How Stuff Robs Us of Those We Love the Most

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jeff Goins of


My son had been born a few weeks before, and I was already struggling to focus. All these responsibilities, all these expectations.

So much to manage and so little time.

Born four and a half weeks early, our little Aiden wasn’t sleeping but a few hours per night before needing to nurse. It was a daily ritual to Google “signs of colic” and wonder if there was anything we could do to make all this a tiny bit easier.

Though I had taken a couple weeks off of work, the iPhone kept buzzing uncontrollably, and the sleeplessness was starting to wear on me. The house was a mess. The laundry pile a small mountain. My email inbox completely out of control.

I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.

That night, my wife was at the stove, cooking something for dinner, and I was in charge of baby-watching. Setting the phone facedown on the kitchen table, I hoisted my son up in the air and stepped outside to enjoy the mid-summer evening air.

As soon as I sat down with him on our back porch, I noticed a beautiful cumulus cloud formation in the sky. Instantly, I wanted to capture it, but my phone wasn’t with me.

Looking back through the glass window inside the messy house, I saw a reflection of myself holding my son. That was on one side of the glass. On the other was my smart phone, my busy life that was messy and complicated and sometimes too stressful to take.

Did I really want to go back there?

I knew I had to make a choice: maintain the busyness while sacrificing my sanity and ability to hold onto those I loved the most — or learn to let go.

Holding my son tightly against my chest, I gazed up at the beautiful blue sky and thought to myself, “Letting go of things helps us hold on to what we love most.”

Phone-less and feeling strangely free, I’d made my choice.

My Own Experiments with Minimalism

“The things you own in life end up owning you.” —Tyler Durden

I have a lot of stuff, more than I need. And some of it I really like. But I’m learning that some things in life, some stuff, isn’t good to hold onto.

Slowly, I’m getting rid of what I’ve held on to for years: outfits I’ll never wear, movies I’ll never watch, even old birthday cards. And as I do, something unusual happens to me. I feel freer than I’ve felt in years. Because somehow, the things I’ve been holding onto have actually been holding on to me.

As my family grows and responsibilities increase, I realize I can only grasp so many things at once. Only so many technology trinkets. Only so many messages to manage. Only so many relationships to enjoy.

And frankly, I’d rather hold on to people than things.

It’s taken some rude awakenings to get to this conclusion. I’ve had to learn these lessons the way most of us learn hard things in life: the hard way. Through countless interruptions and distractions. Through the inconveniences that come when we try to get what we want — and don’t.

My wife and I are in the process of de-cluttering our home. It’s taking longer than we wanted, but the process is good. It feels healthy, like a cleanse of sorts.

Making More Room for What Matters Most

Recently, we cleaned out our “bonus room” above the garage. This room has been full of junk for two years, boxes of stuff we hadn’t used since moving from the apartment we outgrew.

The other day, we cleared it all out, throwing away several garbage bags, donating a couple closets’ worth of clothes to Goodwill, and relocating some things we wanted to keep.

When it was all over, the room was left virtually empty.

The next day, I brought my son, who was now 14 months old, into this room. Because it was so cluttered, he had never been able to really play in it. For hours, he crawled and rolled around in the open space.

And I realized that every area in our life that is full of stuff is crowding out relationships. As we get rid of the things that consume our time and stress, we make room for those we love the most.

How many other spaces, I wondered, are too cluttered to let others in?

Sadly, I am far from leading a clutter-free life. But I get it now, this whole “learning to live with less” thing. The truth is when you learn to let go, you don’t live with less at all. You make room for the things that matter the most, the things that aren’t even “things” at all.

I think we all do. The hard part, though, is letting go. Giving up. But I’m finding this is also the really good part, the part that releases you to live the life you were made to live. The life you dream of.

Many of us are living over-crowded, busy lives that rob us of what really matters. We wait and bide our time, holding out for the “big things” in life, not realizing that the good stuff is happening right now.

If we will just let go.


Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. You can follow him on Twitter @jeffgoins or connect with him on his blog.

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

    This was a very well written post that touched me, I wrote down a few good quotes from it and will be carrying them with me when I clean out my stuff that still lives in my parents house to remind me that its not about the stuff, but about the people.

  2. says

    A perfect analogy of looking through the glass to your busy life. A stellar reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the inspiration although its much more. It’s a call to action.

  3. says

    I find that in Indian culture, hard work is always expounded to be the best of the traits. In order to prove you’re hard working, you buy really big houses that you cannot really afford, so that one day you can live in an empty house by yourself without the children. I have found so many older Indian folks living in loneliness in these monstrous homes, unable to retire as they have to pay for them. If they only knew about minimalism – they could have bought smaller homes and retired sooner, chilling out with their grandkids, instead of missing out on everything. Thank you for your post.

  4. Happy Annie says

    Beautifully written. Jeff, your young son is very lucky to have both a dad and mom who are dedicated to putting relationships before things. :)

  5. says

    Your words were timely and poignant! Truth be told, stopping to read this article was my procrastination device for avoiding the need to spend a little time each day this month ridding my life and my home of “stuff!” So your shared lesson was needed and painful—and for both, I am grateful!

  6. Lisa says

    Beautifully stated. This attitude will only be reinforced as your son grows. We have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and it amazes me how they can entertain themselves with basically nothing for hours on end.

  7. alysha says

    Lovely. You may not be done yet with the declutter, but you get why to do it and the value of minimalism. It’s a journey anyhow that isn’t done in a day. I can picture that room above the garage becoming a wonderful playroom someday. If you stayed stuck in your rut, it would still be full of junk.

  8. says

    Awesome post. It’s amazing how little moments can teach us if we’re open to it. I find it interesting that even the stuff we have boxed up that we never see has a hold on us, and that letting go frees us. I can picture your son enjoying that nice open space in your bonus room.

  9. Jannine Myers says

    I agree with all the above comments; what a great post and just what I needed to read right before we start day one of our attempt to declutter our home. I know it’s going to take a lot of time and effort, but I also know that the end result will be well worth it.

  10. Queen Mary says

    Um, I’m still laughing from this poor MAN’S experience with a preemie who wanted to nurse every couple of hours — did he say anything after that? My wonderful husband, with whom I celebrate 33 years of bliss tomorrow, swore no family bed and he’d get up every time our first born wanted to nurse; it didn’t take too long of those every 2 hour feedings before the family bed looked extremely attractive. And I’m pretty sure there wasn’t Google, and even if there had been, we didn’t have a computer. or a car.

  11. says

    Hi Queen Mary. For several months, our son slept in a bassinet by our bed. He only slept in our bed a few nights, and that was usually on my chest when he couldn’t get back to sleep on his own. Those were rough months, but I’m happy to say he now puts himself asleep every night in his crib. :)

  12. says

    As an aspiring writer (aspiring published writer…I’m already a writer 80 hours a week!) I can relate to a lot of your posts and this one strikes me in a different way. At the moment, I don’t have a lot of people I’m trying to hold onto, but sanity, that’s one thing I can’t get enough of. Lately I’ve been considering decluttering by actually writing less–less of what I don’t want to write, like web copy and social media posts for other people, things that are paying me–so that I can step back and remember why my writing is the child I’ve never had.

    But that’s quite an icy plunge at times and one finds oneself clinging desperate for the ledge. It’s not a happy ledge at times, but it’s a strange kind of security.

    • says

      Interesting take on de-cluttering, C.L. I do think there’s something freeing about focusing on just a few things, especially when it comes down to following what we’re most passionate about.

      I can relate to your feeling of stress with trying to keep up with all the writing commitments. I think you’re on the right track. Good luck!

  13. says

    We have been trying to do the same thing. Thirty years together accumulates a lot of stuff. We have moved so much that it could have been worse, but with every move we whittled some away. Now our desire is to move out of our 2000 sq ft home into a motorhome and travel, so needless to say much more needs to go. I am even reading a book about the upside of downsizing. We also want more time with family, God and with each other. Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

  14. catladymarsha says

    I read this somewhere and have adopted it as my mantra as I work my way through the house ‘one more time’. “Eliminate anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.” It gives me permission to let go of many things.
    Another tip I read was to take pictures of the mementos/baby shoes/scrapbooks that you have been dragging around, or storing in the attic or under the bed, that you look at once a year or so, get all misty eyed, and then put them back under the bed. Excellent tip and one that I’m working on now that I’m retired. I don’t want to leave a house full of ‘stuff’ for my kids to go through that means nothing to them.
    Thanks for the article, it’s given me new impetus to get busy again.

  15. says

    Good to see you here Jeff :) I’m also a reader of your blog and enjoyed this post. I am glad you found those moments with your son and that they allowed you to reflect more on what truly matters in your world and the world at large. I’m sure you feel better off for it!

    I have been living simply for more than twenty years and while nowhere near being a minimalist, I live my life freely and unencumbered by how I SHOULD be living according to the societal norm. There’s contentment, satisfaction and peace in my life and while it is sometimes a bit of a struggle, conscious living has allowed me to be me :)

    Take care and thanks again for sharing. All the best with your new book.


  16. says

    Mental minimalism (thinking about things that matter and avoiding things that clutter my mind) gives me the margin I need to invest in people who want more out of life than they are getting. Writing is my passion. Helping others write is my process. Encouraging others through writing is my product. None of that would be possible without clear thinking and God-inspired creativity. Thanks for sharing, Jeff and congrats on the book!

  17. says

    Great post Jeff, makes a simple but powerful and often forgotten point. It’s so easy to clutter up your life over time. When I moved house three years ago I found ‘stuff’ hoarded away I didn’t even know I had, but it had all just built up over time. Decluttering regularly is so important. Great post.

  18. Jennifer says

    Amazingly amazing, definitely sharing this with my loved ones & others who may bump onto it as I did. Thank God in my search for writing skills, I bump onto your website.

  19. says

    Nice to see you over here, Jeff. I tend to live minimally, although musical instruments are a weakness. But it’s not just the material possessions that crowd us, but also the pressure we put on ourselves to produce and perform.

  20. Martha says

    Read this through a link on another blog…..made me cry. My husband and I are selling our home and retiring to Florida. Our dream come true. Only I had no idea how letting go of our lifetime of things would be so difficult for me. I’ve been praying for strength and guidance and I think I’ve received it this morning! Thank you for your post! Martha :)

  21. says

    Beautiful. Thank you!

    The kids and I lived on a boat for five years. We had our “stuff” in storage. Now that we live on land again, we just received our stuff back from storage. I had spent *a lot* of money storing boxes of things that we ended up throwing away or donating (boxes of cards, letters and school papers, knick knack things that just clutter, clothes that we obviously either no longer fit in or didn’t want). I saved it all “just in case”. I know there are other areas of my life I am doing the same thing – saving that which no longer fits, just in case. Thank you for the prompt to look inward and release, celebrating the open space with gratitude and love – as your son did!

  22. says

    Less is more, except when it comes to margins in life, and then more means less. I could write an entire post on that. Oh wait, you just did. I love what you do. Thank you for writing well and teaching us how to also.

  23. says

    Yes, the good stuff is happening right now. It is the coffee water boiling on the wood fired stove, it is the pure maple syrup on homemade oat flour pancakes with a couple slices of locally produced bacon… it is something different for each and every one of us. Slowing down opens up your world to the senses of life.

  24. Amy U says

    Jeff—-thoroughly enjoyed & related to your post. I’m finding that I can’t de-clutter fast enough and related to your statements:
    “My wife and I are in the process of de-cluttering our home. It’s taking longer than we wanted, but the process is good. It feels healthy, like a cleanse of sorts.”
    I’m trying to be more patient & kind with myself & perhaps give a few more pats on the back regarding my/our progress thus far…….since I WANT IT ALL GONE, NOW isn’t working. :o)
    Had a garage sale this weekend. Lots of stuff sold & car loaded for drops to Goodwill. There are a few things I want to sell on Ebay or Craigslist and a few others to donate to specific places—–woman’s shelter, preschool/books, library, kids grade school (once school starts), etc.. Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much about the environment—–but I do. It would be easier to throw some unwanted thing in the garbage, or drop it all off at goodwill…..or if I didn’t care to get some $$ for the nicer things.
    I’ve realized the things I’ve pegged for specific sale or donation need a place that’s OUT OF SIGHT, out of mind. When I’ve decided they must go but they don’t go immediately, it drags me down. GREAT to have had the garage sale as SO MUCH left.
    Today, I’m clearing a space in storage for the items to sell and a space in my garage (which I deem as “close” to leaving the house) for the items to donate to specific places.
    We moved a little under 2 years ago. We purged MUCH before we moved. I told myself I was going to “deal with” each and every box as I unpacked it—i.e. purge as I went. Great idea, but I wish I had a better system for elimination set up 2 years ago. As it turned out, many things that were in my recent garage sale sat around my house in various places……basically little piles in/around each room that were just “waiting” to leave the house, as I moved on to the next closet, shelf or piece of furniture to clean-out
    Just feels good to read & learn from others’ process.
    Thanks for sharing!

  25. Deborah Edwards says

    Just over a year ago we got acquainted with a local family whose son started the same school as my two boys. The wife also turned up in my choir. We got on famously, and vaguely planned to get together as families for a bring and share meal. I remember saying to her how hassled I was and putting said meal off for, say 6 weeks in total, (no doubt harried and worried about messy house etc etc etc..).before I issued a firm invitation. They did not respond, and we were disappointed, until my husband bumped into hers, and he told us that her breast cancer had returned. We never had the tea, and we had not set enough of a foundation of friendship to be there for them much. I went to her funeral yesterday and wept. I would like to have become her good friend, but the short time allotted for that friendship was sucked away in some part by stuff and its maintenance. Thank you so much for the continued reminders, and inspiration, to live a better way…

  26. Joseph Barnett says

    See the book “the wastemakers” written early 1960s about plans to make Americans want and buy lots if stuff… worked!

  27. Ginette says

    Wonderful read and so very true! I too have been working slowly at getting rid of stuff, either to the Salvation Army or to mothers in need. My motto is and always will be…if I haven’t used it OR worn it in a year, it’s GONE!

  28. says

    Said perfectly…I to feel the weight of stuff..and feel the intense freedom when I get rid of it. Still have some work to do but it’s getting better every month….what a weight lifted

  29. Rhiana says

    This is awesome. I have kept this in mind as I shop for Christmas. I am only purchasing what we need- making mindful purchases that will improve our lives. It is so easy to get caught in the hype and I am just not doing it this year. Simplification keeps you present and makes room for everything you truly need- love, happiness, family, friends, etc…

  30. says

    I love that you are on the same mission as Major Mom. We help people downsize their stuff to free up their time for hanging out with their families. We have a team of 14 Liberators in the Denver area and we are decluttering houses left and right. I have shared your site and quoted you on the Major Mom Facebook page. We publish a “No Clutter Gift Christmas Idea List” and we help people do the Pre-Christmas Purge and Pre-Move Purge. We do not work with hoarders because they are unwilling to make changes. However, we do work with people that have accumulated lots of stuff and the end result is they are overwhelmed and frustrated.
    We would love your message and we hope you let people know there are professional organizers here on the earth standing by to help them. We work side by side with people. It is our gift and our mission to restore order to the world, one household at a time.
    Keep the movement going!

    Have a Majorly Organized Day,
    Major Mom & The Liberators

  31. Faith Rich says

    we’re doing the same thing- my husband is in recovery from hoarding disorder and with each bit of clutter we remove, the freer we feel. a long way to go, but we’re on the right path. we have a stronger relationship, stronger than ever because he’s learning to part with things x

  32. Jude Cowan says

    Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing your experiences with us, it’s something that I have just started to do since finding the becoming minimalist page, I’m loving the feeling of letting go of stuff and either throwing it away or giving it away, great, I now realize that I don’t have to keep buying more drawers and cabinets to store stuff I don’t need……saving money too!!

  33. says

    Thank you for this article Jeff an Joshua. This reminds me to make time for what’s truly important, often not the things, but people, memories.

  34. Dina Strange says

    I am not sure if having more than one child in today’s world is a responsible thing to do. I love your message and i totally agree with it, but we need to start looking at having many kids as burden rather as a good thing. Planet earth and all other species are dying because of too many humans a messed up economic system that requires jobs for those humans. Thank you for a beautiful article otherwise.

    • says

      I’m not sure I understand. Did I suggest that you should have a bunch of kids, Dina? I think that’s a personal decision left to each person to decide.

  35. LeighAnn Brill says

    I learned to let go when my oldest daughter moved out on her own at 19. I had accumulated from my mother what she thought I would consider “valuable” (furniture, photos, knick knacks and whatnots) I held on to them for years, storing them, finding places for them to admire, hoping someday, to pass on to my daughter. When she was ready for her own place, I asked her if she wanted any of the antique furniture or photos for her walls she said, “no thank you”. That’s when I started to do my research and found your website. I realized my own lack of desire of clutter and started the purge. Do my mother’s dismay, she got back a bunch of stuff and after a huge garage sale, everything went to donations. It was a liberating journey and I have learned to say “no” to any thing free.

    Living in a 2378 sq ft uncluttered and peacefilled home

  36. says

    This is a fantastic article Jeff, thank you. As a mama to be, at 28 weeks pregnant, my husband and I are thinking carefully about the family we want to create and how we will make time for the important things. This so summarised how I feel right now.

  37. Becky says

    this is what got me started initially, somebody said to me, “if your house caught on fire and you lost all of your possessions, would you survive”. Not only did I decide I’d survive, I’d probably be better off in the long run.

  38. Rebecca Warden says

    In 2007 our house caught fire and everything burned to the ground except my purse, keys, the clothes on my back and my computer tower ( I had business stuff on it or I would have grabbed other things). The one lesson I learned was I had way too much stuff and had saved stuff for decades thinking I would someday be able to wear it, use it, or be in need of it. In the hospital looking for things to sarcastically laugh about I said ” You know all those clothes in the closet I was hoping to someday get back into, Not a problem anymore.” I miss some of my inherited keepsakes, my oil paintings and my pictures of family but all the other stuff is just that STUFF. I walked out with my life and that is all that matters. I find myself surrounded by “STUFF” again now, and your writing just reminded me, I don’t need this stuff so I guess I will have a garage sale and get rid of what I can and donate the rest. I need my freedom from the “stuff”.

  39. Yasmin Dawoojee says

    Thanks for writing this article it was written from the heart. I am becoming a minimalist and also still in the process of decluttering. It is so freeing. I agree people are most important thing to keep hold of, loved ones, sharing laughs with friends and experiences. Too much stuff add stress and just simplifying my life has given me so much inner peace. Keep up the excellent posts.

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