The Importance of Having ‘Your Things’

November 3, 2011

Part of the philosophical life is simplicity. Variety, despite the saying, is an overrated spice. (There’s a reason that most successful diets reduce the different types of foods you eat to set of standard meals). Look at your closets and your drawers. Chances are they are marked with little consistency, and too much variety. And by extension, waste and weakness.

Pierre Hadot deduced from the Stoic writers the concept of the “inner citadel.” It was a protected core that could be depended on, counted on for protection and strength. For a philosophy, that meant a series of robust principles that provided guidance in every situation. I try to expand this metaphor in my daily life. Our routine, our choices about what we do and what we own, can be pared down and turned into a source of strength. It’s not about compulsive regulation. On the contrary it’s about reducing the needless varieties so you can introduce novel ones without hesitation. (Like quitting a job the second you’re unhappy with it.) Experiment with important things, not how you look.

When you stock your life with things you can depend on and things you can trust, it frees up precious resources. You can say, this is who I am and what I do, I don’t need to put any stock in all that other nonsense. You don’t need to read Hypebeast or those other sites. You don’t need a car to say anything about you because you’ve got one that works that you’re planning to drive into the ground. You can look yourself in the mirror and have no problem with the choices you make or products you endorse. I don’t recall the last time I went shopping. Not because I don’t need things, I do, it’s that I don’t need to look for things. I know what I want. I may go to stores, but I don’t shop.

This is a critical difference and one that is often lost in discussions about sustainability. The real waste is not in materials but in the pointless consumer cycle—that each season or year, companies turn over their entire product offering. They design, produce, market and sell anew constantly. This is redundant and incredibly costly. The slate is wiped clear. Most of the equity earned with last year’s products is discarded and reacquired.

It’s costly for customers too. The real waste is externalized to us, and we are the least equipped to deal with these loses. Hidden in the array of our things were the seconds you spent thinking about them; hidden in the few dollars you saved in price was the unreliability and the unfamiliarity; hidden in it all was the opportunity costs. To be jerked around this way and that way is to be worse than a sheep (who at least is led rationally by a shepherd). It is to be an inanimate object, complete subject to outside forces beyond its control, never allowed to focus on what is important.

The question inevitably becomes well, what is important? The answer: basically everything else. When you limit your choices and variety down, you not only fore a more resilient core—an inner citadel—but you can prioritize further still. (It’s why Seneca and Montaigne practiced poverty on a monthly basis, it allowed them to see clearly what was necessary and what was optional.) You also have more time for others. For your duties. For doing nothing if not to reflect on the fact that you can take none of this when you die—and that that death is not so far away.

Inspired partially by Ben Casnocha’s list, here are some of ‘my things,’ all of which I’ve owned dozens of by now*:

Morning Ritual: I take 8-10 1,000mg fish oil pills (which help with a million things, including depression), gummy vitamins (seriously) and eat 3 eggs, Niman Ranch sliced ham and black beans. With my drink, I usually do two spoonfuls of Mila Chia Seeds.
Food: I do a modified paleo diet, with one cheat day (more on why here)
Pants: American Apparel Schoolboy Pant (for dressier, Bonobos makes a good men’s pant)
Shorts: Lulu Lemon Run Response Short
T-Shirt: Tri-blend or Power Washed
Outerwear: Dov’s Hoody and Winter Jacket from American Apparel
Shoes: Sperry Top Sider
Running/Working Out: Nike Free’s 5.0 (I hate how they keep changing it.) Lulu Lemon Run Response Short. Lulu Lemon Metal Vent Shirt (kills bacteria that smells)

Books: Amazon, always, with Amazon Prime (if its an old book or translation, I stick with Penguin or Modern Library)

I don’t want to hear any bullshit about how I can wear or only afford these things because of my job. Only someone trying to rationalize their own situation would claim it was so black and white. We’ve talked plenty about making your own rules. I make mine.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

52 responses to The Importance of Having ‘Your Things’

  1. Out of all the ideas that your site has piqued in others, wanting to know what Ryan Holiday wears is probably not one of them. And this is such a conventional list, at best, that I find it detracting from your message. This ain’t no cool tools.

    Why don’t you go more into depth about the products/services/brands that have freed up your resources *to work* in a subsequent post? Why not take an actual stand in the big product debates of the day as it relates to personal productivity?

    Ipad vs Kindle Fire? Mobi vs Epub? OS vs. Android? Normal shoes vs. barefoot shoes? Moleskin vs normal paper? What’s best for notes? What do you make of the new changes in What do you share with? You may not replace these everyday, but far more important is the fact that you use them everyday for *actual work* — if anyone does care *what* you wear to work, then they are probably obsessed fanboys or severely lost in life.


    – Already I know that I will NEVER buy Mila chia seeds because its website reeks of multilevel marketing. That, for example, is a way that *I* save time and resources, by dismissing things that make me jump through multiple hoops or require some inane membership when a product on Amazon may be of same or better quality (plus speedy shipping). I’m surprised you did.

    – Personally, I find that the choice of your items don’t reflect my values at all — in style, price, the brands and companies you choose, everything. Which is a good thing, because it means I find such distinctions worthless and it’s the comment I come for on this site, not to know whether we’re in the same consumer tribe or income bracket. Which brings me to the next point…

    – I don’t see why you preempt comments by assuming people will have something snarky to say regarding the expense. If anything, your purchases are on the modest side and reflect your nuanced position regarding expenses. Are you rationalizing the rationalizations of your highly diverse audience? Ben and Tim Ferris don’t need to preempt or apologize for price when they link to something of quality.

    It may make me think: am I spending time reading the material of a person whose main audience, by his own admission, is predisposed to be cheap? If so, what am *I* doing in that audience? Why are these writings attracting that kind of people?

    Don’t typecast this audience, or it will do it for you over time.

    • This may be the most annoying comment I’ve seen on this site. Get a hold of yourself sir.

    • If you think this is about clothes you may be missing the point. My reading was different. Ryan is saying: figure out what works for you and get to a reasonable place of comfort and security with it. Then SET IT AND FORGET IT.

      Why would it matter what Tim Ferriss links to? I think Ryan is adding the disclaimer about American Apparel because he is affiliated with the company.

    • The good news is that I don’t have any fanboys. (Side note–I’ve tried all the other chia seeds. Mila is the best, no question. It’s a finer ground seed so you don’t have to taste it as much)

    • Sweet holy Jesus, a reply to a blog post has probably never been more off the mark than this one. Did you not even read the post? His entire point is that every debate you just listed is actually a faux-debate, a waste of time and mental energy. You free yourself up to tackle real questions by ironing over all the fluff. iOS v. Android? Moleskin v. normal paper? WHO CARES. Pick what’s best for you and move on, for fuck’s sake.

    • I agree with this post, since some aspects of this article confuse me as well.
      The article aimed for a rethinking of what is important to us, why are the listings so shallow?
      What is this trend with fish oil pills? How did I survive over 30 years without pills and becoming stronger every year? You are talking about simplicity, but the most simple lifestyle you ignore, just eating good tasting fish once a week. What kind of lifestyle is it to live from pills and online clothing stores?

      Please take critic as a point to make you rethink things and not as a reason to flame people.

      • It wouldn’t surprise me that you agree. You survived 30 years without taking fish oil? My god, that does prove them ineffective. Certainly whatever means JR took to get to his enviable position of super human strength and sub-human logic is the most efficient way. Look at the rest of us silly people, ordering our clothes from the internet.

        If you didn’t get that, I’ll re-phrase: What the fuck are you talking about?

    • “Ipad vs Kindle Fire? Mobi vs Epub? OS vs. Android? Normal shoes vs. barefoot shoes? Moleskin vs normal paper? What’s best for notes? What do you make of the new changes in What do you share with? You may not replace these everyday, but far more important is the fact that you use them everyday for *actual work*”

      With the quoted section above, I feel like you’ve missed the point entirely. It’s not about personal productivity, it’s about freeing yourself from being on a treadmill of consuming for no particular reason, and all the baggage that entails.

  2. Great post. Reading this instantly reminded me of your “On the Spartans and the Perfect Paper” from awhile back. (Which, by the way, I used throughout college with a lot of success.) In that post you wrote:

    “And if you object too much to rigid structure, consider the freedom this truly allows you. Once you’ve disregarded–or been able to reduce to the subconscious–the actual form of the paper, all that is left is the ideas. Isn’t that what is truly important?”

    What you’re saying here applies a simliar concept to a daily routine. You simplify the basics of living (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) and it frees you up to focus on what really matters.

    • You’re right there are a lot of similarities between the mindsets. Get the extraneous shit nailed down so you can focus the entirety of your efforts on the critical variables.

    • Right on. I don’t get what was so hard to get about this post. In fact, I like that he was honest. Ryan isn’t saying to make your own clothes or buy organic, recycled BS. Just find something reasonable and invest in it and be loyal.

      Ryan, how long have these been “your things?” if you don’t mind me asking.

  3. Does the Silverescent material from LuluLemon really work? I’ve always been curious…

  4. Hot damn, 8-10 omega 3 pills in the morning? I used to take two every morning is 8-10 really the optimal useage?

    • American Apparel has a new jean actually. I’ve been trying them. Not bad. Before that, standard Levi’s.

  5. In Fight Club the narrator lists all the things in his apartment. He had however many special lamps, couches, coffee tables, rugs, appliances, counter tops, catalog subscriptions, etc etc. He even brags that he has 40 different kinds of mustard. Then Tyler Durden blows his life up and he begins to live. “The things you own, own you.”

    This post is so spot on it hurts. No one needs to become a space monkey and live with their burial money in their shoe. We can do something in the middle. Weed out what it is not important, stick with what it is and do not give one iota of a flying fuck about keeping them if something were to happen.

  6. I guess this has inspired me to break the cord my to music blog viewing aka my own HypeBeast.

    I have to say, when I narrowed down my wardrobe to a black tshirts and a few other regulars it was quite nice.

    Most people I know have one favorite pair of jeans they wear 90% of the time.

  7. I showed this post to my girlfriend and she asked what toilet paper you use. No need to disclose right away.

  8. Seems silly, but with that sort of disclaimer, you got to admit those are some pretentious selections. No ill will or anything, I have my own weirdness, but I didn’t know Lulu Lemon was two words till today, nor that they had a men’s line. I get your point though. Lulu Lemon does make fashionable clothing.

  9. Reminds of Sebastian Marshall’s posts on doubling on fundamentals during bad times:

  10. Charlie Leathers November 7, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I was confused on what you meant by “On the contrary it’s about reducing the needless varieties so you can introduce novel ones without hesitation. (Like quitting a job the second you’re unhappy with it.)” Were you considering quitting your job the second you’re unhappy with it as needless or novel in terms of compulsive regulation?

    The reason I ask is because currently I absolutely hate my job (mainly due to the management, not the work), but they just started to let me serve tables and from what I’ve seen it’s pretty hard to get a serving job with no experience. The two reasons I’m still working there are 1) for the experience and 2) the money per hour serving is way better than any other job I feel like doing while attending college. So I guess my question is can your reasons for continuing to put up with a frustrating situation outweigh what is to be gained by moving on to something else?

  11. Part of the problem may be that your job is a shitty transition job. Not the type of job Ryan is talking about. You’re working because you’re in college and need money and everyone puts up with shit to do that. I wouldn’t worry.

  12. I read Paradox of Choice a while back. I promptly forgot about it. Then I watched as my life became more cluttered. Then my mind.

    Daily Suicide has been slow. Cutting down my rss feed. Stripping ‘friends’ that were little more than sugar water. Books, information, clothes… There seems to be much nonsense in my life and that realization was painful to acknowledge.

    Discipline the self or someone/something else will.

  13. Lookup Krill Oil; it is superior in just about every way to fish oil.

  14. One thing I’d suggest adding to your daily ritual: 2000 IUs of Vitamin D3.

    People working indoors, especially in the northern regions of the US, don’t get enough exposure to the sun. There’s a bunch of research on the benefits of supplementing vitamin D ( I’ve been taking it for over a year, and it definitely helps.

  15. I spent years paying very little attention to fashion. It was kind of a default setting where it never even entered my mind and I didn’t reflect on it. I wasn’t grubby or foolish, I just bought a shirt when I needed a shirt and then went back to my life.

    Recently I became more fashion-conscious after I did a favor for a friend in hair-dressing. They did me up nice and dressed me up snazzy and took some photos for a competition, and I thought, “hey, this isn’t so bad. I might pay a little more attention to this in the future.” What I’ve noticed is that with most novel and ultimately superficial things you dip your toe in (like fashion), paying attention has an insidious side-effect of taking over you. It would be OK if you could go “shopping” rather than “too the shop” and then forget about it, but that’s not the reality of how humans behave. Once we buy into bullshit a little, we buy into it all the way. It clouds your judgements to the extent of modifying your opinions of important things. I’m ashamed to say that I found myself looking at what people were wearing before looking at their faces. What the fuck?

    I guess my point is that simplicity is not only an expression of humility and self-control, it can also cause and enforce it.

  16. “Once we buy into bullshit a little, we buy into it all the way”

    Painfully true.

  17. Its true that fish oils seems to be good in any case, to everybody , but be careful with the amounts of it, 10 1000mg pills a day its a lot, and could be dangerous if you are for example an APOE4 carrier (fish oils is even more important if you are a carrier, but its also much more dangerous if you take too much of it), or another lipoproteins related genes nuances. Have you got some kind of genetic testing (23andme and the like)? Track your LDL levels carefully

    • When i say a lot a mean, taking it daily, “forever”, and without any specific reason. Also be careful with possible excess of vitamin A, mercury contamination..

    • Sorry for the spam, didn’t find the study before:

      “The apoE genotype also had a striking impact on lipid responses to fish oil intervention. Individuals with an apoE2 allele displayed a marked reduction in postprandial incremental TG response (TG incremental area under the curve, P=0.023) and a trend toward an increase in lipoprotein lipase activity relative to non-E2 carriers. In apoE4 individuals, a significant increase in total cholesterol and a trend toward a reduction in HDL-C relative to the common homozygous E3/E3 profile was evident.”

      20% of population is apoe4 carrier, so its not that improbable.

  18. Before giving a blanket recommendation in favor of high omega 3 consumption, it’s important to note that there are some important factors in determining how much to take and what kind of supplement to use. It’s been shown recently that if you go for the cheaper versions of omega 3, they are usually oxidized and will actually contribute to heart disease and other inflammatory diseases instead of benefit.

    This is one good study demonstrating that:

    I was on the 10g+ bandwagon for a while, but I’ve seen enough data to instead shift me toward 3-5g a day and only from highly purified sources that test for oxidation. This article sums it up quite well:

    As does this Chris Masterjohn article:

  19. Hey Ryan,

    This is the second time I’ve gone to an old article and clicked a link (Bonobos) and it was broken. I commented a few weeks ago on the motivational posters of the bullet shell, tip, and gunpowder about the same thing.

    I don’t know if you still could be getting value from those links (if they are affiliate?) but you may want to look through that or have someone do so! I still personally share this post sometimes because I think the concept is valuable.

    Says a guy whose entire website is down.

  20. “Variety, despite the saying, is an overrated spice.”

    Infinitely quotable. Ha ha.

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