Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?

Let�s face it�we love our stuff! We are a society of consumers. That�s one of the benefits of living in a prosperous capitalistic country �- we have a lot of disposable income and a wide variety of ways in which to spend it. Americans, in particular, shell out a tremendous amount of money each year for LEISURE CONSUMABLE GOODS �- those are purchases above and beyond those required to meet our basic needs for shelter, food, clothing, and transportation.
Why do you buy what you buy?
Unfortunately, we often buy things for the WRONG REASONS -� a desire to appear more affluent, hip, intellectual, or worldly; an attempt to make up for deprivation earlier in life; an unrealistic expectation of what “success” is supposed to look like. We mistakenly think that our possessions will change our lives �- that a treadmill will give us the motivation to exercise and a Palm Pilot will end a lifetime of procrastination. How many fabulous “modern conveniences” do you own that are collecting dust in a cabinet because they failed to live up to your expectations?

How do we accumulate stuff?
Spend a few minutes thinking about the ways in which you accumulate “stuff” you don’t need. Perhaps your vice is going to the mall when you are depressed. Or sitting at the computer and shopping for Internet deals until 3 AM. Maybe you�re addicted to mail order catalogs, or kitchen gadgets, or cheap vacation souvenirs. We all have a weakness (some of us more than one!), and the trick is to identify the areas where you are most at risk. You can choose to stop accumulating more clutter, but only if you know where the clutter is coming from.

How does clutter make you feel?
Certainly, the mere act of “shopping” is not inherently evil. The real problem occurs when we fail to make room for the new by purging the old and obsolete. Unfortunately, cleaning out is pretty low on most people�s “to-do” lists. How is this a priority -� when you have carpools, business meetings, and deadlines to keep you busy? How can you possibly make time to clear the decks? Let me answer that question by asking another -� how do you feel when you can�t find something that you are looking for — frustrated? How about when you run across something that you haven�t used once since the day you bought it? Do you feel guilty? Stupid? Wasteful? And how do you feel when you look around you and see nothing but piles and stacks — like your life is out of control? Clutter can evoke an amazing variety of negative emotions in people.

What does clutter say about you?
It has been said that “to surround yourself with worthless objects, renders you worthless.” Think about that �- if we tend to define ourselves by our belongings, what does clutter say about us? How do you regard yourself when your home or office is filled with a lot of useless junk that you haven�t touched in years? Probably pretty harshly. So you might say that if we define ourselves by our possessions, we judge ourselves based on our clutter.

How much is clutter costing you?
I define clutter as anything extraneous and unnecessary. Clutter takes up one of four valuable resources �- time, space, energy, or money �- without providing any tangible benefit. When you look at your life through the lens of this definition, it is clear that we are all burdened with some form of clutter. How much of your square footage is designated for storage? If you didn�t need so much space for your “stuff,” you could create larger living and working areas — or downsize to a smaller home or office (think about the reduction in mortgage and utility costs!) And just imagine the collective savings if everyone turned in the keys to their public storage units!

Now, take a minute to consider the time and effort you invest in caring for your belongings. Would these precious resources be better spent on other pursuits � a new hobby, relaxing with family and friends, achieving some of the goals you listed in last month�s exercises? Don�t forget the expenditure of emotional energy �- ownership can weigh heavy on a person�s mind. “What if someone steals or damages my stuff? What if a tornado blows it all away? What will I do then?” How often has the stress you experience in your life been related to your material possessions?

Once you can understand where clutter comes from, how you accumulate it, and what�s driving those behavior patterns, you can stem the tide. Remember, the goal isn�t to become a monk and give up all worldly possessions, but to put a stop to the constant influx of meaningless “stuff” into your life — and start making conscious and deliberate decisions about each purchase.

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