Downsizing: Excess, Excuses, and Personal Identity

Over the past few years we have had numerous conversations with those around us about downsizing as we have been going through the process ourselves. We have found downsizing(or rightsizing) our possessions to what we really need or want to do be a fantastic way to curb spending and save time/money. However most of the time after a short while I find that others usually default back to an opinion of, ‘well I can’t live without X’, or ‘I need Y’, ‘I love all those things though’. Why is this a common reaction? This article shares my opinion as to why with how I experienced it first hand.

Origin and Background

I grew up a collector of sorts. I had a collection of video game systems and their games, stuffed animals, a large array of toys, even pencils. Many of the higher valued stuff even had their boxes and packaging kept and stored in closets and tubs. Additionally I had a huge amount of saved school work, art projects, and other memorabilia from being in Boy Scouts and other things I did when I was young. Of course most of them reminded me of times and places and of course I had my favorites out of the bunch. The items that I felt defined me or who I was.

Retro toys from the 90’s became hip to own once we graduated college, it was cool to have things to show your interests and accomplishments. However all of these things started to feel like excess when I moved out of my parents house and moved in with my wife. We both had a number of items we brought with us and we had to get all the things needed to run our own home(even though it was just an apartment). Two adults in around 900 sq ft, 2 bed, 1 bath townhouse and we were bursting at the seams and we were only just married! Eventually all our things started to look like clutter once we started down the path to minimalism.

Downsizing is Hard

So, as we started our path to downsizing we very quickly found that when you go through all of your items you have to face each and every item on an individual basis. This is probably the hardest part of downsizing. Is it hard because of the sheer volume of things and time it takes? Yes. However most importantly it’s hard because you have to acknowledge each item on it’s own face value if it still is worth keeping in your life. Like many people who have excess, it’s easy to see a few things in your home and definitively say: “yes that needs to go” or “life would be better without this lying around to trip on” etc. However, the hard part is going through ALL of your things.

Facing Each Item

The hard part comes in when you find items you may have forgotten about or items purchased long ago that have gone unused that you certainly wanted to use someday. At this stage you have to acknowledge that you will or will not make time to use it and if you are better off getting rid of it. It may be something that cost a lot of money or something that you strongly identify with. Or perhaps it’s an old piece of junk and you know it but can’t bare to part with it because of the memories that are attached to it. What I have discovered though, is that most of my things were kept because of excuses to myself and denying myself the time to seriously and candidly look at my life as it was and what I truly wanted. Some things are nice, but not all of your things may fit in your ideal lifestyle.

Making Excuses


When downsizing it’s very easy to make excuses for your things to keep them around. When we went through our things, we found ourselves lying to ourselves using phrases such as “Oh I may need that someday”, “What if X breaks? This can work instead”, “We need that for when people will come over for (insert very specific event here)”. Of course it’s not these phrases that are the lies, as they are possibly realities. The lies are the phrases in conjunction with the knowledge that the last time it was used was briefly before it was put in that storage box/closet/cupboard/etc and how likely or unlikely those future realities are to ever exist.

The truth was that we didn’t need most of that stuff and that 99% of the time we wouldn’t use it. After a multiple rounds of downsizing and still having not used the items for months or years, we eventually caught our lies and found it best to be without it than to keep cleaning/storing/worrying about these items we wished to use in some hypothetical future that we weren’t concerned enough about to make happen.

Getting Your Monies Worth

Another area I struggled with was seeing each item and knowing the cost of it when I purchased it. I found many computer accessories, half finished video games, our DVD collection to be hard to part with as they all cost a lot and were barely or never used. I wanted to use/play/watch those! ‘I’ll save it and do so then get rid of it so I can get my monies worth’, I told myself as then a few more months passed and I never made time to do those things. So, was I really going to get my value from these items? No, I had to admit the financial mistake of buying these items without being committed to them enough for a time to make them feel like they were valued.

I had to count the number of mistakes in these items. That was a hard pill to swallow. Realizing how many things were bought without me actually wanting or needing them that badly. However I am glad to have done so as now having finally faced those mistakes I have learned from it and now actively avoid spending money in similar ways. Unfortunately with finances tied into objects, I can’t imagine how much harder that would be to do if I had waited until much later in life to do this. The sheer volume of wasted items which equals hard earned working dollars would be an incredibly hard thing to do. The bright side is that if you feel that way admitting the mistake, although difficult, lets you move forward, while dismissing it can lead the problem to worsen!

An Object Is Part of Who You Are

Another area in which I struggled was with how I tied these objects to my identity. I had old games I no longer played or even wanted to play anymore, the same with other old toys and trinkets. However each one felt like they were part of who I was. I was a gamer, so why wouldn’t I have all those action figures and games on my shelves? How about those other action figures that ‘inspired’ me for creative works and reminded me of my childhood? Why wouldn’t I keep those as well? The answer is that we are not our things. Things may spark memories or ideas of our self image, but they are not us. We exist with or without them.

So I slowly pruned these items that felt were deeply apart of who I was one at a time as I realized that I don’t want to sink another 80 hours into that game when I still have a back catalog and am even losing my interest in that hobby, etc, etc. The best part is that now many of these items are gone I feel more free to be myself and do as I please instead of having a warped sense of identity from these and making choices that kept me within those definitions.

Yes, I felt as if by having those things I was shaping my life to include them, whether or not I used them, on a subconscious level. Not having those things to funnel my idea of self identity I can more easily adapt and be more true to myself and my changing ideals, goals and desires.

Stuff Is More Than Stuff

Moral of the story is that stuff is more than just stuff. It’s not easy to go through and it’s very easy to fall into traps to hold onto things you don’t need as I illustrated above. Again, we find there is nothing wrong with owning things or even having a bunch of things. It’s about making sure those things are what bring positivity into your life and do not subtract from it. I have found that I used these excuses listed above to keep things well past their welcome and now live happier to have understood why I kept them and to finally put them to rest and removed them from my life. I hope this can be a bit of inspiration and maybe understanding/reflection for those who have found items they want to part with but just can’t. Life is better when you control your stuff and it doesn’t control you.

If you have any personal stories of downsizing, we would love to hear about them in the comments below. Also, please remember to be considerate when commenting.


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