Owning less stuff

Friday 25th November 2016

We're off to Spain for new adventures in a couple of weeks, and we've spent the last three months sorting our possessions into the four S's: ship, store, sell or skip. It's easy to gradually acquire new things and each of the four times I've moved house I've watched the pile grow.


When I went to university in 1995, everything I took fitted in my parents' car along with me and them. I had a duvet, a hi-fi, a bunch of CDs, a few pots and pans and some particularly colourful clothes. Let's say it was about a cubic metre in total. A large packing box, 63cm on a side, is one-quarter of a cubic metre so four of those boxes make up a cubic metre like this:

Looking back now, I marvel at how simple my life was, even though I lost many nights' sleep worrying about it at the time! 


When Kat and I moved to Brighton after graduating in 1998, we hired a transit van to move into a one bedroom flat. We had a double bed, a sofa, a TV, more clothes (still pretty colourful), a lot more cookware and loads more CDs. We had about four cubic metres of possessions. 

A year later we moved into a three bedroom flat and over the next five years we filled it with stuff. 


When we decided to live abroad for a bit, we took stock of the flat and realised for the first time just how much stuff we had. I estimate it totalled about 25 cubic metres: beds, sofas, chests of drawers, a dining table and chairs, fridge, washing machine, a full set of kitchen equipment, garden furniture, a wall of books and even more CDs.


We sold or gave away a bunch of it, and made two trips back our parents' lofts to store the things we couldn't bear to part with. We were back down to about 15 cubic metres. I know this because when we came back two years later we managed to fit it all in a 3.5t Luton van. 


In the nine years since then we've really upped our game.


We currently live in a five bedroom house, and the thing about big houses is that you have to fill them with stuff or they look empty. We added more beds, a giant dining table and chairs, a work shed full of tools, a home office, dressers, more sofas, two kayaks, a sailing boat and four bicycles. And for some reason we still had a mountain of CDs in the loft, even though we didn't even unpack them from the boxes last time we moved.

I worked it out to be in the region of 55 cubic metres, which means we could pretty much fill an HGV with all our stuff. 

How did this happen? 

There's no way this would all fit into our parents' lofts again, and the more we looked at all the things we'd bought the less we liked them. As Tyler says in Fight Club, the things you own end up owning you. I was drowning in things and I hadn't even noticed. 

We started off a little hesitantly - we gave away two of our bicycles and I sold my vintage computer collection on eBay (I love eBay). We became bolder and donated all our CDs to a local community radio station.

Gaining confidence, we compiled a complete spreadsheet of everything in the entire house and categorised it into ship / store / sell / skip. Everything marked skip was piled up outside the back door and taken to the dump. 

We stored about two transit van loads in Kat's parents' loft (thanks guys!) back in September. There were lots of photo albums and some furniture that Kat commissioned, but looking back on it now I can't remember what's in most of those boxes. 

There was a lot of overlap between ship, store and sell, and it was tricky to identify items that we were happy to sell and definitely didn't want. We arranged a date for a moving sale in September, sorted through drawers and cupboards and the loft (OMG, the loft), stuck bargain price tags on everything and opened our doors. 

Reactions from purchasers varied, but the most common question was always "aren't you going to miss this?" as they held one of our dozen kitchen knives or a handful of books that I'd forgotten we even owned. And as the day wore on I realised that I really wouldn't. 

By the end of the day we were exhausted, but feeling lighter and freer than I've felt in years. What a liberating experience! 

Kat and I have spent the last few months talking about our new plans for a cut-down life.

We're both really keen to try living in a smaller house, so we don't have the pressure of filling a big home with stuff.

We'd like to be more carefree with possessions, buying second hand and then selling on, rather than buying new and keeping it. 

Are you excited by the idea of a serious declutter? Does it fill you with fear? Leave a comment below!



Recent posts

Five things I'm going to miss about Cornwall

Five things I'm going to miss about Cornwall

In ten days we're leaving the UK for new adventures in Spain...

Read more

Owning less stuff

Owning less stuff

We're off to Spain for new adventures in a couple of weeks, and we've spent the last three months sorting our possessions into the four S's: ship, store, sell or skip...

Read more

What's this about?

Hi I'm Mat and I'm addicted to new hobbies. I used to think this was a bad thing but now I'm embracing it.

Writing them all up in this blog encourages me to finish projects, and helps me keep track of which ones I've tried.

Also in Inside my brain...

I heart hearts

I heart hearts

Over a romantic dinner with the wife last week we wondered where the heart symbol comes from, and where on Earth you can grow roses at this time of year...

Also in Inside my brain...

Five sci-fi books that changed the way I think

Five sci-fi books that changed the way I think

I was inspired to write this because I've just finished the incredible Accelerando and I'm looking for more books like it...