What would it be like if there were no economic barriers to consuming as much as we wanted?
Well, many of us are essentially living like that already. Consider this:
If 100 kids represented all the children in the world and there were 100 toys for them, the three American kids would own 40.
The average weight of the contents of an American home is 8,000 pounds – about the same as 40 pigs ready for market or one full-grown hippo.
There are 48,500 storage facilities in the U.S., more than all the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Wendy’s and Starbucks combined.
When did our overconsumption start?
About 30 years ago, we began spending nearly half of our incomes on non-necessities. In the mid-1980s, consumer goods declined in price, credit-card usage increased and big-box stores and discount retailers established themselves. Today, for many Americans, this illusion of luxury feeds easy and prolific consumption.
A century ago, consumer choices were limited. Personally, I’m glad that’s not true today; however, one-click shopping has virtually eliminated our ability to second-guess our impulses to buy.
We are failing to ask critical questions: Do I need this? Will I actually use it? How long will it last? Could I borrow it? Could I do without it? Where will I put it?
When my sister and I cleaned out our parents’ home when they moved to a nursing home, I knew we needed a dumpster. The dumpster service was out of the 6-cubic-yard size, like you might find in an alley behind a business, so I got a 30-cubic-yard dumpster, which you might see at a construction site.
We filled it – to the top. We also had a garage sale and gave a bunch of things to charity.
If stuff led to happiness, we would be the happiest society in the history of the world. The opposite seems to be true. A home with too much stuff can lead to anxiety.
UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs, who studies hyperacquistion, says our “stuffocation” may be both a symptom and a cause of this anxiety. Cluttered rooms can provoke the release of the stress hormone cortisol. For many Americans, the antidote to stress is shopping, which leads to the release of dopamine and temporary euphoria. Hence, the consumption trap.
There is another way.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped my wife, Cheri, and I clear out hundreds of items of clutter and reduce our anxiety. This best-selling book encourages readers to create long-term serenity by getting rid of everything that does not spark joy.
If you want more serenity, consider less stuff.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum Personal Finance. www.personalfinancecoaching.com.