A simple reminder

I had a conversation the other day with our summer intern, Julia, that has stayed with me. During the conversation, she talked about how college forces many students to live with very few possessions. That a dorm room can only hold a limited number of things and most kids survive on a couple dollars a day.

I thought about my own experience, and she was right. I had a lot of fun in college even though I didn’t have much money or much stuff. I have a few more responsibilities now, but not many. I had a part-time job, 18 hours of course work most semesters, and a car. Now, I have a full-time job, no classes, a spouse, a house, and a car. The list isn’t drastically different, but I have acquired significantly more stuff since college.

I’ve made a sign and hung it above my desk that reads “Simple living frees you to simply live.” I need it to help me remember that it isn’t stuff that makes me happy, but the people and experiences I choose to bring into my life. Thank you, Intern Julia, for reminding me of this valuable fact.

24 Comments for “A simple reminder”

  1. posted by Fubarskine on

    Its funny really, college is 3 or 4 (depending on your country of residence) years of our lives, but they can define so much of the rest of our lives.

    At the time we think we’re busy and stressed, but after a couple of years away in “the real world” (pah!) we look back on them with fondness and seem to spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to that time. Literally for some!

    College, where arguably the most valuable lessons are learned outside of the classroom.

  2. posted by Nate on

    Should be: “Simple living allows others to simply live”. There are social and environmental justice reasons to consume less and simplify our lives — that it feels good too is just a happy side benefit…

  3. posted by Marc on

    “college forces many students to live with very few possessions. That a dorm room can only hold a limited number of things and most kids survive on a couple dollars a day.”

    You haven’t moved anyone into a dorm lately, have you? The last days of August on a typical college campus look like the Normandy invasion, only instead of boats ferrying troops, it’s SUVs ferrying junk.

    Living in a dorm COULD force people to live simply, but it usually doesn’t.

  4. posted by Sandy on

    small rooms – but where did all those “rubbermade coffins” of college party favors come from? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Nate — We’re not a social justice blog and we are not an environmental blog. We try to stay out of politics as much as possible. If living simply has the side effect of helping the environment (which it does) or righting a social injustice, then that’s cool. But, it’s not the purpose of this blog to promote those agendas. If someone chooses for completely selfish reasons to live simply, the side effects are the same. So, we try not to confuse uncluttered living with political agendas.

  6. posted by Bex! on

    There were some things about being in college that automatically made it much easier to have less stuff –

    While living in the dorms, there was no need for furniture, and minimal to no need to kitchen stuff.

    I wore the same clothes to everything I did; there was no need for different clothes to wear to work or the opera.

    Plus, it’s easier to avoid stuff from the ‘but I might need it some day’ category, as there are plenty of neighbors you can borrow from.

    One room living cuts down on the need for wall decorations.

    No personal bathroom limits toiletries to a carryable quantity.

  7. posted by Shanel Yang on

    I had way more stuff in college than I do now (if you don’t count the basic living room, dining room, and kitchen stuff, of course). And, I know my friends did, too. We just didn’t keep them in dorm rooms. And, every semester we accumulated more stuff and just stored it all in our parents’ homes, sort of like Public Storage space.

    Part of the art of decluttering seems to be figuring out who you are are. For instance, I used to have a wardrobe in college that looked liked it belonged to at least 5 different personalities (metropolitan chic, rugged country, old-fashioned girl next door, athletic tomboy, and ultra feminine)! Then, as I got older, I realized I’m not really any of those things. Now, I wear tee shirts and jeans almost every day. It was the same for different styles of furniture, wall hangings, etc. It took me years of going through tons of stuff to finally realize I like the clean open spaces of “modern” designs. It matches my desire to pare everything down to the essentials. Now only my mind is cluttered with stuff!

  8. posted by Nate on

    @Erin – well, since the end result is the same either way, I guess I’m happy to read about uncluttering in a politics-free environment! Just another motivator if people need it… Thanks much for the note.

  9. posted by LivSimpl on

    I love that motto! And, yes, college is a great example of simple living and thoroughly enjoying life. It’s amazing how creative you can get when you have limited resources – and that’s what made college so much fun.


  10. posted by allen on

    *note: I like the motto, but i had to say something else. πŸ˜€

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I didn’t live on a few dollars a day in college. I had my tuition to pay, for one thing, and that payed for college activities. Just becuase i didn’t pay for them each time, didn’t mean i wasn’t paying (out the nose!) for them. πŸ˜€ It just feels like that, becuase you’re paying for it with tommorow’s money, or scholarships, &c.

  11. posted by Erin Doland on

    @allen — I guess I was thinking from personal experience. I paid my own way through school and funded all my living expenses. After all the bills were paid, some days I would have $11 in my pocket, other days it would be a few nickels. No loans. Just lots and lots of work. As a result, it took me six years to finish undergrad because I had to take two semesters off to work full time to save up more tuition money. I guess if someone else would have been footing the bill, it would have been a different financial situation. A good number of my friends did it the same way, so I guess I forgot that the way I did it isn’t the standard.

  12. posted by Alex Fayle on

    In the early 90s I lived off $12000 a year, which translates into 2008 dollars as $18000, and I lived pretty well, considering (that included tuition, books, eating out, clubbing, clothes, books, etc…). And I had no debt.

    Now I live on about the same and other than not being able to take as many trips as I would like, I continue to live well. And still no debt.

    In the intervening years I owned a car, a house, and many more things and yet I didn’t enjoy life as much because I was always in debt.

    One positive thing about my current income level – I’m well under the poverty line and as a self-employed person that means I pay no taxes.


  13. posted by Aaron Dalton on

    I think Bex is right – we didn’t need much stuff in college because we didn’t have a kitchen, private bathroom or anything other than 1 room really.

    Personally I’m pretty happy about not having to share a bathroom with 20 other guys who may have done God-knows-what in the shower stall after coming back from a frat party drunk at 3 a.m.

    As for Fubarskine’s comment about looking back fondly at college, I think that’s just general nostalgia. Happily, our brains tend to filter out most unpleasant moments from the distant past and leave us with warm, fuzzy feelings.

    Still, Erin’s point is well taken. I couldn’t afford fancy meals in college, but I relished the time spent eating food (mostly horrible food!) with good friends.

    – Aaron Dalton, 1GreenProduct.com

  14. posted by Beverly on

    Wasn’t the point of college so that we could AFFORD to get a nicer place and have a few nice things? I personally hated having so little privacy and no room of my own to decorate and make special.

  15. posted by Theorist on

    About three years ago I moved to Germany. This was after years of grad school and acquiring various stuff, to the point when a friend of mine remarked I had more clothes than any other man he knew.

    Moving to Germany, I took just the two suitcases and carry-on of the airline baggage limits of the time. Plus I think I had one small box shipped to me. Most of the weight was books. I rented a narrow, white-walled room on a great street with a great view. All my stuff was in one small chest of drawers and on a small bookshelf. And once I’d settled in, I realized how great it was to be liberated from all the stuff I’d had before, and how much less I really needed to live and enjoy life than I would have thought.

    I was earning very little money, just enough to buy some autumn clothes (but mainly I wore layers). I felt that having almost nothing compelled me to focus on the future–how do I build a life here?–rather than the past. And it made me love the things I did have (the three sweaters, the posters to decorate the white walls) much more. In retrospect, if I did it again I might only take one bag with me.

  16. posted by Tarsila on

    I have moved to Dublin March last year, please note I am from Brazil. As I first started things around here I had an apartment which I shared with my husband, and God, we bought stuff! Not only because the apt didn’t have any plates, cups, glasses or cutlery, but just because we had too much space.
    Because my job was so far away, about 2 hours approx. (now I’m a freelance illustrator, working from home) We decided to move closer to the city center, though still in a quiet neighbourhood, though the money to pay for it was just not enough.
    Luckily enough, a couple of friends of ours had an extra room in a house 15 mins from the center at a vry affordable price. We took it, even though its a single-sized bedroom. I must tell you that ALL of our household items are stored in the attic and haven’t been touched since last October. From one 2 bed apt to a single-sized bedroom I realized how much clutter I has (specially when I was moving) and it wasn’t until recently I discovered Unclutterer. God bless you (with no religious agenda here , please. Many of my outdated clothes are gone to charity, many of my computer arts magazines are to be send to a great friend and the room has never been clearer and organized… It is just funny of how we tend to fill empty spaces if we have them. Simple living is all about principles and not space. Now I know that when I get my own place (soon, hopefully) I will not fill it with junk – I can live without it and I know it!

  17. posted by Kellie on

    When I moved out of college all my possessions went easily from a 16×16 ft dorm room into my little blue VW Beetle. That was 28 years ago. When I moved from Chicago to Switzerland, my husband and I filled a cargo shipping container — mostly “stuff” in boxes (200+), just a few pieces of furniture. That was 8 years ago. Since then, we’ve donated or otherwise disposed of most of the stuff we brought with us (as well as giving up the storage space we kept in the US for far too long!). We’re not so clutter free that we could relocate with a VW Beetle, not yet, and I’m not sure my goal is to reach college era spartan living. But we are pursuing a less-is-more way of living and simplifying has many benefits for us, including being debt-free and well-traveled. Amazing what you can do, where you can go and the life you can live when you (and your money) are not tied down to things.

  18. posted by Reg Tait on

    When I relocated to start work after university, I arrived off the train with a few bags – just what I could physically carry – which was all I really owned.

    This was over ten years ago, but I love to think I could start again anywhere in the same way.

  19. posted by allen on


    That’s just it, i don’t think most people pay their whole way themselves for college. They all take out loans when they’re 18 or 17 to pay for it, with their parents taking control of the details. It’s this nebulous “Other” that takes care of itself, and then BAM, you get out of college, and you suddenly have to pay for a gym membership (that was ‘free’ in college), you have to pay for your appartment (that was ‘free’ in college), you have to even pay for your own food, &c!

    With the rise in the “necesity” of a higher education, it has of course become easier to get financial aid, and loans to pay for it all. However, what does an 18 year old know/think of when they are asking for tens of thousands of dollars in debt? Heck, i’m only in my twenties, and i’m still figuring it out.

    Sure, most college kids are cash poor… but with credit cards easier to get, and with colleges providing more and more “built in” functions… Well, lets just say i had more “things” in college then i do now, if you include a membership to the gym, an all-night library, free broadband internet, &c. πŸ˜€

  20. posted by Sarah on


    I do miss the days of having only enough possessions to fill my beat-up 1980s convertible Mustang. I could still see out the back window, too.

  21. posted by harris on

    How do we suddenly look around and have so much? I am constantly “uncluttering” and I still have too much.

    It would be so nice to be free of it all.

  22. posted by Briana on

    Sure, I lived in a tiny dorm room for four years. Meanwhile, hangin’ out at my parents’ house, was my real bedroom furniture, boxes of ski clothes, high school yearbooks, holiday decorations, oil paints & canvases, etc. etc. etc. So I don’t think I was ever really living in just a dorm room, most college students have two (or three?) residences.

    But I do get your point–I was living day-to-day with much less stuff.

  23. posted by Noelle on

    My freshman year in college, I lived in a triple that was designed for only two people and I brought nearly everything I owned with me to New York (I am originally from California). I didn’t realize how bad it was until I had to pack up for summer storage and fly back home. The second I got home for summer, I spent several days donating over half of what I owned.

    I still have a lot of “stuff”, but I’m doing my best to constantly unclutter. Traveling from home to school has become less of a nightmare and, you know, I don’t even miss any of my old things.

  24. posted by The Conscious Snob on

    I love this statement. I definitely am trying to simplify my life–it’s only been one year since graduation and I accumulated so much since I have income now. It’s awful and I do feel guilty about it. I definitely am going to make a similar sign and post it so I can see it everyday to remind myself of the beauty in the world outside of material goods.

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