Potato chips

This is part of my series on Decluttering Mental Models.

I love potato chips. Whether it’s Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, Jalapeño Kettle Chips, or Barbecue Pringles, I can’t get enough.

I first discovered jalapeño chips thirteen years ago at the local dollar store while browsing for school supplies and cheap candy. The chips caught my eye, and I whispered, “What gloriousness!” I made a mental note of the aisle number, bought a bag, and consumed it as soon as I got home.

The next day I returned and cleared out their measly stock of seven bags. My wife greeted me with a smile when I returned home, but it evaporated when she saw my new-found treasure. I have a history of buying questionable food-like items from the dollar store. (Never buy their frozen chicken nuggets, no matter how low the price!). Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to inhale all seven bags.

You’re probably thinking, “Stewie has a problem.” And you’re right. I do.

Whenever I think of chips, I crave them. Not an overwhelming desire, but a mild one. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s about a 2. But if you sit next to me at a summer barbecue with a burger and chips on your flimsy paper plate, and my craving advances to a 4. And if I eat just one, with its salty flavor and satisfying crunch, my desire pole vaults to a 7.

Here’s the worst part: if I eat ten chips, my hankering holds its ground and stays at a 7. And after fifty chips, it remains at a 7. Regardless of how many I eat, my desire never abates. I only stop after I’ve tipped the bag’s bottom high in the air, and the last crumbs tumble into my mouth.

My craving for chips only intensifies when I eat them. There’s no stopping it, no satiating it. So the rational thing is never to eat them. Not even one. This way, the scale never tips past 4.

These days I don’t buy chips, so they never sit next to me and sing their siren song. This keeps my craving at a 2, except for those pesky barbecues where chip-lovers have the gall to plop down next to me!


Don’t those donuts look yummy! I could eat a box of those right about now.

Yes, I have a problem with sweets. Specifically doughnuts, pies, and anything mixed with chocolate. (I love peanut butter and chocolate!) I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say I cannot be trusted to eat only one piece of my kids’ Halloween candy or a single slice of pecan pie. My drive for sweet things is only slightly less than that for potato chips. So, I do my best not to eat them either.

But wait, there’s more!

I suffer from another class of cravings, which is somewhat milder. It doesn’t go up or down but is consistent. For example, I always want to buy more books. No matter how many I bought last week or last year, I want more. There’s not enough time to read what’s on my bookshelves, but that doesn’t matter. I may purchase a couple of books today, and before they arrive in two days, my attention moves on to the ones I don’t have.

This desire whispers, “Just get this one thing, and I’ll go away. You’ll finally feel content.” But it’s a lie. The voice never leaves, and I never feel completely satisfied. I always want more.

So I set limits on how many books I buy. Sure, I dream of being rich with a personal library of 10,000 volumes, like Robert Jordan (except all of mine would be hardbacks!). But for now, I buy two or three every month. And more than half of them are used, which keeps the cost relatively low.

While feeding my hunger for books is pretty harmless, other desires present challenges if I give into them. For example, no matter what kind of car I have, I fantasize about a nicer one. Right now, I want a self-driving Tesla Model Y, which would be a huge step up from my no-frills Honda Odyssey. But a Tesla’s novelty would soon wane, and I’d want something nicer. I’d be foolish to accrue debt for something when I will just want something else. When mild dissatisfaction is omnipresent, I might as well stick with the cheaper minivan.

City by the water

The same idea applies to where I live. I have a nice house in Utah, right by a park. But I dream of a nicer house: one with a pool, no stairs, and no basement. (Does anyone else fear basement floods?) I daydream of living someplace with perfect weather like San Diego, CA; Málaga, Spain; or Tuscany, Italy. But I know that it would cost a lot to move—San Diego is particularly pricey! No matter where I live, I’ll dream of someplace else. So I might as well stay in my current house and keep using the stairs.

I accept that craving is always with me. It hints that everything will be perfect, and I’ll never hear from it again if I just give in and take another bite of carrot cake, finish that can of Pringles, or buy a Tesla. But it’s a trick. And a lie.

These days, I know that I’ll feel some discontent, no matter what I have or where I live. This is freeing! I avoid the hopeless cycle of “maybe this will finally make the longing go away.” Instead, I choose what to safely indulge in but with limits, like books. And I decide what to abstain from, like chips, sweets, and expensive cars.

Lastly, I realized that even though my craving won’t disappear, I can turn down its volume. It quiets from a roar to a mere murmur when I meditate, record what I feel grateful for, and avoid advertisements. And that makes my life a hundred times more enjoyable.

More Decluttering Mental Models:

Top 10 Favorites

  1. How I answer the question: “What if I need this later?”
  2. “The Container strategy” will simplify your decluttering
  3. Selling clothes is for suckers (unless you earn $15/hour)
  4. Wait 48 hours before buying stuff
  5. 21 questions to ask before you buy
  6. The radical way to measure wealth, part 1 and part 2
  7. We’re trained to be dissatisfied with what we have (and how to fix this)
  8. Clear clutter by zoning your home
  9. How screen time kills your motivation to declutter
  10. Dear car dealers: I don't want a "free" T-shirt with your logo

Get started

  1. Clear clutter by zoning your home
  2. How I answer the question: “What if I need this later?”
  3. “The Container strategy” will simplify your decluttering
  4. Hold each item and ask, “Does this spark joy?”
  5. When the “Does this Spark Joy?” fails you, ask these 6 questions
  6. Create your “Discard by Feb. 2022” box
  7. Decluttering yearbooks? Ask these 8 questions first


  1. 21 questions to ask before you buy
  2. Wait 48 hours before buying stuff - version 1 and version 2
  3. How a grocery shopping list saves me time, money, and pounds

Manage your clothes

  1. Selling clothes is for suckers (unless you can earn $15/hour)
  2. Dear Dude with too many T-shirts: no one wants to buy them—just recycle/trash them
  3. Don't be like my friend Giorgio with his 400 Hawaiian shirts
  4. None of my clothes "spark joy"—so what do i get rid of?

Happiness & satisfaction

  1. Limit pleasurable things so they don’t lose their novelty
  2. We’re trained to be dissatisfied with what we have (and how to fix this)
  3. Craving never stops and my potato chip addiction
  4. Reminder: happiness levels stay consistent

Get motivated

  1. Want to boost your motivation to declutter? Immerse yourself in decluttering videos, podcasts, & books!
  2. How screen time kills your motivation to declutter
  3. Imagine your ideal home… Imagine all the clutter is gone…
  4. Feeling unmotivated? Declutter with a 5-minute time box

Manage your money

  1. The radical way to measure wealth, part 1 and part 2
  2. Save money by controlling aspirational identities
  3. I wasted so much money starting projects (and how I fixed it)

Manage consumption spirals

  1. How consumption spirals work
  2. Buying a house led to an enormous consumption spiral
  3. How craving completeness drives my consumption

Shift your Paradigm

  1. Change your environment, change your consumption
  2. 3 thought experiments to adopt a decluttering mindset
  3. Your home is not a storage unit for other people's crap!
  4. Before you buy stuff, do this little mental exercise
  5. Less space, less stuff
  6. That’s right, you and I pay for the privilege of seeing viagra ads
  7. Your home is an expensive container for your stuff. What’s your cost per sqft?

Manage your emotions

  1. Can you tolerate boredom?
  2. Fill the void with a long term goal

Control the Clutter

  1. Dear car dealers: I don't want a "free" T-shirt with your logo