Everything Must Go

A few months ago, I came across the sentence: “Surround yourself with beautiful, excellent things and get rid of all else.”  And whoa, has it stayed with me.

When I was 18 or so, I had my mind blown by reading an article by Yvon Chouinard called The Next 100 Years, where he talked about building Patagonia to survive the next century and discussed the notion of buying stuff that lasts even if it cost more up front. Reading it I was confronted with the idea of a company that meant something, as well as the concept of real quality. I never bought stuff the same way again. Whenever I was faced with the prospect of buying one thing versus another, I would always advise myself to “buy it once” meaning – don’t spend money on something you are going to throw away or won’t last.

Many years later, I got good stuff that I still I don’t need.

The ‘buy it once’ mantra was good for deciding to add something, but didn’t help when it came to getting rid of things. So when I came across that sentence, “surround yourself with beautiful, excellent things and get rid of all else” I knew I might be onto a way of deftly dealing with the objects that come into my life. I was introduced to it on BoingBoing and then again on the Nau blog, but it came from something called the Last Viridian Note.  A couple of key passages:

“What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time — time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed — (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You’re spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.”

I think it was the Dalai Lama who said, “everything must go.” It is easier said than done. Holding on is something we do kind of naturally. But at least now I have the framework for subtraction and a case for keeping those beautiful things.

From → Great Ideas, Homework, How To


  1. I like this idea. Whenever someone says they can’t believe people spend X amount on a commuter bike, I go back to this idea – why not spend the most on the bike you ride the most? Seems logical to me.

  2. Alice Kelzer

    Awesome work guys! Amazing and beautiful, Natalie. Right on with the getting rid of stuff you don’t need. I am trying to do that myself. All my best and Hi from Erik, too.

  3. Neighbor Carl

    I’m with ya 100%, Austin. Great post.
    So…can I grab somma that stuff in the basement? (Kidding! Kidding!)

  4. I think this is a really amazing way to look at life. Thanks for that!

  5. Antoine de Saint-Exupery also said that a thing is made perfect, not when there is nothing left to be added, but when there is nothing left to take away.

    “The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones.”

    – to me, this perfectly describes my bike. I use it everyday, and I would be much less mobile without it. It serves a useful purpose and I need it to be reliable and practical. It’s much like a good cast-iron cooking pot or a hard, sharp knife. With my bike, as with other things in my life, I have an extreme fondness for things that feel substantial, that feel well-made, and that do the intended job well. I want things that start out beautiful, and become more-so with a patina of age and use, things that will be with me and even outlast me.

  6. Great comment Dave. Along the same lines I just read:

    “There are certain things which play heroic roles in knitting the world together.”


    The sentence was referring the the blue tarp, but I definitely see the bike as a thing with a pretty heroic role.

  7. I’ve come back to this post a number of times after coming across a link that was posted by Patagonia on Facebook (and that link ultimately led me here). From this post I’ve found myself reading over your entire blog, enjoying your writing, bicycles, and business model. I tip my hat to you and Sweetpea.

  8. Kevin Smith

    Thanks for sharing this lovely thought.

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