If You Hate Stuff, You Will Spend Less

by Vered DeLeeuw · 19 comments

I was walking around a street market in Beijing, China. I was completely mesmerized by the colors, sounds and scents surrounding me. Everything was so vibrant and loud and packed with stuff, stuff that was different than anything I’d ever seen in the West. And the prices! For someone who comes from the West, prices were dirt cheap. Of course, quality was low too, and I didn’t really need any of the items I was buying. But I didn’t care. I couldn’t shop fast enough, filling bag after bag with exotic purchases.

That was about ten years ago, when I still liked stuff. Now, I hate stuff.

It took me years to realize that things, objects, stuff, whatever you choose to call them, are not making me happy. That having lots of objects around me is not comforting, but in fact weighs me down and creates not just unnecessary clutter, but also the need to maintain those things, to clean them and care for them. Of course, buying stuff also costs you money. The less you buy, the more you will save.

Minimizing Travel Souvenirs

Gradually, over the years, I’ve learned to view mementos, souvenirs and knickknacks as an unnecessary waste of money. Sure, my husband and I love to travel and have been to many countries around the world. We have lots of pictures, of course, stored on the computer and only the very best of them printed out in picture books (takes far less space than photos arranged in bulky albums). We also bring food items back from each vacation, which enables us to prolong the experience for a little longer. On recent trips, we brought maple candy from Canada, Calissons d’Aix from Provence, halva from Israel and olive oil from Italy. But food souvenirs are consumed over a few weeks and don’t take up space forever.

We try to limit ourselves to one souvenir from each trip – we started a collection of shot glasses from around the world. Despite not being heavy drinkers, we do enjoy the occasional glass of limoncello, especially in summer. It’s fun to serve it in our assortment of colorful shot glasses from cities around the world.

Saying No to Recreational Shopping

Recreational shopping used to be a serious vice of mine. When online shopping became widely available, I believe it was during the nineties, I fell in love with the ease and convenience of finding everything online. It was a much better shopping experience than shopping in physical stores. I started shopping online whenever I could, which was wasteful because back then free shipping was less common, so I was spending a lot of money on shipping and on return shipping. But I thought that was a premium I was willing to pay for the convenience.

The real problem began a few years ago, when I discovered that I could shop online as a way to pass the time. My kids were a little older, I wasn’t working yet, and frankly, I was a little bored. Online shopping fills your time, is pleasant, not stressful, and best of all, you can do it every day! Of course, approximately a week after each shopping session you have to deal with boxes filled with stuff, stuff that you don’t really need, most of which looks all wrong and needs to be returned – but that fills your time too, doesn’t it?

It was my husband who at some point approached the subject gently (bless him), pointing out that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to go online and shop even if I didn’t need anything. When I looked over our credit card receipts from the past year, I was shocked to see how wasteful this habit really was. Weaning myself off recreational shopping was freeing, and made me realize that while the shopping itself was pleasant, dealing with all that stuff was not pleasant at all – it was actually quite stressful to have to find a place for all those purchases, to maintain them, and to return the items that I didn’t want.

My Home is Now Clutter Free

After years of being a shopaholic, I guess I went to the opposite extreme. For several years now, I have lost interest in shopping. I love fashion and shop for new items when I need them, but I don’t shop for recreation anymore. The same is true for household items, for kitchen supplies (I used to love going into cooking supply stores), and for kids’ stuff. I have completely removed recreational shopping, including window shopping, from my life. If I don’t need an item (and I do acknowledge that the definition of “need” can change from person to person), I won’t go shopping.

These days, when I plan a trip, I don’t really add a “shopping day” to my trip plan and I don’t look for “things to buy” in the location I’m visiting.  I have taught myself to view stuff as something that weighs me down, something that will detract from my enjoyment of life rather than enhance it. My house is clean, airy and completely clutter-free, and I really like it that way.

Objects Can Be Comforting

I acknowledge that my love of bareness is a little unusual and that most people do find that surrounding themselves with a few familiar items is comforting and can transfer a “house” into a “home.” This is fine. I’m just saying that except for a few choice items, we really shouldn’t view objects as something that makes us happy. Not being attached to physical objects is freeing – and will help you spend less.

Editor’s Note: Great story. Reading this reminds me that just like everything else, change is possible. The love of shopping or the love of simplicity is just a feeling after all. If your spending seems uncontrollable at times, don’t fret, because there’s hope. If anything, you can start off by trying to “pay for” free stuff. Here are some great suggestions from Kiplinger.

We’ve all been there, and we are here to help.

How do you feel about objects?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz August 12, 2010 at 8:17 am

Great article. Personal awareness is the key to changing anything in life. If you don’t know you have a problem then you certainly can’t correct it. I had the same problem of either not letting go of things. I had a garage full of things that I might get around to using someday. I would clean the garage and arrange them only to have someone else in my household search for something and create disarray. Many items got broken rendering them useless not to mention I didn’t have time to use them. Other people I have known pay a monthly fee to store their excess items – this whole scenario seems wasteful to me. Now we are going for the option that if something comes into the house something else must go out.

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Vered DeLeeuw August 12, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Liz, I agree on renting a storage space. Not everyone agrees, but I believe that if you don’t need immediate access to stuff, then you probably don’t need it at all.

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Tracy August 12, 2010 at 8:25 am

I had a wake up call when I was sorting through clothes that my older son had worn to pull out things for the next younger one to wear. He had around 40 short sleeved t-shirts. At the time, I justified it because I always got really good deals but in reality I not only wasted money but hours of time shopping.

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Miss Britt August 12, 2010 at 8:31 am

I love this – especially the part about souvenirs. Everyone gives me crap for not bringing my kids knick knacks home from my trips. Why would I do that to any of us?

I usually buy one souvenir from my trips if I can find something that’s unique and usable – like the bracelet I bought at a street fair during my most recent trip to NYC. I try to take note of things I was hoping to buy anyway and consider getting them on an upcoming trip, tying the memories of the place to the limited “stuff” I want to have.

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Vered DeLeeuw August 12, 2010 at 12:58 pm

“Why would I do that to any of us?” – Exactly. I like the idea of buying things you would want anyway – instead of buying just because you’re a tourist and you’re “supposed” to buy souvenirs.

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CD Phi August 12, 2010 at 8:37 am

Yeah, I really couldn’t agree more. When I travel, I used to just buy tons and tons of souvenirs. Guess what I did with most of those souvenirs when I decluttered my home the other day? I threw them away. Now I know not to waste money on too many souvenirs.

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Finn August 12, 2010 at 8:41 am

While I have been known to arrive home with perfume or a piece of handmade jewelry from a trip, I generally bring home nothing else but tons of photos.

It’s very helpful if you are allergic to dust – you consider every item you bring in to your home for its ability to collect dust. Knowing you’ll have to dust that sucker constantly is enough to keep my money in my wallet.

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Jenna August 12, 2010 at 10:23 am

I like having items from my travels that have meaning and a story behind them. More than just “oh I went somewhere and got this”. Usually artwork that can be displayed in my house, or something that has functionality, like a cool, locally made plate. I got a really great hand made glass cheese plate for my mom from Greece and I love when she gets compliments from her friends about it. “Don’t you love it? My daughter got it while she was in Greece, met the man who made it too.”

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Financial Samurai August 12, 2010 at 5:58 pm

You know, I REALLY hate clutter in the home. I just can’t stand it.

One of the problems of being a personal finance blogger is you get A LOT of free literature/books etc, and I just can’t say no, b/c it’s free, and I just can’t throw it away, b/c someone will appreciate it.

Hence, your post reminds me that I should do more giveaways.

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MoneyNing August 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Ha I actually never say yes to free books anymore. I used to get them and then I feel bad when I don’t end up reading them and writing a review, which is what they wanted me to do.

I sometimes wonder if there are “no solicitation” signs for emails. Maybe I should have an auto responder to counter-spam the spam.

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Patricia August 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm

I have belonged to a voluntary simplicity group for 30 years and all 12 of us are folks who do not like to shop….We spent 3 years finding our couch and chairs for the living room and then we brought home the ones from the office when that room added a conference table area….I have one child who loves to shop but now that she is earning her own money life is changing – slowly…My weakness was books, but I now use them for charity donations.

I went on my first major trip as an adult last year for my 60th birthday with my daughter – she took wonderful pictures and made them into a book…I hate to dust anything – this is a lovely gift.
I also planned on buying a necklace or earrings in Scotland, and I wanted to purchase something from Harrods…I got a lovely linen pantsuit for dress up summer events…it is a classic so will last a long while, unless I keep losing weight but it is so classic I can have it tailored down…
What is with all this stuff….???? It seems to cause wars too :)
Thanks for a good post and the referral to this site

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Vered DeLeeuw August 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Hi Patricia,

I agree – picture books are a wonderful gift.

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Global Forex Signals August 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm

You know, you can buy the stuff even if you hate it. The point is, that if you are goign abroad, you need to bring something to your close people. And you can’t affrod buying expensive thing here and there for all of them. So, buying just some exotc souvenirs and stuff like that is just the right thing to do in such situation – it will always please people. As it’s said – the main thing is not the present, but the attention itself.

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kl September 15, 2010 at 5:27 am

I think the point made earlier was that while people appreciate the attention, they don’t really care about the souvenirs (unless it’s something you truly know they will love and use). For this reason, I bring edibles – for me, food is one of the greatest reasons to travel anyway, so it is right in line with what I loved about the trip. People get a “taste of” a new place and no clutter at home.

Then again, if you find something useful (or something not useful that is kept on display and not in the closet) – I could think of linens, aforementioned art, or glassware – go for it. The problem is not souvenirs, it’s worthless tourist crap and buying as an end in itself, not means to get something actually great.

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MarieL August 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I hated knickknacks when I was a kid, because I had to dust them. So I swore not to collect them when I got grown. So far, so good. Of course I do buy one or two items as souveniers, but not knickknacks that just take up space.
Books & magazines are a weakness though. One smart thing I do, is not do magazine subscriptions, I go to the library instead. If there is an article I must have, I photocopy it. I have large binders labeled with my interests; sewing,making jewelry) and I file the copied article into them. I swear by bookcases, and keep most of my books there.
And staying away from the 99c store is good too. Keeps you away from all those “cute,little” pieces of junk you didn’t need anyway.LOL.

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KM August 15, 2010 at 7:28 pm

When I first started travelling, I was bringing home a lot of souvenirs, even coasters in the language of the place I went to. But as I saw more of the world, it started seeming more and more pointless to waste money and space by doing that. I still bought a few things here and there, but now I am just so tired of things that I wish I could convince my family to throw away a bunch of the things we don’t need. We have way too much in storage that I really want to get rid of, but it’s not mine, so neither is the decision to get rid of it. As horrible as it is to say this, sometimes I hope our house burns down (while everyone is outside, including our parrot, of course), just so we can start over.

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Steve in W MA August 29, 2010 at 12:48 am

I don’t hate stuff. But I recognize that my and our family possessions, accrued over 4 generations, largely take care of most needs and will take care of them for my life and (if I have them) my kids’ lives.

I do enjoy fulfilling needs with necessary purchases. But really, not that much needs to be bought anymore. I have enough clothes, food, furniture, computers, two working cellphones (one backup in case my existing one goes kafluey), a good car (18 years old, still with another good 5 to 10 years in it), two bikes….

you get the idea.

Beyond groceries and clothing items as things wear out, there’s really not much to buy.There is also the massive back-stock of stuff that other people don’t need that is constantly being circulated through the flea market and tag sale route. I suspect that it’s much the same for most Americans. But not all Americans have realized it.

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Jaime August 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

This story was inspiring. I used to go on trips, bought souvenirs, and put them away into a closet where they would stay forgotten. These days I just take photos to help me remember my trips.

I think some stuff can help make your life easier. I do have a point of “enough” when it comes to stuff. Too much stuff tends to overwhelm me, so I keep just enough stuff in my life, but not too much. In fact, I have less stuff than my BF and I’m the girl; which I think is amusing.

I don’t have knick knacks and I don’t collect. Now that my bf and I have the basics : cars, furniture, clothes, we don’t really need to buy more stuff. We also try to buy quality items so they last longer.

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michelle March 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I hate shopping to the point that I am uncomfortable even buying the basic things that are needed

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