Podcast 101: Stop acquiring

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This is podcast 101 and it’s called stop acquiring. Last time I talked about completion, that is, including time to put away whatever you just brought home or got in the mail or used for some purpose or that’s out because someone else didn’t put it away. Sure, blame someone else. It stands to reason that the more stuff you have, the more completion you need to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to have less to do, so you have more time for fun?

Today I’ll talk about the perils of acquiring. That includes shopping and all the other ways stuff comes into your life: gifts, freebies, hand-me-downs, swaps, white elephant parties, free samples, inheritance, loans you never returned and buy-one-get-one offers. There are lots of ways that things sneak into your life!

I read an article by a consumer psychologist that had some intriguing ideas I haven’t heard before. One of them is that when people spend a lot of money on something that they cherish, they perversely rarely want to use it. They don’t want it to get damaged or dirty or used up. It kind of makes sense, but it’s also nutty. Why buy a thing that you never use?

Even stranger, people buy substitutes for those valuable items that they do allow themselves to use regularly but the substitutes are often cheap and kind of crummy, compared to the original item. That means there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the lower quality item, which in turn makes people want to shop more. Weird, huh?

An example of this is fine china. I’ve done a lot of unpacking for people so I get to see what they have. Bwah ha ha ha. What I see is beautiful, expensive plates, cups, serving ware, etc. that takes up many china cabinet shelves but is only used once a year, if that. What’s in the kitchen cabinets is mismatched, chipped dishware, or just boring plates that are serviceable but that the owner has little affection for. This seems kind of upside down.

Do you ever make a special trip to a mall or shopping district and not find the thing you were looking for, but then feel compelled to buy SOMETHING or else the trip was a waste? That’s another tricky consumer mindset. If you come home empty handed, you may feel unproductive. You didn’t get the thing you set out to buy. But when you think about it, just buying something to justify your trip doesn’t make sense at all.

Free stuff is irresistible to most of us. Me included! A friend recently gave me her old toaster oven. I didn’t have one and my life was terrific without it. Now that I have it I’m thinking up ways to use it. Frankly, besides heating up leftover pizza, I haven’t thought of any reasons that truly justify keeping it. I don’t really have room for it either and it’s cluttering my kitchen counter. But I still have it. Because it was free! It doesn’t seem to matter to me that I could buy one for 30 bucks at Target. I feel trapped by this little toaster oven, so I do understand how this works.

However, I also know that sometime over the next few weeks I will realize that I’m not using the thing much, that I hate how it takes up so much counter space and that I can easily go out and buy one if it turns out I must have one. The dopamine hit of having a free item just drop into my life as if by magic will wear off. Whew. I also know that most of the time I am quite capable of turning down free items that I don’t currently need or want. After I do that, I forget about them entirely.

Note that I mentioned items I CURRENTLY need or want. A big source of acquisition is what I call aspirational buying. I talked about this in podcast #66. Aspirational buying includes fabulous outfits that will look great at that boat deck cocktail party you haven’t been invited to yet. It includes exercise gear that you think will get you to exercise, instead of using the stairmaster to drape clothes on. It includes fancy cookwear or kitchen gadgets for dishes you will make once you take that special cooking class. It includes sports equipment for a sport you don’t know if you even like doing yet. Back in podcast 13 I talked about letting stores store things for you until you need them.

When I help people unpack I see how overwhelmed they feel seeing all their possessions out at once. Most of the time they are shocked to be confronted with so much stuff and truly don’t remember acquiring it.

To get unstuck from your things, reflect on which of them really gives you pleasure or that has a valuable purpose in your life. Be grateful for them and consciously appreciate them. This can increase your satisfaction and lessen your desire to acquire something new.

Imagine being free of the tyranny of stuff you want to hang onto for illogical reasons, the same reasons that marketers target to get you to buy. Protect yourself from offers that are too tempting; emails from stores that offer you deals all the time and, one of my favorites, don’t go shopping unless you actually need something.

What you can do right now. Look around and see if you can find something you got on sale, or for free; something you didn’t intentionally buy and spend decent money for. Ask yourself whether it really deserves a place in your home.