paul graham’s essay on stuff

i’m not sure i’ve ever read a better essay on the uselessness of stuff.  you’ve got to read this essay by paul graham from july, 2007:

paul makes an amazing argument on america’s tendency to overvalue stuff, how the value of stuff is decreasing, and how stuff actually costs us more than it is worth.  brilliant!  as i said earlier, i’m not sure i’ve read a better analysis about the value of stuff.  take 6 minutes and read it right now.

i noticed there is no place to comment on his orignal essay site.  i would love to hear your comments.  post them below.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great essay! I grew up in a very poor county and it’s amazing what people would collect and not get rid of — even when things like vehicles just sat and rusted. It’s sad because you know it’s there because they 1. are scared they’ll need it or 2. would love to have the time/money to use something but don’t. And some people will tell you that they’ve kept such and such because it’s so valuable, but they’ve never tried to sell it and if they ever get around to it then they find out that it’s worth squat.

    Of course, it’s not like it’s just poor areas. It’s just a lot more noticeable I think because they often have less room for everything and the stuff is more obviously worth little. There are plenty of affluent people with big homes full of stuff like, well to use an example the author gave, china that’s never used.

    I thought this was interesting: “Except books—but books are different.” Yeah…um… not really. I’ve known a number of pack rats and they especially love hoarding books. A book that’s not read is like china that’s not used. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I are both book lovers, but part of our own minimizing has been cutting our book collection down to something more reasonable while increasing our use of the library and other sources of reading material. We still have a large collection, particularly of computer reference books needed for work, but other than those books we’re down to less than 2 book cases’ full and most of those are reference as well, including quite a few rarer books that aren’t as common in libraries (for example, one is a cookbook for eating local weeds).

  2. Christy says

    My favorite quote: “A historical change has taken place, and I’ve now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it’s not”. When we stuff for what it is – stuff that takes up our time, $ and mental resources – it makes it easier to open our arms and let it go.

    I agree with your thoughts on books too, Meg. I have minimized my books down to a 3/4 high bookshelf. I love books, but when I started asking questions and got realistic about how often I really read or referred to them, it became easier to purge. Unless something is a really useful reference, rare or a true favorite that I re-read regularly, it’s gone. And I can’t think of 1 book gone that I miss now.

  3. says

    @Christy, I was really surprised by how great it felt to minimize our book collection, being such a book lover. But you know what — each one I got rid of was one less thing on my to-do list because so many I said that I’d read some day! I’ve actually read more since then because I get a manageable number from the library and read them while I’m still interested in them instead of growing a collection so huge that my interests change before I can all read the books I already have!

  4. says

    @Christy & @Meg, I minimalized much of my office resouce book collection last spring. It felt so good and freeing. Even though I don’t work in an industry that is changing rapidly, I still felt that my old resource books were causing me to look backwards for solutions rather than to the future. Great point about ridding yourself of books that you feel guilty for not reading to create space for new opportunities.

  5. Caroline says

    I cam across your blog while I was looking for more arguments against my stuff (I’ve eradicated the obvious, but the hard stuff is lingering). This essay is good fresh ammunition! Except, I disagree on the books – I’m still trying to reduce those too! However, what’s important is that one knows what one values.

  6. di says

    With the loss of jobs, people in our area became more resourceful. Our neighbors took our downed trees for their wood stove. Two guys picked up our old junk car in the woods for the scrap metal. We usually pass on everything we don’t need.

  7. di says

    I get depressed thinking about the stuff in the attic. I’m disabled now and will probably never be able to sort through it. My daughter understands that it will probably all be there for her someday.

  8. di says

    I used to keep a list of things I needed in my wallet. As time went by, I realized that I no longer needed them and could do without.

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