Want More Time? Stop Buying So Much Stuff!

I don’t see myself as a consumer.  My husband and I stick to a strict budget that doesn’t allow much “blow” money out of necessity.

However, we’re packing up to move halfway across the country, and I’m amazed at how much “stuff” I’m sorting through that I simply don’t want to move 1,750 miles across country.  Over the last few weeks of packing, I’ve donated 12 bags of “stuff” to Goodwill (mostly books and clothes and toys).  I’ve also sold over $700 worth of stuff–canning jars, baby gates, outgrown kids clothes, etc.

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Even though I don’t see myself as a consumer, the “stuff” that we had available to donate and sell tells a different story.


Buying Just To Buy

What I’ve been most amazed by are the items we bought and never used or only used once or twice.  For instance, we bought a juicer at Costco, but we didn’t care for the flavor or the fact that all the fiber in the fruits and veggies was discarded.  We decided to keep it just in case.  Now, I’m trying to sell it for a 1/4 the price of what it cost us.

I also bought an ergonomic keyboard several years ago when I thought my old one was on the fritz.  I never did use it because they old keyboard never died.  Instead, I switched to using laptops and now don’t even need the keyboard.

I cringe to think how much more “stuff” we may have had around our house if I had more disposable income.

Trading Free Time For Stuff

What I’m struck by is that I’m essentially trading free time for “stuff.”  I work as a freelancer and have control over how much work I do each month.  If I need money, I can work more.  If the month isn’t as tight, I can work less.

If we lived a simpler life with less possessions, I’d be able to work less.  Yet, time and time again, we’re pinched for cash.  I never equated that with being a consumer, but my clutter shows otherwise.

Yet, I’m not alone.  Many of us, dare I say most of us, are working harder just to buy more “stuff.”

According to The New Yorker, back in 1928, John Maynard Keynes argued that in the year 2028, people would only need to work about three hours a day to make enough money for their needs.  What he didn’t take into account is that our “needs” would grow. . .and grow. . .and grow.

Italian economists, Lorenzo Pecchi and Gusavo Piga speculated in 2008, “Keynes assumed that people work in order to earn enough to buy what they need.  And so, he reasoned, as incomes rose, those needs could be fulfilled in ever fewer hours.  Workers would knock off earlier and earlier, until eventually they’d be going home by lunchtime.

“But that isn’t what people are like.  Instead of quitting early, they find new things to need.  Many of the new things they’ve found weren’t even around when Keynes was writing–laptops, microwaves, Xboxes, smartphones, smart watches, smart refrigerators, Prada totes, True Religion jeans, battery-powered meat thermometers, those gizmos you stick in the freezer and then into your beer to keep it cold as you drink it” (The New Yorker).

Meanwhile, Joseph Stiglitz argues that Keynes got it wrong for a different reason.  “We ‘learn how to consume by consuming,’ and how to ‘enjoy leisure by enjoying leisure'” (The New Yorker).  That’s why, according to Stiiglitz, “Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours and to buy more stuff.  TVs ‘can be put in every room and in both the front and the back of automobiles'” (The New Yorker).

Whichever theory you find more plausible, the simple fact is that we’re sacrificing our free time for stuff.  I, for one, now that I’m aware of how frequently I’m doing this, plan to make a conscious effort to get off the consuming treadmill.

What about you?  Do you look around your house and see things that you bought that you didn’t really need or use?

Last Edited: 1st July 2014

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  1. says

    Wow, just, wow. I’ve never heard of Keynes, so his quote – and how far off the mark our society is – was eye-opening! Yep, there is lots of “stuff” that I consider a necessity that a 1920’s person would stare at with wild-eyed wonder. I’m going to start using this to help me when I declutter or to temper an impulse buy – what would Keynes think!

  2. says

    Interesting about Keynes! Hadn’t heard about that before… So true how we are as a society these days – pisses me off it took so long to finally figure it out myself! Haha… Though better late than never, right? You summed it up perfectly with your freelancing gig. Need more, work more. Don’t need, don’t work! Love it.

  3. says

    Our needs do grow and grow but it’s mostly wants disguised as needs. I noticed how much stuff my folks had when I was helping them clean out the basement. Things just accumulates. I moved a lot myself so I learned to start living minimally but even my last move I had tons of stuff.

  4. says

    Your post makes me think of Juliet Schor’s The Overworked American. She quotes Keynes.

    She also discusses another aspect of all the stuff we tend to buy: even once purchased, they require some of your time.

    Stuff takes time to:
    – Use it
    – Maintain it
    – Clean it
    – Organize it
    – Move it

    And we can feel overwhelmed by the fact that we need to use all our possessions and just don’t have time to because we need to work and tend to other responsibilities.

    It’s so much easier on the body and on the mind to just have less.

  5. says

    Great article…couldn’t agree with your more. We all want more and bigger these days! At least until we have our Aha! Moment and realize that these things are costing us not just money but time. Time having to work extra hours and in some cases years to pay for it.

    Thanks for sharing…Cheers! AFFJ

  6. says

    I have also accumulated a ton of things that I currently don’t use. I have been selling 10 items a month on Ebay in order to downsize my apartment. At the same time I am making some extra money that I have been using to invest into dividend growth stocks. Great article Melissa!

  7. says

    I agree that we can live comfortably with less. I’m trying to be more minimalist myself, but stuff does sometimes get purchased and not used. Charities are a great way to get rid of some and also help others in need.

  8. says

    Whoa, that was incredibly eye-opening. I wish Keynes was right! But it’s so eye-opening because us Americans just find excuses to buy things. We use the term “needs” way too often, and we think the only way to have fun is to buy things! I definitely need to evaluate all of my purchases.

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