We were eating dinner the other night at a restaurant when the song Material Girl by Madonna came on. I was never a huge fan of Madonna’s songs, but this song struck a cord at this occasion.
And to clear the air: no, I’m not a girl. 🙂 But I found that over time, I’ve developed a craving for material possessions.
Stuff Can Only Do So Much
Products are designed to solve problems. That’s it.
But when I bought things in the past, it became clear I was expecting them to fulfill a deeper desire they can’t meet.
If you look at product commercials, people are always happy when using that product. It’s like everyone in the ad is injected with infinite happiness, all because they are using that product.
I’m not saying things can’t bring us a level of joy. But they can only do so much.
Marketing doesn’t care whether their product will bring value to our lives. They only care about whether or not we buy the product to increase their profitability. They want us to get excited about purchasing their product, regardless of whether we use it or not.
I know I’m generalizing the intentions of all companies, and there are probably exceptions where some are more concerned about their impact on people’s lives over profit margin. But I think these companies are exceptions.
Crap Can’t Make You Happy
There are many examples of people who can buy whatever they want and are not happy. You would think if the secret to life were about what we can purchase, these people would be the happiest on earth.
But life doesn’t work that way.
When we create the habit of purchasing things as a way to fill the empty void in our lives, this creates an infinite loop that can’t be satisfied. There is always something new you can find that you want, and there is no purchase that will satisfy that craving.
Stuff is stuff — nothing more, and nothing less.
I’m trying to learn how to gauge whether or not an item will bring value to my life. There are a ton of “cool” products out there that get me excited about how awesome they are. But that in itself is not a reason to own that item.
Seek What Cannot Be Replaced
Stuff decays, breaks down, loses value, can get stolen, and sometimes explodes. But memories with my family? These are invaluable.
I’ve reached a spot where building memories and seeing people smile brings me more joy than buying shit.
There is something about connecting with people on a deep level that is hard to describe. And this is coming from an introvert!
Sure, groups of people make me nervous, and some times I need to be by myself to recharge. But there is something intangible about human connection that feeds my soul.
It is as if I hate and love people at the same time. I love making deep human connections, but I’m also scared of rejection.
There isn’t any one item that I am going to buy that is going to be on my “top 10 best decisions of my life” list when I’m on my death bed. I know that buying a new vehicle will be exciting at first, but having to deal with the monthly car payment is going to make pursuing our financial goals harder.
Maybe at some point, our net worth will grow to a point where spending extra on things that marginally improve our lives will be worth it. For example, the extra convenience and joy of buying a new car at that point in our lives might be worth it. But buying a new car in our early phase where we are trying to build our net worth as fast as possible, the cost doesn’t seem worth it. And in the end, these types of things are not most important to us.
Material Possessions Cost More Than Money
You find something you want to buy, and you get it. But now you have to figure out where to store it, and you have to remember to use it.
The more stuff you have, the more work it takes to organize in a way where you can easily find it. The American garage is full of stuff that sits there and doesn’t get used.
Just look at how much stuff people end up selling at garage sales. It is insane at how much we end purchasing stuff, thinking it will be useful, only to have it sit around and
I wonder how much we would save if we did the following:
- Only buy things we use regularly
- Borrow items that we don’t need to use regularly
- How much less stuff would we have?
Maybe for some of you, your garage (or storage) is filled with things that you do use regularly. But in my case, I think at least half of it is just taking up space, and we wouldn’t miss them if they were gone.
I’m excited for when we get to spring cleaning this year. I want to simplify and significantly reduce the number of things in our garage to remove the excess clutter from our lives.
Reducing clutter and improving organization so I can find stuff I use, makes me want to do a happy dance.
Quality Beats Quantity (usually)
Over the last few years, I’ve become more intentional about what I’m purchasing. If I find something I need and will use regularly, I do a cost analysis on whether or not it makes sense to spend extra for an item that will last longer.
Sometimes I find myself going through mental gymnastics in justifying a purchase. “Even if I don’t use this item very often, when I do use it, it will be awesome!” It is like my mind is trying to convince me of purchasing something I will regret.
I go into an internal death fight with myself. If I determine I will rarely use the item, buying a premium product is “usually” not worth it, and I tell the other side of my brain to STFU.
But if I will use the item regularly, it usually means buying a more durable product will be cost-effective over the long-term. I won’t have to replace the item as often, and it usually will perform the job better and be easier to use, than cheaper products.
I’m learning to do the following:
- If I will use something regularly, it is better to get something that lasts longer
- I need to set the bar high in justifying expensive purchases. It needs to be used frequently to make the cost worth it.
- There is no value in owning something if it doesn’t get used.
However, with this said, there might be exceptions where cheaper items are durable and useful enough not to need to splurge on the higher-end version of that product. Which is why it is essential to look into what you want to buy, to see if upgrading to the more premium product is worth the cost.
Simplifying My Life
Instead of trying to accumulate mass quantities of stuff, we are learning to focus on streamlining our life in only owning things we use.
It’s hard because everything I own is useful in some cases. Maybe I’ll use it every 1-2 years. Or maybe I bought the item with the hope of using it in the future, but it ends up sitting around doing nothing.
I’m just sick of having to find places to store things I don’t use very much. Part of what we want to do in the next 10-years is moving into a smaller/cheaper house. To do that, we will have to reduce the number of our belongings and figure out what we will use.
We live in a 2,500 sqft house for four people. Even considering I work at home, this is more space than we need. I think with the right layout we could comfortably live in a 1,500 sqft space.
My goal is to take a more analytical look at the types of things we buy. Is this item going to add value to our lives? Do we need to own the item, or can we borrow it and have the same benefits?
I’m going to continue to beat on this drum, as it is a common struggle for me. Instead of owning more things, I need to learn to get pleasure out of having what I own and use and make those items last as long as possible.
Every item we own and use regularly increases its’ intrinsic value. The longer we own and use that item, the more valuable it becomes.
It becomes about limiting how often and how much we spend shopping.
Looking at our expenses (outside of food), there isn’t a whole lot we need to buy regularly every month. We already own and use most everything we need. When we were in the habit of spending more than we made, we would regularly buy things that had a high cost per use. In other words, instead of buying things that we would use regularly, we bought stuff we thought we needed and wouldn’t get used.
There is one item that has bothered me that has a high-cost over time, that we use regularly. These are zip-lock bags. I want to talk about this in a future post, but if we can figure out how to not have to use these as often, we could potentially save quite a bit of money. There are probably other small things like this that will help reduce our regular monthly costs.
How do you look at material possessions? Are you too a “material girl”?
Chris is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.