The Curse Of “Stuff” And What You Can Do About It

room full of clutter

So I have just completed the move into my new flat and despite a broken van wing mirror and heavy traffic it all went ok. The thing that shocked me during this move was just how much stuff I had which I never really used and that had been sitting in a cupboard for a long long time.

If I had of been smart, I would have started to sort these things out weeks ago so that when it came to moving time I would have an easier job to do. Instead I left it too late and now I am faced with the situation of having too many things and too little storage.

I have to ask myself how it got to this point. I’ve never been particularly obsessed with possessions and while I have treated myself to a few luxuries, I never thought of myself as someone who had to go out and buy something new on a regular basis. I think this highlights an important lesson for me – when I am considering making a purchase, I have to ask myself whether it is really necessary.

The Main Culprits

The worst offending area of clutter for me was clothes. I was lucky that I had plenty of Green Steve bags for life around to pack all these bits into but having some 10 bags full of old clothes was a bit of an eye-opener. These had accumulated over the course of a number of years but even so, it got me thinking about the excess that we live our lives by in this country when you compare us to those in developing countries.

It wasn’t just clothes though; small electronics and wires were also a bit of a burden – I honestly have to wonder where all these wires come from! I found chargers for phones and cameras I no longer own, wires that I used on an old computer some 5 or 6 years ago and a number of wireless routers given to me every time I switched broadband provider.

I also have bags full of what can only be described as knick knacks ranging from holiday souvenirs to little gadgets bought for me as secret Santa gifts all of which never see the light of day.

Every one of these items has taken energy and raw materials to produce and unless disposed of correctly, will continue to pollute for decades, centuries or even millennia to come.

I have to do something about this, not only for the sake of having a clutter free flat but also for changing my mental approach to possessions.

Getting Rid Of Unwanted Stuff

The first thing that I need to do is to sort out what I want to keep and what I want to say goodbye to. A simple test when it comes to clothes will be asking myself “have I worn this in the last 6 weeks?” – if the answer to this is no then I almost certainly don’t need it. Obviously I will make exceptions for seasonal clothing such as jumpers, shorts, coats and the like but with things such as t-shirts, trousers and even underwear, if they haven’t been out of the cupboard in 6 weeks then chances are they never will.

Luckily, disposing of clothes is fairly easy and there is an Oxfam clothing bank pretty close to me so once I’ve sorted the wheat from the chaff, I’ll be heading off to make a donation.

With small electricals and wiring, I’m going to stop using the excuse of “you never know when it might come in handy” and carefully think of what genuinely might be required in the future.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive), as applied to the general public, aims to reduce the number of electrical items ending up in landfill. These can contain hazardous substances and will almost certainly take thousands of years to degrade.

Disposing of electrical waste is now easier than ever. In-store returns of unwanted items are becoming more common and the number of on-street facilities is going up too and, as with the clothing situation, I have a recycling bin quite close to me.

Where there are things that are still in working order, however, you may be able to find another home for them which is even better for the environment. Try your local Freecycle group where you can put unwanted bits and pieces up for grabs to anyone who wants them.

Alternatively, if you think there is any value in an item, you could try selling it on an auction site such as eBay.

Changing Your Mentality

Once decluttered, I will have to make a more conscious effort not to accumulate further stuff in the future and one of the most powerful ways to do this would be to take a second when standing in a shop with an item in your hand and:

  1. ask yourself how much energy and raw material has gone into making it
  2. ask yourself if your life would be any less complete and satisfying if you did not buy it
  3. ask yourself if the price being charged properly reflects the cost to the environment
  4. remember the following video and ask yourself whether it is fair that you can buy this nice new item when others in the world have nothing


I am not saying that you can’t ever buy anything new for yourself but I want you to make sure that when you do, it is for the right reasons. All too often in the past, I have gone out and bought a shiny new toy such as my TV, surround sound or Kindle because I could and because it seemed like the done thing – not much of a reason is it?

Going back to my new clothes habit, I have to ask myself the second of my questions above – would my life have been any less satisfying if I had not bought that new pair of jeans or those 3 new t-shirts? Do I need 2 winter jackets and 3 scarves? In reality, it’s very rare that anyone cares what you are wearing so buying new clothes just for the sake of it seems fairly pointless.

We’ve all become too used to having “stuff” around us 24/7 and in many instances we are blessed with heaps of storage for anything that we don’t need right at this second. If we tried to live without any storage, we’d probably end up buying a lot less and this is kind of what has happened to me now – I’ve downsized and come to the conclusion that, as just one of 7 billion people on this planet, I own more than my fair share of possessions.

Look around your house or flat and ask yourself the same question – do you have more than you need?

I’d love to hear your comments…

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


27 Responses to “The Curse Of “Stuff” And What You Can Do About It”

  1. Ann
    July 13, 2012 at 7:08 PM

    Hi Greensteve

    I can see your point, I think we can all say we have stuff that we never use but keep just in case in will come in handy. Just looking in my attic and there is stuff up there that will never see the light of day. Suitcases are my main bug, we have the old fashion ones without wheels but brought new ones with wheels that are easier to move especially as you get older. BUT will the charity shops really want things like that I dont know! We could just dump them but that seems a waste. I dont think I would like to move as it would be so much hassle sorting out what I do not really use and the longer you are in one place the worse it gets.

    • Steve
      July 16, 2012 at 9:50 AM

      Don’t dump those suitcases Ann! I’d say the easiest way would be to either try the charity shops and see what they say or get a spot at a car boot sale and make them very very cheap – say £1 per suitcase. You probably wouldn’t make much from the sale after all the costs are taken into consideration but I’m sure someone would snap them up that price as long as they are in fairly good condition still. Or, like I said in my post, try putting them up on Freecycle – I got rid of several big bulky items through Freecycle when I moved years ago from the shires into London – it was dead simple, you just describe the items, take a photo if you can and then wait for people to contact you – they’ll come and pick them up so all you have to do is be around one day for collection.

    • March 25, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      I have in my possession an ancient suitcase that belonged to my father before I was born. No wheels. Being made in the time that things were made to last, it’s still good for travel – but it’s too precious for that: it is now a safe place for my yarn stash.

      • March 25, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        It’s a shame more things aren’t built to last these days like your suitcase – I bought a new suitcase not too long ago because my old one has completely caved in down one side – I bought that one in an emergency and got completely ripped off. This time around I hope I’ve got one for life…but then I rarely travel so it should last me a long time!

  2. jake himelli
    July 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Steve, i am exactly the same, my mum is always asking me to throw away clothes and such. What i always tell her is someone took so long to make these clothes it would be a shame to throw them out, so i take them to charity shops / clothes recycle bins. It helps the environment and people who are less fortunate than myself. And it gives me a slightly clearer conscience with how the world is going nowadays.

  3. July 20, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Brilliant post! My husband is a hoarder and it drives me crazy! This week I’ve been feeling totally overwhelmed by our stuff but hubby can’t let it go; so I honour that.

    I’m a closet minimalist and as I get older (!!) and as I learn more about the environment and resources it harder it gets for me to purchase things. Sure I like clothes and shoes – I’m a girl! but it was recently my 40th and I didn’t want anything; it was very hard for my family who wanted to show their love by getting me something and they wanted to celebrate my day by giving me things to open – it was a real eye opener as to how to show our care for people in our culture.

    I’m not saying they don’t show their love in other ways, but when it comes to Birthdays and christmases I can see how many of us are locked into the ‘giving something’ mentality – a bit like you with your secret santa stash.

    Anyway, good luck with the decluttering; it’s going to feel SO good once you’re done…

    • Steve
      July 20, 2012 at 4:29 PM

      It’s started already – I’ve donated 3 bags of clothes to Oxfam and have a number still to go. My old Henry vacuum cleaner is going on Freecycle as I don’t need it any more and old routers and the like are heading to the small electrical recycling point this weekend. I can’t wait to have a flat free from clutter!

  4. Pami
    July 20, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Wow, brought back memories! We renovated the apartment a year ago and put everything into storage.When the place was finished and I recalled my goods and chattels I was left with 50 boxes (not counting the furniture!) to unpack and sort through. I chucked out 40 years of clutter! Things I didn’t know we had! We have a shop near us that take absolutely everything (and yes they DO have a heck of a lot of real junk there!) so old books, rugs and nic-nacs, pictures that we didn’t want and goodness knows what, plus the dining-room table and eight chairs were off loaded there. I made a little money as they go 50/50 with the seller and most of the things were in good condition.. I gave the old kitchen away as someone wanted it (our local idea of freecycle!) and some other bits of furniture were also given away on request! English books were given to the library of our local English Anglican church. I hate throwing books out.
    Your article has pulled me up cos I’m always tempted by thinks for the house (rarely clothes – they don’t interest me much!) and I’ve already got things which will probably not be used, laying around in the spare room AND after all that effort. Oh dear!!

  5. Grace
    July 20, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    Ah yes, decluttering. I keep trying to do this and somehow things just get moved around or stashed somewhere else, out of sight. I think that Freecycle (or Freegle here) is fantastic and I use it a lot. However, since I’ve now gained a reputation for recycling or otherwise redistributing ‘stuff’ my friends turn up with ‘stuff’ and say to me “we knew you’d be cross if we just threw it out ….” so it ends up with me. My poor long suffering aspiring minimalist husband often gets quite stressed …. I will keep trying to declutter – honest!

    • Steve
      July 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      Oh dear, I hope I don’t become a go-to guy for recycling among my friends as I simply don’t have the time – and besides, it’s about taking responsibility for your own stuff rather than dumping it on someone else!

  6. Nicky
    July 27, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    I found myself nodding along to your article! we found when we moved a few months back, that we were carrying so much unwanted/unneeded/unnecessary stuff, we could have kept another family in clothes, toys, gizmos and gadgets… I gave a 6 months rule for clothes, packed a lot of them ready into bags and figured, if they didnt come OUT of those bags, i could just go ahead and take them to the charity shop. I did something simimlar with electronics, the box that was not opened even after 6 months, went partly to be recyled and partly to a car bootsale. i found freecycle to be a great way to give good things another lease of life where they were NEEDED rather than gathering dust. It was amazing how much i got rid off, unfortunately, that signalled to my husband that he could start filling those corners with NEW unnecessary items ;) looks like ill have to have a good declutter on a regular basis…

  7. August 6, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Very interesting!

    How’s the new house?

    I’ve recently gone through my wardrobe and took out basically everything. However they’re still sitting in black bags at the bottom of my walk in wardrobe, taking up a lot of space.

    • Steve
      August 7, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      The new place is pretty good thanks Conall. I know how you feel but it’s better to take those clothes to a charity shop or clothes bank sooner rather than later – you’ll feel better afterwards I guarantee it.

  8. craig
    August 10, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    Why though in a first world country do we have to worry about what we have. If we can afford it, then we have earnt the right to buy whatever we want and should not have people telling us that stuff is a curse and that we should have less all the time just because others in the world don’t have as much as we do.

    • Steve
      August 12, 2012 at 2:04 PM

      I’m sorry you don’t agree with my sentiments Craig but did you earn your place of birth? No, you were just born into Western society – do those who are born into poverty deserve to remain poor because they have no way out of their situation? Is it fair that we make things worse for others because we can afford it?

  9. Stephannie
    September 4, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    I have not had to move for many years now but I do recall doing that several times. I always try to go through my stuff and get of things we do not have to have. I recycle some, donate, sell or just give away some of it. I like to keep things tidy too.

  10. September 11, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    I love Streetbank which lets people know about your excess stuff within walking distance of your home so you can come and collect or borrow so they don’t have to buy and hoard.

  11. December 7, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Great post. I have been thinking more and more about this as My Make Do and Mend Year progresses (I am buying nothing new for a year). When you stop and think about it, it blows your mind the amount of energy and resources that go into everything, even making the packaging for the stuff.
    I guess all we can do as individuals is do as you suggest, and really stop and think about whether we really need something before we buy it. And always try and source things secondhand if at all possible.

    • December 10, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      Your year sounds like it is pretty challenging – I look forward to following your progress. When did it start / when does it end?

  12. January 20, 2013 at 7:51 AM

    Steve, I do own a lot of stuff, mostly gathered from ethical charity shops (I just don’t support animal testing charities like Tenovus, Heart Foundation…) Anyways, some of the clutter needs to be recycled back to charity again, as life takes different turns and things are no longer needed. How many people use an item is a brilliant challenge for those making new things. Upcycling is the second one and some of the clothes clutter is awaiting a new lease of life, but others will be popped into the clothes bank next to the firestation for recycling probably into mattress filling. Nothing needs to be wasted. Great post. Thank you.

  13. April 7, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    I know this feeling so well! I’m currently on a mission to persuade my children to let me ebay their toddler toys (you know the enormo ones – play kitchens etc). Although I know the main points of your post are environmental and fairness which I completely agree with, there’s also the psychological issues with ‘stuff’. I feel quite hemmed in by things and wish we (i.e. me and my family) could live without so much stuff and crapola! If you really want to bust the random clothes buying habit you should read Lucy Siegle’s To Die For. It raises so many issues with fashion it will make clothes buying a much more drawn out and thoughtful process! I’m a newcomer to your blog and really enjoying it.

  14. April 29, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Great post Steve, and one I totally empathise with! Although we have embarked on a mission to buy nothing new for a year, I still find myself buying ‘new to us’ things, and think I am probably using the fact that it is secondhand to justify it.
    Having said that, I think the environmental impact of buying secondhand is only a fraction of that of buying new, AND you are potentially saving stuff from landfill.
    Since starting on My Make Do and Mend Year, I feel almost like a switch has been flicked in my brain, and I am now so much more tuned into my own, and other people’s consumption. Our whole society and economy is geared around buying more and more stuff, and it is really quite scary. There just aren’t the resources, in terms of materials, or energy, for it to continue, and there isn’t the landfill available for all the stuff we have decided we no longer want.
    I remember reading a stat somewhere that they US spend on perfume or pet food alone, would feed x million starving people, and that really made me stop and think. I often think that if you had to explain to a starving person, with no/few possessions that in the Western world we have whole factories dedicated to making perfume, or cheap crappy toys, or party bags…. they would be astounded…

    • April 30, 2013 at 7:24 PM

      You make some really good points Jen (as usual!) and like you I just can’t now let myself revert to my old consumerist ways and it’s something that I think more people would feel if they just opened their eyes a bit more to the problems that over-consumption bring our way (even if these are out of sight for many of us).

  15. June 15, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    I am buying less and less the older I get. We don’t “need” most of the stuff we buy. I have only bought one new item of clothing this year so far.

    I like your bit about changing your mentality best.

    Also it’s surprising how different, how much lighter we feel when we declutter.
    Try it and feel its impact on you.

    You only have to watch those recent tv programmes on secret hoarders to see how the stuff they surround themselves with weighs them down……

    Oh for a simpler life……

    Chrissie

    • June 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      Hi Chrissie – you’re right about not needing half the stuff we buy and I guess the challenge we face as a society is to move away from our consumerist habits without dealing a fatal blow to many a retailer – mainly for the sake of the people who are employed by them.

      If more retailers could find ways to sustainable produce their products then it might make the transition easier as we could still buy things (to an extent) and feel good about it.

      Thanks for commenting – hope you come back and read some future posts.

  16. Nic
    March 6, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    Hi Steve,
    Another great post. I agree with many of the commentators so far: downsizing in all its forms really is the future if we want to live greener, lighter, healthier lives. I’ve stopped all non-essential shopping & been de-cluttering for over a year now: the ultimate goal is to be able to move house without needing a removal van (ideally fit everything I have/need in the back of a car!) Giving up my enormous book collection will be tough (I love books) but I have already found several new homes for them, including local & university libraries – I didn’t even know they accepted donations. For me this past year, the more I can give away, the happier & lighter I feel. Good luck on your de-cluttering journey!

    • March 10, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      I love your tip on donating books to a local library. I have some books which would be unlikely to sell in a charity shop (I think) but I’ve just contacted my local library about donating them to their collection so we’ll see what they say.

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