Recently, my friend Jerri visited from Seattle and brought a friend along. We had coffee, went for a stroll around Portland, and her friend purchased a Portland mug from Starbucks. She jokingly said, well, I gotta have a mug to show I was in Portland. I overheard this and I thought to myself, oh man, another piece of junk to clutter up the house.
So we got into a discussion of why people buy these kitschy stuffs. They thought that it’s because we worked hard so we deserve to treat ourselves. I thought people just have too much disposable income. Generally, Americans make much more money than they need to survive and it’s our culture to buy stuff.
Too much income
Luckily, I have always been pretty good about not buying a lot of stuff. My family struggled financially for many years when I was growing up and the thrifty habit stuck with me. Even when I was making a six figure salary, I rarely bought souvenirs because I was too cheap. I’d rather spend money on traveling itself – flight tickets, room, and good food. I prefer some photos rather than stuff to remind me of those fun times.
On the other hand, Mrs. RB40 used to be quite a collector. When she was young she always wanted a t-shirt to show she had been to a destination. She loved those penny stamping machines and had a little collection. She also wanted something “neat” with the destination’s name on it. At one point, she had bells, shells, tiles and playing cards. Part of it is probably because her family didn’t travel much so she wanted some evidence to preserve those precious memories. At home, she collected rocks, unicorns, Nancy Drew books, and black T-shirts. Most items she doesn’t have anymore, but she still has the Nancy Drew books. And tons of Snoopy figurines which she displays at her work because there isn’t any room at home.
For many Americans, our posessions became our autobiography. Instead of keeping a diary, we buy stuff. Every item in our possession becomes a reminder of a certain phase in our lives. We can afford it so we do it and it’s out of control.
We moved to a 1,000 sq ft condo 7 years ago and pared down considerably. We sold off a ton of stuff on Craigslist and garage sales. Our previous home was twice as big and all our old stuff wouldn’t fit in our condo. Now our small condo is packed so we try to avoid buying anymore stuff and it’s been working out pretty well.
We also can’t store things in our parking garage so that’s helpful. Stuff has overtaken cars in garages all across the nation. When the garage is full to the brim, we go out and rent storage spaces. I think that’s completely insane. Why would anyone rent space to store their old junk? Can’t you just sell them, throw them out, or give them away? I guess people get unnaturally attached to their stuff.
Oh yeah, I’m completely unsentimental so I don’t understand the attachment people have to their old things. Mrs. RB40, on the other hand, is very sentimental and rarely threw anything out. Our kid is still playing with Mrs. RB40’s classic Snoopy stuffed animal, which she received for her 8th birthday from her great-grandmother. I don’t have anything left from my childhood. I guess I’m more focused on today and tomorrow. My family also moved quite often and things just get thrown out or got lost.
Anyway, that’s one big reason why I like living in a smaller home. It costs less overall and you don’t have as much space to accumulate stuff. Mrs. RB40 doesn’t like throwing things out so she rarely buys anything now because there is no room for them.
Our condo is getting a bit cluttered, though. It’s amazing how much stuff a 3 year old has. Did you know that the US has 3% of the world’s children, but 40% of the world’s toys? That’s pretty lopsided. Unfortunately, our kid is part of the 3%. When we went camping, the only non food item we purchased was a squirt water cannon. I have been looking for one for a while and I haven’t seen them locally. He’s having a ton of fun with it at the pool, though, so I think it was well worth the 3 dollars.
I think we’ll have to avoid buying any more toys from now on. If we get something new, we’ll have to get rid of an old toy. The toys are really cluttering up the living room. Luckily, he has a little cousin in California so we’ll be offloading a bunch of toddler toys pretty soon.
Minimize frivolous purchases
So the point of the story is, we really shouldn’t buy a lot of junks. Let’s just buy what we need and minimize unnecessary purchases. The secret to wealth is to buy assets and avoid liablilities. Assets will make you money in the long run. Liabilities will just depreciate and in some cases cost money to maintain. A lot of people just don’t realize that financial independence is a possibility so they don’t think twice about spending money.
What about you? Are you buying a lot of stuff that will be useless soon?
Courtesy of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families