Changing Focus from Stuff to Substance

Sometimes it seems like the U.S. can be described by just one word: SUPERSIZED.

It's true. Just about everything about our country and our culture reeks of size: the Big Gulp, the Super Size meals, the 24oz. steaks and ½ lb. hamburgers served at restaurants. And don't forget the 5-gallon tub of catsup and mayonnaise, along with the 50 pack of toilet paper that we're all guilty of purchasing during our monthly trek to Costco.

Do most of us really need all of that? Perhaps if you're buying to supply tacos for the church picnic you may need 10 pounds of cheddar cheese and 250 tortillas, but the majority of us who fill the cart to the brim are truly only piling the products into the cart “because”.

Because we suffer from stuffitis. We already have too much Stuff, but we want more.

I'm definitely guilty of stuffitis. I can't recall how many times I've walked into a Target store just to browse, only to walk out with another white t-shirt. I already have four white t-shirts from Target that I don't wear, but I see it there, and I want it and I can buy it!

Or, wow, that revolving lampstand with a fluorescent green lampshade is on sale. I don't need it, but it's on sale, so certainly this is a deal I can't pass up. I just have to have it! Of course, I'm exaggerating a bit. I've really never made such a hideous purchase, but you get the point. Most of America, myself included, suffers from stuffitis.

A Life Change
My husband and I recently made a life changing decision together. When I say life changing, I mean it both literally and figuratively. We took a gigantic leap of faith.

After a lifetime of living in Colorado, we put our house on the market during one of the worst housing crises to date, sold 80% of our Stuff (including one car), packed the back of the remaining car with as much as it could possibly hold, and drove across the country to begin to plant new roots in the Pacific Northwest.

Most of those around us thought we were (and still are) completely crazy. Granted, one of us had a job secured already, but the change for us was akin to jumping off the edge of a cliff and trusting that everything was going to be okay financially, practically, and in every other way.

I have to be honest: The change and transition has been rocky. It took over six months for the house to sell — at $75,000 less than the original asking price — and a compromise of living in a space roughly 1/6th the size of our comfort zone. Having to pay a mortgage back in Colorado, in addition to rent in our new city, without the two incomes we'd always enjoyed, really and truly forced a change not only physically, but mentally as well. We had no choice but to give up our symptoms of stuffitis.

No more trips to Costco or Target. There simply wasn't the money nor the space for the impulse buys. Sharing a teeny tiny closet in a 500-square-foot apartment, with a kitchen large enough to hold just one bowl each, one cup, and a fork, knife, and spoon for each of us has taught us a lot. The experience has taught us that we absolutely love it!

Loving Life
Purging the Stuff and having no choice but to abstain from new purchases is amazingly freeing. Who needs a couch and two chairs or a closet the size of a small house? Not us. In fact, instead of wasting our time feeding our old habit of acquiring Stuff, we've discovered that we're actually capable of filling our time with activities of substance.

  • We walk to the library, or the nearby park.
  • Browsing the Farmer's Market on the weekend, listening to local musicians and watching local artists at their craft has become one of our favorite activities.
  • Together, we've created a habit of strolling the neighborhood each evening, with or without any agenda or purpose.

We're out and about more, walking more vs. driving to strip malls for more Stuff and we couldn't be happier.

And it's all worked out just fine financially, physically, and in every other way. No more Stuff equals a lot more money (or just enough, in our case). We've survived! In fact, we've become so thrilled with a lifestyle of substance — now that our home in Colorado has finally sold — we've decided to purchase a tiny little place here.

We've abandoned the ailment and lifestyle of Stuff. We're now committed to enjoying life, enjoying each other, and enjoying the substance of our surroundings.

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Sara
Sara
8 years ago

Title typo: “Stubstance” –> “Substance”

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

My comment was submitted too soon and I can’t edit it. I also wanted to add that this post does not speak to me. While I’m on the same page to avoid “stuffitis,” I think the author takes it to an extreme, which just doesn’t interest me. Also, some of the examples she uses are not so great — 50 rolls of toilet paper from Costo? Yeah, because there’s a big cost savings, and I’m going to use toilet paper in my normal quantities at normal rates, not that 50 rolls will somehow make me want to waste the paper… Read more »

Kris
Kris
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Meh. As we all know, not all the posts have to speak to us all the time. I actually prefer posts that do take things to extremes, in a way. It shows me that there are different ways to live. I don’t necessarily see this way of life every day, which is part of its charm in reading about it. It opens my mind to possibilities.

Debbie
Debbie
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I agree. 50 rolls of toilet paper at a rock bottom price would be a win for me. It’s something I will definitely use and if I can pay less for it, I am going to do that. I think it should be exempt from the stuff-itis category. Stuff-itis should be reserved for things that either serve no real purpose or have no real sentimental meaning. I agree with Sara that this article, although interesting, doesn’t really speak to me because I have no interest in being so extreme in my quest to fight stuff-itis. But she is a good… Read more »

Zach
Zach
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I just didn’t think the story demonstrated good financial sense. A “leap of faith” is good, WHEN your ducks are in order 🙂 Unfortunately, this author was upside-down on a mortgage (hence still sending payments back to Colorado), and they lost an income stream! Making drastic life changes are awesome, but only if you’re fully prepared. There was no discussion of safety nets or savings accounts in this story. —- That said, I love the author’s battle with Stuff. We all need to reduce what we consume, and I think she learned her lesson well by selling 80% of what… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  Zach

I read it as, the house didn’t sell before they moved, so they carried the mortgage debt while renting. I don’t necessarily believe it meant they were underwater.

I’d also like to comment of all consumerism targets to take aim at, Costco is to me a poor choice. Relatively speaking, they have a lot of good sustainable business practices: Reasonable wages for employees, low pay for CEO (assuming this holds true for the next CEO), healthcare, a philosophy of not marking up items through the roof, etc.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
8 years ago

Why do i feel the article for the week have been giving to much back story, not enough of information on the actual topic, or abruptly come to an end? I think El Nerdo is in the lead so far for me personally.

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago
Reply to  Teinegurl

That has been my feeling, too! I live with my boyfriend in a 500-sq.ft. apartment, just like Ashley moved into, and I feel like there is a whole wealth of information and stories about living this way. Maybe she was hoping to tackle topics like “where to stash your bike at home” and “how to live without a pantry” in future posts, but I feel like people who live in larger spaces would have enjoyed hearing about those kinds of things in this one. From a voting perspective, I would say that having a fellow small-spacer as a new staff… Read more »

Marcus
Marcus
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

I agree. I moved from Utah to New Hampshire with my wife so I could attend law school. We moved into a small apartment that had a toaster oven, hot plate and microwave for all our cooking (and we both love to cook). While it was a change, we find that having less in a small space is enjoyable then having a lot of stuff everyone.

I hope to see more from Ashley.

Nancy
Nancy
8 years ago

My previous comment has not showed up. But this post did not movitivate me, stuff vs substance is a hot topic. Something was missing from here. I would like to learn more about social security, stocks, and retirement.

Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

Sometimes taking a big leap opens your mind up to great new experiences. I am glad you are enjoying your new life and figured out that stuff can be nice but isn’t necessary.

IdaBaker
IdaBaker
8 years ago

I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. Just yesterday, as I was putting away my laundry, I looked at my clothes, and thought, I have enough. I don’t need anymore.

It’s amazing what that feeling brings.

Congratulations on your move. From the sound of it, the Pacific Northwest suits you both.

By the way, do you think you could have done something similar if you hadn’t been forced into the situation due to circumstances?

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

Good Lord! Didn’t these posts get vetted at all?
This post could be summed up by, I sold all my stuff – see how great I am!

She claims that
” Most of America, myself included, suffers from stuffitis.”
And then goes on to point out how they aren’t part of that group anymore. So there is no empathy, just an all consuming smugness.
I don’t know if I can take any more audition pieces without some real posts in the middle.

Zach
Zach
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I’m beginning to agree. I haven’t found any of the audition articles to be that great… I’m getting bored.

Kiernan
Kiernan
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I feel like I’ve read this article before. Several times.

Paularado
Paularado
8 years ago
Reply to  Kiernan

You have. It’s another Double Income No Kids couple shuns what THEY define as the typical American lifestyle and lives smugly ever after. The End.

Yes, there have been many.

Sorry, but I lived in a 500 sq ft cabin in Colorado with no water. It sucked. The end.

Sherry
Sherry
8 years ago

The post could use some more details, that is true. Did it speak to me? In a small way, but I do enjoy reading different perspectives. We have a lot of stuff – actually crap – that we are working on getting rid of, but if I sold off 80% of our stuff, my kids would revolt hahah. But glad it is working out for the author. But yes, please more details. I think it would have been helpful to specifically address in numbers what the cost reduction has been in not having so much stuff to take care of,… Read more »

Mr. Everyday Dollar
Mr. Everyday Dollar
8 years ago

Great article! One thing I like to have people ponder:

Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?

If the latter, you should consider it a financial emergency.

Mr. Everyday Dollar

BrentABQ
BrentABQ
8 years ago

How is this supposed to help me get rich? Sell my home at the bottom of a slump, sell most of my stuff and then buy more in an effort to purge. Drop an income stream. Pay for 2 places while only living in one. What this could have been about. Selling your home in a short timeframe. Deciding what stuff isn’t worth the space. How to get the most for your junk when under a deadline. The right cuts to make when dropping an income stream. Saving on moving expenses. How to downsize your house without tossing everything. The… Read more »

Nicky at Not My Mother
Nicky at Not My Mother
8 years ago
Reply to  BrentABQ

This post isn’t about getting rich. It’s about, as the tags suggest, choices, consumerism and real life. I enjoyed the post. It spoke to my current wish to downsize and lose the ‘stuff’. Could it have done with more details on how to do it? Absolutely, but I ended up intrigued by the writer and hoping that later posts will be about her life journey and how she achieved this. Quite unlike the writer from a few days ago who wrote about being on game shows, but the post seemed more about showcasing his supposed ‘comedy’ writing. Hm, not so… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

I agree, all of the audition articles seem to be intros into the author’s lives instead of actual advice. Its fine, just misleading. My expectations are in the wrong spot from the titles.

I would have liked this article to have gone into more depth about whether or not buying in bulk or shopping at stores like Target and Costco really saves you money and/or time or not.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

I agree that living in a small space definitely helps me keep my stuff to a reasonable amount. There just isn’t room for tons of stuff! But as others have said, this post seems quite general and is lacking in specific details or suggestions. Which is too bad, because generally this is a topic I’m interested in.

Rose
Rose
8 years ago

Interesting article of survival in these harsh times. If the article had also set some background regarding why the change of job,if it was worth losing one income to go to the new job, then probably readers could relate more, my two cents. Also, establishing the time period since this change happened to the present day, and if this was only a temporary arrangement till your old house was sold to be able to buy a new one? If the time period was only a matter of few months, why not the one without a job at hand remain back… Read more »

Patricia
Patricia
8 years ago
Reply to  Rose

My husband has HAD to move out of town/state 3 times to have a job. And that involved a mortgage at the house where the kids and I lived and an apartment. And we sold the house and moved 900-1000 miles 4 times with 4 kids the 1st time and 1 the last.) Killed us financially, but better than unemployment (did that 11 times over 30 yrs.) You do what you gotta do to survive.

Jaime B
Jaime B
8 years ago

I felt the best part of the story got the least emphasis – how they learned to love living downsized. Possible alternate title if the article focus was moved the 2nd half: “Downsizing isn’t just for Retirees”. I think there was too much background information considering that much of it didn’t add to the point and some of it was redundant. Example: “Or, wow, that revolving lampstand with a fluorescent green lampshade is on sale. I don’t need it, but it’s on sale, so certainly this is a deal I can’t pass up. I just have to have it! Of… Read more »

Jaime B
Jaime B
8 years ago
Reply to  Jaime B

Sorry, I forgot to add that I thought the formatting of the article was consistent with GRS. I’m also in agreement with several others that it had a lot of potential and the writing itself was just fine.

Robin
Robin
8 years ago

Felt like a fluff/filler piece. Sigh.

Jon
Jon
8 years ago

Interesting article… would love to hear more about why you made the move, what prompted you to move where you did, etc…

Angie
Angie
8 years ago

I liked this article and look forward to hearing more about the author’s adventures, but agree more specifics (i.e. why they chose to move, did they loose money on the house or just sell for less than the asking price etc, would have given it more substance) also I am trying to minimise “Stuff” but there wasn’t a lot I could take from it in the sense of “x” can be used to perform the function of “Y”…the article is good but might have sat better with a more “convential” personal finance blog (i.e. people that aren’t already well into… Read more »

Jordan
Jordan
8 years ago

I think the point of the post is good: people often accumulate stuff, and it doesn’t always make them happy. My husband and I recently quit our jobs, sold our house and all of our stuff, and are traveling around the world. Sure it’s not for everyone, but there is merit to the message. I would have liked to hear more about their planning and how they are making it work financially, though.

jay
jay
8 years ago

if you want writers with a different take then you, this is a serious thumbs down. i mean ANOTHER article about how awful it is to own things and we should just sell it all? played out… two major points: 1) buying a 50 pack of toilet paper is generally not a bad thing, since it doesn’t expire, it will get used, its not harmful for you, and we won’t use more bc we have extra in stock. if the recommendation is to buy it one roll at a time (driving to the store and wasting more time and money),… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  jay

Amen on #2!

Can we start a GRS petition to take back un-capitalized stuff?

Fontane
Fontane
8 years ago

I’m usually the critical one for these types of articles, but I have to say the first paragraph resonated very deeply with me. Many times I’ve walked into a place and bought things I didn’t need. It wasn’t until I downsized my life due to career changes that I realized how much of a habit impulse purchases had become for me. I think the author of this piece nails that thought/feeling quite well. The topic of downsizing and becoming a minimalist is indeed played out, but this isn’t a product any of you are paying for. She wrote very briefly… Read more »

A-L
A-L
8 years ago

I think that the voice against “stuff” is already well and alive at GRS, without the addition of another writer who is trying to make the same point. And as others have mentioned, there are a lot of details about the process the author must have gone through, that are completely glossed over/ignored.

Karen
Karen
8 years ago
Reply to  A-L

I agree. I would like to have heard about how she got rid of 80% of her stuff – eBay? Craigslist? Yard sale? Information on how she organized this part of the process would be helpful. I often wonder if we have too much “stuff” and get overwhelmed by the thought of downsizing so I don’t. Hearing how she did it may have provided some inspiration

Kristen
Kristen
8 years ago

I have loved GRS because of the personal psychology – the “personal-ness” in the writing. This post, unfortunately, was very non-personal. I visit the site for the psychological piece. There are many sources for mechanics. GRS has traditionally helped people fit things into their own lives through identification with the writing.
This post misses the mark for me in that sense. I wish the writer well, but this post doesn’t speak to me.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

But what about the Kale? Do you eat Kale now in your downsized Pacific Northwest apartment? I know you can walk to the farmer’s market, but what about the Kale? Inquiring minds must know.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

I agree with the other commenters that the Costco TP example was way off base. That’s actually a good deal. I have a reasonably priced home that happens to have a small amount of room for storage, or consider Donna — she finds room in her small apartment for items she gets for cheap.

amber
amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Excellent comparison! Donna’s article on how to stockpile cheap stuff in her tiny apartment was useful, memorable, and though not for everyone, I think everyone took something from it. I have to agree with other commenters, I feel like this article is just a glorified comment, and I’m not getting any take-away from it.
My advice to the writer is to dial back your opinion and dial up the ‘How I Did It’ cause that is actually what we came here to find out.

janebeetle
janebeetle
8 years ago

Sheesh, tough crowd! I love the description of real benefits that destuffing brought. Hanging out, taking non-stuff in.

Seema
Seema
8 years ago

I do like the anti-consumerism sentiment. But how is reading this helpful to me? What did I learn from this that I didn’t know before? Perhaps I would have liked the writer more if she had mentioned some specific difficulties she faced during this change and how she solved them. For ex, did she discover that “Utensil X” did not fit into her new kitchen but she never missed it because she figured out that “Utensil Y” and a little creativity was just as good?

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago

I don’t think consumables like TP and cheese count as “stuff”. Stuff is the, well, stuff that sits around, taking up space with no useful purpose. As for me and my family, we use TP and eat a lot of cheese. So yes I buy it in bulk, because to do otherwise would be very un-frugal. I would have rather known more about the decision making in the abandoning of their Stuff. How did they decide what stuff to get rid of? What stuff did they have? Did they have to buy new / different stuff due to their move,… Read more »

JakeIL7
JakeIL7
8 years ago

While I am not a big fan of the content of this article, I do see some ways it can be improved:

First, This article should have started with what happened: the leap of faith. I think most here would agree that this is the interesting part of the story. Second, no one want to read someone preaching (which is the first section). Instead, tell us that you were surprised by the change. Leave the value judgements to the individual readers.

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

I think you have to recognize that there are different stages of life. It is much easier to live with one plate and one cup and minimal furniture when you don’t have a family. Once I had children, it was actually healthier for me to let go of the desire to live an uncluttered life. The desire for less stuff was actually making me unhappy. Because it is just impossible with two small children in a smallish house. They just have so many accoutrements. Yeah, yeah, you could argue that all that stuff is unnecessary and that all they need… Read more »

Madeline
Madeline
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Jane really brings up good points. The “kid” years were certainly full of HAPPY CLUTTER that I miss dearly. Great look at “life cycles..” thanks for reminding us,Jane!

Sarah S
Sarah S
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I agree with Jane – and I would love to read an article about just that thing. Having lots of toys and books in our house and yard also ends up being fairly frugal since we can avoid going out to more expensive activities.

Paularado
Paularado
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I thought your comment had waaay more substance than the article. I think Jane should audition. I’d like to see more writers with kids.

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Paularado

Thanks for the kind words. I am a lapsed academic and now aspiring freelance writer, but I don’t know if my ego could handle this forum. I am, however, mulling over a reader story idea.

I do agree that this site could use more writers with children. What ever happened to Sierra?

Tarun Sikri, India
Tarun Sikri, India
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Dear Jane,
Paularado is right. You should definitely consider writing in this Forum.
Best Wishes,
Tarun

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

We get it. You moved to the Pacific Northwest. You live in Ecotopia now.

Yawn.

Lyn
Lyn
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

And – moving from Colorado to the Pacific Northwest is not exactly moving across the country.

Didn’t do much for me.

Madeline
Madeline
8 years ago

I like personal stories of change even if they do not apply completely to myself. I enjoyed reading THIS couple’s adventure. It reminded me of my family’s recent pledge to simplify..and the extremes that this poster’s family went to is a reminder it CAN be done and that we need to get busier on it! If they can do it, we can do it! I don’t want to scale back QUITE as much as they did, but still hear many useful thoughts in this post!

DanM53
DanM53
8 years ago

When the author states “My husband and I recently made a life changing decision together.”, I’d be more interested in the process of coming together to that decision.

Part of my battle of trying to live frugally is getting all members of my team (wife and kids) to see the value of it. I have a hard enough time keeping myself on the straight and narrow and seeing the evolution of a couple’s thought process would have been enlightening, IMO.

Adam Spinosa
Adam Spinosa
8 years ago

I agree with the spirit of this article–that it is exhilarating to get rid off all the clutter, and stuff, and to front only the essential bare necessities of life. I also agree with those who think it needs more specificity to become a strategy for saving money.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

Supersized? How about superstuffed?

MelodyO
MelodyO
8 years ago

Ha! You forgot to bang your gavel, Judge Judy.

SweetCoffee
SweetCoffee
8 years ago

“Supersized” feels out of date and over-used; to me society is in a post-supersized “hang over” state; because of our spendful ways, we are now down-sizing (some by force such as with foreclosures or lay-offs and others, like me, by choice). In fact, the introduction itself seemed supersized with too many examples of how we consume too much and too easily. This article was too light and breezy for my taste.

lmoot
lmoot
8 years ago

None of the “stuff” listed (except maybe the excessive tshirts) seems like bad stuff. And I’m sure they pay for the “substance” of being able to walk to local hotspots through housing costs. Not trying to be a debbie downer but I’m over the war on stuff as well. And I’m sure people in the Pacific SW don’t use leaves when going to the bathroom (but who knows really lol) so I’m sure they could benefit from extra TP like the rest of us.

Oleron
Oleron
8 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Still laughing over the part about people in the Pacific NW not using leaves instead of TP. Unfortunately, so far your comment has been the only entertaining part of this “audition” and comments.

The writing flowed very easily. . . but. . .WAIT! Haven’t I already read this same, er, stuff, a hundred or more times before? Why, YES, I have. No wonder it flowed so easily through my mind. IT’S WORN A PATH IN MY BRAIN. AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!

lmoot
lmoot
8 years ago

Hmm couldn’t edit, wonder what happened to that function? I meant “Pacific NW, not SW”

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Not bad, but not very substantive. The “substance” referred to seems … well, not shallow, but shall we say on trend?

My primary criticism would be that the “changing focus” part, meaning the psychological underpinnings of this major life change, was invisible. Just saying “we went from X life to Y life” does not explicate the process.

Kris10MK
Kris10MK
8 years ago

I enjoyed this article. When my partner moved into my apartment it forced me to clear out all the clutter and “stuff” that was taking up space without any use. And since I was used to having stuff I now realize I was used to wanting even more stuff. But once I was able to rid everything and stick to the real necessities it did feel exhilarating. This article is one of those reminders to be mindful of purchases that although seem like a deal aren’t really necessary at all.

Marcella
Marcella
8 years ago

This is the first staff writer try out I am giving a thumbs down. El Nerdo’s still my stand out.

I think the concept is dated and the author offers nothing new or particularly compelling in her story.

I also felt the actual execution of the idea was sloppy writing. Ashley needs to work on her ability to write more succintly. Too much filler, not enough meat in the sandwhich.

ACD
ACD
8 years ago

Tough crowd!

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