Paul Graham on: stuff

Paul Graham, on our obsession with material possessions:

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

In fact, worse than worthless, because once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn’t retire to the town they preferred because they couldn’t afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn’t theirs; it’s their stuff’s.

Not long after I bought my first home in 1997, I was talking to the next-door neighbor and mentioned that I was envious of his basement. My house didn’t have one, but I had grown up with basements all my life. I was always trying to figure out where to store things.

He replied that he had been in his house since it was built in the early 50s, and he pitied whoever had to clean the basement out when he died. That was the first time I ever thought of a basement as a double-edged sword.

I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I lived in Italy for a year. All I took with me was one large backpack of stuff. The rest of my stuff I left in my landlady’s attic back in the US. And you know what? All I missed were some of the books. By the end of the year I couldn’t even remember what else I had stored in that attic.

And yet when I got back I didn’t discard so much as a box of it. Throw away a perfectly good rotary telephone? I might need that one day.

This reminds me of the storage unit I rented when I was selling my last house. I filled a 100 square foot room with extraneous stuff I didn’t have any day-to-day use for. It sat in there for more than six months.

Paul Graham on: Stuff