Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?

by Ramona Creel

Why Do You Buy What You Buy?

Unfortunately, we often buy things for the wrong reasons. It might be desire to appear more affluent, hip, intellectual, or worldly — to impress those around us with our taste. We could be attempting to make up for deprivation earlier in life. Or we may have an unrealistic expectation of what “success” is supposed to look like, equating material goods with accomplishment. We mistakenly think that our possessions will change our lives — that a treadmill will give us the motivation to exercise and the right calendar will end a lifetime of procrastination. It's that old “life-will-be-better-once-I-have-such-and-such” syndrome. How many fabulous “modern conveniences” do you own that are collecting dust in a cabinet because they failed to live up to your expectations?

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!) — the trick is to identify those areas where you are most at risk and do what you can to avoid them. You can choose to stop accumulating more clutter, but only if you know where the clutter is coming from.

How Does Your 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 can you possibly make time to clear the decks — when you have carpools, business meetings, and deadlines to keep you busy?  I'll answer that question by asking another — how do you feel when you can't find something that you are looking for? Stupid? Frustrated? How about when you run across something that you haven't used once since the day you bought it? Guilty? Wasteful? Or when you look around you and see nothing but piles and stacks? Out of control? Clutter can evoke an amazing variety of negative emotions in people. It's said that “to surround yourself with worthless objects, renders you worthless.” 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 that takes up one of four valuable resources — time, space, energy, or money — without providing any tangible benefit. When you look at your life through this lens, it is clear that we are all burdened with some form of clutter — even those of us without stacks and piles all over the place.

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 those goals you never seem to get around to? Don't forget the expenditure of emotional energy on your things — 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.

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.