*This post was originally published on November 6, 2017
A few posts ago we talked about some of the negative impacts of overscheduling, and how simplifying your obligations can improve both your quality of life and produce financial gains.
Today we are going to revisit the idea of simplifying, except this time we are going to talk about STUFF.
And exactly how much is enough?
Too Much Stuff
There is no doubt we live in an age of commercialism. We are hit from all angles with companies or individuals trying to sell their products. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually worldwide on marketing, all to get you and I to buy more stuff.
That’s a lot of capital going into innovative ways to figure out how to influence us to open our wallets, or even worse, to go further into debt.
There are few places in our day to day lives where marketing isn’t present. Perhaps we’ve even reached a time where it’s hard to find any place in our lives that isn’t invaded by some type of marketing.
In amongst all that noise it’s easy for people to lose touch with what is truly a need, and what is merely a want.
Kids especially are having a harder and harder time escaping the materialism. But let’s be honest, the grown up world is not making it easy for them. After all, if marketers can hook the kid, they no longer have to worry about the tough job of how to convince the parent.
One afternoon our oldest son, who was then 8 years old, came home from playing with a friend and told us how his friend had the newest and coolest toy.
A fidget spinner.
He tried to tell us that this was a toy designed to improve concentration and by using it at school, it was helping kids pay better attention.
I gave him an “A” for the pitch, but to start with, I didn’t even know what a fidget spinner was at that time, secondly I questioned what teacher in their right mind would allow such a toy into their classroom, and thirdly Mike and I answered with a hard no.
The fidget spinner landed firmly in the want category (actually it landed firmly in the garbage toy category, but we do try to allow him some leeway to reach these determinations on his own), so if our son wanted one that badly, he would need to spend his own money on it.
We agreed that if he still wanted one by the time we went on our summer vacation that year (4 weeks later), he could look for and purchase one with his own money.
Summer vacation rolled around, and much to our dismay, he still desperately wanted a fidget spinner. We talked about fads etc, but his mind was made up. Not parents to get in the way of a good financial lesson, Mike and I agreed to take him to some stores on the last day of our vacation so he could look for his desired fidget spinner.
Every store was sold out.
We went to 6 stores until we finally found a specialty shop that had some “higher end” fidget spinners still available.
Our son was thrilled. He eagerly examined them all, and selected one that was just under $30. He happily spent his money and played with his fidget spinner constantly for the remainder of the day.
We went home, where he played with it maybe a dozen times before it found itself firmly planted at the bottom of the toy box.
When school started in September, he came racing home one afternoon and told us all about how there was this new even cooler toy, a fidget cube! And how one of his friends had TEN fidget spinners.
This launched a lengthy conversation about how much value he got out of his one fidget spinner, if it was worth the money he spent on it (not to mention how no one needs a fidget spinner to begin with, let alone ten of them). As well as a brief discussion about how he paid $30 for a toy that was now littering dollar store shelves everywhere for about $1.50 a piece.
This type of story repeats itself in millions of households every year, and everyone reading this post knew exactly where I was going with this. Everyone knew the fidget spinner was a fad, and that our son would probably regret the purchase and hopefully think twice about similar purchases in the future.
And you were all right.
But the fact that you were all right begs one really huge question, why do we grown ups make the exact same type of “status” or “fad” purchases of unnecessary items ALL THE TIME?
Not too mention on a MUCH BIGGER SCALE.
Sure my son spent $30 of his money on a useless fad toy, and we all knew exactly what was going on.
But why is it so much harder to see the same principle in play when it’s that $800 designer purse you just “have to have”? Or the new BBQ that cooks the burgers just so much better than the old one?
Does it? Really?
I personally witnessed the keeping up with the Jones’s disease hit our neighbourhood when one family went out and bought a new vehicle, and LITERALLY 6, yes 6, other families on the same cul-de-sac ended up with new vehicles in a matter of a few weeks.
The initial purchase got people thinking and talking about a purchase that probably wasn’t even really a priority until someone else had it.
How come we haven’t bought a new vehicle? Our vehicle is pretty old, I would like something newer. We probably should look at getting something new, why not treat ourselves? We deserve it.
It was crazy.
As a society we are constantly buying and upgrading items as though they are disposable, rather than something that should last. We treat our homes this way, our cars, our clothing, everything.
This constant desire to have, to keep up, or to upgrade is killing our ability to escape our jobs and experience financial freedom.
The Homework / Remedy
There is no better way to hit this concept home than to do a whole house clutter clearing.
You might think you are someone who doesn’t spend a ton or make poor purchase decisions, but hold that thought until you’ve gone through your house top to bottom.
I thought I was pretty disciplined, until I started doing whole house clutter clears as a regular occurrence. It exposed me to plenty of areas for improvement.
I now do whole house clutter clears at least twice a year. I break it down room by room, and tackle one area per day over the span of a couple weeks. This gives me the time to really empty every cupboard and assess each individual item.
If it’s taking up space in my home, it better be something I use and get value from.
Give it a try. As you go through everything, don’t ask yourself “could I possibly use this one day?”.
That’s what hoarders ask.
Instead, ask yourself have I used this at all since I bought it?
If you did, did you find it useful? Did you get value out of having it available? IE: do you need a kitchen gadget that slices eggs, or one that specifically cuts down the side of an orange, or could you use an amazing all purpose tool called a knife just as effectively?
Do you need 18 sets of bedsheets in your closet, or do you perhaps just require one, possibly two for each bed?
Do you really need 20 pairs of designer shoes? How many is too many? At what point does the value and enjoyment you gain in owning a pair of designer shoes start to diminish? Is it after the first pair, the second, the tenth? Would you get more use and enjoyment from them if you only had one?
Try to be critically honest about the value each item brings to your life, and the frequency it gets used. If you find yourself wavering, even slightly, chances are you probably don’t need it.
By doing this you will not only organize and de-clutter your house, you will highlight the types of stuff on which you waste your money the most.
For me it was definitely clothing and DIY tools/materials. I was once a sucker for buying things when they were on sale. Falling prey to the thought that I might use it at some point, and should get it now while it was a deal.
I would then find myself clearing those same items out a year or so later when I would finally realize that not only did I not need them in the first place, they were a total waste of money and definitely not worth the “deal” I got them for.
The more you can educate yourself on what you actually get use from and what you don’t, the more awareness you will have when you are trying to make a purchase decision.
Building this awareness should help you avoid repeating purchase mistakes in the future, and essentially throwing money away. There’s no doubt I’ve trimmed thousands of dollars annually from my spending habits, just by regularly clearing the clutter.
The Benefits Are More Than Financial
The mental benefits and clarity that come with having an organized house that isn’t bursting at the seams with stuff is worth its weight in gold. Just like simplifying your schedule, simplifying your stuff can reduce stress in your life.
Having less makes it easier to care for and keep your home clean, which frees up time to spend on the things you want to prioritize in life, like your finances.
The Bottom Line
I’m not suggesting everyone should turn into a minimalist, but I think it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of us have far beyond what we need, and could not only afford too, but benefit from paring things down.
Whatever your income level, we all have room to reduce our spending by critically evaluating what we really need in life and what we truly gain value from. We can all take the time to figure out how much is enough, for us?
After all, if we can’t learn to more accurately identify our own wants vs. needs and avoid overspending, what hope do we have in helping our kids generation avoid the materialism trap and find their own path to Financial Freedom.