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How Much Stuff Do We Really Need?

7 September 2022

A lot of you know I like stuff. Good wines, good books, good food. Well-made clothing and shoes. Highly-crafted electronics that play the beautiful music I love listening to.

But I sometimes have wondered, over the years, if my accumulation of stuff sometimes gets in the way of my being the best version of myself – in any of a number of senses. Do I buy stuff I don’t really need? Because it’s the newest and shiniest (think iPhone)? Maybe if I wait a few days and think before buying, I will realize I don’t need, or even really want, the item in question.

Do I have too much stuff? I’ve been asking myself that, and have come to the conclusion that, yes, I need to de-clutter. Since I have been even busier than usual at work, I have decided to outsource the de-cluttering, finding a who (a company called The Occasional Wife) rather than a how (me). It’s a company I’ve worked with before, and I have every confidence they will help me de-clutter very effectively – surely I don’t need 4 pairs of earbuds. Or half a dozen pairs of sunglasses. And so on.

Because the “best version of me” should be doing other things than shopping – or worrying about the stuff I already have. The best version of me should be spending quality time with family and friends, of course working to help my clients, and finding ways in which I can give back to society by helping those in less fortunate circumstances.

So, I was floored, in a good way, when reading These Precious Days: Essays, by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, to find an essay on the year she spent not shopping. That’s limited, of course, as she had to keep herself fed. But no clothing, no shoes, no electronics. Books, yes, but books are her trade – in addition to being an acclaimed author, Ms. Patchett co-owns a bookstore – Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.

Gifts for others? She decided she would give books or the gift of time – watching children, running errands for others, etc.

Of course it wasn’t easy for her at first, but over time, she found it was shopping itself – the scrolling through web pages of stuff upon stuff, flipping through catalogues, which was the heart of the excess – even more so than the actual buying.

Scroll, flip, see, want, purchase. Grind, rinse, repeat. The process can be addictive – but spending too much of our precious time in this fashion can start to feel like we’re spinning in a hamster wheel. What problem are we really trying to solve when we buy stuff we really don’t need – keeping up with the Joneses? Maybe we need to ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish through endless accumulation. Because I’m convinced that excess buying is not about needing the actual stuff we purchase.

Ms. Patchett compares the endless shopping to Vaseline smeared over the glass through which we view life – and I can’t help wondering whether she’s onto something.

Endless emails touting endless sales, New! Improved! products, 24 Hours Only! deals. By letting these constant, insistent noises into our lives do we risk their drowning out that quiet inner voice? That voice we rely on in ourselves to tell us the truth? Maybe we should quiet that outside clamor and listen to that inner voice, and what it may be trying to tell us, instead.

One benefit of not shopping – rather than merely not buying – is time. Consider how much time we spend just looking at potential purchases. If we aren’t going to buy, and we aren’t going to shop, how will we spend that time?

Any way we choose. And the time – always a finite resource – we save on shopping to spend elsewhere on worthier goals is a precious gift we can give ourselves.

Ann Patchett did her year and didn’t re-up. But she shops less than before, has a better sense of both money and time as savable and spendable resources, and believes the experiment provided her with lasting benefit.

I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day holiday!

I took a brief hiatus myself from shopping through the holiday, and can now allow myself to buy something if I want to. But I am resolved to be more mindful in my purchasing going forward.

Many of you know I have a few bottles of good wine laid in, and that I am an avid reader. But I think I am going to take a longer holiday from purchasing additional vintages or books, and spend that time on other, non-material things.

With the help of The Occasional Wife, and through my own efforts, I will try (God willing) to keep my stuff to:

What I need

What I use (or will use) regularly

What I love

Not necessarily in that order.

Have you ever felt you had too much stuff? What did you do about it?

Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to know what strategies worked for you.

Until next time –

Peace,

Eric

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