From Stuff to Less Stuff

I have too much stuff. Most people in America do. In fact, the poorer people are, the more stuff they seem to have. It boggles my mind when I drive around and see homes with a front yard full of old cars. For me at my home, I have too many books. I have made the switch from real books to eBooks, but can not find it in me to let go of the books that I own. I will one day. The second is on things I own but do not possess. I own an enormous amount of Legos from when I was growing up, more books and tools that I left in Chicago more than a decade ago. I will one day let go of all of it.

Some talk about minimalism, selling everything that does not fit into luggage or a small room. Minimalism is about having as little as possible. That’s not for me, I have a daughter, I want her to grow up in a stable home. I just want to have less stuff. I want to remove the stress, anxiety, and burdens of too much stuff. Stuff that we do not use, stuff that we have just because.

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”  Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

The quote from Fight Club is perfect. Weddings are the worst when it comes to upgrading what you own. When my wife and I got married, we had separate sets of dishware. We had no need for new plates or flatware, but our friends and family convinced us that we could use the wedding as an excuse to ‘upgraded.’ We asked for a very nice set, and received what we asked for. We enjoy using the new dishes, but we are no happier because we are eating with nicer forks on nicer plates. Our lives are no better now because we own something nicer. Our only saving grace is that we gave away our old sets.

Suffering

Owning less, is not about suffering. It is about consuming less, and when you do consume thinking about what you intend to purchase. Is it something that will bring value to your life? Value to the lives of those around you? Will you use it? Will it make you truly happy in a week? a month? a year from now? The items certainly may, but more than likely they will not. Are you happy without it now?

When you do consume, are you price sensitive? If so, why? It might be better to spend twice as much if the item will last longer. How many times have you bought a cheap article of clothing or shoes, just to get rid of them shortly after buying them? Having less is not about being frugal, it is about owning less, and for most I recommend owning spending extra money and investing in what you own. I hate to say invest in what you own, but if a $150 pair of jeans will last you 3 years compared to a cheap pair of pants that barely last 2 months, the more expensive pair is worth it. However there is no reason to buy new clothes just because you want something to last longer. Use what you have first, by not spending you free up money instead of throwing it,on some habitual money pit that doesn’t make much of a positive impact on your life.

Yo-Yo Cycle
Don’t get rid of stuff just because you can. If you do this, the most likely result is that you’ll be sad and lonely without your stuff and will just end up buying new versions of them, which supports conspicuous consumption, costs you a bunch of money, kills the rain forests and generally wreaks havoc on the world in general. Don’t put yourself in the position to yo-yo when it comes to this many things.

Why Collect?
Think about lives 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. Stuff used to be incredibly valuable and hard to obtain. Archaeologists dig up sites all of the time, and the stuff is hoarded by the ruler, no one else had anything. Over the past 100 years, and really the past 50 years, stuff has gotten a lot cheaper. However, our attitudes toward it haven’t changed correspondingly. We attach too much value to stuff. We can not take it with us, so why collect it? Maybe your collection makes you happy, but what else could make you happy if you could free yourself from the burden of stuff? Sell it, make someone else happy.

After all is said and one, I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. The issues we experience are when we attach too much value to what we own and let it own us. I am far from perfect, and when I was younger I bought stuff just because I could. Looking back I see many items I purchased and never once used.