Why Is Letting Go of Stuff So Difficult?

A few years ago, when we started our Christian minimalism journey, my husband Will and I minimized 60% of our stuff.

It felt good to simplify our material possessions. But letting go of things was much harder than we anticipated. We were prepared to have a hard time paring down sentimental items— we knew that we had some emotions around those things.

But we weren’t prepared for the fact that letting go of pretty much everything else was just as hard. I found this phenomenon incredibly strange and frustrating– even when I didn’t have a deep emotional attachment to a possession, I still had a difficult time getting rid of it.

Once the object was gone and out of my life, I was completely fine. But the letting go process was way more complicated than I thought it was going to be.

Having completed the 100 Day Dress Challenge, I’m currently working on paring my wardrobe down even more. And yet– I’m running into the same problem I had years ago. I’m having a hard time letting go.

The Endowment Effect

If you’ve run into the same problem when trying to let go of stuff, you’re not alone. There is a psychology term for why letting go of things is so difficult for us: the endowment effect. Basically, we are way more likely to hold on to an object we already own, rather than buy that same thing again when we don’t have it.

There’s a reason the endowment effect is also called divestiture aversion. It’s just a fancy way of saying that we place a ridiculous amount of value on the stuff we own, and we dislike getting rid of it.

The good news is, our aversion to letting go of stuff is not abnormal. If you’ve struggled with getting rid of stuff, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a tendency most human beings have.

The bad news is, if we want to live a more minimalist lifestyle, we have to be ready to struggle against ourselves.

A Time to Throw Away

The endowment effect points out how quickly and easily we get attached to our stuff. In order to simplify our lives and battle against this tendency, we constantly have to remind ourselves of why we are minimizing in the first place, and the benefits of living a life unencumbered with a ton of stuff.

[There is] a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6

We are reminded in Scripture that sometimes we throw away things, while other times we keep things. Only you can discern with God what stuff should be kept and what should be thrown away.

When you are minimizing, start with prayer. Ask God to give you the strength to battle against the endowment effect, to keep the things that add value to your life and get rid of everything else. We can’t do this work alone. God is helping us to simplify and focus on what matters most.

Pressing On

We also have to be ready to keep going, even when it’s hard. Too often we fall into habits around instant gratification and not continuing when things get tough. And I get it– when you naturally don’t want to get rid of stuff, it can be difficult to get motivated.

But God is inviting us to get rid of those things that keep us from living the life God wants for us. For many of us, that includes a lot of our stuff. We are literally surrounded by things that keep us from spending time with God and our loved ones. God is inviting us to simplify so we can focus on what matters most.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13b-14

Let us, with God’s help and guidance, press on toward the goal. Let us push against our tendency to emotionally attach to our stuff. Let us rid ourselves of the excess, so that we can better love and serve God and others.

Let us go forth: to press on and let go.


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About 
Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in New York City with her husband Will. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

2 Comments

  1. Sister Donna Font

    April 26, 2021 - 1:07 pm
    Reply

    I have succeeded in getting rid of much: books, furniture, kitchen stuff, and clothes. Still buying books for my Kindle and lots of hands on books on racial justice. Getting rid of more tops due to spots (using them for cleaning). Will need to replace them, especially summer ones as there will be none to wear and will wear an adult bib. The hardest for me is plain paper. I am almost addicted to it. I think I understand why from childhood and am a compulsive note taker of sermons, Bible Study, and meetings. But that is all that’s left to do. If you ever get to Buffalo, I would love to talk with you.

  2. Karen Davis

    April 26, 2021 - 3:47 pm
    Reply

    I have been working on reducing the stuff we have collected over the years. I found this helpful, the endowment effect is real and difficult to overcome.

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