The Life-Changing Magic of Getting Only What You Need

You might have heard of a certain method popularized a few years back that purported to clean up and de-clutter your home once and for all. By chucking out everything that doesn’t “spark joy”, whatever remains in your home will surely be all that you need, right?

Alas, I’ve seen friends picking up that book on a whim, trying it out and sending more than half of their possessions to Goodwill, only to find themselves again swamped by useless knick-knacks within a year. It’s like starving yourself on a fad diet only to rebound.

And it’s not surprising either. Capitalism has become so efficient that charming trinkets could be had on the cheap. We end up buying whatever catches our fancy, only to find out that we don’t really need it after all and the receipt is nowhere to be found.

When I confront my friends about their mess for the twelfth time, the common reply is “oh, I’ll just clean my house out again some time”, “I don’t really care, I don’t let my boyfriend into my apartment anyway”. A good habit to have for the latter…but that’s not the point here. What fools, thinking that throwing things away is the end of it all! As with every important habit in life, persistence is the key here—not only do you clean out the things you don’t need, you also have to limit the things coming in.

But how exactly do you prevent yourself from hoarding things, you ask? This is when that book about tidying up might offer some clues.

According to the book, before you dump your unwanted things on a thrift store or place them in the trash, you are supposed to thank them for their service. When storing socks, don’t keep them balled up so as to let them breathe. In short, treat your belongings as if they are living things. Here lies my suggestion:

What if we treat every other item as if they are living things, too?

Let’s say you found a really pretty umbrella at a store, and you really want to get it. However, you already have an umbrella that you use all the time and really love. Ask yourself: do I have enough space in my life for two umbrellas? If you end up buying the pretty umbrella but still exclusively use your old one, the new umbrella would just be sitting in a corner, neglected and depressed. It could have been happily serving another master and be loved, but instead it remains banished, never to see the light of day. That’s an easy way to get ill will, and you don’t want an umbrella spirit hounding you because of your rash consumerist decisions.

“Well, if I’m getting a new umbrella, of course I’m going to use that all the time instead, silly.” Unfortunately, in doing so you overlooked the old umbrella, who despite having protected you from many rainy days, is now being cast aside, betrayed. Another umbrella spirit after you. Not good either.

What I suppose you could do is to love both of them equally—use one of the umbrellas for a week, after which you clean it, dry it, sing it a lullaby as you lower it into its comfy bed, and bring out the other umbrella, who would no doubt have already awoken and eager to brave the elements with you again for another week. If you could envision yourself loving both umbrellas the same way, then by all means go for it.

If you find yourself unable to do so, you could alternatively pass on your old umbrella off to someone else. Sit down with your old umbrella, thanking it for being with you all this while and reassure it that you won’t carelessly seal its fate in a landfill. Find someone you know who will be able to give it the same amount of love and attention as you did, and entrust them with your umbrella. Only then should you go back to that store and buy the new umbrella.

By treating every potential acquisition as bringing a pet home, you can be more careful about your consumption decisions. This isn’t limited to just things you buy—for example, free pens and other stuff being given out could also be given some consideration. If you keep this up, you will never have to clean out your house a second time.

Now if you would excuse me, I have to go appease my old umbrella again tonight.


  1. Great piece! Made me think and this is the second time today i have been reminded about this type of situation. Modern day Earl Nightengale message imho. I think ill put off buying a new `puter.

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