This short Paul Graham essay from 2007 should be required reading for every American. In fact, we should have to read it at least once a year. Maybe around spring cleaning time.

Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset… The only way you’re ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don’t have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

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.

Stuff takes up space. Not just in your home, but also in your head.

And unless you’re extremely organized, a house full of stuff can be very depressing. A cluttered room saps one’s spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there’s less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there’s more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what’s around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

I’m certainly guilty as charged on buying too much stuff, especially when it’s a “bargain.”

But one thing that might work is to ask yourself, before buying something, “is this going to make my life noticeably better?”

Stuff sticks around. It can haunt you.

The purchase price is just the beginning. You’re going to have to think about that thing for years—perhaps for the rest of your life. Every thing you own takes energy away from you. 

It’s better to free up some headspace for memories of life experiences, not stuff. Things like travel… or just time spent with good friends.

If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I’ll take services over goods any day.

If you don’t take it from Paul Graham, maybe George Carlin can convince you: