I think a lot of our problem with stuff, and the accumulation of stuff, partially stems from an unhappiness with the things we do have. Bigger and better things always seem so wonderful, so shiny and new, so filled with potential promises for what our future could be like with that better thing (and not the similar thing we might already own). Because Americans have so much stuff, we are unable to appreciate it all – or even remember it all. I imagine a young family in some poverty stricken country, where they own one bowl for each person and barely a roof over their heads. When there is bread or rice or even a bit of meat to be put in those bowls, they are so grateful and feel so rich for having so much.
Everyday we throw so much away. Perfectly good food goes in the compost bin, paper with plenty of room left to write gets recycled, hardly worn clothes get donated to Goodwill, usable furniture gets sold at yard sales to make room for something more comfortable that better suits our self-image. We have so much that when some of it goes away, we may hardly even notice.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t get rid of stuff. Getting rid of stuff (via methods like donating, recycling, etc) that clutter our lives is liberating. We become less weighed down or owned by our stuff, and instead realize more in the value of the things we do have.
Take for instance my car. Sure I would love to be driving around an Audi TT Convertible, but our 10-year-old Pontiac Sunfire runs fine (except when it doesn’t). I feel lucky (or know I should feel lucky) to even have transportation. Most of the time I take it for granted and don’t think too much about it. But when its clean, freshly washed and vacuumed it feels a hundred times better. I feel prouder to drive it, and the whole commute is more enjoyable.
I guess what brought on these thoughts is that I’ve veered off the path of consuming less and saving more. I want to be more conscious of where I’m trading my money. Sure, there are still things I expect to buy fairly soon, things I don’t need, but would like to have – a new jacket, a pair of convertible pants for hiking and camping, and someday a new sofa to replace the one we have, but hate. I will likely spend way more than strictly necessary because there are certain styles, and therefore brands, with the quality that my husband and I prefer. Despite my desire to spend less, I like to buy nice things when I do.
I know its a little hypocritical to write such things. But its really a reminder to myself and maybe others, that it is important to appreciate and take care of the things we own now. When the house is clean for instance, I feel happier. When my desk is organized or my clothes are neatly put away, I become free to appreciate the space, and how lucky I am to live this way. Alternately, when my clothes (or David’s clothes) are strewn about the bedroom or bathroom, I think it doesn’t really bother me and maybe I won’t pick them up right now. But then I get more careless, and more clothes make their way on the floor instead of in the hamper, until finally the mess is so overwhelming that it really does bother me a lot. I am not a neat person by nature, and when it gets overwhelming to a certain point I simply cannot deal with it. I either try to ignore it and pretend I’m not suffering, or it eventually wears me (or David) down until I finally find myself in the right mind to tackle it.
Basically, the best rules for me are as follows:
1. Spend less. Occasionally buy the things I want, because life is better when punctuated with a few luxuries (because a new jacket can be both useful and a pleasure to own…because occasionally eating out can be entertaining and a delicious experience).
2. Save more. Continue to plan for the future by automatically contributing that woefully small amount to my IRA, because something is better than nothing.
3. Remember its okay to have a mortgage, the newer car payment, and my student loan. The house provides comfortable shelter and is building equity. My husband needs a car to drive, too. And I wouldn’t have my career without my education.
4. Get rid of stuff that uselessly hangs around. I’ll feel better once its gone, and if done responsibly (donated or recycled) someone else might benefit – which is better than simply contributing to landfills.
5. Appreciate the things I have. Take a little time to keep things clean, mended and organized. If its broken, fix it. If I don’t want to or can’t repair it, or it doesn’t fit me, see rule #4.
And finally, making conscious, thoughtful, educated decisions is better than letting life live me, instead of the other way around.