Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money, Shopping

The Paradox of Stuff: Own Less, Use More

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Most of us tend to think that more is better, especially when it comes to our “stuff.” If two pairs of shoes is good, ten must be great. If a library of thirty DVD’s is good, a hundred must be better. If having fifteen board games provides a lot of entertainment, a library of fifty must provide even more entertainment. And on and on it goes, with many of us accumulating far more stuff than we can or will ever use. The funny thing is that our belief that more is always better works against us when it comes to stuff.

When you have too much stuff, much of it often languishes, unused, in the closets and cabinets. Why is this? Isn’t more better? Isn’t it better to have more choices? If we have more, won’t we use more? The answer is often no. Those who have less often get more use and utility out of their few items than do people who have multiples of things. There are a variety of reasons for this, but they all boil down to a simple truth: More is just more, not better. Here are some of the reasons why having more often means you actually use the items less often or not at all.

You can’t possibly use it all

You’re only one person or family. Can you really watch five hundred DVD’s? Can you really wear sixty pairs of shoes or carry fifty handbags? Can you ever play your way through five hundred board games? Can you ever use two hundred tubes of toothpaste? There is a limit to how much of anything you can realistically use before it goes bad, goes out of style, or you just don’t care anymore. There’s also a limit to how much time you have to watch, read, or play things. Anything beyond that realistic amount of stuff is just a waste.

You don’t know what you have

When you have too much, you often don’t use it all simply because you don’t know what you have. Unless you create a directory of some sort, it’s hard to keep up with massive amounts of clothes, shoes, media, games, and toys. When you say, “I’d like to watch a movie,” you can’t remember what you have or what might be on the bottom of the heap. When you think about putting together an outfit for a special occasion, good choices are ignored at the back of your closet because you can’t remember that they’re there. If you can’t keep track of what you own, how can you ever use it all?

You’re too overwhelmed with choices

Research shows that too many choices can be paralyzing. Rather than liberating us, too many choices can actually short-circuit our brains and lead us to simply make no choice at all. This happens with your stuff when you say, “I’d like to watch a movie,” go over to the DVD shelf and become so overwhelmed with everything that you own that you just say, “Forget it,” and watch whatever’s on TV. It happens with kids when they say, “I’m bored,” in a house full of toys. What they may really be saying is, “I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.” It happens when you decide to go buy a new outfit rather than sorting through the thousands of possible combinations you already own. When you have fewer choices, it’s much easier to decide what to use or do and then go do it. There’s no hemming and hawing over the vast piles of choices.

When you have less, you don’t have these problems

You know what you have and where it is. You know you can use it all because you often do. When stuff is brought into your house, it’s often as a replacement for a worn out item, or it’s only added after careful consideration of its merits. The stuff you have is stuff you need or really want, not just stuff you thought was good because “more is always better.”

The trick is to know how much is really enough for you. When you start to reach the point where you feel overwhelmed with choices, or you can’t remember what you already have, you’re getting too much. When you find yourself coming across things you haven’t used in ages (or ever), you’re getting too much. These are warning signs that it’s time to stop accumulating stuff and maybe even start purging so you get down to a level where you are getting reasonable use out of your stuff.

Stuff that’s never used is a waste of money and space. It’s also mentally tiring because you might constantly berate yourself every time you see those items piled up but not getting used. Try living with less and you’ll likely discover that the stuff you keep gets used to its fullest. You’ll save money, feel better, and have more free space in your house.

(Photo courtesy of garryknight)

7 thoughts on “The Paradox of Stuff: Own Less, Use More

  1. Agree 100% How many times do you hear someone say they “need” a bigger place because of their things? Think of how much money, time, thought is wasted trying to organize all that stuff….
    Learn to enjoy empty spaces.

  2. I have been of the same mind of owning 2 of everything in case one breaks. I’m getting better about that. Am also starting to put on Craigslist and garage sales items that I’ve had for many years that need to move on and to simplify my life. I feel that by owning less; you clean less, and less items to occupy your mind and space. I think that you think better when there is less clutter or things around.

  3. I have decided to cut all unnecessary spending this month because I realized I was just buying so much stuff! I know that I have everything I need and plenty of what I want. I have very limited space and not a huge budget. I really don’t feel like I’m missing out by not buying random things that cross my mind that I “need.” If at the end of the month I still feel strongly that there is something that I’d really like to have, maybe it’s worth having. I also found that this extra spending cut is giving me the chance to look at how much I already own and donate what I can and throw away the rest. It’s been a great experience so fare and I highly recommend it!

  4. I have plenty of everything. The only thing I would like more of is shoes that fit and are comfortable. I’ve been wearing the same pair of sandals all summer (and most of the spring and fall) for 11 years now. They are pretty worn out looking and my sneakers are really uncomfortable. I would just once like to step my toes into even a fraction of the amount of shoes most woment own, but alas my foot size and knee replacements don’t leave me much options. For the rest, yep I can happily get rid of lots of stuff!

  5. This is all true! I’ve been decluttering for years and I’m still not done, but I’m much more careful about what I buy now. I don’t want to own more things I’ll have to get rid of later… I know exactly what clothes I own and they are all things that fit & that I like & wear. I have limited shoes & purses, but I use them all. It’s worth the effort to own less & use more!

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