Simplify, simplify, and get rid of unnecessary stuff

Glancing through my computer files in March, I couldn’t find my Lonely Planet archive folder. I looked everywhere. It was gone.

That folder contained files from LP books I’ve written since 2005. While I lost nothing urgently necessary (or necessary at all, really), it was disconcerting to lose so many documents, so much history. What if I ever need that stuff?

Well, chances are, I won’t. I keep tons of unnecessary things: Clothes and shoes I never wear. Photocopies, old bills, and other paper clutter. My old iMac and iBook (no time to wipe out the hard drives for computer recycling). Broken or obsolete digital cameras and cell phones. Perhaps my Honda belongs on the list. Last year I drove only about 700 miles, opting to get around Vancouver by bus. My car battery has died twice since November due to insufficient use! But don’t I need a car in case of emergency? How else can I rush Momo or Sly to the animal ER? What about airport runs and shopping trips for dog food and toilet paper? And don’t forget the road trips I’ll take when I have more free time (yeah, right). It’s hard to give up a possession that’s become a given in my life.

But what is truly essential?

The same day that I noticed my missing Lonely Planet archives, I chanced upon “Japan, one year after the tsunami” in a Maclean’s magazine lying around at Vancouver Honda. (I was servicing my car after the most-recent battery drain.) I read about 60-year-old Katsuhiko Endo, a former oyster fisherman who lost his home, livelihood, and entire hometown (his family was spared) after the tsunami:

… He has nothing from his earlier life. “I used to love Burberry,” he says. “I had Burberry socks, Burberry belts, Burberry shoes, even Burberry underwear.” … A thoughtful man, he smiles sheepishly: “I cared about luxury.”

Unless we lose everything, it’s easy to be swayed by things, not only extravagances but stuff we simply do not need.


  1. Bang on Luci – My weakness is books that are so delicious I keep them on hand for future reading. Ironically, these are stacked (in see-through tubs) next to the ones I have purchased but not yet had time to read… Add this to the (currently) 22 cm pile of New Yorkers (bedside table) I have not “quite” finished… and the 18 months of Harvard Business Reviews marked with post-it flags on my office shelf… and I can see I have a problem. All bringing me to the need for awareness, honesty, discernment, alignment – the things I practice on the mat but need to bring into the rest of my life.


    1. Laura, Melissa: Ah, books. Notice that I didn’t mention books in my UNnecessary things list. Clocks and other legitimate collections are exempt.

      But I share Melissa’s magazine backlog syndrome. I’ve already written about my fondness for old Yoga Journals, but those are finite in quantity. The New Yorker is relentless, too much for a weeks’ read but too compelling to discard. Once, when I moved, I lugged a stack of three-year-old unread New Yorkers with me! I let my subscription lapse to take a break and clear space, in the house and in my mind!


      1. I always thought I’d work my way through the backlog of New Yorkers in some future time “when I’m sick.” And then I broke my leg and was bed-bound for nearly three months. Sad to say, those New Yorkers went unread, so then I really couldn’t justify keeping them.


  2. Yep- i always feel guilty when i throw out or donate ANYTHING due to the whole “eco” aspect. I mean, anything can by up cycled right? and what if i could USE that someday??? lots of crafty DIY greenies do- but i think i lot of them live in houses with storage… instead of a tiny apartment like Andrew and me.

    but- we have an overflow of books. I LOVE books, even Andrew’s kindle hasn’t really changed things, i love real books too much. even when you want to weed them out, finding a library that will accept them is tricky.

    re: magazines- that was a habit i could quickly nip- you can get so many online now! 🙂


  3. Thanks Luci, I am in favour of de cluttering, but when my wonderful daughter in law helped me empty a closet, I realized there were things in there I hadn’t looked at in years, yet resisted moving them on. In there was an old family suitcase that happened to have my brother’s initiaIs. I had NEVER USED IT! I was able to send it to him, whew!. Books! I keep books. Because books are beautiful on the shelf. I like to be able to read them over, I like to be able to look at the ones with pictures. I like to be able to loan them. The less wonderful books I can take to a place where others can pick them up to be re-read. What if someday there were no bookstores where you could just browse the shelves. What if all the power fails, and we can’t read books because they are all electroniclaly filed. Keep your books and keep buying books from your independent book seller.


  4. Living in a small yacht certainly has advantages when it comes to letting go of possessions 🙂 I gave most of my books to my sister who promised to sell them but each time I visit her I see them fading on her front porch outside (ouch). The few things I do keep (photo albums, a dozen books, kitchenware, some cloths, hi-fi and speakers) are stowed away in boxes somewhere but I hardly think of them. The effect of this is incredible – life becomes so simple and fun!


  5. To make it easier to “part” with something, I always think you need to make space for new things to enter your life; if I fill my space with things I do not use, nothing new will come.

    When deciding what stays for goes imagine standing at a door your hands filled with all these things, in order to pass through the door you need to put something down to open it, what will you put down?


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