We work hard and find ourselves comparing what we have to our neighbors and friends.
But this process is costly. Not just from a financial perspective, but all this stuff takes up space and we have to remember everything we’ve purchased.
Deciding what is worth keeping around and taking up space (physically and mentally) is not about defining a black and white scenario that will work for everyone. We all have unique desires, aspirations, and goals. So the stuff we decide to keep is going to be equally diverse.
Why should you only keep things that make you happy?
It comes down to capacity and goals.
I could buy or have many things that are useful in some way. But if I don’t actually use that item, it doesn’t add value to my life.
Having something that is incredibly valuable for whatever reason sitting in my garage not being used for multiple years isn’t adding value to my life. In fact, the space it takes up means that I am dedicating part of my living area to store something I don’t use. So in a sense, it is taking away from my life.
You could argue that there are some things that you want to keep, that you don’t use or look at very often. This could be memories from your past, photos, or things of that nature. But we aren’t talking about these kinds of items. I’m sure there are people who take this to an extreme, but they are probably exceptions.
I’m talking about the stuff we buy that ends up sitting around and not being used.
And even if you do find an item useful, if you can’t remember where it is located in the pile of other “stuff”, you might as well not own it.
Defining the Value of Your Stuff
What is cool and useful to me, may not be true for you. And what is valuable to you now might change over time.
When I was younger, I collected baseball cards. It was a great hobby and allowed me to connect with my friends.
These days, I don’t watch sports and have no desire for collecting baseball cards. So there is no value in keeping these baseball cards around.
What gives an object more value over something else for YOU?
For me, an item has value and makes me happy when it provides an experience that is valuable.
This can mean a wide range of things, but below are some questions that may help you figure out if something is worth keeping:
- Do I use this item? How often?
- Does using or looking at this item give me positive feelings?
- When I use this item, does it feel like I am wasting my time?
- Would I miss this item if it all of a sudden it went away?
- Can I afford to maintain this item in order to continue using it?
You might go through these questions and answer “no” to some of them, and still decide to keep it. The important aspect here is to be cognitive about what you decide to keep and get rid of.
Our Life Can Be Broken Down Into Experiences
The stuff we have should provide us with positive experiences.
TV often gets a bad wrap, but I find watching a compelling drama that challenges my morality or spirituality to be refreshing and life-affirming. So our TV is something that I give value, based on the experiences it provides. But like anything, balance is required in order to ensure that our stuff isn’t owning us.
And it isn’t just about time. If I can’t find what I want or need to use, it means I’ve volunteered to store something that is just sitting around. Not only did I probably spend hard-earned money attaining that item, but it clutters my living space and increases the complexity of organizing and cleaning my space.
But it isn’t just a matter of only keeping things around that provide positive experiences…
Our Capacity is Limited
There are probably millions of things I could own that would give me a positive experience. But that doesn’t mean I should own them all.
Right now I have a full-time job and a family with two young girls. I don’t have time to utilize every item I could possibly own that would add value to my life.
Also, I currently don’t have a money tree. So there are limits on how much money I can spend on anything.
All of this is important in figuring out what I end up keeping, buying, and how I spend my time.
The Great Purge
We recently cleaned our girl’s bedrooms.
“Cleaning” is probably not the correct term to use. It was more like “let’s go through their crap and figure out what we can get rid of” kind of deal.
It’s interesting because my 8-year old daughter has a tendency to collect stuff “just because”. And her room started to look like WWIII.
Every little nicknack and item in her room was scrutinized. It was a good exercise because it challenged her to think about what are the things she has that she actually uses. And what items represented a “fantasy” about how they might be useful in the future.
It became clear that certain items had much more value, and were used more frequently than others. Anything relating to her American Girl doll was kept since this was important and valuable to her.
I don’t know if it is just me, but for every item we could throw or give away, felt like a burden was released.
Not only did this exercise reduce the number of things in her room, but the things she finds valuable became easier to find. And it was much easier to keep her room organized and clean going forward.
We should become ecstatic when we can get rid of something that doesn’t add value to our lives.
The One Statement to Watch Out For
If you find yourself going through a great purge yourself, you’ll want to be careful of this statement: I might use this item in the future.
Not that this statement can’t ever be true. But many people, myself included, have used this excuse to basically keep everything.
And even if this statement is true, does that justify keeping that item around?
You might not be best buds with your neighbor, but if you know they have the same thing and if you only need to use it rarely, it might be better to borrow what they have instead of keeping it around. Setting up an arrangement like this can benefit both of you — you each can make use of things that aren’t used frequently but are owned by the other party.
Most people are willing to lend out most things, and this could end up saving the number of things you own that you don’t use very often. And this isn’t even addressing the financial benefits of doing this.
Every Item Should Have a Purpose
The things we own should add to, and not take from, our lives.
And sometimes this distinction is hard to make. Something might have value to other people, or be useful in certain circumstances. But if we don’t receive value and positive experiences from owning an item, it might not be worth having.
This idea is not a destination. Because stuff has a tendency to accumulate if we aren’t paying attention. And life is about working towards what we want to get out of it.
I can’t tell you what stuff you should or should not own. Only you can do that. But figuring this out will enrich your life, and cause you to question how you want to spend your time, money and space.
Because all of these things are limited.
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.