Stuff Happens

Let’s be clear and up front. As Americans, we are the front-runners for accumulating stuff. Consumerism is defined as “a social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.” I couldn’t agree more with that definition when describing the US. From the time we are children, we are taught that more is better. We only really play two or three board games, but we have fifteen in the closet. This mindset is ingrained in our minds and is usually carried with us to adulthood. There is no better way to show this than one statistic:

According to the Self Storage Association, “Total self storage rentable space in the US is now 2.3 billion square feet (as of Q4-2011) [approximately 210 million square meters].  That figure represents more than 78 square miles of rentable self storage space, under roof – or an area well more than 3 times the size of Manhattan Island (NY)

What is Self Storage?

For anyone not familiar, self storage is space one can rent in order to keep extra stuff. The storage areas are buildings specifically built for this reason. One can store a car, boxes of old clothes, pretty much anything. You pay a monthly rate (average of $8.65 per square foot per month) and have 24 hour access to your space.

Let’s put this into relevant numbers. There are currently about 314 million American citizens. I am going to assume that the rentable storage space from the quote above is 75% full. This means that the average American rents 5.5 square feet of space. At $8.65 per square foot, that’s about $48/month or $576/year in storage costs alone! $576 per year!

So essentially, we are buying more and more stuff, buying it on credit (average credit card debt of $15,422 per household) where the average interest rate is 13.33%, and, finally, we are paying monthly rates to store all the extra stuff that we don’t need!! If that doesn’t sound outrageous and a huge waste of money, then your assistance is needed from a Nigerian Prince.

Emotional price of owning stuff

Stuff has an emotional drag on us, as well. It makes us feel tied down, uses our time and energy, and generally gives us more stress. It is easier to purchase something than to sell it. It’s easy to become attached to possessions. The emotional loss in selling something can be painful and uncomfortable. So stuff accumulates. We become conditioned to this and just can’t imagine selling that extra couch even though we’ll be buying a new one. So let’s find a storage place for the old one “just in case”. What if there is a fire, flood, or other catastrophic event that destroys your stuff? It’s probably going to be a very tough time emotionally (and possibly financially).

I encourage you to really think about your emotional attachment with your stuff. No doubt that it’s the social norm in the US, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to live. Not only is it hurting your wallet with extra storage fees and credit card interest, but it can be emotionally draining, as well.

How I got out of the eternal cycle of stuff

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau in Walden

I used to love my stuff. I was very protective of it. I had my Xbox 360, Sony Wega TV, Tivo, desktop computer, an iPod, etc. To move to college, my parents would haul down an extra trailer to be able to fit all my stuff. In late 2010, I followed Adam Baker’s advice from Man vs. Debt to “sell my crap”. I created an inventory list of everything I owned, and I carefully went through it to decide what added value to my life. Anything that did not add value was on Craigslist or donated. I ended up with about $750 in my pocket and a weight off my shoulders. It felt great! Over time, I have continued to purge anything not adding value, and, just as important, have not accumulated anything I would see as wasteful. Because of this, I was able to move from Illinois to Kansas with just one carload. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

What are some things you own that are not adding value to your life? Maybe it’s a closet full of clothes you never wear, or maybe it’s your television that keeps you from exercising or going out with friends. Take a look around and see what can be sold. Put it on Craigslist and see what happens. It may be more liberating than you ever imagined!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.


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