I figured this out the hard way.
It’s that simmering feeling of chaos, overwhelm, and lack of control that quickly overtakes the initial dopamine rush.
The high you get when you open your wallet to buy that new shiny thing. Or the click click before that new app pops up on your phone.
You feel like a **** superstar.
The sharp momentary spike of joy is replaced by a long indeterminable feeling of weight.
A weight you only know exists…once it is taken away.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s because you‘re carrying this weight with you right now.
And it is ABSOLUTELY crucial you get this behaviour of stuff-accumulation under control. Because your entire happiness depends on it.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman
I had a habit of buying incredibly useless stuff.
At the time of purchasing though, I didn’t know this. It seemed like I really needed that particular thing, and the urge to not have it, felt unbearable.
It was bad. I admit it.
I had rooms full of items that I barely used — they packed my drawers, my cupboards, my wardrobes, corners…and I was oblivious to it all.
New stuff on top of virtually new stuff.
I suspect as you read this, you are like the majority — within the clutches of consumer culture — and you also have some level of addiction to accumulating things. I also suspect, at this stage, you are probably unaware the impact this behaviour has on your life.
I write this in hope that by the end of this you will.
It only took me minutes.
To go from this overwhelm, to a calm mindset.
To feeling like I finally had a grip back on the steering wheel of life.
A side-note here to calm your skepticism detector. This isn’t going to be one of those spiritual “I implore you to wear robes and be free from worldly urges” kind of lectures, where some semi-bald man in all orange preaches his heart out.
I am going to present you with some logic. The antithesis of consumer behaviour. Because you my friend, as a logical person, haven’t been presented this before.
Now let’s point out the elephant in the room.
If I sat down with a psychotherapist as a case study to uncover what the cause of this obsessive consuming was — I may have some deep learning to impart upon you. Something that would be worthy of occupying a really professional sounding medical journal.
“We have proven that this behavior stems from…”
- Trying to fill the gap of insufficient social connection? Loneliness.
- Materialistic objects overcoming a deep family void? Or,
- Running away from a traumatic experience that happened at a young age?
The kind of stuff that is remarkably useless when it comes to taking action.
BUT. I enjoyed buying things, and each time I did because it made “sense” to do so.
So I did it. I did it repeatedly. Automatically.
It made sense.
Until it didn’t.
It was at one transaction that the logic broke down. My brain played its logic card as to why this thing I was about to buy could do X Y Z and make me ridiculously amazing at life. And this time I caught its bluff.
So I questioned,
“Has it always been a bluff?”
And this lead me to the great a-ha moment.
If you bear with me, in under 2 minutes I’ll need to help you understand the process I undertook, only then you can walk away with the cure. It may be the most important 2 minutes you’ve spent in a very long time.
Why do “things” even exist?
Clayton Christensen’s jobs-to-be-done model answers this question better than anything else I could point to.
Each thing ever created was done so that it could be hired to do a particular job. In other words when we buy a product, we are “hiring” it to do a job of solving some problem we have.
Someone created the first chair to be hired by Mr Standing and Co. to do the job of providing a mode of seating, without having to sit on the ground.
All “things” out there have a job they are hired to do.
With this in mind, I opened my wardrobe and asked why I own 38 different t-shirts?
What job would I hire these for?
In my mind some obscure rationale of needing each specific t-shirt for a particular typing of outing played out. But in essence only a handful of them could be hired to do the job that I wanted — going out, sports, and work.
Out went 30 of them (roughly).
Besides the 8 that were hired regularly, the others just sat there as off-the-payroll backup contractors that barely got any work.
I opened my work drawer and staring back at me was at least 20 pens, numerous folders, clipboards, stacks of exercise books, etc.
What job would I hire these for?
Out went most of the drawer. And a shelve full of unread books followed thereafter.
…So on and so forth. Throughout the house.
This approach helped me clear out my life in under a day. Your things have a job you hire them for, or they don’t. Simple as that.
The problem, however, most things we accumulate are either:
- Hired for SUCH a specific job that the job rarely ever exists
“I need this soundbar-like bluetooth speaker for those times when I am standing one-legged in a rainy forest with wild monkeys about to mount an attack and I require the help of Tarzan that I need to play soothing music to seek his assistance”,
- We start to create a huge line of backups for the same job that they sit there as unemployed contractors
“I think having this new set of coffee mugs will be great to use for when we’re hosting dinners, they would perfectly complement the other 97 coffee mug sets I already own”.
Seeing it from the lens of the jobs-to-be-done model, it becomes an actionable filter that we can apply at the point when our urge to buy is at its highest.
Snapping you into logical evaluation mode.
Yes, don’t worry, I do see you sitting there with a gleam in your eye.
You seem to have this new found strategy that you can now walk away with and immediately change your life. You were even about to close this page.
But no, dear friend. You have overlooked the most important aspect. The voices in your mind. Those evil bastards.
Each time they will try to convince you otherwise.
They’ll show up without fail.
You can count on it.
They are master negotiators, convincers, tactical geniuses. None like you’ve ever met. You can and will very easily fall for them.
Because, falling into their grasp may seem like it’s not really that big a problem.
It may even seem like that restricting yourself from buying things is like asking yourself to live some prison-like existence. Why not own more stuff? I worked hard so I can?
Well, because owning more stuff is actually the prison-like existence you’re trying to avoid.
“A prison becomes a home when you have the key” — George Sterling
This was 2 years ago. Where are the voices?
Ever since. I have created a system to overcome the voices. To make sure I don’t relapse and end up back in Consumer Rehab. And during this period, they’ve come knocking many a time.
So straight to the point, here are the core tenets that you can follow too and disarm the voices when they come see you —
Buy something high quality and expensive once, so you don’t buy lots of low quality things.
If the job is important, buy the best “thing” you can afford for that job (within reason of course). By buying that expensive thing, you won’t buy lots of low quality cheaper things, and you’ll be more likely to appreciate what you own. Instead of falling for empty impulses. I’ve noticed having one good quality item for my purpose will actually benefit me long term by not having to buy lots of cheaper things I don’t care as much about.
Beclear on your life purpose, and how you measure yourself. Only then you’ll know what is important to you.
If you’ve done the introspective work to identify your purpose and are able to see that which is important to you. You’ll be crystal clear on your path and how you measure yourself. Not only when confronted with purchasing decisions, but in ALL life decisions. You can’t expect to overcome conflicts or make clear decisions without knowing what you stand for.
The litmus test — the stronger your urge to purchase, the foggier your purpose.
To save you the introspective work required for months to uncover your purpose, I’ll be sharing in my next few posts an actionable plan I’ve developed over many iterations. It’ll help you define your purpose and how you measure yourself in 1-page. Click here to send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you to the list so you get it first.
Minimize decision fatigue and maximise flexibility. Save your energy for critical decisions.
In my quest to become Steve Jobs (…ahem), I have taken on his approach of wearing the same thing every day. With roughly 10 of the same black t shirts, 10 of the same white business shirts, couple of work pants, couple of casual jeans, and a few shorts that I can mix and match.
It takes away decision fatigue from my life.
As you see, we have limited energy each day that we can use to make decisions. After a certain point we are depleted and are prone to making stupid decisions, learn more here. So do that which will limit decision making and spare our energy to put towards more important quandaries.
And added bonus — be flexible. It is your advantage over those who aren’t capable of doing so.
If you find happiness tomorrow in needing to pack up and move to another part of the world. Flexibility can allow you to do so. Life isn’t about having things that weigh you down. Be free.
That’s it, three points only.
Why, you ask?
It is proven that decision fatigue will apply when trying to action any more. So I want to do as I preach.
The rest is for you to learn and tell me about.
I’m leaving you here, but not before I give you the most important “thing”…
A big cause of unhappiness is having too many desires that you are unable to fulfil, so you spend your time chasing these desires in hope that by fulfilling them you are then going to arrive at station Happiness.
Clearly you can see, this is a never-ending cycle. Hence, unhappiness.
Being aware of your desire for things by seeing consumption through your new-found lens of logic will make you a happier person.
Because friend, being happy is a choice.
It is a skill you work towards.
It is a journey towards an elusive destination which you’ll never quite reach. Which is okay.
Each additional item you accumulate along the journey will stand as an obstacle in your way.
You may choose to not believe anything I have said. You may not even realize any of this until a situation confronts you where you must.
Like I did.
But we are carrying the things we own along with us wherever we go. Without them we are light, we have less baggage, and hence can move towards our destination with greater ease.
And when we get to our destination we’ll finally realise…
“The Best Things In Life, Are Not Things”