Daily Life,  Travel

Reflecting on “Stuff”

As I make the move to the Bay Area, dealing with my “stuff” is a big thing.  Going from a 4,000 square foot house to a 10′ by 12′ room in a friend’s apartment has been an adjustment both physically and mentally.  But more interestingly, its lead me to reflect on all the stuff I have and what it really means to me.  This Paul Graham essay on Stuff from 2007 also resonates with me.

The Story of My Stuff

In 2004 I purged everything I owned except for what would fit into the Land Rover I bought, and moved to downtown Seattle.  That felt great, and being free of stuff also kept my mind free of clutter as I embarked on the beginning of my career.  While I was making $9 as an hour, I had no money for buying anything except for the occasional professional clothing item or meal out with a friend.  If I was spending money, it was on experiences.

By 2006 I was making good money, and dating the man who would become my husband.  I had moved into a penthouse studio apartment and wanted to impress him (duh) with my taste, as well as enjoy the freedom of not having to conform to the tastes of a roommate.  Ikea furniture, books I had been storing at my parent’s house, kitchen utensils, clothes, SHOES… the “stuff” began to accumulate, and soon the studio was feeling pretty cramped.

We got married in the summer of 2007 and moved into his bachelor pad, which had even less personal space than my studio.  The cheap Ikea furniture had to go and once again my personal style was subordinated to someone else’s idea of “home” – which at the time was uber-sparse and uber-expensive (and uber-masculine) urban chic.  I got rid of my car too, which was wonderful at first but later felt stifling, in favor of his Audi.  In all, from a materialistic point of view my entire lifestyle was upgraded when our possessions became shared.  All I really brought my ever-growing book collection, and enormous collection of designer shoes and fabulous clothes.  For two newlyweds, this was a lot of stuff to manage.

So what did we do?  We bought a bigger container for our stuff, in the form of a 4,000 square foot house in the suburbs.  What started out as curiousity about what was on the market turning into me finding our dream house.  We moved in on Halloween 2007, a mere 3 months after getting married.  Our stuff began to expand again… we left all the furniture at the Seattle condo (we were renting it out) and took on a bunch of furniture from my parent’s house that they had been saving for us, as well as piano, 8 person dining room table, and new couches, bar stools, etc.  AHHH!  We were in stuff acquisition mode, shopping every weekend for stuff to make our not-so-little nest feel like a home.

And then the economy tanked.

I wish I could say that we’d been frugal with our acquisitions, but with Kevin’s job at Microsoft and my investments flying high we weren’t too concerned.  I was working for a startup, making a startup income, but we were still a two income household without anyone depending on us.  My walk in closet was stocked with fabulous outfits, I wore labels, and we threw dinner parties almost every week.  While the market crashed we were in Las Vegas, treating my little sister to a memorable 21st birthday.  Looking back, that was probably one of the best ways we spent money that year.

Traveling Sets Me Free of My Stuff

On Friday, I flew from SFO to Seattle with my most important “stuff”: my black Kate Spade purse, MacBook pro, iPhone, engagement ring and necklace my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day this year, my passport and some cash.  I could have flown anywhere in the world and started my life from that moment in time with the items in that bag.  That’s a pretty empowering thought, and lead me to think that the lack of “stuff” might be part of why people find travel so liberating – it certainly is for me.

What I’ve Learned: Buy Experiences, Not Things

Enabling great experiences and memories, shared with people I enjoy, is the most important leisure activity in my life.  My rule of thumb now is that my “stuff” needs to enhance or enable experiences in some way, or it isn’t valid.  Additionally, the more expensive the item (both in terms of money and amount of trouble I go to keeping it) it better generate lasting and repeat value.

Another important thing I’ve learned is that owning expensive things is great, but only if you use them.  Each time you use them, its a part of the experience of owning something.  If you know me, you know that I have a thing for expensive leather purses and shoes, and that’s because when I use/wear them the luxury and stylishness of the items creates an experience for me personally.  I love that.  It’s the same for things like owning silver and china, or crystal.  Use it or give it to someone who will.

10 Things I Need to Travel the World

  1. Internet (Sprint mifi)
  2. iPhone & charger (Apple)
  3. MacBook pro & charger (Apple)
  4. jeans & a t-shirt
  5. expensive & indestructible purse (Kate Spade)
  6. expensive & durable/comfortable shoes (Tory Burch)
  7. all-in-one makeup kit (Lancome, buy it at the airport)
  8. passport
  9. cash (or access to cash via ATM card)
  10. my wonderful husband Kevin


  • Andrew

    “Buy experiences, not things”. I really like that. my story of moving to seattle is similar. i gave everything in my apt to neighbors or goodwill. if it didn’t fit in my civic, it didn’t make the trip to seattle. Everyone should purge all their stuff at least once. it’s very liberating.

    Great post Danielle!

  • Clint Tseng

    Fantastic lesson to learn. I’m always amazed at how much I don’t miss much of what I own when I’m away for weeks or months with just a messenger bag and a small carryon’s worth of stuff. If your stuff is weighing you down, cast it away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *