≡ Menu

Love Life, Not Stuff

“I believe that examining the hidden impacts of all the Stuff in our lives is a way to unplug, which is the first step toward changing things.” ~Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

Going through my stuff again helped me reevaluate what I need in my life. As a result, I was able to donate a number of items that were cluttering up my closet and bookshelf. I also reconsidered why I’m participating in the 100 Thing Challenge and its importance.

The more I mull it over, the more I think the 100 Thing Challenge is less about counting up stuff, than it is about asking ourselves larger questions like:

  • Where was my stuff made?
  • How was my stuff processed and where does it all go when I’m done with it?
  • Why do I shop so much?
  • Do material things really make me happy?
  • If I have less stuff to worry about, will I have more time to give back to my community?

Being aware of how stuff affects our physical and emotional health is empowering. More importantly, making small changes in our own lives leads to a greater awareness of the connection between environmental, economic, and social justice issues. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you unplug from your stuff.

1. Slowly sort through your stuff.

Go through your home room by room and create piles of stuff you want to keep and stuff you want to donate. This process takes time. Undertaking a gradual transition will help alleviate emotional guilt associated with trashing possessions and promotes a routine of minimizing that is more likely to outlast quick lifestyle fixes.

I get a lot of emails that ask for a magic solution to the problem of clutter. There is no magic solution. If you have a house full of stuff, there is no weekend solution for responsible decluttering.

And I’m serious, be responsible. Don’t throw your stuff away! Give it away or repurpose items so you don’t need to buy something new. We don’t need more stuff in the landfills, toxins seeping into our water supply or more garbage shipped to developing countries.

2. Avoid lifestyle creep.

Lifestyle creep is when we try to keep up with the mythical Joneses and end up unhappy and in debt. Participating in the 100 Thing Challenge is a great way to avoid this phenomenon. For instance, I take care of what I have instead of constantly buying the latest clothes or shoes. It’s helped me become more mindful of my consumption choices.

3. Save rather than shop.

If you take on the 100 Thing Challenge, I guarantee you’ll save a lot of cash. One of the main reasons I’m participating in this challenge is to keep clutter out of my life and to save money. I’m now much more thoughtful about my purchases. I know what I already have and what I may or may not “need.” The end result has been an increase in savings and time. And that makes me happy.

4. Get your counting groove on.

Consider participating in this challenge. If you think the task is too difficult and you are not sure where to start, then begin by reading The Story of Stuff. This book will help you unplug from your stuff and consider its hidden costs.


Please note, this article was originally published in April 2010. Since the New York Times piece, But Will It Make Your Happy?, was published I’ve received a lot of inquiries about the 100 Things Challenge. I hope this answers some of your questions. 🙂


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Courtney Carver August 11, 2010, 5:42 am

    Each time I get rid of stuff and think I have let go of enough, I want to let more go! The less I have, the happier I become and the more time I have to spend with my family. I don’t know how this concept escaped me for so many years. Thanks for being so inspiring!

    • Yvonne in Sweden August 11, 2010, 7:44 am

      Tell me about it! At least twice a year I get into a serious craving for reducing what is around the house! This fall I’m ready to donate almost all my books (except for 4 beloved series).. and that is going to be a lot of books! Best part though is getting rid of furniture.. like display cases and recliners and couches.. Aaah… not having them around frees you up to USE the body you have as it was meant to be used (ie standing, squatting, walking, lying down).

  • Smitten by Britain August 11, 2010, 6:34 am

    I love the name of this post. I wanted to leave a comment and say “Hello.” I just found your blog yesterday after reading the article about you on MSN. I’ve been moving in the direction of this lifestyle slowly over the last five or six years and now that I am soon to be an empty nester, I’m ready to kick into high gear with simple living. Saw your spot on the Today Show as well. Nice job. For the past two years I have blogged about my passion for Great Britain, but just recently started a personal blog called The Cautious Optimist (www.thecautiousoptimist.com) where I plan to document my move to a different, simpler lifestyle. Like you, I love travel and place it in importance in my life above anything I could possibly own. You are an inspiration. Keep up the nice work.

    • Arianne August 11, 2010, 2:20 pm

      Me too! I read the article on Yahoo and found the blog. Loving it!

  • Teresa Hardy August 11, 2010, 7:02 am

    I just saw the article, “But Will It Make You Happy?”, in NYTimes today a friend on FB and shared it myself. I really enjoyed the article and your comments in it. I am impressed with your success in the challenge and, though I don’t think I could do the 100 things challenge now, I have been in a “purge mode” lately and have been getting rid of a lot things that I feel are weighing me down and you give me inspiration to keep going. So, thank you. And best of luck to you and continued happiness.

  • Marie de Meester August 11, 2010, 7:32 am

    Congratulations with your ideas.
    From now on I’m going to wash my hair with the baking soda. Curious how it will work out.
    Greetings from Belgium

  • Jason August 11, 2010, 7:48 am

    very much enjoyed the nyt article. it’s great to see this kind of stuff getting more attention. there is so much out there, other than items, to make us happy. thanks for spreading the word! keep up the great work. 🙂

  • Chandra August 11, 2010, 8:28 am

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions! 🙂

    I pared down the majority of my personal possessions years ago and still continue to find stuff that is unnecessary to remove from my life. That was the fun and easy part! 😀

    Like I said in my comment yesterday, its all the ‘household’ stuff that is keeping me stuck and scratching my head… “Am I keeping it just because thats what is ‘normal’?” …I won’t give up and I’ll keep working on it! Sometimes I play a game in my head to help me decide whether or not to keep stuff. I know, its silly, but it helps. I think about if I were being robbed and mentally walk through my house and ask myself, “Would I miss this? Would I replace that? Would I even remember all the books/dvds I own? Would I be upset if it was taken? Would I rather have the insurance money (thus inspiring me to sell it in reality) than the item itself?” It really puts some stuff in perspective.

    Anyway, love your stuff, thanks again for continually inspiring me to strive for better!

  • Chandra August 11, 2010, 8:44 am

    Btw, just saw you on the Today Show! WOW, way to go, thats so awesome PLUS a great way to spread your message!!! 😀

  • dj August 11, 2010, 9:16 am

    Don’t store items, use them.
    One major action I took recently, I stopped storing/archiving items in closets and drawers. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess 🙂 I reduced, and what I had left I either displayed or I wrapped up nicely and reorganized. When I open the closet I see an organized center with items I use and appreciate. My mom did some beautiful embroidering on handkerchiefs, but I was just storing them. I took them out of storage, got rid of the cheap doilies mass produced in China, and replaced them with the homemade embroidered handkerchiefs. My home is homier and I feel the presence of family all around when I see those handkerchiefs and other items that I took out of storage. Our culture is so throw-away these days. I had the same radio that I bought for 10 bucks, my entire teen years. I wonder how many mobile and media devices teens go through today. I hope they recycle and we reuse the resources. I still have that radio :-). I love buying a few quality items and maintaining them. That’s just the way I was brought up in a conservative household. Bottom-line: I don’t live to shop; I shop to live, and I do that selectively and infrequently.

    Oprah recently replayed the show on hoarders. A 3000 sq ft home, filled top to bottom with stuff. 100 people, 8 weeks, to clean 75 tons of stuff out of the house and place for sale in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. To have so much stuff, but to feel so empty, is so sad. I just wanted to give those folks a hug. 🙂
    link: http://www.oprah.com/home/Inside-a-Hoarders-Home

  • Nicole August 11, 2010, 9:22 am

    Came here after reading the NYT article – very cool what you have done! I have been addicted to using Freecycle lately to give away our things and keep them out of landfills. In the past, we’ve saved up our things and given them to charity. But some things aren’t charity-worthy. Examples? I’ve given away a bottle of wallpaper stripper, bottles of dishwasher detergent that didn’t work well for us, those little Ziploc baggies that extra buttons come attached to your clothes in…I’m definitely at a point in my life where I have finally broken the consumer cycle and now that I’m getting rid of the accumulated clutter, too, it feels amazing.

  • Domestic Kate August 11, 2010, 9:42 am

    I’m sort of the opposite of a hoarder, but I still think it’s good to set the 100-things goal and stick to it. I love the idea of evaluating the things in your life and making sure that each has a purpose. That’s the important thing. Even if I already have under 100 things (not sure if this is true), I probably still have a ton of things that I don’t need or even want.

  • Sharon Durling August 11, 2010, 10:05 am

    I actually wrote the book on this subject, “A Girl and Her Money: How to Have a Great Relationship without Falling in Love,” (pub. Thomas Nelson, 2003), and specifically Chapter 9: “The Trouble With Stuff,” which begins:

    “The problem with money is the stuff it buys…you have to spend your time and energy walking it, feeding it, vacuuming, it, polishing it, waxing it, downloading it, refurbishing it, tuning it, and building a display case for it.

    “Then you have to spend more money to have it insured, repaired, buffed, polished, detailed, dry-cleaned, repainted, updated, security-alarmed, refinished, restrung. You have to buy the storage system to organize it, the humidifier to protect it, the gear to outfit it, the display cabinet to showcase it, the custom bag to tote it, the software to manage it, the protective cover, accessories, leather case, and then the remote to operate it from the next room…”

    • Kellene August 18, 2010, 9:16 pm

      I’ve never thought of owning “stuff” in this light. It’s true — it starts to own you. Thanks for providing this perspective on materialism. The next time I want to buy something, I’ll think about it in terms of how much it’s going to cost me in the long run.

  • Diana Dalton August 11, 2010, 10:11 am

    New to the site and just love the idea already. With a family of 5 we have lots of stuff. I have been trying for the last few weeks to get rid of stuff. Stuff I have been hanging on to since I was little and stuff that just doesn’t serve a purpose. Thank you for posting all this great information. I downloaded the Stonesoup PDF and have tried a recipe already. I will be going through all the back articles as time permits as well as looking into the 100 Thing Challenge.

    I did want to mention to you that when you say to repurpose items a good idea for a lot of people is something calle Freecycle. Most cities have them. Look up Freecycle on the web and see if your city or one around you has one. It is an online group that you can post items that you want to give away. Things like useable clothing, books, furniture etc. A way to keep stuff from going into the landfills.


  • Sharon Durling, aka Broke Girl August 11, 2010, 10:20 am

    FYI, I started cleaning out my closets this year, and so far, made $635 via Craigslist sales, just to empty my closets of things I did not use. Your article (via the NYTimes, fyi), is encouraging me to go at it, and purge more, not only for selling, but giving away to others, as well as the hospital thrift store on my block! Where do the profits go? Charities of my choice, and a few selective handouts to homeless people on my block.

    Item sold include:
    Oval side table $45, Memory-foam mattress $150, Secretary desk $110, kitchen chair cushions $20, vintage crystal drop scones $118, Elfa brand shelving found in alley $10, InterMetro shelving (were taking up closet space for five years!! $130, 2Wire DSL Modem $15, Ironing board $10, Wrought iron candle chandelier $27.

  • Sue August 11, 2010, 10:27 am

    I confess, I’m a fashion junkie. I do not buy full retail, but do enjoy the “hunt” of finds in places like T J Maxx, or end of the season sales. I live in a suburb of Boston, and recently donated a lot of my more fashionable clothing to a non-profit called Boomerang (cute name, right?). I know there are other women like me, who do have those D & G blouses hanging out in their closets, unworn for at least three years. Donate. It was such a great experience to lighten myself of stuff.

  • Uncle Ed August 11, 2010, 11:05 am

    Years ago I was out in California, wandering around in the high desert, when I stopped to check my messages. Well, there was one from the company that manages the apartment building I live in, and as I was listening to their urgent request to get back to them as soon as possible, I remembered that they’d had record storms back East, and for some reason I was sure that the roof had collapsed, and that all my possessions had been destroyed, and. . .I couldn’t believe the sense of relief that washed over me as those thoughts rolled through my head.

    Free at last!

    Turns out they’d misplaced the rent check, and just like that, I was back in prison.

    Thanks for reminding me of what it feels like to be free.

  • Jenn August 11, 2010, 11:07 am

    I stumbled upon your blog yesterday through a facebook friend and I am hooked. Seriously, I have spent many hours reading and reading. I blogged about it today and linked back to your blog. Thank you. Queue serious life changes for me…

  • eema August 11, 2010, 12:22 pm

    to get rid of clutter, and staying on top of housework, i have found flylady.net very helpful. she has these ’28 fling boogies’ ,where you go thru your house and rid yourself of 28 items.
    just found a bunch of cds in the recycle bin and am overwhelmed to keep them moving. i sure don’t need any more!
    love your blog, as it is gentle. we are often too hard on ourselves.

  • Anonymous August 11, 2010, 12:44 pm

    Thanks for this post, Tammy!

    I definitely agree with you about getting rid of your stuff slowly. I’ve been making an effort every couple of days to find things in my apartment that aren’t necessary. It’s been a great process and I’m so relieved by how much less stuff I have now. But I would have been super overwhelmed if I would have gotten rid of all that stuff at once!

  • Candice Vega August 11, 2010, 1:12 pm

    I read the article and began following your blog two days ago. I really love the idea of downsizing and loving life instead of things. Really enjoying your blog!

  • Brenda August 11, 2010, 2:01 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    Digging your blog big time right now. First of all love the simple design. It really caught my eye and made me read more about you and your story. Your lifestyle change and your reasons for doing it give me hope about humanity. Thank you for your simple, short, and to the point lessons, reminders, and tips. All the best.

  • Arianne August 11, 2010, 2:25 pm

    I found your blog yesterday after seeing the article on Yahoo, loving it. I have read a book “Simpify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy The Things that Really Matter” by Ellen St. James. Loved it! Read through it again. I am trying to incorporate the ideas, no simple matter.
    One idea for gently used items that you are ready to get out of your life.. Ellen St. James suggests something from “The Hobbit”… Mathoms. These are items you put away to give away as gifts to others. I have a box that I keep in the attic of items that are in good shape, and I might even have someone specific in mind, for a birthday or christmas, whatever.

  • Joanne Keevers August 11, 2010, 2:41 pm

    Tammy, thank you for spreading the word about “reuse, recycle and repair”. I’ve followed my own ideas on the subject for many years, and every time I read your articles here it’s like a breath of fresh air…more ideas on the subject, spreading throughout the world!

    Just as a couple of previous generations were slowly educated towards commercialism and buying stuff, your message is retraining todays generation, and those to come, back to the good ole ways of grandma!

  • Kristin August 11, 2010, 6:04 pm

    I JUST discovered you! OH! How I love this!!! My husband and I are building a new house right now. He wanted a big home – I DID NOT. So~ what we are doing is building the garage and will live in that – we will live in the actual garage – fixed up like a cute little home with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The downstairs is 850 sq feet. The upstairs is I think 400. That is enought for me! He wants to build the “big house” next year. I hope we never do.
    ( :
    I have a seperate blog for the little house ~ littletobigdreamhouse.blogspot.com
    Again, I am so with you on this. Thank you!
    Have a pretty day!

  • Katie August 11, 2010, 6:27 pm

    Tammy, you are an amazing inspiration and I’m so happy you are getting attention and your blog and message are spreading. Your mindful life is an example to all of us who strive to change and have a more positive impact on our world. Way to go!

  • the Success Ladder August 12, 2010, 2:24 am

    Great article, thanks for sharing this. I have subscribed to your RSS feed and am looking forward to reading more from you.
    Keep up the good work and don’t stop posting please.

  • Caz from Aus August 12, 2010, 3:03 am

    I am going through my own decluttering process. I just hate to see things go to waste! I have joined freecycle.org and I am lucky that there is a really active LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) in my area which are both ways of “regifting” things I don’t need but which still have plenty of life left in them.

  • Cajun Chef Ryan August 12, 2010, 7:54 am

    This is a great challenge, and speaks volumns about the status of our culture. We donate a lot to the local Goodwill and other non-profits every year, but have never thought of going down to just 100 things. That would be amazing for us to make the jump!

    Saw your site linked from the NY Times article by Stephanie Rosenbloom!

  • Pancake August 12, 2010, 9:01 am

    1. Become a blogger.
    2. do some “life-changing” thing
    3. Pro$it.

    This is more along the life change that I’m interested in. 😀

  • Lisa from Seattle August 12, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Our family decided in January to not buy any new manufactured items this year. We buy used, locally handmade, or just don’t purchase. It’s been surprisingly easy and fulfilling, even for my 7 and 9 year old girls, who have enjoyed the challenge of making birthday gifts and getting their school clothes at the Goodwill. And I love getting back all the time I used to spend shopping, not to mention the time managing and disposing of all that wasteful packaging. I love your idea of now starting to actually pare down; that will be our next challenge.

  • Majeeda August 12, 2010, 8:02 pm

    How funny – I just posted a comment on your other post that mentioned ‘100 things’, plus I’ve just done blog posts on another of Annie Leonard’s films!

    Gotta say I’m a long way from 100, but I can definitely see the benefits you are talking about. I have recently done a huge sort out of our personal care products and I was completely shocked by just how many we (collectively) had stored away in our cupboards! Wow.

    I have been practicing minimalism for a number of years now but I have had a few times where I’ve been on and off. A lot of the products we had were purchased during those periods when I for whatever reason I just wasn’t thinking or didn’t care so much…then of course I didn’t want to throw them out or waste them so I kept them all intending to eventually use them.

    While I certainly hope to be a lot more mindful in future it does seem to be natural to need to continue throughout the minimal journey to apply thought constantly to what you are doing. Was it Leo Babauta who said to always ‘edit, edit’? I find it’s a constant process but so worth it.

  • Meg - Minimalist Woman August 13, 2010, 6:22 am

    I’ve worked out a variation on the 100 Things challenge which enables me to work on getting rid of unneeded things at a sane and responsible pace. I pick the 100 or fewer things to meet the spirit of the challenge, then move the rest of the stuff into the basement or garage where I can do the proper sorting judiciously. The sorting process is one day per week, which I call my Weed-Out Wednesdays. The local Presbyterian Resale Shop loves me. I love them because their prices are great, and at the end of spring and the end of fall they have Free days, where people can come in and get free clothes.

    I went into my husband’s office the other day and he had MSNBC on–I looked at the tv and there you were! “Tammy Stroebel” in the banner beneath your talking head and I was so excited and yelled to DH, “That’s Rowdy Kittens! I’ve been following her blog for ages!” Congrats on the national attention. I’m glad that the media has paid attention to someone who really is walking the walk, not just talking the talk 😀

  • Kathleen August 15, 2010, 11:20 pm

    Hi Tammy,
    I’m so happy I found your site. Your insights and stories are very inspiring. I used to regularly check my stuff and dispose/donate things that I haven’t used in a year but for the past 2 years, I’ve been busy at work and I haven’t really had the time to do that. Getting married next month, and I’ve decided to take a break from work. I am happy with my decision as this can give me the focus to build us a clean, happy home. I’ve started with my stuff today and it feels liberating! Thank you and please continue with your great work.

    • Majeeda August 16, 2010, 3:27 pm

      @ Kathleen – congratulations on your marriage – may it be long and happy. And what a great way to start. I think that being able to focus on setting out with a “a clean, happy home” is excellent. You’re really fortunate. Enjoy it!

  • Janete September 5, 2010, 1:33 pm

    I am Brazilian and I’d like to understand the meaning of “Joneses”. Would anybody help me? Thanks a lot.

    • Meg September 6, 2010, 1:58 pm

      Hi Janete–the full phrase is “keeping up with the Joneses next door.” That means keeping up with the neighbors, or your social peers. When they buy something fancy, you feel you should too so you don’t look shabby by comparison. Hope that helps!

      • Anonymous September 7, 2010, 3:57 pm

        Thanks a lot, Meg, for your answer!

  • Tracy in Dalton Georgia June 2, 2011, 12:36 pm

    I love your site! It’s helping me to stay on the right track, when I’m bogged down with everday work and school,,and so on…it reminds me of the things that matter. Thank you. Tracy.

  • kate June 26, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Hello Tammy
    First visit to your site and WOW! Really resonating with your purpose and liking how you’re sharing it with the world. Having just finished a ‘fashion fast.’ no clothes or related purchasing for 13 months I really go to understand how dependent we can become on stuff. For self-definition, status, comfort and compensation. Looking forward to exploring and learning from your insightful writing. thank you.

Simple Share Buttons