June 14th, 2013
04:56 PM ET

The Right Stuff

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill. 

What is most important to you? House? Car? Clothes? Formal china? Probably not. These things might make your life more convenient. To some extent, they might enable you to do the things that Are actually important. But our stuff, when we think about it, isn’t that important.

What is important to most of us? Our friends, families, having meaningful work, amazing experiences. As I have heard it said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

Yet somehow, when many of us look at our lives, we see a disproportionate amount of time and energy directed toward stuff. We work extra hard so we can make the car payments. We max out our credit cards to keep up with fashion. We move into big homes so we have a place for the hutch that stores the formal china.

In the late nineties, I had the great fortune of selling my startup. What did I do with my newfound cash? Same thing any good American would: I got lots of stuff like a new car, furniture, gadgets and of course a big house.

This ability to consume was new to me. When I was growing up, everyone in my middle-class, six- child family had everything they needed but not much more. When you’re raised with just enough, you imagine having more than enough will make you that much happier.

But there I was living the American dream–driving a quick car, living in a big house, with the ability to buy more–and I was no happier. What was I missing?

I was missing the fact that no amount of stuff would ever make me happy. I actually found the more things I had, the more complicated life became. There were more things to buy and maintain, more things to keep track of, more things to lose.

A number of events in my life–most notably a serious romantic relationship–made me realize that people, amazing experiences and meaningful work are the real important parts of my life. The other stuff is just stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love objects and architecture. I studied product design in college and have built homes as a carpenter before I got into startups. But my later life experiences made me reevaluate how and why our stuff and homes were designed. I started to wonder why we often ended up living to support our stuff and homes rather than the other way around?

It was with this question in mind that I started LifeEdited. I wanted to help start a movement where our products, homes and the way we live are aligned with what’s important to us.

On a practical level, this meant doing more with less. The average American takes up three times more living space than sixty years ago. Yet we still don’t have enough room for our stuff, evidenced by a $22 billion dollar personal storage industry. Worse still, we have become a nation of debtors paying for our big homes and stuff. Clearly, our lives could use a good edit.

LifeEdited is starting with homes. We help conceive homes around what is important in people’s lives. We are specialty consultants to architects, currently working in cities such as New York City and Las Vegas. Often, the result is a space that is much smaller than the typical American home. My own 420-square-foot Manhattan apartment sleeps up to four, seats twelve for dinner, has a home office and much more. The smaller footprint is cheaper to buy, easier to clean, greener and, even though there’s a generous 426 cubic feet of storage, doesn’t permit me to collect a lot of unnecessary stuff.

Because I have fewer things, the stuff I do have is quality stuff I love and appreciate.

LifeEdited is about freedom, not restriction. We think the less-but-better approach leads to more money in the bank, more time for friends and recreation and less to think about. It’s about including everything that’s important and “editing” out the rest.

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Filed under: Architecture • Culture • Design • Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers