Have you ever known someone who hoarded tons of stuff? They have collected a small mountain of things, often spending a small fortune acquiring and storing their goodies. We’ve probably all suffered from “stuff-itis” at some point in our lives. So where does this compulsion to accumulate come from? To understand the roots of our material obsession you have to go way back to childhood.
Quantity vs. Quality
Explaining the value of something to kids is a difficult task, especially when they are very young. Kids do not inherently understand the values we place on things, and instead instinctively desire things that are pleasing to them. For instance, if you asked a toddler to choose from three coins, a dull penny, a new nickel and a shiny dime, they would likely choose the nickel. Why? Because the nickel is shiny, and bigger than the dime.
Kids don’t understand that the dime is worth twice as much. Now ask them to choose between a quarter and ten pennies. They’ll usually take the pennies simply because there are more of them.
We take these same lessons with us into adulthood. Sure, we’ve all heard that good things come in small packages, but for the most part we want bigger and better (and more). A bigger house, a shiny car, more money, and newer gadgets. Most people crave these things without stopping to think about their real value. It’s not entirely our fault.
Since the time of hunters and gatherers humans have always valued quantity. Whether it is storing berries for the winter, or adding to our expansive collection of DVDs, human beings perceive a larger quantity of something to be more desirable. However, if you stop and consider the stress the accumulation of these things creates in your life, you may be able to reverse this thinking.
“More is the Mantra of the Ego”
Dr. Wayne Dyer had a great line in one of his PBS presentations, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life:
“Our ego tells us that who I am, my identity, is with what I accumulate. So we become accumulation masters. More is the mantra of the ego.”
He went on to explain that the more we accumulate, the more we worry about our possessions. We worry that they may become stolen, or lost, or coveted by someone else. We worry about their storage, and their insurance, and their maintenance. All these worries create stress in our lives. So how do we go about ridding ourselves of this stress, and our possessions accumulated over the years of feeding our ego?
Give It Away
Dr. Dyer recommends something drastic – giving it all away. Or, if not “all,” deciding what your most prized possession is and giving it away.
I’m a little more practical, even though I understand the psychological benefit of simply giving away your stuff. As a compromise, I recommend selling some of it first, either in a yard sale, on eBay.
Use the proceeds to pay off debt, or add to your emergency fund. What you don’t sell can then be given away to family members, your church, a charity, or to a complete strangers. Imagine how good it would feel to hand over your prized DVD collection to a shelter, or to donate your Xbox 360 and 10-game library to a local Children’s Hospital.
A few years ago I sold my prized possession, a Chevy Silverado truck that I had fallen in love with at a local car lot. I could not afford the truck at the time, and was sacrificing in other areas just to make the truck payment and increased insurance costs. The experience forever cured me of car fever, but the profoundness of that experience did not stop there.
As the new owner handed over the cashier’s check (with a loan attached) I could literally feel the stress transferring from me to him. He even looked a little anxious about completing the purchase, probably because of the new loan he just took on with his bank, and knowing that his insurance, property tax, and gasoline expenses were all about to increase.
On the other hand, I was the one eliminating a car payment, reducing my insurance expense, and dropping the cost of an annual car tag.
By the way, three years after selling that truck I became debt free and bought another truck – this time with cash. So just because you give up something to sacrifice for a period of time, it doesn’t mean you have to part ways forever. It was a temporary solution to help us win with our finances.
Whether you ultimately decide to sell your excess things, or give them away, the value of having less “stuff” to worry about is worth far more than your collection of things. I challenge you to look around your own home and find things adding stress to your life. Free yourself from these burdens and enjoy the benefits of a much simpler existence.