Over the course of a lifetime, it’s estimated that the average American will purchase his or her way through a cool 2.7 million dollars’ worth of stuff. If owning more stuff enhances your life, then more power to you. But as you read this article, try to keep in mind that many of us drive around with more spare change in our cars than many people live on per day.
And yet, some of the brightest smiles come from people with the least possessions? What’s really going on here? Why are they so happy and how does any of this affect you? Let’s take a closer look.
According to American credit card statistics, in 2015 the average US household carried $15,675 in credit card debt and $132,158 in total debt. That’s a lot of stuff, and potentially a whole lot of stress. Did I mention that stress is a killer yet?
People now own so much stuff they can no longer fit it all inside their houses. It has to be stored out in a shed, over in the barn, crammed into the attic or stuffed in the basement. And when all those places are full, the trend now is to rent a storage unit! FFS how much stuff do we really need?
Wait a second, didn’t Gordon Gekko, the lead character in the classic movie Wall Street, once tell us that greed is good? Huh … really? With rising sea levels and darker environmental skies, maybe that classic line from Wall Street should have been “The highest wealth is the absence of greed.” — Seneca:
This planet that feeds you, your children, and your grandchildren can sustain us all. It just cannot sustain the current rate of consumerism. The key to solving this problem is never going to be more recycling. Lord knows we’ve tried that and recycling more plastic really is one of mans dumbest inventions. Here’s why.
Last year Americans drank their way through 50 billion water bottles (that’s billion with a B). But here’s the kicker, the US recycling rate is a mere 24%, which means 38 billion water bottles suddenly became someone else’s problem.
Are you catching this bit?- It’s kinda important.
Each time you place that discarded plastic item into your wheelie-bin, so do your friends, your family and all of your neighbors. But there's a problem, can you see it?
This weekly ritual continues to play out until the system becomes totally flooded with plastic. Wealthy nations then resort to paying poorer nations to take their unwanted plastic. No really, it’s true. India has a growing mountain of the stuff. So on the surface recycling may seem like the honorable thing to do, but at best, it’s feeding an insatiable commercial beast. At worst it’s exploiting others into dealing with our waste. And yet we continue to produce single-use plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and water bottles in mind-boggling quantities.
Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children- ancient American proverb
This really isn’t rocket science, it takes energy to manufacture plastic just as it takes energy to recycle it again, thus ensuring the planet is having to work twice as hard. But if you stop and think about it, the plastic industry only exists because there is a demand. Take away the demand and you take away the need to recycle. It’s a revolutionary idea I know, but the greenest of all plastic is the plastic we don’t use. Let’s not forget that the average chunk of plastic can take up to 450 years to decompose. But there’s more to this story than meets the eye..
There’s an emotional “feel good’ factor to placing our unwanted packaging into the recycling wheelie bin (phew, the planet gets to live another day), but in the real world, plastic is still getting dumped into the sea every minute of every day. Some estimates suggest that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than there are fish! But why should you care?
Well, the packaging is just packaging until money changes hands and then it turns into pollution. We all like to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and look at the big blue sky, am I right?
I know what you are thinking because I had the same thought. Pollution is China’s problem, right? Sadly, pollution has an uncanny knack for being whipped up into the jet stream. What goes up must come down which is usually thousands of miles away from where these toxic goods were made. But there’s a bigger problem still to come and it goes by the name of stress. How so?
Owing more stuff has a deeply repulsive element to it. Last year I happened to catch a scuffle that broke out when greed sweeps the mind and flat-screen TVs go on sale for Black-Friday. It’s hard to imagine what kind of TV show would warrant such acts of aggression. And although I offer no proof, I suspect it might have even been the Jerry Springer show … Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! .. Just sayin’, maybe Black-Friday should be renamed Black-Eye-Friday. I digress.
If you do have disposable income, think about buying an experience rather than a thing. My wife likes Chris Stapleton (a musician of sorts) and she recently ordered a ticket to go see him perform live.
The concert ticket was a little more than she wanted to pay, but we justified it because she isn’t a typical consumer. Had she paid that much for a new fur coat we might not have seen eye to eye. My point is this, enjoyable experiences are what tightly bond people together. These lasting memories will be around long after all those material things hit the garbage can.
It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. — Steve Jobs
Given half the chance, kids also seem to get this concept. It’s funny how they remember the days when we stopped to color with them on the rug, but quickly forget all the money we spend on plastic toys.
Sometimes we are forced to buy things: roofs leak, cars break, kitchens cupboards wear out. I get it. But impulse buys are a totally different animal.
An impulse buy is anything that winds up on your credit card that wasn’t a burning desire to buy twelve hours earlier.
I’m not sure who wakes up in the middle of the night and says, “Hey, I must buy another plastic windmill for my garden.” It’s an impulse buy packaged as a bargain along with a gazillion other bits of junk that we don’t need.
The definition of a bargain is something you don’t need at a price you find hard to resist.
Buying less clutter (even if it is on sale for $1) inevitably means less plastic heading for the oceans and landfills. If you aren’t sure whether something is clutter or not, try to think of it this way: if you don’t love it or use it then technically it’s become clutter. The two exceptions to this rule are dangly wind chimes and dreamcatchers, even if you love them they are still clutter, — just sayin.
Perhaps when man has exhausted the world’s oil supply it will no longer be economically viable to sail plastic cargo all the way from China. It surely adds insult to injury when toxic goods are sold on the open market for one dollar. How is that even a thing?
Sadly, the ones who seem to get sucked into buying those strategically placed “point-of-sale” cheap items are the ones who can least afford to buy them. Bad spending habits are really just that, a habit that stifles cash flow and increases acidic stress. One way to break free is to make a list of all the essential things you need BEFORE you go to the store and then stick to it.
Once self-value comes from owning more stuff it can quickly lead to a never-ending cycle of want. The more we have the more we want. Left unchecked, this line can easily become unhealthy and blurred. If we aren’t careful, the things we own begin to own us!
Our perception of success is often judged by the number of dollars we are prepared to exchange for each measured unit of toil. We then exchange a percentage of those dollars for material things. But it’s an illusion to think more money automatically equals more happiness.
Okay, what else do we need to know?
Today, more than ever before, the retail industry is keen to help you own more stuff. There’s actually a slick psychology in place that constantly manipulates you into buying more things. Gone are the days where the store manager says you are always right. Today, you don’t even have to be standing physically inside a store to make a purchase. Now you can shop till you drop while still wearing your PJs. This has the potential to become an alarming problem that goes well beyond recycling. How so?
And here comes the silent killer I mentioned earlier
This is where we come full circle and return to stress affecting our health. As it turns out, your mental and physical health are closely connected to your shopping habits. No really, it’s true.
Make no mistake, stress is a killer. According to the American Psychological Association, stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and even suicide!
A preoccupation with accumulating more “stuff” can become a trap that leads to a downward spiral of self-inflicted stress. Somebody somewhere will always seem to have more. And yet this thirst for material things steals the one thing we need more than anything else — our inner peace.
Give a man a million-dollar house and it isn’t too long before he’s peeking over the garden fence at the sixty-foot boat his neighbor owns. The problem with this concept is twofold.
First- The definition of a boat is nothing more than a hole in the water that must constantly be filled with money.
Second- Ownership is an illusion; we might think we own something, but if that purchase requires any form of maintenance then it can just as easily own us.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
– Leonardo da Vinci
Over the years I’ve met with some incredibly interesting people. Some of those people were used to seeing more money in a day than many of us will earn in our lifetimes. And yet many were unhappy beyond description.
There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy or wanting a better quality of life. But we have to be careful that wanting it (or having it) doesn’t take on a life of its own. Many of us have been led to believe that luxury is a standard worth chasing after, yet it also has the potential to bring the most stress.
Throughout my posts, I’ll always strive to be upfront with you. So to be perfectly honest, there was a time in my own life when I too was a dollar-chasing victim. I followed the herd and drove my overpriced pretentious car and even bought the gold Rolex to match. But no matter how hard I worked it never seemed enough.
Some twenty years later, wealth no longer impresses me. I now find genuine contentment looking at a full woodshed. It brings me comfort to know that I have enough fuel to see me through the coldest of winters. To me, this has a real and tangible value beyond paper money sitting in a bank. Today, I really don’t care what car I drive, but I do pay close attention to what food goes on the end of my fork, where things are made, and by whom.
A man who views the world the same at fifty,
as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.
– Muhammad Ali
Finally, imagine if today, a news flash suddenly came on the radio and said: “Warning you had just fifteen minutes to evacuate your house”. What items would you throw in your suitcase? Now ask yourself, what could you leave behind?
Hmm, perhaps we don’t need as much stuff as we think we do.
What did we learn from this?
Clutter can create self-inflicted stress; the wider implication becomes industrialized pollution and death. Few people are going to stand at our funeral admiring all of those shoes we bought.
Homework: Like what you read? check out this book