The Exchange

I Had Too Much Stuff, so I Gave (Almost) All of It Away

The Exchange

By Jeremy Shapiro

Sometimes what we own ends up owning us, or so the adage goes. Materialism remains an essential trait of capitalism, I think, but in my life now I have traded the clutter of objects for the calm of simplicity and am better off for it.

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My path to materialist freedom was the result of a long spiritual and emotional transformation. I was a hermit, barricaded in a home stuffed with a small library's worth of books, thousands of movies, electronic games and multimedia toys, ancient historical artifacts, a closet crammed with clothes and a car that was more of a money pit than reliable transportation.

But all that has changed. As of today, I'm down to about 20 possessions ... total ... and couldn't be happier.

The Camel's Back

Very recently, I took a look at almost everything I owned and decided I didn't want it anymore. I had amassed a treasure trove of material objects at the expense of my personal and professional relationships, and I had insulated myself so much from the world that I spent most of my time in a self-prescribed psychosis that was anything but healthy or real.

I began immediately throwing out or giving away most everything I owned. Scores of books gone in an instant, leaving only a few that were necessary for my studies. Thousands of dollars worth of clothing turned into enough for a week or so. Every movie, video game and electronic device was gone, as was my iPod; I was left with just my computer and a small television.

It didn't happen all at once, but I did give away a large chunk at first. Once I did that, though, I began pretty much subconsciously reassessing my possessions almost daily, giving or throwing away more and more until I was left with next to nothing except for the clothes on my back. I'll admit, it was frightening at first. It seemed like I was going crazy, but once I got started it just felt right.

As of now, this is what I have left in my apartment:

  • Some changes of clothes, enough for maybe a week before needing to do laundry.
  • A mountain bike to ride around on, since I no longer have a car.
  • A small television, so I am not totally disconnected from the world.
  • My laptop computer.
  • A bed.
  • A few cookware items (frying pan, spatula, measuring cups, etc).
  • A few books, holdovers from a collection that once numbered in the high hundreds if not close to a thousand.
  • A small couch to sit on and table to eat at.
  • A coffee table where I work.

The Simple Things

Without an iPod I immerse myself in the sounds of nature. My entertainment comes from public broadcasting, so I don't need a costly cable or satellite package. With what I learn on television, I cook with a few old but worthy kitchen items, baking my own bread and churning homemade sherbet.

I don't have a bank account anymore, and spend my meager but honest cash income on only what's needed. Goodwill is my trusty department store, but only if I truly need something I cannot fundamentally live without. My bills are almost nil, minus student loan debt and a credit card or two I attempt to pay on when I can. All remnants from my old life of material excess are gone.

Today, it's just my studies, my work and my passions. Sink or swim, it's just me. This is my simple life, all right, and I happily wouldn't trade it for any material thing in the whole wide world.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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