house fits your income. Dave Ramsey suggests no more than 40% of your income be tied to a house on a 15-year term, fixed rate mortgage. You don’t have to furnish it with big box high priced things. Shop second hand if possible. Visit a garage sale. A little elbow grease and paint can make furniture or decor something you love with a great story. Tell your story.

Open your mind and be free

On Dave Ramsey’s program he allows people a debt free celebratory scream. “FREEDOM”! It’s based on William Wallace from the movie Braveheart:

Don’t you want freedom from stuff, debt, and clutter?

Tell us how you plan to become free in the comments.

Freedom from debtNicole, owner of WeTalkHealthy, lives a healthy decluttered lifestyle. Her main focus is as a health advocate and mom of 2 who studies food, and general wellness. It’s her mission to help you live a healthier life by learning about the dangers in the food you feed your family. Whether it’s meal prep or creative exercise without setting foot in the gym, you don’t want to miss her tips. Connect on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or the Facebook group.

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37 Comments

  • Anne Peterson Reply

    Great article. Except now I have to see that movie.

    I thought the way you have worked toward your financial freedom is inspirational. And I especially loved the suggestion about house sitting. May be looking into that. One important part of the whole thing about less stuff is more life is also what those with less already know. Our value is not determined by what we have. Or in other words, “Having less, does not mean you are worth less.”

    Thanks for sharing your journey to freedom. It will resonate with many.

    • Nicole Reply

      Hello, Anne! So glad you added this point of view. In no way does having less determine one’s self-worth. When the value of stuff is removed it’s the person’s character that shines through. Absolutely love that you stopped by. Thanks!

  • Frank McKinley Reply

    Nicole, you make a great case for financial freedom. So many of us live cluttered lives. I like that you’ve left room for adventure! I hope your story inspires many to shed the clutter that keeps them from making their dreams come true.

    Oh, and lest I forget, I’m 100% in favor of Internet income!

    Great post, Nicole!

    • Nicole Reply

      Hi, Frank! Thanks for popping in! I think clutter steals our joy when we don’t realize it. It creates unnecessary stress in our lives. It certainly gives us more to take care of. Sometimes simplicity is best. It’s much easier to earn that income online when life is simple. Good luck on your journey!

  • Mike Allison Reply

    Hey Nicole,
    I know that you guys traveled to Europe with just your backpacks, because we met up in Frankfurt and had a great time with you guys. Simple is the motto of my wife and I and we enjoy life, have lots of friends, travel whenever we want, and also spend a fair amount of time volunteering in our community. Great article. Thanks.

    • Nicole Reply

      Hey Mike! So glad you chimed in with accreditation. I remember you asking, “Is this all you brought?” and being amazed when we said yes. Glad we met up in Frankfurt. We’re overdue for another meet-up.

  • Jaime Buckley Reply

    I know my pennies. I’ve been supporting my family of 12 on less than $5K a month for years and though we have lean times, we are living an abundant life more than not.

    Pantries are always full and overflowing, we contribute weekly to the local community market with sauerkraut, yogurt, artisan breads made with natural yeasts, gallons of amazing kombucha each week and when all else fails, cookies and brownies.

    To work on financial freedom, my kids approached me and asked if we could work as a family unit. I smiled and said, what would you propose?

    My oldest sone and business partner Evan worked out the details and the whole famaily was put on a budget and all money earned was put into a collective pool. We also made detailed lists of all our debts. Bills come out first, then needs are addressed by priority according to the untied voice of the collective body. It’s been awesome having my adult kids working side by side as an equal.

    This is working out SO well and NO ONE is stressed about finances anymore. The key to all of this thus far has been, A) It’s always a 100% united vote, or it doesn’t pass–so we work things out; B) Love others more than yourself and have confidence that others will love you back, and; C) We all signed an agreement not to get into debt again. Instead, we work as a whole to solve the problems or do without.

    Not sure this would work as well on a larger setting, but in our family, it’s truly been amazing. Debts are being paid off, needs are all met and no one is alone in their struggles.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi Jaime! Thanks for sharing your perspective and your story. I love how no one in your home is stressed about finances. Your steps are key. 1. Agree on a focus 2. Love others more than self 3. Agree to not use debt, but to solve problems creatively. These are life-long steps. When these are in place growth happens.

  • Meg Reply

    That’s awesome!! Really enjoyed reading that!

    And to add a bit more to the “stuffocation” insights – my dad came across a report stating that it took people here in the UK more than 10 MONTHS on average to become debt-free from credit taken out to buy Christmas presents (!!!!!!!!!!?????!!!!!!!!!!).

    Otherwise I love donating some of the clothes I no longer wear to charity shops, and if they are in extremely good condition, I might even add a bit to my budget by selling them on E-bay 😉 So much for stuffocation! <3

    By the way, did you invent the term? I think it's absolutely brilliant! <3

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Meg!

      Glad you popped in!

      Yes, I will take credit for the term “stuffocation,” it’s all mine. Wish I could copyright it. I don’t think it’s much different in the States. People climb out of their Christmas debt right about October just to climb right back in debt. It’s a vicious pattern, playing on repeat.

  • Colleen Golafshan Reply

    Thanks, Nicole, for sharing your decluttering story. Unfortunately, I can’t view the Braveheart clip – it’s blocked in Australia due to copyright.

    When I moved nine years ago with my two children, I bought outright a small two bedroom townhouse that has saved and continues to save a lot (no rent/payments) over the years. However, I’m a hoarder which is a challenge, especially for my children. Around the middle of last year, I found the most helpful advice to help with hoarding – just start and throw out one thing a day, no matter how small. I do this most days, along with finding a home for one other thing (as per Mystie at Simplified Organization) and have only a few piled areas now – compared to a narrow corridor only available after my son moved back a few years ago (when I was studying). I aim to continue these activities daily – some days do more, though I do miss some days too.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Colleen! So sorry you can’t hear that Braveheart scream. William Wallace screams “Freedom” with such passion that a noble person dies.

      Huge congratulations on your success!! Your story is a testimony that one small change daily has a huge impact. So glad for the space you and the kids have come to enjoy. I hope you continue to share your story. It is worth writing!

      • Colleen Golafshan Reply

        Thanks, Nicole! I didn’t mention I’ve generally been organised and tidy (perhaps with one messy back room) despite keeping a lot of things most of my life. In this little place, we have no spare rooms and my lounge doubled as my office until last year – which I now understand to be a significant problem for people such as myself. When my son arrived, he came with whatever we wanted from his dad’s huge home (he moved a distance away). At the time, my health was failing & it took all my efforts to pass my massage course. Tidying was not a priority till I finally passed.

        • Nicole Akers Reply

          Hello again, Colleen! It’s a strange connection stuff and health. Many times I hear that a lot of stuff leads to poor health. It sounds like your health is improving and I am glad to hear it. Thanks for being vulnerable. I am positive someone will benefit from your story.

          • Colleen Golafshan

            Thanks, Nicole! The major reason my health was failing was due to the physical overload from travelling and studying – apparently causing my life-long chronic fatigue to develop into fibromyalgia. That was on top of a background of significant emotional stress for many years, mostly due to family dynamics. Not having time to organise my stuff didn’t help and increased the stress, but was a minor concern to what was happening at the time. And yes, my words give me away, I’m still a hoarder at heart 🙂 Thanks for this conversation. It’s useful to ponder my progress in this area of my life.

  • Kris Loomis Reply

    No. More. Stuff. My new mantra! Thanks for the tips and reminders 🙂

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Kris! It’s so simple and so difficult at the same time. Best wishes!

  • Eric Reply

    Decluttering your life is challenging. I’ve embraced having less stuff to some extent, however it’s difficult to get that through my parents head and even my brother as well. We have boxes of his and his girlfriend’s stuff in the basement of our house. Most of it is clothes and stuffed animals that they’ve collected over the years. It’s not a major source of stress for them, however I see the practical use of it that you can make some money off of stuff that’s lying around, or again donating it.

    Thank you for sharing your story Nicole, it’s refreshing to see more and more people taking the smaller and less route.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi Eric! I hear your frustration with others’ stuff. Maintaining one’s own stuff can be enough of an adventure without having to worry about others’ stuff. My realtor told an interesting story while we were selling the house. She had stuff from a family member and gave them a deadline to claim their stuff or that she was going to sell their stuff. The story ends with the realtor getting a table and my girls receiving bunkbeds. We traded stuff we didn’t want for stuff we wanted. 😉

  • Jaco Alberts Reply

    Thanks for writing this great post, Nicole. I like what you say about people needing a place to live, but that place shouldn’t own them.

    I think this is true about more than just the place we live in. I always like to say “there’s nothing wrong with having money, but money shouldn’t have you”.

    The minute your “stuff” becomes a burden or an obsession, it becomes a problem and it steals your joy. What can be the fun in that?

    Enjoy your freedom!

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Jaco! Thanks for stopping by. I guess we’ve touched on a way of life. Anything can be relatively good, as long as the thing doesn’t own them. Whether it’s stuff, money, or anything. The good of a thing is removed when the thing owns the person. Oooh! That might be a whole new post. Thanks for commenting!

  • Sandy Peckinpah Reply

    Clearing out my closet is the project for this weekend. I love the ideas you presented here! It’s hard to break the sentimental value, but the simple fact is, my life needs to be streamlined for my own sanity! Thanks for the guidelines.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Sandy! Glad you are here. Any transition can be difficult. The closet is one of the toughest. Often things don’t take up too much space and it’s easy to keep them. Good luck with your weekend project. Perhaps a capsule wardrobe is in your future.

  • Teresa Colon Reply

    I did better at living simply before I met my husband. He’s not a pack rat or a hoarder, but he finds comfort and security in knowing that we have things (he grew up on Dave Ramsey’s proverbial dirt floor). It’s re-awakened that side of me, and reading this post reminds me how freeing it is to be able to throw everything you own into the back of a sedan and just GO. I think I see some things I can donate over the weekend…

    • Vicki Nelson Reply

      Your comment reminds me of when I first left home, and how all my belongings fit in my little car. I loved that I could just pick up and go whenever I wanted – there was a freedom in not owning a lot. I think it’s time for another cleanse as well.

      • Nicole Reply

        Hi, Vicki! I read something of yours once that sticks with me. Something to the effect that I have never had so little and I’ve never been so rich. It was impactful and it sticks with me. Honestly, I have thought of you during this process. Thanks for commenting! It means a lot that you did.

        • Vicki Nelson Reply

          Wow, Nicole, I’m flattered. And so happy my words helped.

    • Nicole Reply

      Hello Teresa! It’s complicated when such strong emotions are tied to things, as in the case of your husband and his powerful back story. Lots of patience and grace are needed there, and I’m sure you are caring in your approach. Enjoy the fun throwing stuff out this weekend *smiles* Sending healthy wishes!

  • Vicki Nelson Reply

    My mom used to tell me that if everyone else was doing something, it must be wrong. While I didn’t totally agree, I get what she was saying, and have used that in my journey towards a simpler life. Like you said, “Less stuff means more life.” Totally agree.

    • Nicole Reply

      Another impactful statement, Vicki! So glad you shared it. I’ve turned the phrase slightly differently with my girls. “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should”. While the meaning isn’t much different I hope my girls get the message. It sounds like you have picked up on your mom’s intent of the message. Good for you!

  • Brad Graber Reply

    Great post. One advantage of less stuff is sharing all the things that you really don’t need. So even if you can’t resist buying – make a plan to give away. For every new pair of shoes – donate another. It’s a great way of passing along the good.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Brad, that is a fantastic way to give and not be “stuffocated” all at the same time. I know a shoe store that adopts that philosophy. When you buy a new pair you can drop off the old pair. Lens Crafter’s does that with glasses. While your new pair is fitted the old pair can go in the drop so someone else can receive the gift of sight. There’s a plastic bag in the closet. When we bring home a new article of clothing one of equal magnitude goes in the bag. When the bag is full it gets taken to Goodwill.

  • Anders Reply

    Thank you for this article, Nicole!

    Not too long ago, I read my first ever article on decluttering and it made so much sense. Over the course of the weeks following we sold or gave away so many things. We’re still not done with getting rid of clutter, but we’re on the way.

    I love the term “stuffocated”, it’s so much how it feels when you have things everywhere. My mom too was pack-rat, or hoarder, or a combination of the two. She had a garage full of things that “could be useful one day”. That, of course, wasn’t why she kept everything.

    She just couldn’t part with it. She assigned emotional value to most the stuff, even though it quite frankly was a bunch of crap. In the words of Tyler Durden from Fight Club “The thing you own, end up owning you”.

    • Nicole Akers Reply

      Hi, Anders!
      So glad you found and read this piece. I was going to forward it as a potential resume for a guest post. 😉 Your writing tells me that you are in the process of feeling unbelievable freedom. It’s an appreciation that often comes from having experienced the opposite, usually before enjoying the freeing aspect.

      While I believe some things have an emotional value, it is easy to assign a value that doesn’t hold water or even make sense. I’m not sure where along the spectrum this holding on to stuff is, but some seem addicted to it. I find a lot of people hold on to stuff as an answer to trauma they have experienced in life. Whatever the reason, I like the quote you suggest, “The things you own, end up owning you”. I may have to write a new post, with that as a tweet. Thanks for your valuable comment.

  • Frank McKinley Reply

    You remind me of our recent move. We gave away, threw away, and let go of enough stuff to start another branch of Goodwill – or a compost heap.

    The feeling afterward was as real as the relief my car must have felt after we unloaded those 30 trash bags brimming with someone else’s newfound gold. You should have seen the groans on the faces of the people in the back at Goodwill! It was priceless.

    I’ve never felt lighter.

    • Nicole Reply

      Hello, Frank! I’d like to see that pile of stuff. To unload 30 trash bags at Goodwill … priceless. Enjoy the new found freedom!

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