Minimalists: Don’t give away the store.

GetAttachmentThumbnailOver at the Budgets Are Sexy blog, host J. Money shared a startling fact: He almost gave away his coin collection.

The mohawked numismatist is known throughout the personal finance blogosphere to be someone completely devoted to what he calls “tiny pieces of metal.” Yet he’s reflecting on whether such attachments are entirely healthy.

“That’s right – the guy who only has one main hobby left, and created an entire blog dedicated to these historic beauties, almost gave up collecting entirely,” he wrote in a post called “When it’s time to detach yourself from your things.”

The collection was “the last remaining ‘thing’ I owned that I was still overly attached to and didn’t want to be anymore.”

I get it. Marie Kondo and her “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is all the rage right now. The underlying theory is good: Get rid of what you don’t use/may never use/no longer matters.

But allow me to point out that fads come and fads go. Minimalism may be one of them, and joining in could mean shooting yourself in the frugals.

To be clear: I do think it’s possible to have too much stuff. According to an industry group called the Self Storage Association, the United States has about 2.5 billion square feet of rentable, under-roof storage space.

That’s 78 square miles of cubbies, folks – and users aren’t just apartment or condo dwellers. About two-thirds (65 percent) of all self-storage renters have garages, nearly half (47 percent) have attics and one-third have basements.


Less isn’t always more

Some people are attracted to minimalism after reading blog and magazine articles on the topic. Just as it was easy initially to believe that buying More Stuff would make us happy, it’s alluring to think now that Less Stuff is the real ticket to contentment.

But today isn’t forever. Starry-eyed by the idea of a potential solution for your Life Issues, you might jump on the Kondo-wagon and make decisions that will cost you money – or anguish – later on.

Less isn’t always more. Sometimes less is loss. When the infatuation with minimalism wears off we might second-guess our decision to have dumped so much ballast all at once.

Here’s a sad story: When I was seven or eight I really wanted to be a big girl. So when my mom was putting together a box of stuff to donate to Goodwill, I gave her my several dolls – including one that my great-grandmother had made for me.

Almost immediately I knew I’d made a mistake. While I didn’t sleep with the rag doll she sat against my pillow during the day, and the bed just looked wrong without her. But I was a big girl now, and wouldn’t allow myself to admit I’d blown it.

You know what? I still miss that doll. Sometimes I wonder what my mom was thinking, not setting it aside in case I changed my mind or as a family heirloom. Then again, she had a tough childhood. Maybe to her it was normal not to get too attached to things.


Don’t do anything rash

A close friend still has her childhood bear. Does she still play with Prince Panda? No. Does she get wonderful memories when she looks at him? You bet.

This friend is currently donating/selling a lot of the stuff she’s accumulated in eight decades of living. The bear is staying put. He matters to her.

Before you divest, think — really think — about your own Prince Pandas:

If you feel a serious pang at the thought of ditching an item, hold off for a day or two.

Ask yourself why you’re purging. Is it because you truly feel you have too much? Because you think that gives you frugal bonus points? Because a friend did a Kondo on her condo and can’t stop talking about how much her life has changed? (Hint: Your mileage may vary.)

Will you need to replace it? Get overzealous about the expulsions and you might wind up have to re-buy tools, clothing, cookware or whatever.

Can you replace it? As noted above, I still miss that rag doll. Is my life irreparably harmed because she isn’t in it? No. Do I wish I had her back? Yes.

How about it, readers: Have you ever gotten rid of stuff, only to find you really needed/wanted it later? Or was your decision both final and gloriously successful?


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  1. Such a good article.When I was younger I would get rid of stuff without thinking. After the husband had to buy a few things again that he knew he didn’t lose.. I had to stop.
    He loves to buy extra at garage sales and dig it out of the garage when needed. His favorite saying look you were going to throw it away and I saved us $10 or whatever. He will never never forget how I used to be LOL

  2. Two things that I wish I had kept:
    1) Complete set of Grace Livingston Hill paperbacks that I had collected since I was a teenager
    2) A 3/4 bed frame with a wheat motif that was from the house I grew up in
    What was I thinking?

    Things I won’t downsize:
    1)My great aunt Sophie’s cream pitcher
    2)My father’s cast iron lion bank
    3)My piggy bank from when I was 3 – holds old coins now
    3)My doll I got for Christmas when I was 6
    4)2 fabric teddy bears – 1 made from my father’s flannel shirt, the other from the sweatshirt I was wearing the last time he knew my name (damn Alzheimer’s disease)

    I have learned that I have to follow my gut. If I make arrangements to part with something and I just cannot follow through then it is not time yet —

    • Donna Freedman

      “I have learned that I have to follow my gut. If I make arrangements to part with something and I just cannot follow through then it is not time yet.”

      This +++++++.

  3. Anne from E.

    If I understand Marie Kondo right – and I hope I do because I just finished cleaning my home with the instructions of her book – she wants us to keep everything that makes us happy. And we are happy with things that are useful, beautiful or have a positive emotional impact. So Kondo would never ask you to give away your beloved doll, teddy bear or coin collection. Instead, you part with all those things that are there because you needed, liked or loved them in former times, but today they are simply annoying or have lost their significance in your life. The result is that my home today is only filled with things that I love for some reason or the other, and that is a great feeling! There is a lot of space now where I used to store things just out of decades of habit and I plan to repeat this process in a five-year-cycle.

    • Donna Freedman

      That sounds very intentional and very successful. My concern is that some people will let a book (or an Internet fad, or the diet of the day, or a minister, or a peer group) sweep them away with enthusiasm: “Yes! Surely this is the answer!”

      If they’re lucky, they realize mid-stream that maybe it really isn’t. Others won’t.

      Adults need to think carefully about what is and isn’t right for us. Easier than it sounds, sometimes.

      Congratulations on your own great result.

  4. Anne from E.

    In addition to my earlier post: It took me a full year to tidy my home because I did it very slowly. When in doubt, I always waited until I was sure what to do. I’m quite sure that I’ll not regret my decisions.

  5. Linda G

    Some of us have hobbies that just have a lot of stuff with it – I do needlework. I know there are those out there who do one project at a time – I am not one of them :). I do, however, keep my collection organized.

    • Donna Freedman

      Hobbies with lots of moving parts — coin/stamp collecting, quilting, modelmaking, et al. — require careful organization. A friend of mine has tens of thousands of beads for her beadworking, but they’re all separated by color and size so she can put her hands on exactly what she needs for a piece.

      I bet needlework is a lot easier when you don’t have to wonder where a specific color/type of thread is kept, and when you can easily find a specific needle, hoop, pattern or whatever. This kind of organization, come to think of it, would making purging easier as well: “I no longer do X type of work, so out with all the X-type accoutrements.”

      • It took me four separate declutterings spaced out over eight years to fully rationalize my craft hoard. 🙂 I too have eleventy thousand beads but they are BEAUTIFULLY organized!

  6. jestjack

    Hmmmm….It seems “de-cluttering” and “simplifying” are the rage now. But like you I wonder if folks are too hasty. To me there is no greater satisfaction than being able to use or re-purpose something that I have….”hoarded”…..I mean saved. I have purchased at flea markets/yard sales, plumbing supplies for pennies on the dollar that folks just had to get rid of. I’m talking $9 “shark bites” for 25 cents each….IMHO the key is keeping the ….”piles”….I mean “inventory” organized…..

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep. One reason our greenhouse was so affordable was that DF had his own piles inventory: lumber, discarded windows and two storm doors. The result may not be Better-Homes-and-Gardens pretty (I call it the Frankengreenhouse) but by gum it works. It was 90 degrees in there yesterday even though it was only 50 degrees outside.

      Both of us love pulling saved/hoarded items out rather than buying new ones. As you say, the trick is to stay organized rather than risk ending up like the Collyer Brothers.

  7. I tend to go more slowly ditching stuff now. The only thing I regret is accidentally losing a small photo album of baby photos that got in with the discards.

    Usually getting the stuff gone does not cause any regret-just more spaciousness.

    • Donna Freedman

      Way back in the day I wrote:

      I‘m no Zen master, but I can say that having less makes you that much more grateful for what’s in front of you. I’ve also learned that paring down possessions means a lot more room in your life as well as in your house.

      Still true. Yet I’m just as selective about what I toss as what I bring into the house.

      Sorry about the baby photos. I’d feel sad about that, too.

  8. ro in san diego

    I am using a site called Yerdle to help me give away stuff I no longer need. I would say the result has been gloriously successful.. the best thing about this site is I get to write a goodbye note to my things. I have purged 400 items and don’t miss one of them. The best thing about this trading site is that each vitamin giveaway earns me points I use to get new stuff.

  9. I was raised by my grandmother, who was really poor growing up, so she hoarded stuff that she never used. I was always afraid there would be a fire and that the fireman couldn’t get in. Some of the rooms you could barely walk in. I lived with it and then because of it, I went the opposite direction. I tossed, and then 6-12 months later, I needed it and wished I had it back. I guess I need some sort of happy medium. Now I could scream sometimes, as my hubby has one room, two sheds, and the basement all filled with tools for his hobbies. I just try and close my eyes, but once in a while I threaten to have a huge yard sale!

    • Donna Freedman

      A happy medium is what I seek, too. Both DF and I have a lot of papers and books. We’re winnowing down, but some stuff we’ll always keep. His goal is to keep the historical/family stuff organized and identified; it will be up to his kids whether or not the stuff gets kept.

  10. Angela J

    My mom was a minimalist, she only owned a car full of things when she passed. I have found a happy medium… I think. I still feel a little guilty about the cottage-y look my house gets inside, but I enjoy it, (and it’s clean) so I let that override the guilt. I too am in the same continuing situation as Robin. My husband has a basement, a double car garage and two sheds full of stuff, plus a ton of lumber against the side of the house. I will never get to park my car in the garage (even when we get two feet of snow). However, he tries to keep it organized and gets downright panicky if it gets moved or messed with. I try to respect his own sense of connection to his things. He is very handy and can and will use a lot of it eventually.

  11. I am not even in the same zip code as minimalism, although since kids are grown and life has downsized I purge small things all the time. And I have to honestly say I have no memory of ever missing a single give away, not even once. I like the feeling of passing on something I no longer use, I feel organized and efficient.

    However, I think a certain amount depends on where you are in the life cycle. If you are still building your nest, i.e. greenhouse, gardens, raising kids, etc. then keeping stuff on hand makes more sense. Those of us who are de-nesting though, usually like less stuff.

  12. You just had to go and write this didn’t you? Haha…

    Love it though – well done 🙂 True that with anything, rash decisions can be bad, and it’s always good to stay true to yourself/feelings/goals/desires vs following any “fads.”

    I’ll disagree that minimalism is a fad itself as it’s been around forever (just more popular now with the advent of blogs/internet), and I’ve personally been inching towards it for the past 6 years myself, but if I had it my way EVERYONE would be talking about their feelings towards “stuff” and how it effects our lives for the better or the worse…

    You can always take anything too far one way or the other, but I will say being obsessed with minimalism is much better than the 1,000+ other – worst- things you could be addicted to, haha…

    But yes, great article indeed and way to get your audience marinating on it 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, sir. I’ve been quasi-minimalist my whole life because growing up we didn’t have a lot of toys, clothes, etc. And you know what? We really appreciated and cared for the things we did have. Funny thing.

      When I say “fad,” I mean more of an “Everything old is new” vibe. People embrace frugality as though they invented it, but it’s not exactly a recent discovery. Ditto things like slow food, eating locally and free-range parenting. Minimalism has always been a thing, but people who suddenly find it might go a bit overboard.

      See you at FinCon in San Diego, you mohawked numismatist, you.

      Think before you toss, is all I’m saying.

  13. Can’t think of anything I regret giving away but as I’m in the process of merging households with my boyfriend these conversations are coming up often. He doesn’t have a lot of stuff save guitars. He is gentle in not forcing me to decide on an item right away, or making me pause if I’m doing something because I’m tired of the task. He is also very kind about Burt the stuffed animal monkey I’ve had since I was one year old. And would likely never get rid of.

  14. I recently downsized due to divorce, and I gave away/got rid of too many things. In fact, for an upcoming job interview, I just purchased on eBay the exact Coach purse I used to own. (It was a great purse…)

    Actually, the stuff I miss the most are the valuable antiques I had to sell to make ends meet, pay my divorce lawyer, buy heating oil, etc. I miss them very much and am fairly sure I’ll never be able to afford to replace them. It hurts to know that because my husband decided to leave me, I had to part with beloved possessions.

  15. Aunt Leesie

    Things I regret getting rid of? My “fat” clothes disposed of when I lost weight and found it again, and my “skinny” clothes once I lost it once more. Since I have a pretty classic & basic clothing style and am easy on my stuff, it can look nice for many years. Replacing a whole wardrobe–even at thrift store prices–adds up FAST. I regret giving away an antique china cabinet to a friend who had moved cross country and needed furniture. And most of all, I regret selling off some jewelry many years ago.

    • YES! This! My weight yo yo’s and I gave TONS of clothes away when I lost over 25 pounds, purchased a whole new wardrobe and regained about 15-20 lbs which I had lost 🙁 . I also had to repurchase a new wardrobe but now that I know this about myself I will just hang on to ALL my clothes, both my fat and skinny clothes. I also sold a bunch of jewelry a few short years ago, to purpose was to give the money to my college kids, but some of it had been my mothers and/or my aunts and I bitterly regret having done that. Live and learn 🙁 .

  16. Sandy g

    Five years ago I had to relocate for a new job after the previous job was eliminated. I managed to sell my 3 bedroom house (at a great loss). I moved into a 2 bedroom apartment. I had too much stuff and a lot o furniture that was way too big for an apt. I have spent the last 5 years rightsizing my possessions. I will be retiring in another 3 or 4 years and plan to move back closer to family. I know that I want to downsize to a 1 bedroom apt, so the process continues. When I start purging I always have a box for the “I’m not sure”. That box gets revisited every few months. Sometimes things go sometimes not. It gives me time to think about stuff I’m not sure about, but gets it out of sight and mind for a while.

    • I like the “I’m not sure” box idea. It gives one a little more time to decide if they can truly part with those things!

  17. I bought a home and moved about a year ago. Because I plan to redo the floors through out the house this year I have not put personal affects out in bookshelves or for display. Once the floors are completed I will go through box by box and keep only that which makes the home feel like me and reflects who I am and what I honestly love.

    Prior to moving I had a rule that I could only have what I could store in my one bedroom apartment and the small closet area that came with the apartment. I had, at the point I moved into that apartment, a small storage area and I went through everything and got it pretty pared down.

    I know there will be more things to donate from the 256 boxes I have left to unpack but I look forward to doing that. I will not keep anything that forces me to have a storage area or use the attic (scared of attics). I have no problem storing a few things in the garage storage cabinets but that is it. A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

  18. After moving out of my college apartment, there were quite a few Goodwill trips where much of that stuff cannot be recalled. At all. Some of the stuff is in the basement, and from time to time I dig things out and find use or a place for them. Which brings up memories. As the last of the stuff gets put away I will definitely be remembering this article.

  19. Once during a move I decided the old rule, if you haven’t opened a box in six months, you don’t need what’s inside, applied to me. Well years later I am certain in one of those boxes I threw away without opening was my childhood favorite stuffed animal, and it still makes me sad to know I threw it away.

  20. Cathy in NJ

    I am content with things that I have donated. There is a dark green suit that I wonder if I should have kept, but I am not even sure it would fit. I rarely wore it, but I guess I just liked it.
    I have a coat and a suit that absolutely do not fit but I’m keeping them because I like them. This attitude goes against all minimalist philosophy. My home is lived in, not cluttered or hoarder heaven. I just keep some useless things.

  21. When we had to raise money for the down payment, I got a little carried away paring down the stuff I collect. After we got the house I put off picking up the hobby again because we didn’t have the money to keep it up — but also because I knew I’d feel a pang when I saw the diminished collection.

    I started up again after 4 years, which meant I’d forgotten some of the items I gave away. I was really looking forward to seeing one of them again. Turns out I sold it — and not for much over retail. Nowadays, it’s hard to find and sells for around twice what I got rid of it for. I can’t bring myself to spend that much, but I still miss the item.

  22. Shortly after I lost my eyesight, while I was recovering from major illness and brain surgery, I went through my wardrobe and gave away a couple of huge boxes of clothes I convinced myself I’d never have any reason to wear again. Arrgh! I still miss some of those outfits.

    Moral of the story: The aftermath of a major life-changing event isn’t the best time to make irrevocable decisions about what’s meaningful in your life. 🙂

    I’m now struggling with the question of whether to let go of the many books I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ll never be able to read them again, but I might want to lend them to friends or pass them on to family or friends someday. And I’m nowhere near ready to give up the writing and craft books I’ve accumulated – I can always get someone to read a section to me if I have to!

    Right now, I’m content to hang onto many things, because I’m fond of them and have space to keep them around. But if I had to downsize drastically, I know that I could do that,too, and live with very little.

    • Donna Freedman

      “The aftermath of a life-changing event isn’t thebest time to make irrevocable decisions about what’s meaningful in your life.”

      Hoo boy, yes. I’m sorry about the clothes (were any of them SCA stuff?) and glad you’re throttling back on Big Decisions.

  23. My biggest mistakes have always been doing wardrobe overhauls. Now, I just “overhaul” and put the stuff in my closet for a while. I sometimes end up going back and wearing things I thought I would never wear! Throw out things with holes or a size you may never get back to – but I still regret some of those throwaways!

    • Donna Freedman

      One way I heard about organizing this:

      1. Hang all items in the closet hangers-facing-in.

      2. Each time you wear and wash a garment, hang it back up hanger-facing-out.

      3. At the end of six months (or a year), check to see how many clothes you never wore during that time frame. Decide whether they’re worth keeping.

  24. Every time I tell my daughter in law I am going to become a minimalist she falls over laughing.
    Some day I will declutter some but probably never completely.

  25. I learned this lesson long ago at the age of 4, when I asked my mother where my seal was (a large stuffed seal) and she said it was too dirty and she threw it out. I was heartbroken. I’ve never made the mistake of throwing away things that matter to me.

    I heartily second the caution that it could cost people dollars to throw too much out. But so can chaos cost: I’ve heard people say they know they have a certain tool, but since they can’t find it, they buy one so they can do the task that required it.

    Things are problematic. I hate throwing away things on principle, because it’s wasteful. And I love to preserve the past, as a defiant act against the usual outcome of time: loss, erasure, amnesia. But lately I have been doing some organizing, and asking questions about what I want to keep, and why. I’ve ended up recycling a lot of paper, and giving away some things that are useful, but that I don’t want.

    I’ll never give up my postcard collection, though. My only nod to organization there was to put them in albums so I can page through them, and they are better preserved that way, I hope. And I managed to keep a troll doll from way back in the ’60s as well as a doll my grandmother gave me. They embody good childhood memories. A photo of them would not suffice: it would lack the immediacy and the detail, despite the insistence of some downsizers. I’m not just visual, I’m also tactile. Sometimes you really do need to put an object in your hands to appreciate it.

    • I think this is why the Marie Kondo thing is going over so well with people; it’s not about practical rules (“have I used this in 6 months?”) but about feelings.

      There are a lot of things you can just throw out into the endless river of stuff, and easily replace if you ever miss them. Probably for free or cheap, from someone else with too much stuff.

      There can be things you use often and they make you a little (or a lot!) unhappy every time, because they’re not quite the right thing or they remind you of a negative person or judgement or past event.

      And there are things you really enjoy, for practical or sentimental reasons.

      But you’re the only person who can actually know your feelings. Nobody else can look at your postcards or touch your troll doll and tell you how deep that connection is.

      Most of the other organizing/decluttering methods don’t acknowledge people’s emotions in the same way Kondo does. Minimalists just assume if you’re embracing minimalism you enjoy it for itself. Organizers talk about efficiency. Kondo gets people to really engage with their hearts and people seem to really enjoy that.

  26. We have a crap ton of tools and we use almost all of them regularly because we are do it yourselfers. A few years ago, we got rid of our power washer because we used it like once a year and because it took up a lot of space and we thought, if I need one, I’ll just rent it. Well, sometimes I could really use one, but never feel like the hasltle of renting it and don’t want to buy another one because I so,d the washer at a loss. I do regret that particular purge item. I also got rid of an extra weed whacker. Now that we have a bigger yard, I regret getting rid of my gas powered one because the electric one doesn’t reach everywhere. (They came with the houses we bought so we didn’t actually buy 2 )

    My mom is a never throw anything away pack rat. She’s gotten better but I tend to constantly want to be purging stuff because of it. Her favorite saying is “Dont buy that, I have it….stored in a safe place” ….but she never could remember where that safe place was. If you have so much stuff you have no idea how to find the item when you need it, what’s the point?

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ve heard from more than one person about having to buy a second (whatever) because the first one couldn’t be found. So yes, it’s best to have a place for everything and everything in its place.

      Too bad about the weed-whacker, though.

  27. middle class revolution

    I regret giving away records even though I don’t have a record player.

  28. Ruby Julian

    I sew and crochet, but have only half a closet to store notions, fabric, supplies, tools and the sewing machine. So it’s all organized like whoa! Same thing with my clothes, as the closet is only three and a half feet wide.

    As I get older, the fact that my mother fell into hoarding in her later years prods me like a sharp stick. Now, my mom was always disorganized and I am not, but I’m becoming much more particular about what items deserve a place in my home.

    • Donna Freedman

      DF’s mom, who’s 88, has an ironclad rule: If she likes something enough to bring it home, she must then get rid of two things she already owns. It’s made her a lot more discerning.

      Being as organized as you are not only keeps clutter to a minimum, it makes practicing your craft easier — no rummaging around for a specific type of needle or color of thread.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

      • Ruby Julian

        I like DF’s mom’s rule very much. I’ve done the “one in, one out” thing for a long time, but two out would definitely streamline things.

  29. Diane C

    Oh, I feel your pain about the doll! Fabulous writer that you are, I challenge you to write a story about the little girl who received your doll. Imagine how well she loved it, how it warmed her life, the many times she wondered about the loving hands that made it and who it was lovingly stitched for. Then, imagine that many years later, your lives intersect in some unexpected way. Write an ending for your doll’s story that makes you happy. Those Alaska winters are long, mull it over while you’re growing your summer garden, then set the tale to writing next winter. Even if you never do it, just pondering the possibilities should soften the blow of losing your special doll (and make weeding lots more interesting).
    PS, love this topic. I’m in my late fifties (Gah! When did that happen?) and I’m really thinking it’s time to lighten my load so it doesn’t weigh me down as I travel through life. Thank you.

  30. My family moved a lot, and things were lost, left behind or (when my grandmother passed – the lady who had raised me) were probably thrown out. Things I miss now: the stuffed toy kangaroo that had an elastic leash so you could jump it along the floor (it had a baby in its pouch); my high school yearbook (I looked like the tanned geek I was but it was still special); my high school diploma; my scholarship cert to URI; my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine that I learned to sew on… Sometimes we’re not the only ones who are overzealous – it’s the folks we trust with the family archives.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep. “I didn’t think you still needed/wanted it” is a popular phrase among those who don’t ever think of asking whether an item is precious.


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