Slowing down

Stuff – your biggest time thief (and how to steal back your time)

Your biggest time thief is the stuff you own

Time is humanity’s most precious commodity. Everyone has time. We’ve all been gifted the same amount of time. 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 730 hours in a month… and so on. And yet so many of us constantly complain that we just don’t have enough of it. Could we just have a few more hours in each day please! I’ve been on this treadmill for a long time. And yes it’s true, the older you get the quicker time seems to go. Why? Because the older we get the more we become a slave to time. Time, and ultimately our stuff – our belongings – own us.

Let me explain.

Most of us spend our days neatly split into thirds. We spent approximately 8 hours sleeping, about 8 hours working, and then we have another 8 hours to do what we please. If you think about it like that, it seems like a lot of spare time. But for many people, life is not split so neatly like this. Their jobs require longer hours, perhaps up to 10 hours per day, and a commute, of perhaps another 2 hours a day. All of a sudden that ‘spare’ 8 hours is down to around 4-5 hours. Then there are the life ‘incidentals’, the bits you just have to do. For those of us with families, this right here pretty much sucks up what’s left. Cooking, cleaning, organising and managing our stuff thieves away another huge chunk of our day.


So at the end of our day, there’s not much time left. No time to stop and sit in the garden. No time to take a leisurely walk on the beach. No time to watch that movie we’ve been hanging out to see. No time to spend with the friend we haven’t seen in months.

No bloody time.

And while the sci-fi fan in me loves to entertain the idea of a time machine, this is 99.99% unlikely to ever become reality. So whatever it is that we wish we had a time machine for, we had better think of some other options. Some other ways of stealing our time back.

Take a moment to think about your biggest time thief. For most of us, it’s work. Why do we do it? Again, for most of us – we have rent and mortgages to pay, and… things to buy to fill these homes. Take your average american household (sorry no statistics available for NZ!) which boasts an average number of 300,000 items in each home. And you can guarantee that a large portion of these items are unused.

But what if we decided to do something radical?

What if we decided we didn’t have to work so hard to pay for all the things we ‘need’ to buy. What if we made the radical but simple decision to just stop buying stuff? Would we need to work as much? What if we minimalised our belongings. Got rid of the excess, the unneeded, the unwanted things that clutter our houses. Would we still need that 5 bedroom house with double garaging that we work 50+ hours a week to maintain? Or, could we downsize our house, our mortgage, and steal back some of our precious time.

It’s radical. It’s not the bread and butter most of us grew up on. My generation has been raised by a generation that has accepted the consumer driven norms that run our world. It’s normal to go work 40+ hours a week – even to a job you hate. It’s normal to be mortgaged to the eyeballs, run a couple of credit cards, and pop that new television you really want (and absolutely can’t wait for) on hire purchase.

Stuff is ruthless – it will crush you

And so these things, these belongings we purchase, this stuff, it steals our time. It’s ruthless, and will eventually crush us. Our sleep suffers as we start to make deals with the clock. I’ll stay up a little later tonight to work a little bit more cause I really need that new coffee machine to help me wake up in the morning. Not a huge amount of sense in that way of thinking, but yet that’s the kind of thinking that drives us.

I see glimmers of hope to change this nonsensical consumer driven cycle. I’m hopeful now for a change for my children’s generation. For lives that aren’t filled with stuff, and time that isn’t stolen by stuff. My change started a few months ago, when I decided to trade my weekly wage to steal back time. I stole back time to spend with my kids. Time to sit on the deck and watch the birds in the trees. Time to leisurely walk the dog on the beach. Time to write.

If your stuff is stealing your time too, maybe there’s a way you can steal it back. My change was radical – I’m not advocating anyone go quit their job! And yes, sometimes it’s a pain at the end of the pay week having to figure out how to buy the next bottle of milk. But after two months of slowly regaining my precious time I wouldn’t give anything to allow it to be stolen again. Not new clothes or shoes, or that coffee machine I really want. I’d just rather have my previous time.  

Here are five ideas for stealing some time back:

  1. Choose second hand clothes.They cost of fraction of the price of new clothes. What if you found your new winter jacket for $15 instead of $200? Time saved? 11 hours*.
  2. Swapped your daily takeaway coffee for a homemade version. Time saved? 2 hours.
  3. Set aside a weekend to go through your unwanted items and hold a garage sale or sell items online. Again, NZ estimates aren’t available but a UK study has estimated that each UK home has $3,500 worth of unused items it it. Potential time saved? 206 hours (allowing 16 hours to de-clutter and sell items).
  4. Revamp your food shopping. Eat local, seasonal food. Shop at your local market, or butcher. You get fresher food and you could conservatively save up to $30 off your food budget per week. Time saved? 2 hours.
  5. Make friends with your local library. I’m preaching to myself here. I love my books and this is the last thing I ever de-clutter. I also love to own good books that I know i’ll re read and lend out. But if you typically buy a book or two a month at full price…? Time saved? Up to 4 hours!

*Time calculations are based on NZ minimum wage.

Choose to do something today to steal back your time. You will never get today back. You will never get ‘more’ time unless you think creatively, radically. Choose time over stuff and be prepared to reap the rewards!

Feet in forest

3 thoughts on “Stuff – your biggest time thief (and how to steal back your time)”

  1. 2years ago I did a decluttering course with Pam Nixon. Really motivating for to do it in a weekly course.Sadly Iv lost the “habit”. Good to read your post it’s motivating

    1. Helen I’m going to run a decluttering ‘challenge’ in Sept. More details coming on my facebook page soon 🙂

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