Lighten Up: No Net Accumulation

Every so often, I do a ruthless evaluation of my closet, setting aside clothes I no longer wear but are still in good shape in the Moving-On section. Then I invite a friend who is about my size over to “shop.” She tries on the items appeal to her while we chat and catch up on our lives. When she’s made her selections, she leaves happy with an armload of new-to-her wardrobe items, and I have space in my closet. What she doesn’t want, I take to the local resale shop whose profits benefit the hospice home. Then I’m free to acquire an equivalent number of items to the clothes I’ve given away.


It’s all part of my no-net-accumulation policy.

I’ve been practicing no-net-accumulation for years with my personal stuff, mostly clothes and books. It’s something I just did instinctively, never really considering the whys or wherefors.

If I needed a new pair of jeans, for instance, I didn’t just go out and buy a pair. First I sorted through my jeans to find those I wasn’t using. (I wear jeans all the time: shabby ones for garden and yard work, presentable ones for work, really good jeans for more formal occasions.) Those I didn’t have a use for either went into the Moving-On pile, or the rag-bag if they were beyond wearing. If I couldn’t find a pair to purge, I found an equivalent item from my wardrobe to clear out before acquiring something new. My conscience, probably inherited from my Depression-era parents, especially my way-beyond-thirfty Scots-Norwegian dad, simply wouldn’t allow me to acquire without making space first.


Same with books: One wall in my office is lined with bookshelves Richard built to hold the books that inspire and inform my writing. Before I buy a new book, I have to find a space for it. If the shelf is full, I’ve got choices to make: Is there a book on the shelf I’m not using? One I no longer need? If so, those go into the pile to donate to the library. (The only exception is the top shelf, which is reserved for my books–those books I’ve written, plus anthologies including my work.)

Making space means I review what I’ve got, and am less likely to keep things I don’t need. It also keeps me honest about how much stuff I’m accumulating, and gives me practice in thinking before I buy, always a good idea.

Eventually, the no-net-accumulation policy took over our household purchases too. Now, before we aquire something, I purge an equivalent thing, so that we don’t accumulate more stuff than we currently have. Why? Because too much “stuff,” things like clothing, tchotchkes, electronics, craft supplies, books, kitchenware–anything you can accumulate beyond what you need–is unhealthy for us and our planet.

When you buy stuff, you’re not only spending your money, you’re spending resources and energy. Whether it’s a new iPad, one of the electronics items on my personal wish list, or just a package of the sort of “unnecessary plastic objects” Nancy Griffith sings about in “Love at the Five and Dime,” everything you buy consumes petroleum, electricity, and other resources. Thus, the more stuff you purchase, the bigger your resource footprint. (Acquiring stuff by repurposing existing stuff may be benign environmentally, but can still be unhealthy in other ways.)

Too much stuff can be a personal burden as well. If you open your closets and find they’re crammed, if you have a garage so full there’s no place for a car, if you have stacks you don’t recognize, your stuff may own you, rather than you owning it. Stuff requires upkeep, space, attention, time, money. Think about how much simpler life is when you have less stuff to clean, sort though, find space for, plug in, unplug, move around, check on, worry about…

Now, before we buy something, we think about it. And often we realize that we don’t need whatever it is. (Mind you, the no-net-accumulation policy does not extend to Richard’s studio, because apparently there is no such thing as too many tools or materials to inspire sculpture!) It feels good to not be consuming so many resources and to free ourselves of stuff. We’re lighter on all sorts of levels–materially, emotionally, and spiritually.


And we’ve got more time and money to do the things we love, most of which are pretty simple: take walks, admire sunsets and stars, listen to the birds and the wind, watch the buds on the Christmas cactus open into sparkling blossoms… It’s those simple things that feed our souls, not the stuff we acquire.