The gap between The Have and The Have-Nots is widening. Debates about raising taxes and raising minimum wage rage on. I have opinions on all of these things, but one thing sticks out to me that really isn’t being discussed. One simple solution that could potentially drastically affect a lot of people’s personal economics for the better.
We need to stop wanting so much stuff.
Yes, it’s been touched on before, and no it’s not a fix-all. But it is a huge part of our problems as a society. We want too much when really we don’t need much at all. How do we close this disparity?
But more tangibly, how can I stop wanting stuff?
Because I suffer from this as well. I don’t spend my money on manicures or facials or cosmetics. I have one blush, one powder and a couple eye shadows that I’ll use until they’re gone then buy another one of each. I just don’t see the point of having a ton of make up or hair products. But I do like shoes. I haven’t bought new shoes in a long time, but I used to buy them more frequently. They were fun, they were a treat, it felt good to wear a new pair to work. Foot candy. But I found that the shopping and choosing and purchasing was more satisfying than the having. The necklaces and earrings hanging up in the store always looked so good until I picked out a pair, bought them, then put them away in a drawer, only to be worn once or twice every couple of months, when I remembered.
Today, I left my scarf in the restaurant where I had lunch. When I returned to the office and realized what I had done, I groaned and thought, “Just leave it. I don’t feel like going back to get it.” I remember buying that scarf. Even though I already had a winter scarf, this one struck me and it was only $12.99. I bought it and it felt good. I’ve worn it every day, since we’re dealing with “Chiberia” this winter (KILL ME ALREADY). But the idea of losing it made me feel no sadness. In fact, I didn’t even lose it! I knew exactly where it was and the task of calling to ask about it and retrieving it was more irksome to me than the joy its purchase originally brought me. For the record, I did go and retrieve the scarf. But driving home I kept thinking about that. I could have cared less about that scarf.
What other things could I care less if I lost?
Most of my jewelry, except for a few special pieces. Most of my clothes, except for a few special pieces. Most of my everything except for a very few special pieces. But, most of everything.
So why do I buy things that I don’t necessarily want or need?
I know I’m on the far end of the spectrum with this. I don’t spend a lot of money at all, and when I do, it’s usually on a) food or b) other people. Nothing brings me more joy than those two things. In fact, there is a quote that I read or heard or something that I am going to falsely claim as my own brainchild and pass it down to Kiddo as an original piece of advice. “One secret of happiness: Spend money on other people.” I truly believe that. Random acts of kindness really do help make you a happier, more positive person and the world just a little bit nicer.
That being said, so does eating good food. I spend the majority of my spending money on food. I don’t cook, so I spend a lot of money on obtaining cooked food for me to eat. This is dumb, I know, but I simply do not have the time to cook, lest it involve heating up a can of Progresso soup, which I must say, is pretty good soup.
But I digress. The point is, we don’t NEED stuff. My mother keeps buying my daughter packs of new socks. She has not grown out of her old ones nor are they in bad shape. Why does she need more socks? These socks are fine. Same goes with underwear. Why do I need new underwear? These underwear are fine. I know someone who has not purchased new underwear since he was 19 years old. He is in his 30s now, and down from 35 pair to 27. They’re fine, he claims (though I have not seen for myself). I mean, they’re underwear. They get the job done, and respectfully so.
I think part of the problem we have is the “It’s Only $X Problem.” Well these toddler sock are only $4 for a pack! I’ll get them. These earrings are marked down from $10 to $6! This shirt is only $19.99 and I just got paid, I can treat myself, right?”
True, you can treat yourself, and yes you do “deserve it,” damn it. But what exactly IS it that you deserve? Something that you’ll forget you even have in a couple days/weeks?
I had this idea where I wanted to live my life, and when I saw something I wanted to buy, like a $5 pair of earrings, I would instead take that $5 and put it in an envelope in my bedroom drawer. And every time I felt like buying something, I’d put the cash in the envelope and see how much money was in there at the end of the month. And then I’d put it in a damn savings account or throw it toward my 401(k) or Kiddo’s college fund and see how much it grew by year’s end.
I never did it, of course.
Maybe I’ll start. I really, really want to go to my friends’ wedding in Hawaii this Fall. It’s not going to be cheap. I can do it, but I’ll have to sacrifice. That’s something we say, but how do you measure sacrifice? Maybe in how much money you collect in an envelope in your dresser drawer at the end of each month.
Because in the end, those little things I buy that I tell myself are my treats because I “need it” or “I deserve it” don’t make me happy in the end. Being debt free will make me truly happy. Going to Hawaii to see my best friend get married will make me happy in the end. Having a savings account and some peace of mind will most definitely make me happy in the end.
I wonder if we all wanted less, if we all actively fought against this materialistic society that we all bitch about and know is so dumb, how would that help change things for the shrinking middle class? That’s too big for me to answer, so I’ll just try to start with me.