Homework. VIII.

Le full suite JPG

The smallest space I ever lived in was a tiny, windowless room that couldn’t have been more than 150 square feet.

To be fair, it was in an apartment with shared roommates. I had a kitchen in another room, and some other living space. I barely used them though– I was a kind of recluse, actually, and I’m pretty sure I was a bad roommate.

At the time, I was traveling back and forth from Austin, TX. I had a girlfriend there that I dated for about 2 years. As a result of traveling, I learned to live inside a very small bag. I had already figured out how to live in a tiny room, so deciding what to travel with was easy too. My work was on the internet, mainly writing and speaking at conferences, so I didn’t really need to impress anyone. It was easy.

Yesterday I was MC’ing an event and had the chance to see a great talk from Graham Hill about his crazy minimalist apartment. This also got me thinking about my friend Vic Verdier, an ex-scuba world champion, whose whole life now fits inside of a bag (and also includes a 17″ laptop).

If you’re anything like me, seeing these guys makes you realize you just straight up have too much stuff. Despite your best intentions, they keep accumulating. For example, I now own three pairs of the same shoes. They were cheap, but so what? Is this ok?


This week’s homework is a part of a practice of detachment. Throw out or give away the most important item you can stand to get rid of.

To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure what I’m going to be doing this with. It’s a threatening thing to even think about– to get rid of something you actually like but don’t need– but in some cases, it’s necessary.

You’ll flinch when you’re about to throw it out. So it may be easier to just choose someone to give something away to. But even that, in a way, is copping out.

Whichever way you choose to do this, get rid of something significant.

Good luck with your assignment. Report back in the comments when you are done.





45 responses to “Homework. VIII.”

  1. Rachel Coulson Avatar

    Purposely went wakeboarding in my favorite lucky earrings. After one fall that included an aquatic faceplant, one was gone. Immediately sunk to the bottom of the lake.

    I took the other one off in the boat, and was ready to throw it into the lake as well, when at the last second my mom stopped me and insisted on keeping it to “see if she could do something with it.”

    I guess I completed it both ways? Too bad I already genuinely miss them. At least now I’ll find out for sure if they brought me good luck or bad luck, right?

    1. Julien Avatar

      It’s a good sign.

  2. Marshall Thompson Avatar
    Marshall Thompson


    I dig your books, blogs, and interviews man! Also, you have a pretty fucking sweet site design.

    Question: Did you ever have a moment where you felt or realized that you had ‘made it’?

    1. Julien Avatar

      Yes, and everytime I think it, I’m wrong. 🙂

  3. Andy barge Avatar
    Andy barge

    Thanks Julian. This is very Apt. I am moving to The Maldives this week from the Uk and I have been getting rid of all my crap so I will be pretty minimalist out there.
    It’s quite a good experiment to see how one can cope without much stuff. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Kneale Mann Avatar

    I just got rid of an entire pick-up truck worth of stuff in my basement last week. Each item was sought and bought with my hard earned money to be used in some important way. It was all carefully labelled for that day when it may once again re-emerge and be important.

    My office is a $49 stained table (my desk), laptop, small bookshelf (which is dwindling because my books are now on my hard drive), speakers and a chair. Paper is the enemy and if you hand me some, it will end up shredded and recycled. I don’t think I’ve held a pen in two months. And to think I once had 57 milk cartons full of vinyl albums and 36,000 CDs.

    But if anyone wants a perfectly good bread maker still sealed in the box, I’m sure it’s really cool. That’s on the next discard pile which is now growing again with this homework assignment.

  5. Charles H. Green Avatar

    I came to this wisdom late in life, after a divorce. OK, after the second divorce. I learn slow.

    The big symbolic thing for me was the table saw, because I’d built furniture and even an electric guitar. That was the biggie.

    After that I could think about de-accessing anything. I’m down to two guitars (tops was 9).

    I still binge on software, which I don’t consider “stuff,” but replacement for stuff.

    I try to throw away something every week. Which reminds me, I haven’t done that for a few weeks. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

    1. Tom Avatar

      Guitars, I have GAS. 14 now. I definitely should get rid of a few but most are classics. Well maybe half and great quality. By the way GAS for those that don’t have it – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.I will get rid of 3 as part of the homework assignment. I have been tempted to for awhile.

  6. John McLachlan Avatar

    Hey Julien,

    I’m not going to do this homework this week because I’ve done it many times before. Getting rid of things that matter (or that you “think” matter) is a great thing to do and there is great value in this exercise.

    In all the stripping down of stuff I’ve done I’ve realized that physical stuff is the easy stuff to get rid of. It’s the intangible or non-physical thats harder. How about a challenge to not fly in an airplane anywhere for one year? There’s an arrogance sometimes from the minimalist community (not you) who love to globe-trot lah-dee-da here, there and everywhere thinking they are so “light” but are just a weighed down.

    Just sayin. I guess I’m grumpy today. 🙂

  7. Ronnie Avatar

    I’m about to sell my bike that I’ve had for nearly 13 years. I get rid of stuff all the time and only purchase what I need. But I make a lot of art, and they have accumulated. I sell pieces, though, but I have kept my favorites. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve filled up nearly 50 sketchbooks and diaries in my life, but they’re not going anywhere…I love them so much.

    I moved to Seattle from Virginia 2 years ago, taking only what I could in my little Nissan Sentra. I still don’t have furniture of my own, not even a bed–I just sleep in a pile of blankets and a sleeping bag. I move around too much, so I just never acquired much because I don’t want to move all of it again.

    My mother said that simplicity leads to a happy life. What she means is that if you keep things simple, you have less to worry about. But if you have too much stuff, too much clutter, you are more likely to be disorganized, and your mind and life are more likely to be chaotic.

  8. Dominic Avatar

    I have been trying to start living a minimalist lifestyle just recently. I have been able to get rid of a whole load of things. I am going to finally give away my old e reader that i never use bc i now have a tablet. It has been sitting in my car for a week now and i know exactly who to give it to. I have been holding onto it when someone else could have been making use of it. It will feel good to give it away for free.

  9. Seif Avatar

    I’ve been living minimalist for a year now. I can pack all my thing in 2 bags (trying to make it one). Simplified my wardrobe, and working on creating a uniform. I only buy eBooks now. My challenge this week is to find the smallest apartment I can find and try to live there, and see how creative things can be in small space.

  10. Corwin Avatar

    I did this homework 2 months ago. I gave my electric guitar to my sister’s boyfriend. A long time ago, I made large collections of commercial stuffs but I stopped. Now my life is a little better.

  11. Joe Avatar

    In college, there was an occasional professor who would give an assignment but allow you to propose a viable variation on the assignment, if he approved.

    Would you consider it a variation on the assignment to load panniers on a comfortable and durable bicycle with a tent, some camping gear, and a few changes of clothes, then hit the road for a couple months bicycling around the country, nomadically, leaving your “home” behind?

    This is not to say give up money or anything. You can buy food en route and camp in civilized camping grounds with facilities and the like. You’ll need to do laundry at laundromats periodically. It might be fun to do it with some friends or loved ones.

    If not, I have plenty of valuable but useless stuff I could give away. That’s probably telling in itself.


    1. Julien Avatar

      That is definitely acceptable!

  12. Quirin Avatar


    hard thing to do. The fun thing is, I already did it in my mind today. The sad thing: thinking it did not include doing it.

    Just a few hours ago I quit the band I loved to play with for the last two and a half years. My reason to do so was that I’m going to move to a distant town so I can’t attend rehearsals etc anymore. The moment of farewell still feels so present.
    Now I have to get rid of all the sheets of music. It’s! So! Hard! to throw away the sheets that contain the magic I tried to resurrect week after week after week.

    Thanks for the kick, Julien! I now know I will give them to somebody I haven’t met yet and will never get them back again.

  13. Jo-Anne Avatar

    “Throw out or give away the most important item you can stand to get rid of”…………..NOOOOOOOOO……..

    I can’t part with my shit……..lol ok I can part with my shit but I can’t part with my stuff…..sound better……….lol

    I am not a Hoader but I do like my stuff…….lol

  14. Denise Avatar

    As always, your timing is uncanny. Yesterday I hauled 308 items (so sad and a bit embarrassing to admit) to goodwill. It was mostly books and kitchen stuff, but there were several sentimental items in the mix. Since I’ve been hauling crap off for over a year now, it’s all starting to hurt a little. Everything that went yesterday was in good to mint condition and was useful. In the spirit of the challenge, I will look around for something I can let go of that will make me shed a tear or two. Maybe my wedding dress? Some keepsakes from my children? We’ll see.

  15. Katherine Avatar

    Julien, I’m cleaning out the house for our big move to Savannah. I’ve had many mental struggles with throwing things out or keeping them. I’ve been doing quite good – as is evidenced by the pile of “stuff” waiting on the curb for tomorrow’s big trash pick-up day tomorrow – but there have been some really tough decisions. One thing that’s making it a wee bit easier is that the less stuff I have the smaller the packing and moving bill. That’s been a great incentive!

  16. Jonathan Holmes Avatar
    Jonathan Holmes

    I decided to get rid of my ipod touch charger so I will be tempted to use my itouch less. I decided that I would share the same charger with my cell phone to be less addicted to technology.


  17. verna Avatar

    you need the shoes because if you continue to wear the same pair every day they will soon smell so much that people will shy away from you. I threw out all the fast pants last year (women get this) and then gained weight. on the other hand, I am a champ at convincing people what they don’t need, and getting rid of it for them. also, that was the most lugubrious small apt. I have ever seen. my first apt. would give you the shakes.

  18. Jen Avatar

    I threw out my tv this week, I have two children so we’ll see how they react once they get back from their Dad’s! Eek!
    Also threw out about 70% of the rest of my things but the tv really hurt! I’m hoping it will make us a tighter knit family and interact more, we’ll see I suppose!

    1. Rich Avatar

      I don’t know how old your kids are, but I’m sure after the initial shock, and with some prodding and creativity on your part, they won’t miss the TV. We are raising our son without one, he watches 1 DVD movie every 2 or 3 weeks. Last night he was watching one when I got home, and he immediately walked away from it and asked if we could go swimming. How could I refuse:-)

  19. Tom Avatar

    I just got back from a two week vacation in Prague and Germany. Got to see Pearl Jam in Prague on 7/2 – amazing. I know I have too much crap and posted on Craig’s list to sell my 99 Convertible Corvette. It sold on Friday. It was hard to let it go but I am choosing more experiences and freedom over stuff! I also sold my second fridge, used for bulk purchase water, drinks etc. Definitely in the mode for down sizing and the homework assignment couldn’t have been more timely. Still looking for more things to get rid of and there is plenty.

  20. Joe Avatar

    Hi Julien. You probably didn’t have intellectual property in mind, but I gave away one of my songs to a blues/jazz musician I know. It’s a valuable thing, but not something I really need. I have tons of other songs.

    Here it is, if you want to listen.


  21. Andrea Avatar

    Well, I’ve been working on this homework already (without knowing it) and have been pretty successful. Maybe 5 bins of children’s clothing. Most of it went to friends who can re-use it, some was simply donated. And, my wedding dress. Another reader mentioned that above, so I figured I would tell you. It was donated. I used to be better at purging when I lived alone. Now, with a family, I need to check with others on some items so it goes a bit slower.

  22. Rick Strandlof Avatar
    Rick Strandlof

    I am giving up my house. It’s the most important thing in my life. For the next two weeks I’m sleeping outside, showering at various shelters for homeless people and in general being an urban nomad.

  23. Judy Klemm Avatar
    Judy Klemm

    I just canceled my cable tv. YAY!

  24. CF Avatar

    I’ve been seriously de-cluttering for the past year and it hasn’t been very difficult, but have a ways to go and need to start with some items that mean more to me. The other experiment I’ve tried is going the entire year (so far…) without buying one non-consumable item for myself – it’s been really liberating (and allows me to feel more free in spending on experiences).

  25. linz37msncom Avatar

    I did something similar 6 years ago when I went on holiday with my then Husband and didn’t go home with him. I left all my stuff including my beloved piano and things I kept from being a baby. I then discovered he had put everything I owned in a skip (dumpster) so I couldn’t have it back anyway. It took me ages to get over it but recently I realised its all just things and I’ve since resolved to not buy anything until I’ve thrown something else out. Finding it a bit difficult at times but I’m getting there slowly

  26. Sharon V. Jackson Avatar
    Sharon V. Jackson

    I love your motivation behind the site and I love how the site motivates me. I have been reading for a while and using some quotes from your work to motivate my team mates. This particular homework assignment is very special to me because I moved to a larger apartment. Even though there is more space, the things I already have are good enough. I have not purchased any other furniture or “things” I don’t need. I’ve thrown more away or donated more than when I moved into the smaller apartment. If I purchase something new I make sure to get rid of something old. My old neighbor has more of my “stuff” than she knows what to do with.

  27. Dave Avatar

    Hi Julien
    What about giving away time to do something good for the community?? I don’t own a lot of stuff (living a minimalist life) so I am trying to make a compromise.

  28. Kat Avatar

    I’ve been working on this for a while – donating, giving stuff away or throwing it away. Recently donated a ton of my kids’ baby things that I’d been keeping. (I kept just a few things.) It was hard to do. Had to pack it all in the car and have my husband haul it away before I changed my mind. Still working on de-cluttering the house. The most important thing I need to work on is not obtaining new things to replace the old things I got rid of.

  29. Lynn - lifestuff.org Avatar

    Ok. I got rid of a pair of sneaker roller skates, sold a bunch of CD’s (and I LOVE music) on Ebay (I burned them all to a hard drive last winter), two cabbage patch dolls, I cashed in all my coins, and started using SugarSync which allows me to have fewer electronic devices. I did a big purge in March, I’m getting close to the bone now, and yes, it sometimes hurts. But no more than carrying, cleaning, moving, thinking about, and storing all that crap. To everyone else who commented: ROCK ON!

  30. Soj Aronson Avatar
    Soj Aronson

    I just dropped off 3 boxes of books that I hadn’t even cracked since I last moved. With the internet I really don’t need all those reference books! To boot I’m not even interested in the topic anymore!

  31. Kit Avatar

    I gave the microwave away yesterday.

    I often have a clear out and bag stuff up for charity but there is still too much clutter.

    I have a big problem when it comes to the things my family have given to me. They’re not rich at all so each gift means that they’ve gone without something just for me. I tell them I prefer experiences to belongings but they’re very stuck in their ways and still buy me things they think I’ll like.
    I’m not sure how to get around this.

  32. Nina Amir Avatar

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot…before I read your post, Julien. My hubby and I are trying to figure out how to cut back on expenses and how to move closer to our kids (one in NYC and one in Germany). We’ve toyed around with an living in an RV or an apt. in NY or even putting stuff in storage and just living here and there. On one hand, I find it really freeing. Then I start getting…I don’t know, scared? Attached would be a better word. My books…can’t give up my library. My jewelery…large collection of earrings. My photos… There are lots of things at this point I am ready to give away. I saw a garage sale I could be part of next weekend (I live in the mtns. and garage sales are hard to do), and thought I might take part. I gave some clothes away a few weeks ago, but I still have so many… Really time to clean out if I want to move. I’d have to get rid of A LOT to live in a NY apartment or store my stuff or afford to move. So, this is a great homework assignment. But I won’t be giving away just one thing.

  33. Caroline Avatar

    Bonjour Julien,
    J’ai commencé à tricoter pendant les multiples réunions syndicales à mon travail. Disons que nous en avons eu plus d’une dans les derniers mois. J’enseigne dans un Cégep. Je travaillais sur mon premier projet (écharpe très longue avec une laine sublime). Inspirée par les défis trouvés ici et dans votre livre, j’ai décidé de la donner à une amie pour son anniversaire. Comme ça! Mon premier projet sur lequel j’ai planché pendant des heures! Je l’ai terminé il y a quelques jours et je m’en défais avec légèreté et fierté. J’ai aussi encouragé ma petite de 5 ans à faire du ménage dans ses précieux livres. Nous en avons donné une caisse. Faut commencer jeune, je crois!

  34. Antonia Lo Giudice Avatar

    Hi Julien

    “you have too much stuff”, I realized this about 1 year ago. The big house, the fancy furniture, the car, the good job….I was raised to believe that having all this stuff meant you were successful…well, turns out this stuff was not only consuming my energy and money, maintaining it all, it was keeping me from what I really wanted to do. So, I got rid of it ALL! Sold everything, quit my job. Let me tell you, it was not easy at first, the first step was the hardest one…Now, I am traveling across South America, doing what I love, writing and helping people as a Life Coach…My new home? Wherever I go, living out of a suitcase:) I learned that we are rich by the things we are able to let go!

    Thank you for this one!

  35. Andrea Avatar

    Yesterday, after four long years of growth, I donated 16 inches of my hair. I’ve been struggling to adapt to the new look; I no longer feel like myself anymore. To boot, tomorrow is my last day at my current job of 2 years and then I go onto 1 month of solo-traveling around Europe.

    Couldn’t have picked a better day to read this as it has helped to give me a little perspective on something as frivolous as a drastic and terrible haircut. I’ve completely let go of any comfort zone I have I couldn’t be more scared…or more excited. Let go of the old and explore the new possibilities.

  36. K Avatar

    I need to do this. Badly. My partner is moving into my apartment and he plans on leaving everything behind (on the other side of the continent, no less) except for what he can fit into two duffel bags. Meanwhile, I have 600 square feet packed to the brim with crap. That’s what it is. Crap. I envy his ability to just let go of his old life and I feel honored that he’s doing that for me, but I’m dying of guilt because I’m struggling SO much to even throw enough useless material rubbish to make room for us to have a life together.

  37. Maria Meiners Avatar

    As a true minimalist that apartment is way too big for me. Bigger than where I live now, and I’m downsizing into a camper for even smaller, and bonus – mobile! – living space in the near future.

    So much life to be lived out there. Why put a lot of time and effort into a base camp?

  38. Michael Avatar

    this homework assignment helped me out in a different way. I was trying to get rid of my excess crap, and was about to sell my electric guitar and amp, because i hadn’t played them in forever. I thought, hell, i’ll just try it again for old times sake, and hearing those blues tunes coming off of my own guitar with that sick as fuck Jack White Meets the Black Keys crunch made me remember why I bought it in the first place. Where’s the next assignment!??

  39. Marvin Kane Avatar

    I hadn’t even finished reading your post when I stopped, jumped from my chair, threw open my closet doors, gathered a ton of clothes I hadn’t worn in years into a big pile, drove to the nearest Goodwill box, threw the stuff in, came back and finished reading your post. Whew!

  40. Matt Avatar

    I found your site recently Julien, started reading.
    I find the stuff inspiring and refreshing. I currently pack in a very small space (my truck) but I and my girlfriend are happier than we’ve ever been. I agree near 100% with everything on this site, it’s like reading the blog I would have written if I blogged.

    I’ve got a piano at my parents house that I’ve kept for 6 or 7 years now because I always wanted to learn, but now I travel a lot instead (my other passion). I’ve got a friend who always wanted to play piano. Guess he’s in for a surprise visit. Besides if I ever decide to get serious about playing I can get a new one.

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