Artful Accumulation: How to Buy Stuff Mindfully

Leo Babauta of the blog Zen Habits always forces me to think about simplifying.

He is the Grand Poo Bah of simplification.

This guy has his wardrobe down to a few interchangeable items and has gotten rid of almost all of his books. (Oh my God, that would be soooo hard for me!) He has pretty much detached from material things and lives quite happily.

Looking at him, I feel like I should be on that reality show Hoarders.

At first blush, simplifying and getting rid of stuff a la Leo seems so appealing and cleansing. Except there's just one teeny tiny little problem for me. There's some stuff I really like. (Remember Steven Martin in The Jerk? “It's not the money I'll miss — it's all the stuff!”)

The other day I walked into my friend Julie's house. She has a lot of stuff, but her house feels lovely and warm and welcoming. Her stuff made me feel happy, not because I envied it or it was extravagent, but because it expressed beauty.

So is it wrong to want stuff?

I don't think it's wrong if it's for the right reasons. I have things I've  bought on a whim or from boredom or envy. I have other things I've bought because they provided an uplifting feeling — warmth, coziness, beauty, fond memories, or comfort.

I am beginning to think that drastic simplification is great for some, but that artful accumulation isn't such a bad thing. Here are my thoughts on artful accumulation versus mindless accumulation:

Artful Accumulation

  • It brings beauty into your life and stirs your soul.
  • It supports a passion or hobby.
  • It helps bring family and friends together in a creative, meaningful way.
  • It educates and enlightens.
  • It makes life profoundly simpler so that you can pursue more meaningful things.
  • It helps someone who is sick or incapacitated.
  • It is useful and necessary for day-to-day life.
  • It's part of a meaningful tradition or a reminder of a special event.

Mindless Accumulation

  • It's purchased on a whim.
  • It's purchased to impress others.
  • It's purchased because you feel you deserve it.
  • It's purchased when you can't afford it.
  • It's purchased to update something that still works or looks fine.
  • It's purchased because someone else has it and you want it too.
  • It's purchased because the advertisement seduced you.
  • It's purchased because you are bored.
  • It's purchased because buying soothes you.

When you are about to whip out the credit card, ask yourself why you are buying this thing.

There are not too many things we really need to survive. So why do you want this? Are you spending money on something that really brings sustained pleasure or just fleeting satisfaction?

Spending artfully is another way of simplifying — for those of us who can't get rid of everything!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 10 comments

Love the title and the message Barrie!

I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is a matter of acting from a point of awareness and truth to oneself vs. ego and emotional impulses.

After reading your article I feel better about some of the stuff I have 🙂

BTW the RSS feed works perfectly now. I have subscribed this morning.

Barrie Davenport

Thanks Manal! I appreciate your comments and giving me the heads up about my RSS feed. Those emotional impulses get us in trouble, don’t they? Leo and Mary have certainly helped bring awareness to scaling back.

Vicki Hudson

Wow, Barrie, this one really spoke to me. I am a big fan of simplifying and having less stuff, but I also love to create beautiful spaces in my home. It has a direct impact on my soul seeing beauty around me. My husband is also sentimental and tends to accumulate, but we’ve reached quite a good balance with it. Your article here gave me some great new perspective on the whole issue. Thank you!

Jane Rochelle

Barrie, I love this post!
I am in the midst of working through the same issues….we are contemplating a move, and I am determined not to take a bunch of ‘stuff’ with me.

I’m not big on buying things that will clutter my home or my life. I’d much rather spend my money on a trip or new paints, so buying isn’t my issue….it’s letting go of what I’ve accumulated over the years.

I recall watching those home makeover shows where the crew comes in helps people clean out their homes. The host tells the people they have to put things in piles, and while they’re putting things in piles, the host will say, “Is this important to you, well, why do you have it crammed in this box? You aren’t enjoying it, you don’t seem to really care about it. Why are you keeping it?” That last bit….why am I keeping things. Much of what I have kept in the past is because I think my son might want it someday….not likely!

So, I’m eager, chomping at the bit to get rid of things that I don’t really care about, and don’t bring any richness to my life. I can save a small portion of things my son, or my grandchildren might like someday, as long as I’m realistic about it.

Clearing out a space, and knowing that I won’t have to move so much is a terrific feeling, and it keeps me on track! Now, if I can only make it a habit….what did Leo say, you do it one day, and the next, and the next, and soon, it’s a habit!

Thanks, Barrie, for the great post!

Justin Dixon

This is the number one way I know of to start becoming a minimalist. I would even take it a step farther and strive to become mindful of what you really want over time. Often when we narrow our wants down to there purest forms we find that they can be gained on any budget by any person. The trick is to be mindful. Great post.

Elizabeth Tucker

This is good and reminds me of why I have so much stuff. Most of it is useful and used. And the books, well, I have a whole room of them specifically built for them and most I won’t read or reference again. But they are like a big snapshot of my life and many meaningful moments from it. They serve as a foundation of sorts and a reminder. They are friends. Friends stay! Thanks, Bear.

Barrie Davenport

Thanks for the great comments Elizabeth, Jane and Vicki!
It’s a hard balance to strike, especially when you’re standing in the store lusting after something you want. I am really trying to keep away from malls and stores unless I have something specific I want to buy. Impulse buying is a bad habit for me!


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