A lot of people in our country today suffer from affluenza. As you might surmise, this word is a mashup of affluence and influenza, and it has characteristics of both.
In colloquial terms, this is known as “Keeping up with the Joneses.” In sociology, it’s called conspicuous consumption. Your status and worth is shown by the amount and expense of the stuff you have. If your neighbors have something, then you have to one-up them to show who’s on top. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle that can quickly get overwhelming and out of control. The good news is that you can stop the cycle and decide you’re not going to play anymore.
What are some escape routes? You don’t have to take dramatic action like the guy I read about recently who lives in a renovated dumpster. (I thought it would be really fun to do something radical like this, then write about it. At the very least it would give my parents loads to talk about.)
First, instead of buying more, think about using what you already have either by fixing or repurposing it. There’s a whole movement in Bloomington that is all about using old things in new ways. They even have a style exhibition every year, complete with runway models: The Trashion/Refashion Show. A local boutique that sells creations from otherwise throwaway items is named Discardia.
Next, get rid of stuff. Lots and lots of it. Release yourself from the bonds of stuffocation (you know, being suffocated by your stuff.) What better way to celebrate spring? If this task is too daunting, have me come over and help you. Clutter runs from me in fear.
Once you clear some space, you’ll be able to better appreciate what you do have. Many times it seems people will buy new items because they didn’t realize they already had something they needed. Cutting down on the overall mass will enable you to recognize that you do have much of what you want. Often times you’ll find things you have forgotten about so it’s like going shopping without spending money. From that point on, make a policy that for every new object you bring in, two must go. This will help keep the piles from accumulating.
Also, a smaller home not only means more money saved on rent or mortgage payments but also more incentive to keep the inventory to a minimum, as there’s not much room for stashing it away. If you have so much stuff that you have a separate storage unit then you probably don’t even need all of it, as it doesn’t rate high enough on the importance meter to live with you in your home. And less square footage takes a lot less time to clean.
Then you can have the satisfaction to know that you are using what you have and aren’t hanging on to a bunch of extra items that you don’t want, need, or use. It’s a very liberating feeling. I think we hang on to material things because it makes us feel in control but actually it’s just proof of our insecurity. Once you get past this then you can appreciate simple joys, such as are found in nature—flora, fauna, and everything in between.
Now that you’re not spending all your money stockpiling possessions, you can use your dollars to go out and experience life. I’ve read that people score higher on happiness ratings when they use their funds to participate in activities and create memories, rather than accumulating material goods. I think we often default to buying stuff because it’s easier. Creating friendships and making social plans takes work but the payoff is worth the energy expended.
Another factor that is rated higher on happiness assessments is investing in people. This could come in the form of charitable giving, whether money or physical items. It can also be expressed by volunteering time, which also has the added bonus of connecting with people. Charity doesn’t have to be toward those you don’t know—treating friends also creates a positive feedback loop whereby you feel good for doing good which motivates you to do more good.
What you do with your money is more important than how much you have. Overall satisfaction with life does not directly correlate with dollar figures; twice as much money doesn’t mean double the happiness. Remember the old adage: How much money does it take to make you happy? Just a little bit more….
A quote from St. Ambrose of Milan: The things which we cannot take with us are not ours. Or to put it in a more humorous, folksy manner—you never see a U-Haul at a funeral.