Progression through unowning

Me, Myself, and this blog,Stuff & Things — Sean Bonner @ 10:06 pm
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A few years ago I was singing all kinds of minimialist anthems and preaching the gospel of less stuff on a regular basis. Since then I’ve had a kid, traveled a little less and moved into a bigger house. I was able to get rid of my storage space in that process but the result is much of that stuff is around here and I’m feeling the clutter again. I recently realized that I have so many t-shirts that if they are all clean at once they don’t fit in my t-shirt drawer.

This is no good.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of a plan of attack. And now I think I have one.

I’m not buying any stuff in 2012.

That’s a over simplified soundbite of course, but it’s to make a point. There are obvious exceptions, and clarifications that need to be made. I didn’t say I’m not buying “anything” nor did I say I’m not spending money, I said I’m not buying stuff.

Food, rent, bills, consumables, responsibilities, travel, experiences – these things are not included.

If something breaks and needs to be replaced, that doesn’t count.

If the iPhone 5 comes out, that doesn’t count.

My new place has a lot of wall space and I’ve been really happy to hang up a bunch of my art collection that I haven’t been able to for a while, so I reserve the right to go to art openings, and if so inspired and budget allows – support the arts buy buying some art.

No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, there’s a high likelihood that I’ll buy an 11″ macbook air in the next 12 months. Call this a preempted slip up.

I really really really really need a nice 35mm lens for my leica, if I find a deal I’ll likely jump on it.

I’ve got a growing kid who needs new stuff all the time, so purchases for him don’t count.

Objects that I need or am using for work (like Safecast radiation monitors and things) don’t count.

There may be some others, but really that’s my plan.

In addition to limiting the intake, I need to get rid of things. And I want to document that too. I was thinking I should do something weekly, but I don’t know if I can really pull that off. I can do monthly for sure, but maybe I should aim for a post on the 1st and 15th of each month documenting what I’ve gotten rid of, and how well I’ve been able to stick to not getting new things.

I expect to slip up from time to time. I’m impulsive and obsessive about objects so that may get the better of me from time to time, but I’m going to try and I’ll be honest about how well I do so in the long run you’ll be my judge.

12 months is a long time, but I think that’s what it’s got to be if it’s going to actually make an impact in my life. It can’t be just a one off yard sale get rid of things and then forget it tomorrow kind of deal. So we’ll see. Anyone want to try it with me?



  1. I’m strongly tempted! But the thought of not buying any gadgets (which I can justify as being work-related) is scary. And I’d definitely have to make an exception for digital goods, or books that aren’t on Kindle or don’t work well on it.

    Comment by Buster Benson — November 21, 2011 @ 10:30 pm
  2. I was with you until the iPhone, the Macbook, and the new lens. I’ve been trying too to consume a lot less. One of the areas that is most difficult for me is my phone. I have an iPhone 3G and when the Galaxy Nexus comes out it’s going to be very tough to resist. Still, I don’t need it, so I need to restrain myself.

    I like the idea of not buying stuff. And I think that your way of thinking sounds good, but it feels a little bit like you’re defeating the whole process before you begin. I mean, seriously, no one needs an iPhone 5 (or a Galaxy Nexus).

    Still, I liked reading your post and was glad that @busterbenson recommended it.

    Comment by Brian G. Fay — November 21, 2011 @ 10:44 pm
  3. I really like the concept but I find the “line drawing” aspect difficult. What does “stuff” mean? Books? Video Games? Does it include “download only versions” of these products? What is the goal? Less clutter? Less environmental impact? Both? Just curious on the other details.

    Comment by Nerdina — November 21, 2011 @ 10:57 pm
  4. Thanks Buster! And yes, I don’t count digital items as “stuff” ever. This is about clutter vs not, and if I added 100 new books to my kindle tomorrow I don’t think my life would be more cluttered whereas 100 more books to my bookshelf would be considerably more clutter.

    Brian – I think my intention my be different than yours. I’m not trying to be anti-consumerist or surround myself only with things I need, I’m trying to reduce clutter and be a bit more simple. Since buying a new iphone or a new laptop in effect means I won’t keep the ones I currently have, the net change in items I have is 0.

    Nerdina – it’s really hard. I’m focusing on my personal impact first and foremost, and think that will trickle out in positive ways.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — November 21, 2011 @ 11:32 pm
  5. I don’t want to stop buying stuff so much as I want to get rid of stuff I have but don’t love and maybe replace it with stuff I like better.

    Comment by Annika — November 21, 2011 @ 11:47 pm
  6. Sean, you’re right. I misinterpreted your post. I thought that your goal was to simplify your life, not just reduce clutter. I dream of cutting my consumption in half and not buying things that I could otherwise get for free. I’m about to give my Kindle away because it was costing me so much money to own it. Instead, I use my library card. The phone is a similar situation for me: I get sucked in by the “must have shiny new thing” advertising that has me thinking I need something when in fact I simply think that I want it. I’ve too often succumbed to this sort of thing (as I did for the Kindle) without looking at what my needs really are. For some, a Kindle might be a must-have. For me, it’s a tool for Amazon to sell me lots and lots of things.

    Simplifying my life means not purchasing as much. If I do that, I don’t have to worry about working to make as much money. If I’m not working as much, I have time to live my life. At least this is my theory. So far, it’s proving to be accurate.

    Now, don’t think me too high and mighty. Not until I sacrifice the $60+ dollars I send to Verizon each month for this dandy Internet connection. If I cut that, then I’ll really be doing something impressive. We all have our vices.

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Comment by Brian G. Fay — November 22, 2011 @ 1:25 am
  7. I see a lot of but but but in this post.

    I just want to see less Amazon boxes show up at the door because I am the one that breaks them down and sticks them in the recycle bin. 😀

    Comment by Tara Tiger Brown — November 22, 2011 @ 4:54 am
  8. Brian – This isn’t my first step into this, my TEDx talk from a few years ago on this topic is on YouTube as well as countless articles that I’ve written in the past, so I’ve done a lot of the “simplify your life” stuff already, I just realized that over the last 12 months there’s been clutter creep and I wanted to actively try to adjust that.

    Tara – I’m trying to be honest and realistic from the start, so we’ll see…

    Comment by Sean Bonner — November 22, 2011 @ 5:41 am
  9. I have been approaching this way of thinking more & more, since rediscovering that getting new “stuff” isn’t intrinsically satisfying, but reconnecting & spending time & energy with friends & family is much more soul satisfying.

    Comment by Lori Douglass — November 22, 2011 @ 11:14 am
  10. I’m with you!

    I have a very small list of exceptions, and I’m scared, lol, but I’m in.

    My family and I have been trying to minimalize and get rid of clutter slowly but surely, so this comes at a great time. I think, we the amount of kids and STUFF in our home, we can even get rid of an item per DAY, albeit mostly small kids toys.

    Thanks for the post and the idea!

    Comment by vallori — November 22, 2011 @ 4:11 pm
  11. Brian, don’t give away your Kindle until you see if a library in your area offers free ebooks! Overdrive supplies ebooks to many many libraries, and Kindle came on board within the last 2 months.

    Comment by Mandy — November 22, 2011 @ 7:38 pm
  12. I am also slightly afraid but very much on board. My involvement is some what economically driven, it will be nice to be able to make the commitment to not buy “stuff” being able to put that money to a much better use. Like yourself and others who have commented I have a small son who gets to be exempt, otherwise bring on a year of being “stuff” free! =)

    Comment by Heather — November 23, 2011 @ 7:00 am
  13. I’m in! I’ve seen your posts on this in the past (obviously) and have been trying pretty hard myself not buy stuff. The problem is that the other 4 people in my house (wife and 3 kids) seem to accumulate an awful lot of junk. We’ve accumulated so much crap over the last 12 years in the same house. I want to be *much* more active in getting rid of stuff this year. I think posting about it is a good way to track progress and keep myself honest. An un-stuff blog? De-clutter?

    And I’m covered on the iPhone. I just got the 4s in October. I still have the old 3G though. Need to unload that.

    Comment by ttrentham — November 23, 2011 @ 3:24 pm
  14. Tara – I wish there was an Amazon Super Prime that either meant they delivered just the item with no box to your house, or came back the next day and took the box and all packaging away.

    Comment by cybele — November 24, 2011 @ 3:10 am
  15. Good idea,
    and i’ m curious: what about all these figures here (Link below). You Kind of HAVE to get rid of stuff like this to REALLY simplify your Life und get rid of stuff 😉
    (no offense here i’ m just curious :) )
    again: Love the whole technomad thing

    Comment by Phil — November 26, 2011 @ 1:14 am
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