Dear future Steve…

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Storage unit 1

One of my 3 storage units...



How have I accumulated SO MUCH STUFF in less than 30 years?  I’m continually amazed by the amount of belongings we can accumulate.  For the most part, it is an American phenomenon.  Everything is big in America.  Lots of land for our big box stores.  Massive cars to transport all our stuff.  Big houses that will store 20x more than we need.  Combine this with only being two generations away from the depression and we’ve got a massive material possession problem.  Here is my current situation:

  • 2 storage units in Chicago FULL of stuff that has now been there for three years (a two year rotation for work to London that never stopped…)
  • 1 storage unit in London (thankfully much smaller) that has been there for a few months.
  • Boxes of childhood stuff at my Dad’s house (Do I really need my notes from college math?  No.  High school? Definitely not!)



How did we get here?

Now, I place full blame on my parents for making it incredibly painful for me to throw anything away.  I suppose it really is not their fault.  My grandparents were children of the depression.  You had to use everything until it was worn out – and then use it for a few more years.  It was sacrilege to throw something away that was useful (or could be useful some day).  Times have changed.  Things aren’t made like they once were.  Things are cheap.  Disposable income abounds.  Attention spans are infinitesimal.

I can remember stories of my grandfather actually getting an orange for Christmas.  That was it.  No toys, just a single orange.  Nowadays, children have piles and piles of presents ready for Christmas morning.  No wonder they get bored of toy #73 before it wears out.  Heck, the parents are probably happy if it gets a spot in the rotation for more than 2 weeks.


It won’t happen to me

The sad thing is that very usable items often end up buried away for years.  That is, until you are 29 years old, your dad is selling the childhood home and you have to go through your closet and drawers and figure out what to do with all this ‘stuff’.

I promise you that when you get to this stage, you’ll open a drawer and go ‘oh my gosh, I remember when I got [insert amazing childhood item here] and you will be filled with fond memories.  Embrace that moment, enjoy it, savor it.  Then, please, please do not add said item to the ‘Keep’ pile.  Sell it, give it away, recycle it – do something, but don’t keep it.  If you follow your temptation – you’ll be doing a small downsizing only to do the same thing a few years later.  At that point, you will open the first of your 13 boxes full of things you HAD to keep.  By the time you open box 7 – you’ll be saying to yourself ‘What the heck was I thinking?  Why did I keep my black-light poster from when I was 13?’.

Having now gone through my stuff for the 4th time in recent years (Move to London – put things in storage unit, Pack up London to go traveling for 6+ months, try to sell things in storage unit 3 years later, clean out childhood room) – I though I’d write letter to future Steve.  I do this occasionally and it is surprising how easily I forget how I was feeling during a challenging or exciting time.  Hopefully this letter can be of some use to you as well – though, you may need to adjust the examples :)


Three rules to live by:

Dear future Steve,

I hope life is treating you well.  I hope you managed to hit all 7 continents by 30.  I hope you are happy.  If not, at least rich.  Ideally both.  Either way – I’m writing to you from the past to help make sure you don’t fall into your old trap and cause you and your children unnecessary stress.  I’m here to tell you that you need to purge your life of all the crap you aren’t using.  I mean it.  This is not a test.  Here are a few simple rules that we agreed on back in 2010:

Rule 1. Do it NOW:  If it has been a few years since your last purge – you need to do it now.  Putting it off another 5 years won’t help.  You are only digging a deeper hole.  Want to relive the storage-unit fiasco of 2010?  Didn’t think so.

Rule 2. Do it regularly: Every 6 months, take a look at your belongings.  Clothes, gadgets, etc.  If you haven’t used it in 6 months, time to get rid of it.  List it on ebay or craigslist and use the money for your next trip.  If you ignore this advice, you’re just going to get less money when you get around to it.  I promise.

Can’t sell it?  Fill up your karma bucket and give it away for free (Salvation Army, Freecycle, etc).  The only thing I ask is that you not be so lazy as to throw it away if there is any chance someone else could use it.  The last thing this world needs is perfectly good stuff rotting (very slowly) in a landfill.

Rule 3. Really, really challenge yourself before you buy something: I know you, I know you love stuff more than the average guy.  But do me a favor and think about some of your failed purchases over the years.  Remember that car stereo you really wanted as a teenager, and then saw on Woot when you were 22?  It was pretty sweet watching it collect dust for years before selling it after never opening the box, right?  I thought so.

Signed,

Past Steve


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I’ll be honest, there are a few things I can’t let go of.  But they are few and far between, have massive sentimental value and can all fit into a few small boxes.  That’s okay, I’m not suggesting you have to get rid of it all.  But the hammer pants must go :)




Related links (I’ll do my best to link to folks who have written similar articles – I need to do a better job of tracking what I read!):

I didn’t give myself enough time to pull a ‘full Jenny’ and sell it all – but I’m making progress.  Check out her story here

17 Comments

  1. Comment by Jenny:

    “Full Jenny” el oh el. Thanks for linking to my site! I really like how you’ve written your future self a note.

    Stuff… my god. I’m so glad that I learned this lesson now instead of, you know, maybe in 20 years and had to go through 10 times as much stuff. It sucks. Really sucks. It’s a lot of work, emotionally draining, and you get a measly few dollars for things. Ugh.

    Glad your making progress.
    Jenny recently posted..Warning- Selling everything sometimes sucksMy ComLuv Profile

    • Comment by Steve:

      Jenny – It has taken my dad months to clean out our house of 20+ years of random stuff – and he’s yet to deal with all the furniture! Much better to do it now then later on it life!

      Ayngelina – 3 containers? That’s awesome and has to be so liberating! I didn’t start early enough this time around to get down that small, but I’m hoping to at least get down to a single, much smaller storage unit. Baby steps, I suppose!

  2. Comment by Ayngelina:

    I sold everything but 3 rubbermaid containers filled with photos and kitchen gear (I’m a foodie) and it was so liberating. When I return to Canada I won’t miss any of it.
    Ayngelina recently posted..The ethics of being robbedMy ComLuv Profile

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