The Three Laws Of Stuff Dynamics

Do you have trouble fitting that last item in your backpack, or struggle to hang a piece of clothing in a closet between all the other clothes, or otherwise struggle to find places for all your stuff? Relax.

It’s not you, it’s science.* There are laws of physics that make sense of your stuff, and the problems you have with it. They are called The Laws of Stuff Dynamics.

The First Law of Stuff Dynamics states: Your stuff will expand to fill any container you decide is big enough to hold your stuff.

Here is a rough spectrum of examples of containers to which the First Law of Stuff Dynamics applies:

stuff spectrum

The Second Law of Stuff Dynamics: You have too much stuff.

If you have ever a) had a hard time finding some of your stuff because it was somewhere among all your other stuff, b) become frustrated trying to fit an item of your stuff in a container, or c) if you have entire rooms of stuff or a storage unit full of stuff you don’t see for months at a time, you have seen the Second Law of Stuff Dynamics in action.

The Third Law of Stuff Dynamics states: Even though you have too much stuff, you are simultaneously unable to part with Old Stuff (often for no reason), and compelled to buy New Stuff (also often for no reason).

Old Stuff often includes things like books you haven’t read since college, kitchen items given to you by people you will never forget whether or not you use their old kitchen items, books you haven’t finished, bicycles you never ride but have an emotional attachment to, books you’ve never read and are never going to read but would like to think you will someday, things you put in frames because it seemed like a good idea at the time but now you have no idea why you thought that, and free t-shirts you knew you would never wear but accepted at the time because they were free.

New Stuff can include shiny things, lighter things, faster things, things perceived to be lighter and/or faster, things perceived to be better, things that are 1 to 3 percent better than currently owned things, things perceived to be an incredible bargain at the time of purchase, things that other successful people have so maybe you should have one too, and any television the next increment bigger or better than the one you currently own.

Take a look around. Do you need a bigger backpack/car/house to fit all that stuff into?

*actually not science


15 replies on “The Three Laws Of Stuff Dynamics

  • mims

    Brendan, you forgot the 1st corollary to the 3rd law: As soon as you replace a missing/lost item, the original item appears. Ah, science. Gotta love it.

  • SinceYouAsked

    You also omitted the Fallacy of Need, which is the belief that when you get rid of an item you will need again within a month.

  • velosopher

    …and the Corollary to the Fallacy of Need: The one time you get brave and say, “Nah, there’s no way I’m going to need this old thing,” and throw it out… you actually *will* need it within one month. Thus reinforcing the Fallacy of Need, which is true 99% of the time.

  • Jenny Johnston

    My husband wrote an entire post on our blog titled “The Gravitational Pull of Stuff”. It is all so true. When we get home from trips like the one we are on (a 7 week bike tour) we tend to purge our house of anything that comes into sight. I am always amazed we have anything left after that. I think when we get home from this trip I am going to take on the girls’ room. Children do not quite agree with our thinking. Too bad for them!!!

  • Andrew

    Timely post Brendan, seeing that I’m in the process of putting all my life possessions into a storage unit right this moment. Books…

  • Oliver

    Pretty timely reminder indeed Brendan! Not sure if it is some sort of lingering unhappiness with job and such that makes us “trading” money for an imaginary slice of happiness which in the long run may even increase the dissatisfaction. I quite like James comment above. I also always remember following when it comes to “stuffing”: The things you own end up owning you…

  • Ricardo

    Look to nature for an answer! The shell of a hermit crab is a lot like a backpack or a McMansion. When the crab molts to shed its old exoskeleton (ie. stuff) it often moves into a smaller shell. The new exoskeleton conforms to the smaller environment and the crab doesn’t have to drag around the old millstone of a shell.

  • Anne

    We fit three women, stuff for one night car camping in Yellowstone, stuff for a week long conference in Big Sky and additional stuff for one of the party to go on to 6 weeks in the back country, all in a Kia Rio.

    On the return trip, we were down one woman and her backpack. We were up 2 bottles of wine, a conference notebook and a guide book.

    And the Kia was just as full.

    Personally, I blame alpha rays.

  • Jim Barron

    And never forget the movement of stuff, from known place to lost place. As your stuff volume increases so does the velocity of movement from known to lost.

    Stuff can approach the speed of light, I put it down, it’s gone. (I think there is a space in the equation for my wife as well in the equation)


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