Friday, September 5, 2014

Why We Buy More Stuff Than We Need

My Front Porch during my massive uncluttering and downsizing in 2008. 
Why did I even own this stuff? But, wait! There's more.  

I was sitting in my friend's 91 year old mother's living room the other evening engaging in some conversation with this delightful woman, older than my own mother would have been at this time. She was telling me she had decided to go through some of the closets, in her way too large a home for one widowed person of her age, to get rid of some "stuff." She pointed to her foot she held up prominently and said, "Ed, how do you like my new shoes?" I commented that they looked nice.

She then explained that she found this and another pair of new shoes, neither of which had ever been worn by her or the person who gave them to the Goodwill Store in town. She bought them, not because she actually needed them (of course, they were her size and fit properly), but because they were only $2.00 per pair. Who could pass up a deal like that. She didn't need the shoes and she wouldn't have bought these particular shoes in a shoe store if she actually needed shoes, but hey, who could afford to pass up a deal like that even if you don't need whatever it is?

She found these shoes in one of the closets she was going through. She couldn't even remember when she acquired them, just that they cost two bucks at Goodwill. How much stuff do you have sitting in closets, the attic, the basement, the garage, the outdoor storage building, a relative's house or in space your paying rent on just to store "stuff" you really don't need - or need any longer?  Frankly, I'm guilty as charged.  
A partial view of my family room - where did all 
this stuff come from?

This isn't a new subject for me. Actually, it's a recurring subject. It's something that, perhaps, even the poorest people in our society ascribe to nearly as much as the wealthiest.

I was inspired to write on this topic again by a recent article posted on another blogger's blog. Like you, I read numerous blogs. Some I read every posting faithfully. Some I read semi-regularly. While there are others I may scan for interesting topics and read only occasionally. Obviously, I subscribe to them, as I did my trade journals in audio, video and production, for different reasons and to gain ideas and insights that will improve my life. And so it is with Joshua Becker's Becoming Minimalist blog.

So, as I read Joshua's seven reasons, I realized that he had pretty much hit the nail on the head. I immediately realized that to a great or lesser degree, each of these seven reasons applied to me. I'll wager that they apply to you as well. So, take a look and see where these fit into your motivations to acquire "stuff."

1. We think it will make us feel secure.

2. We think it will make us happy.

3. We are more susceptible to advertising than we believe.

4. We are hoping to impress other people.

5. We are jealous of people who own more.

6. We are trying to compensate for our deficiencies.

7. We are more selfish than we like to admit.

Cheese & Crackers! Is this REALLY all my stuff?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
I'm not going to expound on these seven reasons. If you go to the sub-title of this section of the article and click on it, I've linked to Joshua's article so you can read his thoughts on each of these reasons.

But, before you go there, take just a few minutes and think about each of these reasons and how it impacts you personally. Some may dig deeper into the core of who you are and your personal motivations than others. I would say that has to be true in virtually all cases.

The Bottom Line

Here's the Bottom Line (and there is always a bottom line), we acquire and accumulate stuff because it's there to be acquired and because we can, either by opportunity, such as my friend's mother and the $2.00 pairs of shoes, or because we have the resources, financial or otherwise. We are impulsive beings. We are weak in our fortitude to resist the incessant direct, subtle, subliminal, targeted, hard sell and other forms of marketing and advertising methods we are exposed to during our waking hours. And, day I say, some of us even dream about this "stuff" and sell ourselves during our REM periods of sleep.

It is estimated, according to Becker, that we are exposed to about 5,000
A partial view of the 1 1/2 car garage? Is there
no end to this stuff?
advertising messages per day throughout our lives. Some of them are obvious. But, when you see the Apple logo or the Coke or Pepsi can or a specific book or series of books or people driving a specific brand and model car in movies and TV shows, I hope you don't believe those props just happened to be handy. Not at all! They are there to implant a specific message in your mind.

The intention is simple and clear. Get you to buy, buy, buy more stuff whether you need it or not. The cable TV shopping channels are amazing. They generate billions and billions of dollars in sales every year selling tons and tons of stuff you don't REALLY need, but they convince you that you must call in or go on line right now because they've already sold over X number of tens of thousands of these items and they're running short of inventory and this offer will never, ever happen again (until three months from now).

Can I Live Without This?

Oh my God! Here I am in the basement - with the
organ I picked up at my sister's in New Jersey, just
because she wanted it out of her living room. It has
sat right in this spot for six years, never played.
I've told you this before. Whenever I'm in Costco, Walmart, Target, Kohl's or other stores and when I'm looking over all the fantastic offers from Amazon,, Ebates, New Egg and the other online marketers or reading reviews on the latest, greatest, fantastic new pieces of audio, video or photo gear in some of the trade journals I still peruse, my emotions are stirred. I love the stuff they are offering. And, yes, I want it. There was a time when I gave in to my emotional needs too often, driven by one or more of the seven reasons listed above.

It took some rethinking and retraining my mind and emotions to begin asking the question, "Can I live without this?" That question seems to create a cooling off period when I allow more logical and rational and less emotional, impulsive, reactive thinking to take control. The result, for me at least, is that I seldom ever make purchases of things that I really don't need. But, please note, I'm not a perfect human. I do, on occasion, make a purchase I realize I didn't need and could have lived without.

The long term result for me is that I am no longer adding things into
Oops! I forgot about the storage room in the barn.
Why did I buy or somehow acquire all this stuff?
The truth is, these photos only show about 1/3 of
the total space that I had filled with that much
more stuff. I didn't consider myself a hoarder, but
how did a single man, living alone have all this?
Once it was gone, I didn't miss any of it. Hmmm.
storage, I'm continuing to reduce the amount of storage and footprint I need. When one makes a decision to downsize to be able of living in any size RV, but especially smaller RV's or, in my case, my converted camper van known as "My McVansion," space is of the essence and it rapidly becomes evident what one REALLY needs and what one can truly live without. And, as a caveat to that last statement, I still have too much on board that I find I don't use and I'm virtually never wanting for anything.

So, I encourage you to ponder the seven reasons above listed and read Joshua's article. Then, like me, adopt the question, "Can I live without this?" Make it a mantra. See how well you can live with as little excess stuff as possible. Eliminate shopping as a "participation sport" or as a self-medicating "anti-depressant." You'll definitely realize that less is, most often, more.