The problem: most of us have too much stuff.
Why does the problem exist?
You are easily swayed by marketing and advertising.
An entire industry (marketing and advertising) has one main goal – to get you to buy more stuff. They have already determined what you will crave next year. For instance, they will tempt you through slick ads to purchase a new jacket – although you already own several – because the ones you have are no longer in style. Who determines what is “in style”?
Many major manufacturing companies employ teams of psychologists and behavioral scientists whose sole job is to discover how to get you to buy more of their products. Perhaps you have been hoodwinked by these “isms.”
- Materialism – desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters; matter is the only reality.
- Consumerism – equating personal happiness with purchasing material possessions.
- Commercialism – the tendency to turn everything into objects, images, and services for the purpose of generating profit, and the tendency for intangible things such as happiness, beauty, or health to be given a monetary value or to be spoken of as commodities.
Why do you have so much stuff?
You need to wrestle with this question until you have an honest answer. Here are some possibilities to consider.
1. You have the financial means to purchase a lot, therefore you do.
Just because you can own a lot of stuff, doesn’t mean you should. If you are wealthy, do you need more stuff than those who are poor?
2. Shopping is fun and relaxing.
For some people, shopping is a hobby, a pleasant pastime, a means of escape. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Going to the mall, getting a good deal, or owning something new can be psychologically addictive and even temporarily rewarding.
But there are other, healthier ways to relax and have fun: exercise, reading, spending time with friends, traveling.
3. Your possessions make you feel secure.
Some people feel more secure when surrounded by physical possessions. But in hard times (economic recession, divorce, physical illness, etc.) tangible possessions can actually become a burden. Our sense of security may actually be enhanced by having fewer possessions.
4. Your possessions bolster your self-esteem and your sense of self-worth.
We often hope to impress people and feel better about ourselves by showcasing the quantity and quality of our possessions: a Hermes tie may make me look more successful; driving a luxury car makes me feel better about myself.
A better way to establish and measure self-esteem and self-worth is to focus on:
- Virtues — Am I a kind person? Am I honest?
- Intellect — Am I a life-long-learner? Am I curious about life, always pursuing new areas of knowledge?
- Work ethics — Am I a good employee? Am I industrious?
- Interpersonal relationships — Am I a good friend, spouse, or parent?
What are some potential dangers of owning too much stuff?
1. It may lead to financial instability or ruin.
Buying too much stuff may adversely affect your fiscal viability, particularly if you purchase items on credit.
This is not, however, an essay on personal finances. I’m not suggesting that you take a vow of poverty and give all your money to charity. I’m simply encouraging you to think carefully about your relationship with stuff. Regardless of your socio-economic status, you need to establish guidelines and boundaries on how much you own.
2. It may distract you from more important life-issues.
An inordinate focus on material possessions may distract you from more important things in life, like family, friends, and learning.
One solution – Decide when enough is enough
The answer to one key question will help you achieve a balanced perspective on material possessions: When is enough, enough?
You need to answer that question. You need to complete this sentence: “I have ____ personal possessions and that is enough.”
Start by considering your personal possessions. If you’re married, you and your spouse have mutual possessions, things like furniture, kitchen utensils, and yard equipment, but for now, just consider your personal belongings. If you’re single, don’t include household items in your list; just personal ones. Once this philosophy of restraint affects one aspect of your life (personal) it will spread to other areas. Focus only on your possessions. Don’t try to influence how other people answer this question or whether or not they even want to answer it. This is a personal exercise.
Here’s my commitment: Following careful thought and reflection, I am committed to owning a finite number of things. I have no more than 100 personal possessions and that is enough.
My limit is 100. I now have 84 items on my list.
Laptop computer, cell phone, auto, umbrella, briefcase – leather, briefcase – roller, luggage – roller, books (unlimited), CDs (unlimited), rings (4), watches (2), reading glasses, toiletries, ties (7), t-shirts, underwear, socks, gloves, leather jacket, light jacket, heavy jacket, hat (2), suit – black, suit – blue, suit – olive, suit – beige, suit – brown, sport-coat – black, sport-coat – blue, suit – brown, sport-coat – black, sport-coat – blue, sport-coat – plaid, sport-coat – grey, dress shirt – white, dress shirt – blue, dress shirt – red, dress shirt – blue stripe, dress shirt – white, dress shirt – white, tuxedo, black shoes, brown shoes, loafers, loafers, sandals, tennis shoes, tennis shoes, slippers, blue jean, blue jean, pants – black, pants – black, pants – brown, pants – grey, pants – khaki, pants – khaki, pants – khaki, swimsuit, shorts – black, shorts – Khaki, shorts – green, polo shirt – red, polo shirt – yellow, polo shirt – green, polo shirt – red, polo shirt, long-sleeve shirt – white, long-sleeve shirt – blue, long-sleeve shirt – red, long-sleeve shirt – taupe, turtleneck shirt, short-sleeve shirt – black, short-sleeve shirt – black, short-sleeve – blue, short-sleeve – SCC, sweater-vest – grey, sweater-vest – black, sweater-vest – white, sweater, black belt, casual belt, backpack,
Suggestions for developing your own list
- Identify your own limit and make your own rules. One hundred is not a magical number. You may want to limit yourself to 140 items, or 90. The most important thing is to commit to a finite number.
- Identify categories in which you allow yourself multiple items of the same type and count each category as one item. For instance, my categories include underwear, toiletries, t-shirts, books, and socks. But don’t abuse this allowance. For some categories I allow myself multiple items but I limit myself to a finite number within each category. For example, two watches, seven ties, and four rings.
- Initially, commit to live within your finite number for at least one year. Then reevaluate your list annually and adjust if desired.
- Once you’ve reached your maximum number of items, before you buy something new, you must decide what item you will replace, then you’ll need to discard that item.
- When evaluating which possessions to own, ask yourself these questions.
- When was the last time I used this item?
- If I did not already own this item, would I buy it now?
- Why do I own this item?
- Is this something I truly need?
- Will this item require maintenance? If so, how much and how often?
Advantages in defining when enough is enough
- It develops a resistance to marketing and advertisement. I am no longer distracted by those advertising inserts that double the size of the Sunday paper, ads on television, junk mail, and radio spots; they have lost their voice.
- It increases the perceived value of the objects I do own. Now that I have fewer than 100 personal things, I more highly value each one.
It causes me to purchase better quality products. If I have limited myself to a certain number of pairs of shoes, I will tend to buy high quality shoes.
- It allows more time to focus on being and doing instead of having. An inordinate focus on stuff requires a lot of time and energy. I have to shop for, acquire, maintain, and store each item. With less stuff, I have more time to focus on the joy of being a human being.
Relative to belongings, it engenders content. One of the onerous side effects of materialism is the irrepressible feeling of discontent – always wanting more.
- It fosters financial prudence and responsibility. Saying “no” to consumerism will help me live a fiscally controlled life.
- It helps develop those areas of my life that I have made unrestrictive. You’ll notice in my list that I have allowed myself an unlimited number of books. One reason is that it would be impractical to count each book toward my total of 100 things, but also, good books enhance my life; in one sense, the more the better.
- It blesses those in need when I give away surplus items. When I culled my belongings down to 100, I gave a car-load of stuff to charity.
As we share our convictions with family and friends, others (and future generations) will benefit from our example.The quality issue
Limiting your possessions to a finite number does not imply that your possessions should be cheap and of low-quality. In fact, committing to a limited number of items may prompt you to choose higher quality items.
For instance, I wear Johnston and Murphy dress shoes. I pay about $170 a pair. I could spend less on another brand, but I buy J&M because they are more comfortable than lesser quality shoes and they last longer; I resole a pair three or four times before discarding them. But I won’t buy a $1,500 pair of Italian shoes because I think that’s extreme.
But at what point does the wise pursuit of quality give way to other factors such as style and fashion?
One way to approach the quality/price issue is to consider a continuum on a scale from 1 (low quality/inexpensive) to 10 (very expensive [expensive doesn’t always correlate with quality]).
Let’s consider my shoes. Cost per pair:
$30 $70 $100 $200 $400 $1,500
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
At some point on the scale, moving from left to right, I’m no longer paying for higher quality but for issues such as style, name-brand, and fashion. At that point I should question the wisdom of paying more.
1. List and number all the personal items that you currently own.
2. Circle the items on your list that you will keep.
3. Complete this sentence: “I have ____ possessions, and that is enough.”
For further personal thought
This essay focuses on personal belongings. Also consider your other possessions (furniture, appliances, etc.). Are you inclined to limit those as well? When making your list of personal possessions, if you created groups of items (jewelry, books, etc.), evaluate each group to see if you’re being excessive.