The Five Stages of Stuff

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By Mark Lundegren


Just a few words about The Five Stages of Stuff graphic I have included, which is simple and fairly self-explanatory, but also different and perhaps more immediately useful than other takes on this topic.

This may be especially so if you currently are, or could be, sorting through the various things in your life or work that are at the core or center, and at the edge or stuffy periphery, of your actions, aims, and sources of value.

As you likely know, this sorting, uncovering, and typically empowering process commonly is called the practice of minimalism, or sometimes essentialism. By any name, it aims at modern life and endeavor that is steadily less cluttered and encumbered, more focused and attentive, more efficient and vital, financially and ecologically less demanding, and as such often both happier and healthier overall.

Five Stages of Stuff

In my life and work, I have practiced prioritizing, health-minded, and reliably freeing minimalism for many years. Through this effort, I have removed or reduced many extraneous, inattentive, and burdening things – possessions, projects, habits, pastimes, even relationships – that did not aid, and often hampered or obscured, my primary goals, my main or most important actions, and thus my essential life and work. With this minimizing removal of extra stuff, and as with many others making this effort, my life and actions have become clearer, fresher or more uplifting, more direct and undistracted, simpler and easier, and in all more satisfying. At the same time, I have become more resourceful, creative, open, questioning, and unique as a person too.

Again, my graphic and its core ideas largely speak for themselves, so in the spirit and practice of minimalism and essentializing directness, I won’t belabor them here. But I would point out two key dynamics within this graphical model of modern life, attachment, and priority that may be less obvious, especially at first or if you are new to minimalism.

First is the crucial transition from seeing stuff of all kinds as desirable to approaching these things as necessary. When we are young perhaps, otherwise have little, or are early in our adult relationships and careers, we may desire and be pulled by a great many things. But we also typically see these things as external to us, if only because we don’t possess or know them firsthand. Later, however, and especially as we advance in our lives and work, we increasingly may possess these things, thereby internalize or normalize their presence, perhaps immerse or lose ourselves in them, and unaidingly take vast superficial attachments or commitments as necessary for, or inseparable from, our success and even identity.

Second is the opposing and equally important transition from viewing peripheral elements in our lives, or our many potential tangible and intangible forms of stuff, as unnecessary to recasting them as undesirable.  The first understanding approaches these things empoweringly, but also more passively, as superfluous or tangential to our core aims and actions. By contrast, the second view increasingly understands peripheral or less valuable things of all kinds as more actively impeding, distracting, or delaying us and our efforts – which often is both more accurate and liberating in practice. As you might know or image, this crucial change can motivate us to remove or reduce wasteful and encumbering things around us more quickly, deliberately, decisively, and enduringly.

Let me end this brief discussion by encouraging you to locate your life or work at present along this model of The Five Stages of Stuff, or five levels of essentializing core-mindedness. I then would urge to consider and probe your opportunities for distilling or minimizing movement along this continuum, and especially in ways that may benefit you, those you influence, and perhaps our not inexhaustible planet as well.

As always, I am happy to respond to your comments and questions.

Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.

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