The Idea of Having

My mother has been out of the hospital for two weeks now. She's home and recovering well. The past two Sundays, Kris and I have driven down to see her, and the three of us have spent part of the afternoon sorting through mom's Stuff.

“Do you still want this?” I asked mom again and again, holding up an old computer printer, a plaque with a pithy saying, or a calendar from 1998.

“No,” she'd say, and sometimes we'd laugh. Who still needs their calendar from 1998? But not everything was funny. “It seems a shame to get rid of some of this,” she said as she sorted through her clothes. “They're all still good.”

We've thrown away some of the Stuff (calendars from 1998, for example), but last Sunday Kris and I hauled a lot of it to Goodwill. We dropped off nine large garbage bags filled with clothing and a couple more containing books and gadgets.

The idea of having
When we got home, I spent some time alone, thinking. I sat in my office and looked at the bookshelves. I looked at the rows and rows of comics. It occurred to met that although I've gained control of my current and future spending, I still struggle with the past.

 

“Will I ever read these?” I wondered. “Or are they just clutter?” I remembered a conversation Kris and I had last week.

“You know why you can't get rid of Stuff, don't you?” Kris had asked.

“Because I want it,” I said.

“You think you want it,” she said. “You like the idea of having certain things, but you don't actually use them. You've got dozens of books stacked in the guest room. They've been there since the last time you purged Stuff a year ago. Have you needed any of those books in that time?”

“No,” I said.

“That's my point. You can't bring yourself to get rid of them, yet you don't use them, either. You don't even really want them. So they sit there. You wouldn't even notice if you got rid of them.”

Kris is right. It's the idea of having that appeals to me. When I look through my stacks of books, it pains me to think of purging them. Yet it also pains me to have them cluttering my life, always within eyesight, taxing my mental energy. I like the idea of having them, but not the actual possessing.

Who we were or wished to be
After I told my friend Amy Jo about our clutter conversation last week, she shared her own thoughts. “We each have so many interests, and certain things — like books — keep us connected to those interests, or give us the illusion that they do,” she said.

“But they also clog up our lives and make us less efficient at doing what we are and what we want to do right now. It's hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time — not who we are right now.”

Looking around at my collection of comic books, I had to ask myself, “Is this who I am? Is this who I wish to be? Are these books a part of me?”

I didn't have an answer, and I don't have one now.

The purpose of money
I truly believe that by gaining control of my desire to have things, I can better control my personal finances. Many people struggle with lifestyle inflation — increased spending with increased income — which is nothing more than a battle with Stuff. This problem is common, even for those who don't spend beyond their means.

I've become adept at preventing new Stuff from entering my life, but it's difficult for me to part with the Stuff I already own. This is a very First World problem, and in a way it makes me feel guilty. We're trained not to be wasteful. That's not a bad thing, but I think it can prevent us from making smart decisions.

I also continue to struggle with sunk costs. I know that I spent $30 on this book, for example, or $20 on that pair of pants. It pains me to think of getting rid of them. It feels like throwing money away. And so I stack Stuff in piles and carry it to my workshop where it will sit, doing no good to anyone, for months or years.

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That's the purpose of money. If you're spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it's a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you've crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

More about...Psychology

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Jane
Jane
12 years ago

J.D. you’re so right. We all struggle with this. Books are my particular weakness too. Learning to take advantage of the wonderful library I have nearby has helped prevent so many books from taking up permanent residence in my home, but parting with things I already have is a different matter. I’ve found that it helps to realise that the things I no longer need could bless others. I have given away many of my ‘things’ recently (including books!) The hardest part has been maintaining the faith that, should I need to replace them one day, I will have the… Read more »

Emily
Emily
12 years ago

Top 10! The Spirit! Astro City! And is that Eisner’s Hawks of the Sea? Don’t trash them! You can’t trash them! You’d sell them at least, right?

If I had your collection, I’d have trouble giving it up too.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
12 years ago

Even more than the (considerable) amount of money I spent on my old college math textbooks, it’s the amount of effort I put into learning the material, which I have since forgotten, that makes them hard to get rid of. Especially since I’m pretty sure the used-book store would just toss them in the dumpster–who needs 25-year-old textbooks that teach math at a level that hardly anyone actually ever gets to?

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
12 years ago

Books and eating out are my weakness, but I don’t feel as guilty because debt, retirement and college savings are paid before I indulge in wants.

RDS
RDS
12 years ago

I believe that we are the first generation in the history of the world in which just about every member of our society struggles with managing the vast amount of stuff that we own. Many of us think of all of our stuff as assets. In truth, I suspect that much of it could more accurately be classified as liabilities. We all keep stuff socked away in our basements or closets because it’s valuable or because we might use it someday or because we just like having it. We spend time and money organizing it, storing it, cleaning it, and… Read more »

Steve (the other one)
Steve (the other one)
12 years ago

Lifestyle inflation doesn’t have to take the form of Stuff. It could also take the form of “experiences” – for instance, getting into the habit of going out for drinks, out to dinner, lavish annual vacations, whatever. Anyways, I was thinking this last weekend about a book I never thought I would part with. But this weekend I realized that I might never read it again. It was a great read for the past me, but the current me has more refined tastes. Just one book but how much of the rest of my Stuff represents aspects of some former… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

The “stuff” conversation has entered our household many times. I think we often fail to realize that this “stuff” takes time as well as money just to have. Once you bring it in you are responsible for it! Dusting, heating, moving, storing, disposing(hopefully ecologically)…………time is money! The amount of time we have spent removing the unnecessary stuff has really caused us to take a serious look at future purchases and their “real” costs.

Niles Gibbs
Niles Gibbs
12 years ago

I had a “throw away everything that has no function”-athon a couple years ago. The hardest part is when you’re going through your old stuff and find things that bring back memories, and then you want to keep it. You’d never have known it was gone, but now that you can see it, all of a sudden you have to keep it. I toughed it out and got rid of a good portion of my clutter. It’s tricky though, to avoid justifying what things “you might need” in the future. I still have a huge garbage bag of cables (A/V,… Read more »

deepali
deepali
12 years ago

I struggle with this. I can get rid of “frivolous” items, like fictional books, CDs, etc. But I have a hard time getting rid of the crap I pick up at conferences, in the classroom, etc.

Selling my car was my tipping point. I called a detailing service, and when the guy came by for the estimate, he almost cried. What’s the point, he asked, of owning the car if you can’t take care of it properly? That’s when I started realizing that I was addicted to the idea of having too.

Shawn Petriw
Shawn Petriw
12 years ago

I too have struggled with the book issue. I dealt with it by giving a lot of the reference / business books I had to the public library. They’re good and relevant, so the library adds the books to the stacks, and then should I need the information, I have still have access to the books.

Lauren
Lauren
12 years ago

Wow… this one hits home for me. As I am trying to find my voice. Figure out who I am. I have been hiding behind a mound of paper (literally, my “current obbesion -hobby” is scrapbooking) and I just keep buying more. Only using a small fraction of the items I already possess. Keep up with the Joneses or the Suzy Q scrappers… silly, silly me! Now if only this helps me to actually change things!

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

I agree with Steve on this one (as far as events taking over lifestyle inflation). When I moved a couple months ago and purged my stuff I found that I don’t miss any of it. The only thing I can’t get rid of is my box of concert and sporting tickets. I know they are just slips that stand for the event, but i can’t force myself to get rid of them. Luckily, the clutter is contained within two shoeboxes, but it still is definately unneeded stuff.

Sara at On Simplicity
Sara at On Simplicity
12 years ago

I’ve lived every word of this. For me, it’s not the comic books, it’s the obscure books from college courses that make me seem really smart (at least in my own head). I don’t know what I actually think happens when people see these. No one I know is actually impressed by my obscure knowledge, unless they’re looking for a Trivial Pursuit partner. Even then, my disturbing knowledge of ’80s hair bands trumps any info I have on postmodern architecture or whatever it’s cool to know about these days. This issue has been one of the last holdouts of my… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
12 years ago

I had a horrible experience whe nI was unemployed and deep in debt where I defaulted on my storage unit (I was staying at my mother’s) and lost about 80% of my stuff. For the most part, I made it through and all that stuff is just stuff now. There were a couple things in there that were not replaceable and I start hyperventilating when I think about it, but mostly, I don’t miss a lick of it. I was forced to give it all up, and so it all went away without my having much of a say in… Read more »

Jaynee
Jaynee
12 years ago

I have a love affair with my books – I’ve been a voracious reader since I was a child and easily have over 1,000 books in my house. Are they all on display? No – a good portion are packed away in boxes in my attic. But I yearn for the day when my husband and I build our dream house (we already own the land) and I can have a full-scale library for all my books. Books have helped form my identity when I couldn’t find the words to do so on my own – my interests, my passions,… Read more »

TJ
TJ
12 years ago

I had the same feelings with my CD collection. After I converted it all to electronic files in iTunes, they just sat there. I finally got rid of them (sold them over the web) after moving in with my girlfriend. (Who was not excited about using an entire wall for CDs). My only regret has been that I didn’t do it sooner.

KC
KC
12 years ago

This is a good article. Once I learned to control my wants and my sense of “having” I got control of my spending. Now I re-sell books as soon as I’ve read them. I belong to Netflix and can see my favorite Dvds over and over again. And I just don’t spend as much money. I have more, too. So in a way I can’t say “I have that.” But I know that if I wanted to, I could AFFORD that.

PDXnerd
PDXnerd
12 years ago

Great post.

Over the last ten years, I’ve worked away from my home for 3-9 month periods intermittently. When I lived with only the items that I could squeeze into my car, I realized that all of my “stuff” I had left behind was totally unimportant.

The lifestyle inflation that I fight on a weekly basis is almost completely related to “experiences”. Vacations, dining out, happy hour and other activities with friends and colleagues. Sometimes it seems like everyone else lives in a different financial world, free of any constraints…

Jules
Jules
12 years ago

If you decide to get rid of your books in the future, I will gladly pay you for them and shipping too of course. Just drop me a line if you do.
J

jtimberman
jtimberman
12 years ago

My best example is this: In high school, I painted miniatures, for Dungeons and Dragons and for Games Workshop[1] tabletop games (Warhammer 40k, etc). This was the *one* artistic thing I could do, and I did quite well. I stopped painting and playing in college as I simply did not have the time. A few occasions since college I tried to get back into it. Due to hanging onto the idea that I might try to paint again, I kept all my miniatures and supplies, and have moved several times in the last 10-15 years with all this stuff. I… Read more »

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
12 years ago

We are not our stuff. We think we are. So, we think if we lost all our stuff, who would we be? Nobody! That’s what Suze Orman teaches us about the psychology behind our need to hoard and cling to things. I summarize her great DVD “The Courage to Be Rich” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/06/25/the-courage-to-be-rich/

Wurb
Wurb
12 years ago

Great post! There’s someone I want to send it to! Please consider adding an “E-mail this page” link to make it easier for visitors! Thanks!

WiseMoneyMatters
WiseMoneyMatters
12 years ago

I have a hard rule that if I haven’t used something in 6 months to 1 year, it goes in the trash. There are only a few exceptions (old family pictures or extremely sentimental items).

When you go through your stuff and throw so much away you realize how little you really need “stuff”. I remember throwing away things that I had bought and never used. Obviously now I’m much more careful in my purchases.

Kenny
Kenny
12 years ago

Funny that you bring up this topic. My wife an I are trying Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, which start with raising $1,000. In an effort to speed up this process, I am divorcing much of my stuff. I had well over 200 DVDs. I’ve managed sell nearly half of them online already and have raised nearly $800. We’re having a garage sale this weekend, which will allow us to get rid of even more stuff. But the reason your post interested me is I was having very similar thoughts. Initially, when I went through my DVD collection, I picked out… Read more »

Success Professor
Success Professor
12 years ago

Thanks. This quote is very helpful for me:
“It’s hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time – not who we are right now.”

I’ve often been known to keep things far longer than I need to. This will be helpful!

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

This rings so true for me. I have been carting around art supplies, books, old magazines (to cut up and make collages with!), etc. for years and years, across the country and back, because they represented who I wanted to be, or would be someday when I had the time or inspiration. I use the library like mad but never read the books I own. It’s a combination of keeping things “just in case” and attaching some identify to them – and so worthwhile become aware of.

Steven Fisher
Steven Fisher
12 years ago

I have a lot of novels. The truth is this books have brought me a lot of pleasure over the years, and I’d love to read them all again. But in our current house, they’re all hidden away under the stairs where they do no one any good. So why not find a place that can use them? Why should everyone else be denied the pleasure of good books just because I am? So I made the decision this weekend to try to find a library to donate them to, but found my wife doesn’t want to. She knows they… Read more »

slackerjo
slackerjo
12 years ago

My family loves their reading material. My mom’s house overflows with magazines. It’s like they breed! My brothers have entire walls of bookcases. When my parents moved into a house in 1967, they used the same moving company from their move in 1960. The movers remembered my parents because of all the books. Me? I have a 550 square foot apt and a library card. Obviously I don’t have not a lot of room to store books. My brother’s argument is that they like to see their books to be reminded of each story. Back in May 2006, I got… Read more »

plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

Books. Like many people I can’t get rid of books. I don’t read print very often these days as I’m busy on t’internet, but they are all books that I have/will read multiple times. They still represent who I actually am, rather than who I want to be. But that might change in the future. I have some rock climbing gear. That’s a lot more about someone that I want/used to want to be. I’m afraid of heights, but spent about a year learning to climb indoors with a partner. It’s probably not something I’m going to do again, but… Read more »

John Egan
John Egan
12 years ago

Books are like warts…. Hard to get rid of. I remember dragging old college textbooks from one apartment to the next…And I just moved my daughter. What did she have; 3 cases of old textbooks. When my wife died, I hauled 12 large garbage bags of books down to the Goodwill….

jegan 😉

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

You should keep the calendar. Cross out 1998, and write in 2009. The calendars are the same.

http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/repeating.html?year=1998&country=1

pfctdayelise
pfctdayelise
12 years ago

Books are the single hardest thing to get rid of. When I recently moved house I realised a disproportionate amount of my belongings was just damn books. I have one proper bookshelf, so I made a deal with myself that I could keep one bookself worth’s of books. It was easier to trade them off against each other but it was still really, really hard.

^_~
^_~
12 years ago

I hope you have The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
Keep it and sell the rest.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

🙂

I do have The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. I intentionally used it as a prop in my first TV interview, and they ended up using the clip. Makes a geek’s heart sing.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Actually, it was the Carl Barks anthology I used: Uncle Scrooge: His Life and Times. (I have the other book, too, though.)

Daedala
Daedala
12 years ago

Some people have security blankets; others have security libraries.

The blankets are cheaper and take less room, but you can’t read them.

Bill
Bill
12 years ago

slackerjo, great idea!!!

BK
BK
12 years ago

The biggest problem I have in terms of keeping stuff is actually keeping the boxes that the stuff came in! I have a problem that whenever I buy something I take out the product, set it up, and put the box in a spare room or closet. I went in there the other day and there are like 50 empty boxes. I try to convince myself that they will be useful someday. I’ll be able to you them to pack Christmas gifts in December! I seem to forget that most things I’ll be giving will come with their own box!… Read more »

Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson
12 years ago

Very good post. Lately I feel like I am drowning in stuff. Your post has prompted me to take a deeper look at why I have kept many items. Hopefully I can let go of them and par down my belongings. Thanks for the post.

Tina
Tina
12 years ago

The space and energy that you free up — physical, mental and emotional — are so worth giving up stuff. The crazy part is that you don’t even realize how much it weighs you down until it’s gone. And then suddenly you can breathe again.

Good luck, JD. The struggle is well worth the effort.

Joe
Joe
12 years ago

This is a perfect example of taking things to the extreme. There is nothing inherently wrong about having 10-15 books on a bookshelf that you don’t read that often. Say you discard the books, what will you do with the empty space?

There should be a point to reducing clutter – just doing it for the sake of doing it accomplishes little.

Saravanan
Saravanan
12 years ago

Wow.. Great Article to start my day with.. I am a movie freak and I always loved to buy DVDs to have the pleasure of watching the movie at home. I have bought many DVDs and if the movie sucks then I dont dare to touch that DVD again better if I had rented it but the thought of having it made me buy the DVDs and now I do repent for buying few of them. After regularly reading your blog, I have realized how to cut short on my expenditure which in turn helps me to build my wealth… Read more »

Daniel Gibbons
Daniel Gibbons
12 years ago

I’ve recently been on a purging frenzy, getting rid of countless items that were once expensive but are now essentially useless. But when it comes to books I simply can’t dispose of them. Instead I let them drift away by “lending” them and never asking for their return.

Paula D.
Paula D.
12 years ago

I too have been dealing with my parent’s clutter and it has me on a roll to get rid of my own. Believe me, you see “stuff” in a whole new way after moving the 10th box labeled “kitchen plastic”

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

i don’t know what it is about books. my husband has tons of them and he insists on keeping each one. thankfully, he’s been selling textbooks as he’s through with the ones he won’t refer back to in the future. he kept the algebra book to review while taking physics, for example. the books he has for his major and handbooks like electrical codes will stick around for a while. i’m ok with that, i still have some high-end subject matter books from college that are relevant to my current studies. we’ve also got a large cache of parts for… Read more »

Matt at Steadfast Finances
Matt at Steadfast Finances
12 years ago

I struggled w/ the “sunken costs” issue when it came to food. Similar to your occasional stress eating, it pained me to think that less fortunate people in the world went without, while I’m throwing away food and my money.

Did two things to combat this problem – bought a treadmill (one of my best purchases ever b/c I use it everyday) and learned to say enjoy leftovers.

Carolyn Heacock
Carolyn Heacock
12 years ago

Thanks for the great post! Even though making the decision to get rid of things I don’t use anymore is often difficult, it always feels so good to have fewer things in our house. I feel much more at peace when the clutter is gone. Sometimes I get in one of those moods to get rid of things and I’ll throw things away mercilessly. I did this once with a box in our basement. We had moved the box from one apartment to another and it had sat in our new basement for over a year without being opened. I… Read more »

Ryan @ Smarter Wealth
Ryan @ Smarter Wealth
12 years ago

I love having the latest technology.
This is my idea of having

Jennifer
Jennifer
12 years ago

I do agree with this article, but I am going to focus on actually wearing that shirt, reading the books, starting and finishing the projects, etc., that are gathering dust.

And not buying another similar thing, since I have perfectly good ‘stuff’ at home.

Although, there needs to be some clutter control…and I give it the one year rule.

Lily
Lily
12 years ago

Despite being somebody who regularly purges her stuff, I too think this is a bit extreme. It seems that everything now must be clutter, not valuable and just disposable. Paradoxically, this is a consumeristic view.
True, it’s not stuff that define us as persons, but what’s wrong in keeping part of the books that were important in our life experience? Shouldn’t we even discriminate anymore?

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