Sign up FAST! Login

Embracing Lightweight Living

Are you part of the pay as you live generation Telegraph


Books, CDs, a car. It's amazing what you don't need. One writer reveals why she said goodbye to ‘stuff’ and embraced the new 'lightweight living'

Stashed in: Simplify, Awesome, life, Life Hacks, hmmm..., Cognitive Bias

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Hmmm, I need to rethink my life:

It was a pivotal moment for me, an ardent lover of nice things, a maximalist, a bargain-seeker, a sentimental hoarder of ancient gig tickets, postcards and notebooks. I realised that if I wanted the freedom to make sudden life-changing decisions such as this – to work abroad for a year, or to take a risk on a job across the country – I needed to re-evaluate my relationship with stuff. Because no retro sideboard, no matter how lovely, should get in the way of an opportunity.

It sounds very freeing:

No one is more amazed than me how good it feels to be this portable. For years I was fiercely attached to my stuff, believing that my CDs, books, DVDs and knick-knacks said something about me. Without my things, where was the evidence of my personality? I wanted people to nod approvingly at my Coen brothers’ films, ask probing questions about my JG Ballard novels and seethe with jealousy at my ability to unearth retro kitchenware in charity shops. Now I realise that living a “lightweight lifestyle” says more about me – and many people like me – than any CD shelf.

In late 2012 the venture capitalist and digital analyst Mary Meeker was among the first to identify what she labelled “the asset-light generation”, who access documents, music, film and other media digitally, rather than in some material form. Meeker also alluded to the sharing economy – also known as the “pay-as-you-live” market – as evidence that consumers are increasingly preoccupied with “access” rather than “ownership”. And it is everywhere, manifest in the success of companies such as Zipcar, Spotify, Girl Meets Dress and Airbnb, where individuals rent out spare rooms or their homes to total (albeit ID-vetted) strangers via a central search engine.

This is no easy transition – and I should know. It was gut-wrenching to donate our 1,200-strong CD collection to Oxfam. I cried at the sight of the Primal Scream CD – the soundtrack to my teenage years – going in a cardboard box. To David Mattin, a lead strategist at, this anxiety is a hangover from a time when clutter mattered.

“Historically the physical – and therefore visible – has been the primary way for consumers to display status, and to tell others, ‘This is who I am,’ or, ‘This is what I love.’ The record collection sitting on the shelves was a marker of commitment to music, and of taste and sensibility,” he says. “Today there are more powerful ways to show that commitment and taste: by curating and sharing online, by devising playlists and so on. That historic link between status and the physical has been definitively broken. It’s a key change.”

Naturally it maddens me that my copy of The Luminaries on my Kindle can’t be passed on to a friend, surely one of the primary joys of reading. And while record collections can be handed down, iTunes libraries currently can’t. But the reality is that most of us need the space more than we need a bunch of plastic (or vinyl) memories.

there is something lovely in talking about a book and then pulling to from your shelf and lending it to a friend. is there an easy digital way for that feeling and action?  

otherwise, yes, we do not need a lot. but i do love my books

It is so droll to think that people in the future might look back on articles like this and think the primary reason that book lovers had "stuff" was to display their TASTE!!! Most Americans see books as something about as attractive as wallpaper or going to the dentist.

Let me break it down for you, kids: back in the day, if you saw a book you loved you had to hold onto it because the odds were excellent that it would go out of print and you would never find another copy. This is even more true for people who had unusual interests requiring books that were ALREADY out of print. The economics of printing and bookselling have always been horrible. Even inter-library loan was a gigantic PITA before the Internet!

Believe me, there is no one happier than I am to be able to loll in bed and pull books out of the aether... because once a book is digitized, there's really no reason it ever needs to go "out of print". Plus, let's face it, most books printed in the last 50 years were physically just el cheapo silverfish snacks. Ever since I was a little girl I was one of those people who needed to have a book with me at all times, and now with my Kindle I can have DOZENS of them!

Two years and a massive move later I managed to get rid of half my books and half my stuff but I still have a lot of trouble letting go. For me it takes practice. 

Because you're right that there still are many books not available in digital form and may never be. 

I think there is an argument to be made against this notion "But the reality is that most of us need the space more than we need a bunch of plastic (or vinyl) memories."

Why do most of us need space? Why can we not seek space from other non-home places? Isn't an owned space following the same need/emotion as owned things? 

Two years later do you believe something is lost in a Kindle?

Yes.  Digital Architectural Digest (yes I keep ALL the issues!!!) is a nope.

Admittedly I have many more years of habit behind me than you and I'm just not hot to give up something I still find satisfying and  isn't eating up usable house space. 

You should not give up something you still find satisfying. :)

i'm in the process of moving and i have been having this very conversation with myself for days!  am i defined by my things?  can i give away these books?  or these clothes?  or these knick-knacks i've loved for so many years?  yes, but is it necessary?

i like my things.  some things can go, but let's not get too crazy.  there is no point is buying and selling and then rebuying things.  this woman's plan of changing clothes every year, for example, seems extreme. (not to mention, time consuming.)  and you do need dishes and silverware and towels...

i love the idea of mobility.  but you do not need to condense your life to a single box.  i've done it.  i've done it more than once.  and in the end i buy the same things again because they make me comfortable and happy.  and let's be honest: you're not going to move across the globe every year.

but i have found one thing i will not be doing anymore: keeping a journal.  THAT can be digitized for sure!  do i have to lug around this box of teenage-to-early-twenties journals for the rest of my life??  and if not i, then who, i ask, will ever read them?!  they might be destined for a beach bonfire...  :)

Perhaps you will read them again to get in touch with your former self?

You May Also Like: