The Joys of a Simpler Life and Holding a Program in One’s Head

Paul Graham published an essay called Stuff in July.

Reading it took me back to my trip to Africa in 2005, which I wrote about in an early essay titled Using Technology to Fight Poverty. Since that trip I’ve slowly jettisoned around 30% of my possessions. What Paul says is true; the clarity a simpler life brings is remarkable. Giving away, selling, or trashing stuff you haven’t used in a year will change your life.

If you want to blow your mind on the subject of “stuff,” check out the book Material World.

Paul also recently published Holding a Program in One’s Head, which single-handedly made two of my partially-finished essays completely irrelevant. An awesome commentary on what we do for a living. Definitely worth your time.

[tags]paul graham, possessions, programming[/tags]

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#1 Matt on 11.01.07 at 7:29 pm

Cool. I’ve been struggling with eliminating stuff from my life lately, so this is a timely post. Kind of ironic (at least to me) that you link to a book on Amazon though. I keep trying to remind myself that there’s this place called “the library”, and that I should go there instead of buying more books from Amazon. Sadly, this hasn’t happened yet.

One thing I have been surprised about while trying to get rid of stuff is just how hard it is to give things away! People have too much new stuff. They don’t want my old stuff I guess.

#2 Darren on 11.02.07 at 4:12 am

I regularly take trips to the local recycling centre with a car full of stuff to dispose of.
I also am fairly resistant to buying stuff I don’t need.

Yet I still seem to be surrounded by tons of the crap.
Does it grow when you’re not looking or something?

#3 Rob on 11.02.07 at 7:53 am

@Matt – As I was reading Paul’s essay “Stuff” I was thinking to myself “Yeah, but books don’t count.” A little ways in he says exactly that.

You could take this to the extreme and fill your house with wall to wall books, but using some level of self-control, in my world books are knowledge and don’t count nearly as much as the MP3 players, USB sticks, external hard drives, extra TV sets, tool sets, old PC you bought at a garage sale because it was cheap, and the 3 boxes of computer and audio cables you can’t bear to throw away. Books are in their own class.

I love the library, but the trouble I’ve run into is they don’t carry anything current in the niches I read (technology, software, startups, etc…). I do, however, buy all of my books used from Amazon or, and if they are not exceptional books I sell them back when I’m done. This keeps my entire collection down to three shelves, and I am an avid reader. I have made a pact with myself not to extend past the 3 shelves, so when I start to do so I go back through my old books and figure out which ones mean less to me or are out of date (I recently tossed a Perl book I’ve had for 5 years).

Getting rid of stuff is harder than you might think. People don’t want it as much as you don’t 🙂

First I try to think of anyone I know who could use the item more than I. If I can’t think of anyone and an item is worth it, I sell it on Amazon or Craigslist. If not I put it in a goodwill box and donate it.

#4 Matt on 11.02.07 at 11:34 am

@Rob – Books are a particular struggle for me. I don’t particularly agree with PG on this one. Richard Feynman had a different POV, something to the effect of “why keep a book you’ve already read”. But then again he was a genius. Probably didn’t need to refer back so much. So I feel somewhere in between. Sounds like you’ve found a good balance.
@Darren – It’s kipple!