November 18, 2015 - No Comments!

The Basics

I recently noticed that I’ve been sharing a very standard set of advice with friends struggling with tension and depression. I thought it would be worth posting online in case it might help some people.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve overcome chronic tension and mild depression. I was prone to experiencing depressed bouts for weeks at a time, having trouble falling asleep, feeling constantly tense, and being generally anti-social.

I considered contacting a doctor but decided to evaluate my habits first. I wanted to see if I was making any obvious mistakes.

It turns out I was making a lot of them.

Below are a list of ten good habits that helped me make notable improvements in my general happiness and productivity. [1] They are not a complete solution (and I'm not a doctor), but these helped me make a strong start.

I call this list “the basics” because that’s exactly what it is. It isn’t valuable because of some magical insight. This list is all of the obvious stuff that I’ve seen many people (including myself) overlook when seeking solutions to our mental health problems.

Here it is:

  • Sleep 9+ hours a night
  • Eat healthier. This deserves a post of its own, but a good start is to cut out what is obviously unhealthy
  • Exercise regularly
  • Meditate daily
  • Journal daily
  • Drink more water
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Turn off phone notifications / turn off vibrate. This prevents others from interrupting your day and dictating what you do
  • Check your email less often (2-3x a day, max) and disable email notifications entirely on your phone and laptop
  • Keep your room clean

This is a long list. If you try accomplishing everything at once, you’ll likely fail and feel worse than when you started. One of the first victims of depression are willpower and motivation.

The best way to combat this is to choose 1-2 items from the list at a time. Ideally, focus on items that strike a balance between being easier for you to commit to and having a high impact on your mental health. Then turn those behaviors into habits. (Update 1/2016: Tony Stubblebine (CEO of recently wrote a great answer on Quora about how to successfully create new habits.)

Too many people fail to do the basic things to take care of themselves. They skip to taking strong medications, resigning themselves to a lifetime of depression, or giving up entirely.

You should always check on whether you’re on top of the basics before taking more drastic measures.



[1] Googling most of these items should reveal a body of research backing them up. Some of them (like #8, #9) are from personal experience, but the reasoning is fairly straightforward.

November 10, 2015 - No Comments!

One Million Hours

I was in an interaction design course when I discovered a million hours of manpower going to waste.

I was working on a class project designing a traffic controller dashboard when I read the story of Jenny, a girl who died because the patient tracking software used by her hospital was too confusing for her nurses to understand.

It struck me that all of the brilliant minds in my class designing this fictitious dashboard could instead be put to work solving real problems, like designing patient tracking software for hospitals that doesn’t kill people with its complexity.

50 kids were each spending 20 or more hours on this project over the course of four weeks. That’s 1,000 hours wasted in a month.

They could design some damn good patient tracking software in a thousand hours.

That figure only accounts for one class working on one of several projects. Let’s take a conservative estimate and say that there are 1,000 project-based classrooms in the entire United States. That’s 1,000 classrooms x 1,000 hours = one million hours lost every month by students tackling fictitious problems instead of real ones.

One million hours.

Imagine the problems that could be solved if we properly harnessed that manpower.

What’s the culprit?

Project-based learning is one of the hottest trends in education over the last decade.

Here’s how it works: Teachers lecture on a topic, and then students apply that knowledge to a project, typically involving fictional characters facing fictional problems. It's more hands-on than traditional methods and is backed by experts as being a more effective teaching strategy. [1]

It’s tough to criticize project-based courses because they’re so close to being great. But they’re missing a crucial element, and the result is millions of valuable hours going to waste.

How can this be fixed?

Real work

When it’s time for students to apply their knowledge to a project, instead of a fictional problem, the project assignment should be supplied by a company and involve a real problem the company is trying to solve.

Students would get to work on solving a real problem, with the same grading and evaluation criteria as when they’re doing the fictitious projects. When they submit their final proposals, one copy goes to their instructor, and another goes to the company. [2]

Companies win because they get access to creative insights and solutions that they may have never come up with. If they like one of the submissions, they can implement it or reach out to work closer with the student(s).

If they don’t like the submissions, they do nothing.

Involvement comes at very little cost to the company: only the time spent reviewing the work from students. Teachers could make this process even smoother by screening the submissions first and only sending high quality entries to the companies.

Students win because they get to apply their time and efforts to solving real problems. They'll have a better idea of what areas they want to work in after graduation, and the motivation to do good work would increase by an order of magnitude since a company might use their project submission or offer them a job.

The best part is that this new kind of project-based learning can be used for any real world skill. Companies in need of design inspiration can partner with top design schools, computer science students could help tackle technical problems, photography, music, and art students could collaborate with creative departments, and so on.

There are details that need to be ironed out for this to work. One could argue that introductory level classes should stick to fictional prompts and real projects should only be assigned in higher-level classes. And schools would need to ensure that companies don’t get too much influence over the education process.

In 2015, there were 20.2 million students enrolled in some form of college or university education in the United States. [3] If we can get even 1% of them to work on solving real problems instead of fake ones, that would be 202,000 more minds doing meaningful work.




[2] This proposal is different from long-term capstone projects where students partner with companies. These are quick, maybe lasting between 1 week to a few weeks, and require little involvement from the company. (Sort of like 99designs, but better.)


Thanks to Nathaniel Eliason, Jacob Frackson, Daniel Kao, Zach Lipp, Angela Liu, and Neha Srivastava for reading drafts of this piece.

August 10, 2015 - No Comments!

Two Degrees

A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of lunch with a friend when he posed an interesting question: What did wildly successful people do differently from the rest of us when they were our age?

I realized later that there are two ways to interpret his question. One is to examine people who are already successful today and ask "what did they do to become successful?" That's a useful exercise, but since many of the most successful people today are a decade or more older than us (we're 21), examining their success can only be so useful because they grew up in a different time. The technology they had access to, the resources they had at their disposal, and their cultural norms were much different from our age of smartphones, social media, and the on-demand economy.

So a better way to word the question would be this: what are people our age who are going to be successful in 10–20 years doing right now? To narrow this down, let's focus on people who will be the most successful — the future Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages.

The tough part is that since the future-Zuckerbergs are by definition not extremely successful yet, we can't identify them, so we'll have to take our best guess about what work they might be doing and what kind of person they might be like.


What work might they be doing? It seems like extremely successful people usually become so by 1) developing a leapfrog innovation (Google and better search), 2) figuring out a complicated market (Facebook and social media), 3) excelling in a particular vertical (Apple and hardware), or 4) just getting lucky.

1) The leapfrog innovations that successful people are working on are hard to identify since they might not exist yet, or they only exist as an idea in someone's mind, in a "side project" folder on a computer, or in a research lab somewhere. So simply saying "go work on X" is not a surefire way to guarantee success. The "X"s that are leapfrog innovations won't be something that the layman can point to easily.

Google is an excellent example of this. It wasn't the first search engine, although given its dominance today one might think so. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't start off building a search engine, either. While working on his PhD dissertation, Page built a web crawler and designed the PageRank algorithm to organize data gathered from backlinks by importance. Page and Brin then realized that Page's algorithm would yield significantly better search results than existing search engines did at the time. Google was born.

Not even the advisors who encouraged Page to research mathematical properties of the web could claim to have predicted that his research would yield a search engine, let alone a leapfrog search engine, and, eventually, a tech monolith. So the "X" in "go work on X" is difficult to identify. But I imagine that pursuing something you're curious, knowledgeable, or passionate about is probably a good way to find "X".

2) Finding people who are fixing (or can someday fix) a complex, aged industry could also lead us in the right direction. Healthcare and banking are two examples. Both industries are trainwrecks. In 50 years they'll likely look very different than they do now, but in obvious ways, which means someone smart and brave is going to disrupt it. It's likely that person is in his or her teens or tweens right now. If that person is 20+ years old, they might already be working in and becoming a domain expert in that industry.

3) Finding people who are going to be masters in a particular field someday is difficult. People who will excel in a field 20 years from now might be beginners today, and the set of fields of study they may excel in is massive, so this doesn't help us narrow it down.

4) Trying to identify people who get lucky is fruitless.

(But you can probably increase your chances of being lucky by being more knowledgeable. Reddit user u/Das_A_Checkmate posted an interesting and simple formula for increasing your chances of being lucky.

"Luck = number of events * probability of an event being lucky."

The number of events is defined as how much you know. By being more knowledgable, you increase your opportunities for having a lucky break.) [1]

Three out of four of these paths share one major issue. The set of people working in an industry with an impending leapfrog innovation, disrupting a trainwreck market, or building expertise in something is massive. Only a few of them will become extremely successful, which means that even amongst that massive set, there need to be some differentiating factors that can increase someone's chances of success.

Regardless, doing just one of those three things still improves your chances at being massively successful, as opposed to not doing any of these things. Someone working in a space with an impending leapfrog innovation, for instance, probably stands a greater chance of being immensely successful later on compared to someone not working in that space, even if they aren't directly involved in discovering the leapfrog innovation.

Who are the people who are going to stand out amongst this massive set? What are they doing different than the rest of us?


It probably makes sense to begin by looking introspectively on how we ourselves might be sub-optimal as opposed to examining successful people's habits and searching for a silver bullet.

Silver bullets don't exist. But bad habits and good habits do.

Bad Habits

It's safe to say the average 21-year-old today wastes a lot of time and has a few — or more than a few — bad habits. Walk onto any college campus today and the weekend binge-drinking starts on Wednesday or Thursday. It feels like half the people I know regularly watch at least 3–4 TV shows. More than half don't exercise.

The same seems to hold true for life outside of school, too. You get to work between 8–10AM, be fairly stressed and largely sedentary until 5 or 6PM, and then its either happy hour or a long commute home. Once you're at home its TV time, or for the healthier ones amongst us, time to go on a run or hit the gym.

I doubt our generation's Zuckerbergs are entirely avoiding happy hours, fraternity basements, and reddit. (I don't imagine being entirely free from these habits would be healthy, either — being social and having fun aren't bad things, and you can't be truly productive if you're working without pause.) But there's a threshold beyond which bad habits will prevent you from being successful.

How can you get on the right side of this threshold? And once you're on the right side, how can you build and maintain positive habits?

Two Degrees

Obama was recently featured in Marc Maron's WTF podcast where he made an excellent analogy comparing countries and boats. It goes like this: a country is like a big ship. It's large, has a lot of momentum, and a sudden, big change can be jarring. If you're steering a ship, you don't make a sudden, 50 degree turn — the ship will tilt and may capsize.

Instead, you make small changes in a certain direction, a few degrees at a time. Make a small, two-degree change now, and 100 miles out at sea, it'll result in a massive change.

The same principle applies to building habits. You don't build successful habits by making drastic changes — those are the hardest to commit to and you'll likely revert to your original habits before long. Instead, you should make and maintain small changes, and gradually ramp up. Like compounding interest, it increases with time. Drop by drop you get a lake.

If you want to start waking up at 6:30AM, set your alarm 15 minutes earlier every week until you've worked your way down to 6:30. If you want to start a running habit, start with a 10 minute run every day, and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your run.

You can apply this thinking to negative habits as well. If you're partying three days a week, start by dropping down to two days a week. If you drink five cups of coffee a day, reduce your intake to four a day, then three, then two, and so on.

Good Habits

By doing the right things for yourself, you're more likely to be successful. Fortunately, the right thing to do is often the obvious thing to do.

What are some changes you can focus on improving two degrees at a time? Off the top of my head, it boils down to three main categories: taking care of your body, being smart about your finances, and training your mind. If you have a healthy body, a sharp mind, and a sound financial plan, you've eliminated some of the major roadblocks to being wildly successful.

The path to having a healthy body and sound finances is fairly obvious. Exercising regularly, eating healthy, sleeping well, and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking will probably put you in the top 10% of the population. As for your finances, lowering your burn rate, living minimally, increasing your savings, and contributing to a retirement fund are all good ways to keep your bank account happy. [2]

Training your mind is the area I'm most fascinated by. It seems that most wildly successful people have mastered this. I imagine the first step is reading and writing extensively. Reading a book is like living through another person — you learn from their experiences and can see things from a new perspective. Writing helps organize and articulate your thoughts, and has a symbiotic relationship with public speaking, which also boils down to your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. It forms a virtuous cycle of mental growth, where reading helps you learn new things and stumble upon insights, and writing and public speaking help you organize, articulate, and share those insights.

The flip side to mental growth is preventing mental "decay". Taking care to avoid unnecessary stress is good practice. Stress has been shown to shorten your lifespan, so reducing it is a somewhat ironic win-win: you'll live longer, and you'll live happier. [3] There are lots of ways to reduce tension, such as exercising regularly, sleeping well, and meditating regularly. Regular meditation is another habit of successful people that comes up time and time again. It helps increase your focus and reduce tension, amongst other benefits, which vary based on the type of meditation you practice. [4]


It seems safe to say that the future Larry Pages and Mark Zuckerbergs probably aren't very different from us. They aren't perfectly disciplined, and have likely spent their fair share of time in fraternity basements or scrolling through Snap Stories. But the small, good differences in their habits will compound over time and make massive differences.

The next Zuckerberg could be the person you were trying to flirt with at the bar last week. Or it might be the person sitting next to you.

The best advice to folks my age seems to be the following. For your work, become an expert in something you find interesting, tackle a major problem people face, or work in a field where a leapfrog innovation seems imminent or necessary. Make small, two-degree changes on the path towards where you want to be one day.

For yourself, minimize your bad habits while maximizing your good habits. Two degree changes you can commit to are better than fifty-degree changes that you'll give up on. It could be the best way to increase your chances of being the next Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg.



[1] Here's the link to the original Reddit post.

[2] I recently wrote an email course on better sleep, which you can learn more about by clicking here.


[4] There are lots of different kinds of meditation. This post by Giovanni Dienstmann explains the major ones quite well.

July 17, 2015 - No Comments!

99 Things

A friend suggested I publish a follow up to my downsizing piece with a list of things I own to demonstrate that a normal person can live comfortably with less than 100 items.

I'm not suggesting that 100 is a magic number or an upper limit. That number will vary based on your lifestyle.

The exact figures for me are 53 unique items and 99 total items - I own more than one of some things, as indicated below. The bulk of my stuff is clothing. The only items I did not include in this list are boxers and socks.


  1. Macbook Air
  2. MagSafe Charger
  3. Macbook Air sleeve
  4. OnePlus One
  5. USB to Micro-USB
  6. Spire
  7. Fitbit Charge HR
  8. Fitbit Aria
  9. DSLR
  10. Polaroid


  1. Deodarant (2x)
  2. Cologne (2x)
  3. Toothbrush
  4. Toothpaste
  5. Listerine
  6. Razor
  7. Shaving cream
  8. Hairbrush
  9. Q-Tips
  10. Toileteries travel bag
  11. Kitchen
  12. Soylent shaker bottle
  13. Plates (2x)
  14. Bowls (2x)
  15. Cups (6x)
  16. Utensils (shared with housemates)
  17. Water Boiler
  18. Slow cooker


  1. Sunglasses
  2. Watch
  3. Keychain
  4. Backpack
  5. Pencils (3x)
  6. Wrist running weights
  7. Body tape measure
  8. Desk chair


  1. T-shirts (9x)
  2. V-neck shirts (6x)
  3. Shorts (2x)
  4. Jeans (4x)
  5. Suit
  6. Business professional dress shirts (4x)
  7. Business casual dress shirts (6x)
  8. Sweaters (6x)
  9. Pants (2x)


  1. North Face jacket
  2. Winter coat
  3. Hoodies (3x)


  1. Casual shoes (1x)
  2. Winter boots (2x)
  3. Formal shoes (3x)
  4. Sneakers
  5. Flip flops
  6. Boat shoes

Click to read the original story of how I got rid of over 150 pounds of stuff

July 16, 2015 - No Comments!

The Purge

Two years ago I got rid of almost everything I owned. I sold, donated, or trashed over 150 pounds of stuff. Eventually, I owned just under 100 items total — including all of my clothes — after a phase my friends had nicknamed as the 'Purge'.

Rewind three months before the 'Purge' and I had just crammed three 22x22 boxes jampacked with my stuff into storage. Each of those boxes weighed over 50 pounds. I don't know how I had ever managed to accumulate that much crap.

The Purge started at the end of my sophomore year of college when my friend Sank suggested we live together over the summer to save money. I figured he meant renting a small two-bedroom apartment or a one-bedroom double in a cheaper part of town.

It turns out he meant splitting a studio single. Before long, we roped in a third friend to join us. Three guys in a studio single for a summer. It boiled down to $200 per person, per month.

I never measured it precisely, but I'd guess the room was around 10 feet wide and 15 feet long.

This meant we didn't have much room for stuff. There were three closets, but two were already filled with stuff from the guy we were subletting from. So the three of us agreed on an list of permitted items for the summer:

  • One mattress
  • One futon
  • One sleeping bag
  • One chair
  • Kitchen utensils
  • One chess set
  • TV
  • A week's worth of clothes each
  • 1-2 pairs of shoes each
  • Toileteries

We were surprisingly good about not allowing any exceptions to the list.


I owned a lot of stuff. My freshman and sophomore year dorms were jam-packed, and packing for the summer was always a nightmare. The summer I moved into the three-man studio, I had stuffed the aforementioned three 22x22 boxes into campus storage and still had a TV, formalwear, and a large suitcase filled with clothes to deal with.

The first mistake cluttered people make is believing that they may someday need the things they hoard. Parting with my collection of hoarded stuff I never used wasn't easy. Think Tom Hanks and Wilson parting ways in the ocean in Cast Away, but with me and over 150 pounds of crap.

Studio Life

Every aspect of 'three-man studio' life was better than my cluttered dorm life. We didn't have much stuff, so we had virtually no cleaning to do other than the occasional kitchen cleanse. Over the course of the summer, this saved a surprising amount of time.

Since we didn't have any clutter to busy ourselves with, we had to do real things that folks don't seem to do these days, like going outside or reading or talking or sitting around just being people. The stress of owning and caring for things was gone.

What a first-world luxury — to be free from the stress of owning things.

Suddenly, that line from Fight Club — the one that goes "the things you own, they end up owning you" — started to make sense.

Our evenings were Breaking Bad marathons or chess competitions. Our third roommate would sit on the futon wearing only his underwear, making wisecracks. Another buddy named Marko would come over every now and then and kick my ass in a chess game, reminding me of where I belonged on the Chess Food Chain.

I spent hours on my Kindle and read what would become some of my favorite books. And during the first month or so when we didn't have wifi yet (did I not mention that yet?), we had nothing to distract ourselves with other than conversation, so the three of us got to know each other quite well.

Fast-forward to August and I couldn't even remember what I had packed in those 22x22 boxes. One hundred and fifty pounds of I-don't-know. I could have never opened them again and I wouldn't have missed a thing.

I dragged the boxes out of basement storage, carted them a half-mile across campus and up a small hill to my new room, and decided immediately that everything in those boxes had to go. Sold, donated, trashed, stuffed in the back of my roommate's underwear drawer — but gone.

The Purge

The first thing I realized was how normal all of the stuff looked. It looked like the kind of stuff an ordinary person, like you or me, not a hoarder, could end up with. Even if you own lots of small things, it's crazy how fast the weight adds up.

A quick glance in those boxes looked like this: clothes I rarely wear, especially "memorabilia" clothing like that t-shirt from summer camp in 2007; winterwear that I didn't need during the summer; books I read once and kept only so I could stack them on my desk and look smart; textbooks I bought for school and never opened; an external keyboard and monitor for my laptop which already had a keyboard and screen of its own; free cups and pens and blankets from college orientation; notebooks and assignments from past courses that I'd convinced myself I'll be glad I kept one day; and so on.

You don't need to be a hoarder to end up with 150 pounds of junk.

Why Purge?

Living minimally for a summer gave me the chance to reflect on my previously stuff-filled lifestyle. I noticed a few things I hadn't noticed before.

The Bell Curve

The first thing I noticed is that the relationship between the amount of stuff you own and how happy it makes you is shaped like a bell curve. If you don't own anything, you probably aren't very happy because you're always in need of something. If you own a lot of things, you probably aren't very happy either, because of clutter or because you're a shopaholic.

There's a sweet spot in the middle where you own just enough to make life easy but not too much where it causes you stress.


Owning things is stressful. I'd experience it in one of two ways: either from not using a particular item enough to justify owning it or from the need to take care of it to maintain it.

For example: I had two tablets. I had received both for free: an iPad for winning a debate tournament in high school and a Windows 8 tablet as a gift for helping plan a conference. Tablets didn't fit my workflow, so I had never needed to use one and had never previously considered buying one. But now I had two of them. I was convinced I needed to use them, otherwise having them would be a waste.

So I'd make lame excuses to use them. "I'll read this PDF on the iPad." Or "The Windows 8 Netflix app is nice, so I guess I'll watch TV there." And in order to use these things that I didn't need, I'd need to charge them, know where they were, put them away during parties, buy cases, keep the screens clean, keep track of the proprietary chargers...

Clutter and Time

It seems obvious enough, but its worth mentioning that the more stuff you have, the more clutter you'll have. What most people forget is that managing clutter takes time.

I don't just mean time spent cleaning up, although that's a large part of it. Every cleanup operation is exactly that — an operation — and if I wanted to avoid hours-long cleanup efforts, then regular cleaning was required. Week over week, the time spent on regular cleaning adds up too.

What I'm talking about is the time spent on the hidden costs of clutter. One hidden cost is in losing things. Especially small things, like keys or ID cards. They always seemed to disappear amongst the clutter, requiring an unexpected full-blown cleanup operation in order to find them.

I noticed this in my other friends too. Those with more clutter were always losing things. Especially their keys and ID cards. Damned keys and ID cards. The hours we'll never get back.

The other hidden cost of clutter is distraction. How well can you really focus when your desk is covered in stuff you've collected over the years? You need to finish this Excel model, but hey, your lava lamp just made an awesome shape, and there's that Luau Girl Bobblehead you got in Hawaii three years back, and its standing so still, staring at you, begging you to tap it and let it bobble...

Eliminating clutter from my life has easily saved me hundreds of hours.


You ever see that guy who walks into the airport with a small carry-on, wearing a sharp outfit, clean shaven or with a light stubble, looking 10 times more put together than you? I always wanted to be that guy. But you can't be that guy when you're breaking a sweat from lugging two suitcases filled with crap you don't need.

It's tough to express how having too much stuff limits your mobility without explaining what you can do when all that stuff is gone.

When all that stuff is gone, you can pack a normal, carry-on sized suitcase and feel confident that you have everything that you need. You can pack this carry-on suitcase in very little time, because you don't need to spend hours debating what you need and what you don't. (You're smart and have already followed my Purging process outlined later in this essay, so you don't own anything you don't need.) And you don't need to spend hours hunting down your passport, because it's right where you left it, in one of the very few spaces you need to store your stuff. When you get to your destination, you don't worry about losing extraneous things, because you don't own that kind of stuff anymore.


Having more stuff means spending more money. After-purchase expenditures add up quickly: maintenance, storage, travel, and moving.

Paying for your stuff is only the beginning. Then your stuff needs other stuff, like cases, cables, screen protectors, and warranties. And then your stuff breaks and you have to pay to fix it. And then you move and you have to pay insane amounts of money to move your unnecessary stuff so that it can stress you out in your new place.

The summer before the 'three man studio', I worked in Washington, D.C. I owned a ton of stuff back then and was convinced I needed a lot of it with me in D.C., so I crammed what I could into one 22x22 box and still needed a large suitcase. The cost of the box aside (~$10), it cost me somewhere around $80 to have this thing shipped because it was so heavy (70 lbs). And then the same price to have it shipped back to school in Pittsburgh at the end of my internship.

I could have gone skydiving for that money.

As for travel: that guy you see at the airport who's 10 times more put together than you? He doesn't need to pay $25 for his first check-in bag and $35 for his second because he only brings what he needs to his flight. He can live happily for at least two weeks out of a carry-on sized bag. Instead, the money he saved from check-in baggage is spent on a drink or two at an expensive airport restaurant, and he still gets on the plane with more money left in his wallet than you.

The Process

You want to eliminate clutter, reduce your stress, save money, and be more mobile. You hate losing your stuff and you think routine cleaning is as unbearable as infrequent cleaning operations. Below is the framework I used to get rid of over 150 pounds of stuff. The process is as simple as answering three simple questions:

  • Do I use this?
  • Do I need to own it?
  • Do I sell it, donate it, or trash it?

Do I use this?

Here's the general rule: if you didn't use it this past month and you probably won't use it next month, get rid of it. How do you know if you'll use it next month or not? Check your calendar events. If the chances of you needing it are below 95%, it's a goner.

Do I need to own it?

There's this huge category of stuff that you did use last month and you will use next month, but you don't need to actually own it. You can borrow it from a friend, find it for free, or buy it as-needed.

Some examples include desk accessories (staplers, hole punches) or repair tools (screwdrivers, duct tape). While it might make you feel safe to have them handy at all times ("what if I urgently need a screwdriver if my IKEA desk breaks??"), it's unnecessary. Unless your IKEA desk breaks weekly, don't buy and store things which you can borrow.

Somewhere in the middle of owning and borrowing are per-use purchases. Sometimes, buying per-use makes more sense than owning something, which involves buying (often in bulk) and storing. A good example of buying per use is chewing gum. Just buy a pack when you need it. You don't need a 20-pack stuffed in your drawer. A good example of not buying per use would be plastic plates and utensils. Don't use plastic plates and utensils. They create clutter and increase your waste output. Get real plates and utensils and spend a few minutes a day doing your dishes.

Do I sell it, donate it, or trash it?

I apply a basic formula to figure this one out.

  • A = TIME spent posting item on Craigslist/Amazon/Ebay + TIME spent delivering/shipping the item + MONEY spent on shipping
  • B = MONEY you'll keep after you pay your Amazon/Ebay fees

If A > B or if A = B, you don't sell. Losing money is a no-go, and breaking even isn't worth the time.

If B > A, then consider selling, depending on how much the profit means to you. If the profit is $1, it's probably still not worth the time.

If you've decided not to sell, then the next question is whether or not this item is useful to someone else. If it's clothes or shoes, I almost always donate it, even if it is a little damaged. Whether or not someone in need wears damaged clothing is not my decision — there's always the chance that someone will benefit from any clothing or shoes, even if it's damaged.

Trashing something is a big decision. You should only do this when you definitely can't sell the item and you know it would be useless to someone else. A good example of this might be your old schoolwork or your collection of Taco Bell sauce packets.

Things You Keep

The most important part of the Purge is holding onto enough to make life enjoyable. Purging isn't about living like a peasant. It's about eliminating clutter. So with that in mind, some miscellaneous tips:

  • Love your books? You can sell them back to Amazon or donate them to a library and buy the Kindle version instead. A Kindle can hold thousands of books and stays the same size no matter how many you own. In my experience, Kindle books are around 25–50% cheaper than their paperback counterparts.
  • Have important papers? Scan them into Evernote. Evernote's apps have excellent scanning capabilities (Use Evernote Scannable on iOS or the standard Evernote app on Android). Even on the Evernote free plan, you have 200MB of storage per month, which is more than enough room for your papers. Once your papers are in Evernote, they can't get damaged or lost.
  • Have lots of shoes? Keep at most two for each purpose: activity, casual, formal, etc. Do you have more than two for each purpose and feel ridiculous for still wanting to keep them? You should.
  • Love your accessories? Try one of two things. One: do the same as you would with shoes and organize by occasion: formal and casual. Have one pair for each, and get rid of the rest. An alternate strategy, and my preferred approach: just have one of each accessory that you need. If your smartphone isn't good enough as a clock and you need a watch, just get one, high-quality all-purpose watch. If your watch isn't good enough to be one you wear daily and you think you need multiple watches for different scenarios, then the watch is probably not that great anyway, so get rid of it. Same for your sunglasses, wallet, etc. Unless you're really special or really spoiled, one item of each should be enough.

Update July 2015: I've posted a list of everything I own