How the Things You Own End Up Owning You

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I’m fascinated by the consumerism trend of acquiring stuff. Somehow, consumer psychologists and advertising geniuses the world over have joined forces and sought to convince all of us that it’s in our best interests to buy “stuff.”

Regardless of whether they tapped our false belief that acquiring goods will boost our perceived self worth (or our social status), preying on our emotions since sad people spend more money, or you simply felt that you had to buy because everyone else was buying… it’s been a highly effective PsyOps campaign.

To counter this pseudo propaganda, I’m going to throw out my own visual representations of how I view the anti-consumerism movement and perhaps one of these images will burn itself into your brain and haunt you the next time you’re thinking about signing away away a few additional years of your life by taking on additional liabilities.

1 – How much time do you work for XYZ object?

For simplicity, let’s say you bring home $200 per day after taxes, insurance and retirement savings. If you have a $2000 mortgage due every month, you’re working for 10 days or 2 whole work weeks just to keep a very expensive roof over your head. If you have a $500 car payment, you’re working 2 and half days. Throw in the mandatory fees that come with these two items (insurance, taxes, etc.), and you’re talking another 2 and half days of bring home pay.

This means you have just 8 working days in the month of December where your money is actually your money, and not on a predetermined course to repay one of your creditors. One could argue that this money isn’t really even your money anymore because if you don’t repay your debts, you won’t have a house to live in or a car to drive.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the cell phone, cable bill, past credit card debt you may or may not have, and any other regular expenses and liabilities you may owe every month. (Please note, I was highly generous in not including any other liabilities/expenses on the calendar.)

If this example intrigues you, learn how to create your own “How Much Your Stuff Owns You Calendar” in just a few minutes and some basic math.

2 – How much product must you churn out?

The world always needs ditch diggers (as the adage goes), and let’s just say that it’s your job to dig ditches in order to get paid. So every day, your calloused hands and aching back have to shovel X pounds of dirt at Y depth for Z miles.

Which is an pre-algebra word problem method of asking: how productive do you need to be to generate XYZ dollars to keep your stuff?

If you’re a writer, how many articles do you have to write per day? If you’re a football player, how many tackles or touchdowns do you need to make per year to keep your multimillion dollar salary?

(Have you noticed the ditch is never ending yet?)

Units produced to cover your outgoing cash flow is a very effective metric to reduce your spending when you actually consider how much you have to work to meet your financial obligations.

3 – Who really owns your stuff?

Home ownership is a bit of a misnomer for anyone who has a mortgage. If you disagree, just ask your mortgage lender what happens when you stop paying your monthly bill.

Which poses an interesting dilemma: if your mortgage banker owns your house, and you’re paying him for the right to live there, does he really own you since you’ve obligated yourself to repay what you owe? Debt is slavery after all!

If you have a healthy disdain for the banking industry, you might want to considering joining the fight against the Too Big To Fail banks. By simply ceasing to do business with them and refusing to buy their #1 product (e.g. money), you’re sending a message to the folks sitting in the ivory towers that the cash cow lending business is going to shrink by a factor of you!

4 – How much does your stuff cost you to move, store, or maintain?

Have you run out of places to keep your stuff? Is it so valuable that you can’t throw it away, but so invaluable that you can’t keep it in your house? Do you have to visit your stuff like you would a extended member of your family – once every 3 months as a chore?

When you’re paying to keep stuff outside of your primary residence without a very good reason, you might want to re-assess your life goals on what is important to you, and what isn’t.

5 – How much are you losing by selling your stuff second hand?

Everyone knows that buying a new car is a bad financial decision. Why? Because most new cars lose half their value within the first two years of ownership.

So why should your less expensive stuff be any different? If you’re fortunate enough to know that hoarding your gifts away in a storage unit is a bad idea, you’re probably smart enough to figure out that buying a stereo for $100 and selling it in a garage sale for $25 is a terrible investment. Unless, you don’t mind losing 75% on every investment you make. (If so, hope you have a pension plan and not a 401k!)

Remember, if you don’t buy it, you never have to yard sale it!