More is the Mantra of the Ego: A Lesson Reinforced Since Birth

full storage unit
Photo courtesy of jarredlombardo

Have you ever known someone who hoarded stuff?  They have collected mountains of things, often spending a small fortune acquiring and storing their possessions.  We’ve probably all suffered from “stuff-itis” to some degree, and where do you think we learn the idea that less is not more?

I Want the Shiny One

Explaining the value of something to kids is a difficult task, especially when they are very young.  Kids do not inherently understand the values we place on things, and instead instinctively desire things that are pleasing to them.  For instance, if you asked a toddler to choose from three coins, a dull penny, a new nickel and a shiny dime, they would likely choose the nickel.  Why?  Because the nickel is shiny, and bigger than the dime.  They don’t understand that the dime is worth twice as much.  Now ask them to choose between a quarter and ten pennies.  They’ll usually take the pennies simply because there are more of them.

Old Habits are Hard to Break

We take these same lessons with us into adulthood.  Sure, we’ve all heard that good things come in small packages, but for the most part we want bigger and better.  A bigger house, a shiny car, more money, and newer gadgets.  Most people crave these things without stopping to think about their real value.  It’s not entirely our fault.  Since the time of hunters and gatherers humans have always valued quantity.  Whether it is storing berries for the winter, or adding to our expansive collection of DVDs, human beings perceive a larger quantity of something to be more desirable.  However, if you stop and consider the stress the accumulation of these things creates in your life, you may be able to reverse this thinking.

More is the Mantra of the Ego

Dr. Wayne Dyer had a great line in one of his recent PBS presentations, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.  “Our ego tells us that who I am, my identity, is with what I accumulate.  So we become accumulation masters.  More is the mantra of the ego.”  He went on to explain that the more we accumulate, the more we worry about our possessions.  We worry that they may become stolen, or lost, or coveted by someone else.  We worry over their storage, and their insurance, and their maintenance.  All these worries create stress in our lives.  So how do we go about ridding ourselves of this stress, and our possessions accumulated from years of feeding this ego?

Give It Away

Dr. Dyer recommends giving it all away.  I’m a little more practical, even though I understand the psychological benefit of simply giving away your stuff.  As a compromise, I recommend selling some of it first, either in a yard sale, on eBay, or by locally advertising larger items.  Use the proceeds to pay off debt, or add to your emergency fund.  What you don’t sell can then be given away to family members, your church, a charity, or to a complete strangers.  Imagine how good it would feel to hand over your prized DVD collection to a shelter, or to donate your Xbox 360 and 15-game library to a local Children’s Hospital.

In a recent post I told the story of selling my prized possession, a Chevy Silverado truck that I had fallen in love with at a local car lot.  The experience forever cured me of car fever, but the profoundness of that experience did not stop there.  As the new owner handed over the cashier’s check (with a loan attached) I could literally feel the stress transferring from me to him.  He even looked a little anxious about completing the purchase, probably because of the new loan he just took on with his bank, and knowing that his insurance, property tax, and gasoline expenses were all about to increase.  On the other hand, I was the one eliminating a car payment, reducing my insurance expense, and dropping the cost of an annual car tag.

Whether you ultimately decide to sell your excess things, or give them away, the value of having less “stuff” to worry about is worth far more than your collection of things.  I challenge you to look around your own home and find things adding stress to your life.  Free yourself from these burdens and enjoy the benefits of a much simpler existence.


  1. I’ve not really much of a hoarder. But, stuff does tend to accumulate.

    Lately I’ve been trying to slowly reduce the amount of stuff in the house and try to lead a bit simpler life. Less clutter is more relaxing, plus I feel less guilty about the things I have but don’t really use.

  2. I’ve been selling off a lot of my old possessions as of late in order to help me make my expenses each month. I also had a big garage sale in July, which was nice.

    I agree though that on a going forward basis that the less stuff to worry about, the better!

  3. Soooo, it was YOU sneaking around my garage with a camera! Actually, it looks like I could squeeze in a few more items….

    I joke around that we’re like a bunch of crows–always wanting the “shiny new one.” Too bad the shine only lasts a little while.

    Thank goodness we’re having a garage sale this weekend.

  4. More importantly, Jesus said “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesses”.

  5. I made a conscious decision to drastically reduce the amount of my possessions this year. More than halfway through the year I’m not doing as well as I hoped but I am making progress. Between eBay selling, thrift store donations and not acquiring new stuff I am, at least, heading in the right direction! The empty spaces in my closets and drawers make me feel good. Dr. Dyer’s book, “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life” is definitely worth a read. I’m sorry I missed the PBS special.

  6. Yet another great post FD. Thanks!

    I am a recent convert to the simplicity lifestyle, and could not agree with what you have said more. Unfortunantly like Mary, I have not gotten as far along as I had hoped by now. Part of me would love to just donate everything and be rid of it, but I still have some debt and know I would be berrter served geting some cash for what I can. So the process is slower. But I am getting there one step at time. And I think I am going to have to pick up Dr. Dyer’s book (From the library of course!)

  7. I wrote on a similar topic Saturday about what to have and what to let go of. It is not an easy process, but one that does free your mind and spirit.
    Thanks for another great viewpoint on this.

    Enriched Mom

  8. FD makes a great point as usual! I make it a monthly task to give away or sell 27 items. Last month I went over my 27 quoto and completely cleaned my closets!
    I heard once you should imagine a string attached from YOU to each of your THINGS. Yes! It’s like being caught in a web! Even email clutter or junk mail can pile up and create a web.
    My particular trap is thrift stores. But even that is limited to $20 a month. When the $20 is gone from my envelope, I won’t allow myself a thrift store spree for another month.
    LOVE your ideas FD!

  9. How did you get a photo of our storage shed? haha…. I just finished cleaning it out and moving what was worth toting home, gave the rest away! got rid of the storage bill and feel a bit better about family photos not being in a storage shed with what ever rodent or bug decided to move in. Hard to part with some things, they hold memories for me…but would never use them again…so that becomes dead weight….and I felt it. Mom’s bedroom set……made me so sad I couldn’t look at it….but had it stored…WHY? I gave it to a young lady just setting up a home. she was thrilled…..

  10. I don’t like some of what Dyer says, but he’s spot-on in this case.

    I’ve been doing some cleaning out and it feels great. I know I could get rid of a lot more, but I’m nervous. Still, 2 boxes of books and 2 bags of clothes–it’s a start! 🙂

  11. Last year I moved into this ‘final’ house for me – a small 1010 sq ft still under remodeling/construction. At that time I said, my stuff is either going to fit in it nicely (NOT in the attic) or it has got to go. As it’s still under reconstruction, I still have boxes sitting in a corner, but not many are left. My goal has been to just “trip over them” til I go thru them. I refuse to put the boxes into the attic to go thru them later, because I know if I do that then they’ll NEVER be gone thru.

    So – I have about 10 boxes left and they will be done before Thanksgiving and family dinner here. It’s not easy, but it has to be done. I feel better with every box gone thru. Mine mostly are going to charity thriftstores in town. Sentimental stuff to the kids if they want it.

  12. Just wanted to add my “shiny” 2 cents worth…someone told me something poignant one time about clutter. Their point was that the things we collect from others (you know, great aunt Fannie, bless her)often come to represent others to us and that makes it difficult to rid ourselves of the flotsam and jetsam of life. Hold on to your memories of aunt Fannie but pitch her 30 year old Tupperware.

    My mom and I have been having this conversation alot lately. For 30 years, all I have heard her say is that she wanted a new home. Earlier this year, she and Dad got a new home and guess what? It’s too small, since she moved all her crap into it…I am destined to hear her kvetch for the next 30 about no storage! Oh well, the good news is that once she is gone, I can simply throw just about everything out and will do so gladly since it has caused her (and me too!) such grief!

  13. My parents tell me that I will get the contents of their garage. 55 years accumulaton of stuff still in shipping containers. Junk. I think depression era people have a sickness/illness that chains them to their worldly goods. Worse than many debilitating diseases. My father is going deaf and is mute, and can no longer do anything but sit in a chair and be fed through a tube 5 times a day but he still will not let me get rid of all the junk in his house/firetrap. If I were able to sell his hi fi system and records I could bring in some money to him. His thousands of reel to reel tapes are degraded and inaudible. I sometimes wish their house would burn down so that they can start fresh.

  14. @almost there, that’s a good point about the Depression. My grandmother lived through it as the eldest daughter of a widow with 3 kids. So she was very involved in helping her mom make ends meet. And now she really doesn’t want to throw things away…even useless things like random children’s books which she bought at a yard sale and are too old to read without breaking.

  15. I think i donated about 200 books to my local library after determining that they do not fit into my closet. Letting go of those books was hard, so many memories attatched to them. Selling would have been a hassle, and someone still gets to read books I don’t have time to reread.

  16. Great article. Where most adults today on this issue is because of what we learned as children. This is so important to all us new parents to set the right example early on. We are not in need of downsizing and making things more simple at the moment, but we are doing it anyways. Before the little guy really knows what is going on, we want to set the example right up front.