This is part of my Letters To My 20-Year-Old Self.
Every day, you see so many things you want. Books. Computer equipment. Knick knacks. Ingredients for a new recipe. Materials for an outdoor project. Used furniture bargains. Random exercise equipment. So many garage sales—so little time!
Your natural impulse is to buy it all. Empty your bank account and embrace your heap of stuff. And then get a bigger home to hold your horde. And then a storage unit. Or two. Maybe three? Start with a 5x5 but graduate to 10x10. And 10x20. Then a warehouse in the industrial district.
You’ll need a truck to haul your stuff around. A small pickup, at first. Then a full-size truck and flatbed trailer. Eventually, you’ll buy a 26 foot used UHaul…
This. Is. Bonkers. Don’t go down this road. Or the stuff you own will own you. Also, you’ll end up divorced, bankrupt, and miserable.
So what’s the alternative?
The obvious solution is to just not buy anything. Cut up your credit cards and stash your debit card in a block of ice. But this isn’t reasonable. You actually need some of what you buy. And some purchases improve your quality of life.
But how do you suss out things you really need? How can you tell which bargains will boost your overall happiness?
The solution is to create a “Stuff I want” list. Whenever you want something, add it to the list and wait 48 hours. 95% of the time, your interest in the item will fizzle. Some new must-have thing will capture your attention. And you’ll be better off because you didn’t shell out your hard-earned money for something you didn’t actually want.
Also, when you want something that costs $100 or more, wait seven days. (I know, this feels like an eternity!) But add expensive items to your 7-day list, and 90% of the time, your interest will wither away. You can do this.
You cannot fathom how much money you will save! More money in the bank means more options and freedom to do what you want.
Let’s dive deeper
Growing up, no one ever told you the dirty little secret of a consumerist society: there’s always more to want, no matter what you have. Craving never ceases. So keep your cash and save it for things you really want in the long run.
People also never told you how limited your time is. In your mind, there’s time to try all the recipes in those $5 French and Italian cookbooks you grabbed at a yardsale. There’s time to use all that exercise equipment, rebuild all those computers, and read all those classic novels. But reality is another matter. You have 16-waking hours each day and far less free time. You can’t do all the things you imagined doing. Or even 10% of them.
Accept that your time is scarce—more scarce than money! You’ll let go of the notion that you can do everything. Accept that opening the door to one hobby means shutting the door to ten others. You’ll let go of the feeling that you could do more or should do more.
This line of thinking, this perspective, will innoculate you against consumerism’s wiles. It creates a protective shield against the army of advertisements that blare, “Pleasure is just one purchase away.” This way of seeing the world transforms advertisements into mere distractions, like a cloud of gnats you swat away when it buzzes too close.
One last thing: don’t watch advertisements. Don’t let their bright colors, upbeat tempos, and attractive actors mesmerize you. They seem benign, but they all have one purpose: to change your behavior. They’re not entertainment, and they’re not your friend. Block them with browser AdBlock extensions. And watch TV shows without the ads.
This probably sounds extreme, but I urge you to try it out. You’ll see how ads, with their song of “You’re incomplete because you don’t have this!” is a monstrous weight on your soul. Try it out, and you’ll discover peace and quiet within yourself. Lastly, try it out and reclaim your emotional energy to pursue your short-term goals and long-term dreams.