You vs. Stuff: Five Strategies for Winning Every Time

Flea market sign, the new pursuit, simple living, deep living, how to sell stuff“Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.”
~ Peace Pilgrim

Over the weekend, we tag-teamed a huge yard sale with my in-laws. Truth be told, it looked and felt more like a bonafide flea market than willy-nilly yard sale: Table after table of stuff laid out under canopies; long lines of people meandering through like cattle through the gates; even a lemonade stand to help raise money for the local food bank.

My wife and I have been in this stuff-dumping mode for a while. Kids get older; interests change; what we value shifts with time. It’s natural. So is the process of letting go. Learning to embrace this objectivity towards our stuff has helped us stay the course and learn some important lessons along the way.

Are you considering going toe-to-toe with your stuff in an attempt to clear the clutter and turn back the tide of consumption? Here are five strategies that have helped us–and can help you–win every time:

  • Let Go of Emotions. For so long, our stuff has defined us. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we have bonded in some way with it. That makes it hard to give it up. Who wants to let go of something that makes made you feel good at one time? Seek to look objectively at your possessions for what they are now, not what they might have been to you in the past. Remember, your stuff does not define you, you do.
  • Involve the Whole Family. If you have kids, this strategy will pay major dividends. We asked our two oldest kids (ages 7 and 5) to go through their games and toys first, sorting out what they didn’t want. And you know what? They did a great job! While we helped them make the final cut, getting them involved from the get-go invested them in the process, learning a thing or two about stuff and our relationships to it.
  • Seek the Greater Good. You might have had a need for your stuff in the past but now you don’t. More than likely, it could take on a new life for someone else. If you can’t sell it (or don’t want to), donate it to a worthwhile charity. Pay it forward. Create good karma.
  • Build Your Borrow/Barter Network. This is a sure-fire strategy for getting rid of those things that you only use once in a while. Figure out who in your circle owns the thing, then fall back on the tried and true method of borrowing. If you have stuff they want, consider a barter set up. We do this a lot for tools and it works out beautifully.
  • See Dollar Signs. My in-laws made over $800 in one day selling stuff that had been gathering dust in their basement. Not too shabby. If you’re working towards eliminating debt or saving for something, that extra stuff you have lying around the house could bring in the extra income you need to achieve your goal(s).

All of this giving and selling has me pondering this question: Economics aside, could humans cease manufacturing any new stuff for a year (or more) and survive on what is already in inventory or in our possession?

I think so. Especially if we are taking steps to live more simply, turning more to the immaterial things in life for our happiness.

Imagine what that could accomplish — for ourselves, for humanity, for the planet and all the beings that call it home. Amazing.

Be well,

If you liked this post and think others might too, please consider sharing it via Twitter or another social media outlet. Many thanks. You may also enjoy these posts:


[image: Holly Abston]

11 Responses to “You vs. Stuff: Five Strategies for Winning Every Time”
  1. Bill – love this story, wish more people would see beyond capitalism as the answer to everything – the past few years have proven it doesn’t work. The methods you outline above prove we can change our habits, the question is – will we change fast enough?

    Hopefully more will come around on this concept – we can only live in hope!

    Thanks again,

  2. George says:

    I don’t think most humans in this country can “survive on what is already in inventory or in our possession”. Not because it can’t be done, but because people don’t shop, purchase, or collect things that create a self sustaining environment for themselves. The things in most peoples possessions are objects of convenience or leisure that perpetuate more shopping, and not self sustainability. As you have indicated on more then one occasion, minimalism is more about what you do, than what you don’t buy.

    That said, (and I realize you don’t have a TV), I have a Netflix recommendation for you Bill.

    It is called “The Joneses”. Demi Moore and David Duchovny as gorilla marketers, who live life as a normal family, just to grow sales and market products to their unsuspecting peers; unfortunately to a tragic ending.

    Entertaining, yet very poignant.

  3. Majeeda says:

    Glad it went well and you gave some great tips.One point I remember (from I think) is that we often get tricked into thinking we need something material to ”remind us” of the experience. In fact though, our memories can serve us well and you don’t need to keep filling your house up with souvenirs to remind you of every little experience that meant something to you in your life.

    It sounds like your in-laws did really well too -good for them! Btw my youngest two children are 5 & 7 yrs.

  4. Debbie says:

    Interesting timing. The last three weekends have been devoted to clearing out & letting go of STUFF!! This was on another blog (
    : give away/recycle/get rid of stuff, stuff, stuff sentimental stuff that special people gave you (your home is for you, not them); stuff that doesn’t make you feel good even, if you spent a lot of money on it; stuff that has intense memories attached to it; stuff!

    Although, I do have to admit I have not been able to let go of those things I have accumulated in my travels.They have possessed me. :-) Maybe in time.

  5. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Ingrid // Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I often think about whether we can beat the proverbial clock and change in time. Then I have to center and ground myself, knowing I am doing all I can towards that Great Change. The more we can share and grow in this great big virtual community, the more we can help to push that forward.

    So glad you stopped by and left a comment. I know when I need a boost, I can always count on something at Cohabitaire to do the trick. Be well.

  6. Bill Gerlach says:

    George // Good point, though I am optimistic that can change. Not overnight, but eventually. The more we can discover the joys of slowing down and reconnecting with immaterial things, the more we can grow in our awareness of the need to live more sustainably and in harmony with the current levels of resources that the Earth provides.

    We do have a Netflix account. :) I’ll look it up. Thanks for recommendation. Kind of makes you question the MBA, no? ;)

  7. Bill Gerlach says:

    Majeeda // I think you’re right — it is the “memory factor” that drives us a lot of the time. That and the cheap stuff at the gift shops that serves to fill that purpose.

    My in-laws had a lot of big-ticket items, hence the good draw. They helped drive traffic for our stuff!

    I see we have another thing in common. Our third child is just shy of 16 months. Definitely a full house!

  8. Bill Gerlach says:

    Debbie // I think this theme is driven by great summer weekend weather! Leo over at Zen Habits had a great piece too that I read after posting this. Always a good read.

    Don’t worry, you will get there. When it is supposed to happen, it will. :)

  9. Kathy P. says:

    After the stack of magazines I mentioned last time I commented, I gave away my old stereo system (turntable, cassette player, radio plus a 5 CD changer). all my music is now ripped to my computer and MP3 player.Gave the stereo to my Dad who is allergic to computers. Just put a box in the car marked “Old camera and digital stuff. Throw out 4/28/08.” Obviously I kept it 2-1/2 years longer than I intended and I had no idea what was in it. Guess it’s time – but you can see I’ve been struggling with this for awhile now.

    Oh BTW, the stack of “reference” magazines was 3 feet tall. I took a picture before I put them out to the street for recycling.

  10. Amanda says:

    I just had a massive yard sale, too. I only made $75, but the rest of my clothes and home goods were donated to a worthy cause. There was probably $300 worth of things that we ended up donating, and I feel great about that. I’m also thrilled with a less-cluttered house! I can’t wait for the next sweep we do, as it is a process to simplify the stuff you don’t need out of the home.

  11. Sandra Lee says:


    Your last point – see the dollar sides – really made me laugh!

    I’m not a person that generally has strong attachments to stuff. But when I actually let go of much of my stuff, I was surprised to see the attachment that was there and the emotional process that ensued. So I appreciate your advice to be aware of this. It’s really healthy to let go and seeing your own attachment is a good part of the learning process.