Category Archives: Clutter

Breaking the Unhappiness Curve

It’s all downhill from high school. Recent  studies indicate that Americans in general show their level of happiness steadily decreases

Happiness level by age

from their late teens and bottoms out in their late 40s, early 50s.  The good news for those of us in our 50s is that the study also shows happiness levels increasing through the rest of life.

Not everyone’s life follows this curve.  No matter what age you are, you can break the curve!

It’s the American way of life.

In my last post I said that no one would hire me as a politician or a financial planner.  This post I will add that no one would hire me as sociologist either.  However, I did do some research for this post.  I don’t want to bore you with all the research, but I would like to share this excerpt from one of the articles I studied.

“In explanation of the non-linear age effect,  it is argued that aspired consumption (including marriage, etc.) grows faster in age than do one’s financial resources for its realization, finally resulting in what is often called “midlife crises”.  From the age of between 35 and 50 on, a re-evaluation of aspirations occurs that leads to their downward adjustment.”

In plain English this study says that our desire for things (great marriage, fantastic kids, nice home and car, successful career, etc.) occurs sooner than our ability to obtain them.  We want to own things right now, even though we don’t have the money for them, and we want success in our careers, marriages, and parenting before we have paid the price of experience.

This difference between our aspirations and our ability to achieve them can lead to stress, debt, depression and finally result in mid-life crises.  When the crises point is reached, we re-evaluate our wants and begin to determine what we truly need to be happy. Maybe that 3000 sq. ft. house and the $50,000 car weren’t really that important.  And maybe we notice that the guy who got the job we wanted has the nice house and car, but is never there to enjoy them, his wife is divorcing him, and his kids are a wreck.

What can we learn from our senior citizens?

Ask yourself why happiness improves in people from their mid-50s until old age?  I think there are several reasons.

A big reason is that their financial situation has improved. Their salary has continued to climb with time and experience and they are at the peak of their earning potential.  The house is close to being paid off and the children have left the nest and are making their own way.

Another reason is that there is usually less demands on their time, freeing them to do things that they enjoy.  The soccer mom days are over. They may have grand kids in soccer now, but they don’t have to buy their equipment, take them to practices and help coach the team if they don’t want to do so.  Many older people stay active, but they have discarded the activities they did not enjoy and focus on doing the ones that make them happy.

A third reason is that they have already re-evaluated their lives and have determined what is really important to them.  They are no longer chasing the American Dream as portrayed on TV and are instead chasing their own dreams.

You can break the curve.

You don’t have to wait until your mid-life crises to change your life.  You can break the curve no matter what your age.  Taking what we have learned from the study about the causes of the unhappiness curve and from the example of senior citizens, we can deduce these curve-busting solutions.

  1. Determine what truly makes you happy.  Don’t base your decisions on what TV tells you will make you happy or on what your neighbors and co-workers are doing.  Make a list of everything you think would make you happy, and then review each item and question the reason why you included it on the list.  Focus your time and resources on the items remaining on the list.
  2. Control you spending and your debt.  The study shows that people desire things before they can afford them.  Unfortunately, many people turn to credit to fulfill those desires.  Everyone knows the stress debt can cause on families and health.  Base your purchases on the items you really need and the things on your happiness list.  Avoid making purchases based on false need created by advertisers or because it looked good on a neighbor.
  3. Clear the clutter from your life.  Clutter is the stuff we no longer need or want that is filling up our closets, garages and storage sheds.  Clutter is also the activities that take time away from doing the things that are needed and/or important to us.  Read “Clear Away Clutter – 4 Steps to get Started” to begin decluttering your life.

If you determine what is really important to you and focus your time and resources towards those things, you will break the unhappiness curve.  I know accomplishing the above three steps is not as easy as I make it sound.  In fact, it is hard to do, but well worth the effort.  Fortunately for us, there are books and resources we can draw on help. My Recommended Reading page has books to help you in all three of the steps above.

Please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions and concerns you may have.  If you have not read my post “A Call for Change, Make 2011 the Less of Less, I recommend you do so now.


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Fighting the Emotional Attachment to Your Stuff

The things you own can control you in a number of ways.  Some things may control you financially if you bought them on credit and you are having to make monthly payments, or if they are expensive to maintain.  Other … Continue reading

The Stuff You Need For the Stuff You Got

Blu-ray Discs

Image by William Hook via Flickr

The week after Christmas brings almost as many customers to the big retail stores as the week before Christmas.  Shoppers flood the stores to exchange clothes for different sizes, spend their gift cards and refund items so they can buy what no one got the hint to buy them.  Customers are also looking for accessories to go along with the presents they received.  You need batteries for all the new toys and electronic items and new shoes and a purse to match the new outfit.  One of the retailers I worked for had an ad campaign that started after Christmas based on the theme “the stuff you need for the stuff you got”.

It seems that stuff just leads to more and more stuff.  A new TV leads to a new TV stand, a Blu-Ray player and home theater system.  You’ll need someplace to keep all your new Blu-Ray discs and someplace to store all those old DVDs you just replaced.  New clothes lead to matching clothes and accessories.  Stuff grows exponentially.

Every general merchandise store has every kind of storage crate you can imagine advertised.  They know that you need at least one more crate to store the new decorations you bought this year.   Old toys need to be packed up to make room for the new toys.  You’ll need a closet organizing system to fit in the new clothes and accessories.  Where are all the new storage totes going?   Even with the new organizers, the closets are packed.  Last year you started parking one of your cars outside so you could use half of the garage to store your barely used exercise equipment.  Space is getting tight.  It’s time to check the budget and see if you can afford a bigger house or if it would make more sense to just put an addition on the current house.

You can get so caught up in stuff that you never notice when the line is crossed and the stuff starts owning you instead of you owning it.  Take this time to resolve to make 2011 the year you return to the right side of the line.  Instead of buying the closet organizer, go through your closet and remove the items you haven’t worn in the last year.  Donate them to a local shelter.  Don’t buy totes to store old toys.  You know the toys that the kids never play with anymore.  Teach your children about giving and let them come with you when you give their old toys to a Children’s Home.  Sell the unused exercise equipment and use the money to pay down debt.  Resolve to make 2011 the year you evaluate everything you own and simplify your life by clearing out your clutter.

I got my start in minimizing my possessions through the writings of Tammy StrobelEverett Bogue, and Leo Babauta.  The books “The Art of Being Minimalist”  and “The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life” are great resources that can help you begin and complete the process of simplifying your life.  If you follow their advice, you can empty your storage totes, park your car in the garage again and move to a smaller house.

A common Christmas wish is for Peace on Earth.  You won’t be able to grant that wish, but you can bring some peace to yourself and your family.  When you choose to take control of your stuff, when you remove the clutter surrounding you, when you cut the unnecessary expenses out of your life, you free yourself from the responsibilities and the financial burden associated with them.  This freedom leads to peace.

If you already bought those new storage totes and organizers, TAKE THEM BACK!  Get a refund and use the money for something practical, like one on the resources on my recommended reading page.

Will you resolve to make 2011 the year of less stuff?  Please leave a comment and let the world know that this year, stuff is not going to win!

I Didn’t Want to Change the World, I Just Wanted to Change My Life

“You write in order to change the world…

the world changes according to the way people see it,

and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people

look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

I didn’t set out to reduce carbon emissions.  Digging water wells in Ethiopia was not in my plans.  I’ve always done a little bit through my church and other charities to feed the poor, but it was never a mission in my life.  No one ever accused me of being a tree-hugger and I never really did a good job of recycling.  Like many people, I was more concerned with meeting my daily obligations:  got to pay the mortgage, make sure the kids have school clothes, keep two cars operating and have 100’s of channels to watch on our HDTV.

Over the last few years, I had lost enthusiasm for the field of work I had been involved in for over 25 years.  Credit card debt had piled up to the point that I was barely able to make the minimum payments each month.   A recent law forces card companies to inform you on your monthly statement how long it would take to pay your balance to zero making only minimum payments.  One card in which we carried a $5000 balance informed us that we would be customers of theirs for 22 years if we continued to make the minimum payment.  Can you imagine still paying for 2009’s Christmas presents in 2131?   It made me physically sick to face up to that prospect.

Something had to change or I would be working into my late 70’s just to get out of debt.  Those of you who have read my blog before know that my life changed the first time I visited Tammy Strobel’s blog, RowdyKittens.   She showed me that there were people in the world who were cleaning the clutter from their homes and lives.  People were reducing their expenses and paying off debt.  Pioneers were walking away from their day jobs and making a living with their laptops.  Nomads were traveling the country and the world without owning a car. Tammy’s work led me to the works of Leo Babauta, Everett Bogue, Eric LaForest, and Karol Gajda among others, and my life was forever changed.

Over the last few months, my life has changed dramatically.  I no longer have a full time job.  Over $12,000 in credit card debt has been paid and I am hoping to be totally debt free soon.  By the end of January, we plan to be clutter free.  By reducing our debt and expenses, I plan to be able to totally support myself and my wife by working online.  But what about changing the world?

Picture from Chris Guillebeau's Charity: Water in Ethiopia

The high unemployment rate is all over the news, but books like Passionate Living and You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts show us how we can make a living on the internet doing things we love.  These books show us it is possible to escape the traditional 9-5 and find security by turning your passion into your job.  This new way of working is changing the world.  Recently, a group of writers combined forces to offer over 1000 dollars of books for $97, with a portion of the proceeds going to Charity:Water, an organization supported by Chris Guillebeau and his Art of Non-Conformity book.  My purchase of these books will help build 5 new water wells in Ethiopia.

Although at this time I may not be a crusader for world change, I realize that everything I do can make some kind of change.  For now, I’m going to continue to work on changing my life.  I know that the things I do may supply clean water for a child, or something I write may change the life of one of my readers.  Every act and every word can change the world.

What are you doing to change the world?  Share your story with my readers below.

Hard Work That’s Worth It…

Many writers in the minimalist area make it sound so easy to clear your house of clutter, but it is hard and often tedious work.  Sell Your Crap is a book about using services such as eBay, Amazon and Craigslist to turn your no longer needed items into cash.  The point of the book is that most of us probably have thousands of dollars worth of stuff sitting around our houses that we no longer use or care about.  That stuff can be turned into cash which can be used to pay off debt or, if you are lucky enough to be debt free, the cash can be saved to fund your future plans.

Our "stuffed" basement!

The plan works!  My wife and I have sold more than a couple thousand dollars worth of  stuff and applied it to our debt.  Lately though, we have come to an almost complete stand still in selling our stuff.  Why?  Because it is hard and very frustrating work.  After you decide what to sell, you need to set a price, then descriptions of the items need to be written (you have to make sure your crap sounds good).   Pictures of the items need to be taken and uploaded to your computer.  If you sell on eBay or Amazon, you will have to figure shipping charges.   When the items sells, you have to package it and travel to the Post Office or UPS to ship.

Craigslist has its own set of frustrations.  Once you’ve written the descriptions and posted the ads, you begin a seemingly endless series of email exchanges with people wanting more details about the item or trying to schedule a time to come and look the item over. Be sure and post pictures of everything because if you don’t, people will ask for them. (C’mon people, its a 4-cup coffeemaker, do you really need to see a picture to know what one looks like?)

Once you think you have a buyer all lined up, they don’t show up or change their mind when they see the item.  Then you start all over again with another prospective buyer.  After going through this process dozens of times, it begins to wear on you and discouragement can, and has for us, set in.  When you reach this point, it is easy to quit, to return to the status quo.  I refuse to quit!

One activity I have found helpful when I am discouraged is reading the blogs of the people who originally inspired me. Writers like Tammy Strobel, Everett Bogue and Dave Bruno of the “The 100 Thing Challenge” often address the obstacles that can get in your way and offer ways to overcome them.  A few days ago I ran into this timely post from Henri Junttila on his blog Wake UP Cloud and it reminded me to listen to my heart and remember my dreams.  The only way the dream can come true is by pushing through these obstacles.

We decided to avoid some of the Craigslist issues but not posting any items we were selling for less than $25.  Anything less than $25 was not worth the time involved.  Items under $25 would be either donated or sold at a yard sale.  December in Nebraska is not a good time for a yard sale, so we are going to set the sale up in our basement.  Ebay is going to get a shot at selling some more of my collectible items.  Also, we are going to decide on an end date.  Anything not sold at that time will be donated to our local Goodwill, City Mission and our books donated to our local Library.

We are all going to run into obstacles and become discouraged at times, but the final goal is worth it.  When feeling down, we need to turn to each other for encouragement.  I know that I would appreciate any encouraging comments you readers would like to leave for me.  I am always here to help you when you feel down.  We can always rely on the expertise of the people I have linked to above.  Together, we will achieve our dreams!

Clear Away Clutter – 4 Steps to Get Started

A wall closet in a residential house in the Un...

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe you tripped over something in the garage, or a box fell off the shelf of a stuffed closet and bonked you on the head, or maybe you’re just tired of all the stuff getting in your way, but you have made the decision to clear away some clutter from your home.  Good for you!  Here’s how to get started:

1. Pick a place to start.

You might want to start with a small area rather than tackle the garage or basement right away.  Pick a closet in one of the bedrooms, or some cabinets in the kitchen, or even the drawers in a dresser for your first project.  Pick a start time and an end time for your project and completely focus on the task during that time.

2. Keep, trash, donate, or sell?

A good way to start is to completely empty the area you are working on.   As an example, let’s say you decide to start with the hall closet.  Take everything out of the closet line it up down the hall.  Next, evaluate each item and make a decision whether you are going to keep that item, throw it away, donate or give it away, or sell it.  Set up boxes to put in the items that you decide to sell, trash or give away.   A coat your child has outgrown would be a great item to donate.  That broken tennis racket just needs to be thrown away.  Remember, the goal is to reduce clutter, so only allow the things that you really use to be placed back in the closet.

3.  Follow through

After you put the items you decided to keep away neatly, you must deal with your boxes.  Take the trash to the dumpster.  Make a run to Goodwill with your items to donate.  Bless friends or family with items you didn’t need, but they could use and enjoy.  Post sale items on Craigslist or EBay.  Plan a yard sale for spring with clutter you can sell. Once you have decided that you no longer need an item, you need to deal with it quickly or else it just becomes clutter in a different location.

4. Plan your next projects

Once you have successfully completed a project, immediately plan the next area where you are going to clear clutter.  Schedule a start and end time for the next area.  As you complete more projects, it becomes easier and faster to decide whether to keep, toss, donate, or sell an item.  If you have a basement, garage, or shed that is very cluttered, you might split up the area into smaller pieces such as one corner or one workbench to clear at a time.  You might also want to make sure that you have plenty of help for big projects, so pick a time when the whole family can help or friends might be willing to help.

There are many good resources to assist you in clearing the clutter from your home.  One that really helps me is Leo Babauta’s eBook, “The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life”. Another great book I recommend is “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.

Any comments about this post would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll Retire When I Die

“I’m going to work until the day I die.  That’s my retirement plan.”

I was doing an audit at a major pharmacy store when I heard the long-time manager of the store give the above response to a customer who had asked him if he was ever going to retire.  I laughed when I heard that and told the manager that was my retirement plan also.  By the time I shared this with my wife that evening, I could no longer find any humor in this encounter.

At this point in my life, I really felt like I would be working at a job I no longer enjoyed until I died or I just wasn’t able to work anymore.  I was manager of a small bookstore making a moderate salary with little upside. Days off from the bookstore were spent doing audits and merchandising jobs at other retailers.  On top of our normal living expenses, we had credit card debt and medical bills.  Even making minimum payments left no money for savings.  If I didn’t make some changes, it would be years before I had my debt reduced enough to start saving for retirement.  It wasn’t a pretty picture for my future.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

There are lots of resources available if you are looking to reduce debt.  One of my favorites is Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness A common theme among most resources is to live a frugal life – cut your expenses and only make necessary new purchases.  You then apply every dollar available to building an emergency fund and to paying off your debt.  My wife and I moved to an apartment where our rent was about $400 less, we went to one cell phone instead of three, and instead of having 100s of TV channels, we now have only basic cable.  The day may come when we just throw the TV out completely.  All of these things helped us pay down some of our debt.

Just recently, we discovered another set of resources that have really put us on the fast track to, not only getting out of debt, but also to living an independent lifestyle.  Our lives really started to change when my wife discovered Tammy Strobel’s website called Rowdy Kittens.  This site was my introduction to what it means to live a minimalist lifestyle. The first time I visited, I spent hours reviewing the archived posts and following her links to the sites of others writing about minimalist living.  In addition to reducing expenses and spending, Tammy’s site showed us the importance of reducing the clutter in our home and life.  We really took a hard look at all the stuff we owned and asked ourselves how important it was to us and had it even been used in the last 6 months, or 6 years.

What we discovered is that we had 100s of things that we never used anymore.  We moved a lot when I was  in retail management and it is amazing how much stuff we had that never got unpacked from place to place.  It was time for us to downsize!  We begin to look at each item we owned and to make decisions whether the item should be kept, donated, given to family/friends, sold, or trashed.  The book, The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta, was very helpful in suggesting a process for dealing with our clutter.

We still have a long way to go in our journey to remove the clutter from our home and lives, but I am confident that we will be successful. I am also confident that I can show you how to take this journey.  Will you join us?



I need to tell you about a great sale that is running just through Wed. Dec. 1st.  Some of the best writers on the subjects of blogging, working for yourself and making money on the internet have put together an awesome packages of books and training courses for a 72-hour sale.  Over $1000 dollars worth of resources are being offered for just $97!!  I have purchased this myself and cannot believe the value in this special.  Clink the link above and check it out.  You owe it to yourself and your future.