Five Things You Think You Need, But You Don’t

AM Five Things

Not long ago, my wife and I felt like our family was on The Great Hamster Wheel to nowhere. Maybe you feel that way, too. You’re spending a ton of time and effort to earn a paycheck so you can give your family “the good life.” And now you have a lovely home and some neat toys, but you’re often too tired, too stressed, or too busy to truly enjoy it all.

That was us.

So we decided to try a little experiment. We challenged ourselves to check out of the consumer culture for twelve months to see how it might impact our family. Before you think we’re complete whackos, realize that our challenge did not require us generate our own electricity, make underwear out of old burlap sacks, or only eat things we could kill with our bare hands. For us, it was less about saving money and more about focusing on people and shared experiences to see if it might have a positive impact on our relationships. So we lived by a simple set of rules that were restrictive, but not too crazy.

Rule #1: We wouldn’t shop for “stuff.” Sure, we could buy consumable items (think food, cleaners, hygiene products, etc.), but if it couldn’t be used up within the year, we put in the “non-essential” category.

Rule #2: If something broke, we could fix it unless we already had a suitable replacement lying around.

Rule #3: Gifts had to be in the form of charitable donations or “experiences” to be shared.

Entering this challenge, we recognized two things. First, the majority of humans on the planet live by these rules (or even more restrictive ones) out of necessity. In fact, my wife and I had spent a year serving as missionaries in Guatemala, and experienced first-hand how anything beyond food and shelter is a luxury for those living in poverty. So our experiment wasn’t really a sacrifice.

Second, there are far too many people like us in the United States who live under manufactured stress, never realizing that our never-ending quest for more is what is ultimately giving us the feeling of dissatisfaction.

While you can read about entire 12-month journey in our book, The Year without a Purchase, here are a few nuggets we have personally found helpful to review now that we’re finally allowed to shop again.

FIVE THINGS YOU THINK YOU NEED BUT YOU DON’T

1. NEW CLOTHES

My wife often asks me, “Are you naked from the waist down?”

As you might imagine, this question always captures my full attention. That is, until I realize that she is simply responding to my comment that, “I need a new pair of pants.”

Clothing is one of the big areas where we often confuse “need” with “want.” And I’m not the only one. The EPA estimates that each American throws away nearly seventy pounds of clothing per year.

Seventy pounds!

So, I only need those new pants if I am, as my wife says, in danger of getting arrested for public indecency. Otherwise, it’s an option. And our family was able to survive an entire year without buying a single stitch of clothing. And no one made fun of us.

At least not to our faces.

2. MORE STORAGE

It is estimated that the average American home contains over 300,000 items, and America itself is home to 50,000 self-storage facilities. That’s over twice the number of Starbucks locations worldwide! Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough storage, it’s that we have too much stuff.

Often times we hold onto items because we can easily rationalize their value to us, whether it’s sentimental, or tangible. We can think of millions of situations where we might need an item. Yet, miraculously, we haven’t needed the item but one time in the past four years.

If you’re holding onto something, take the “Not Much, Not Me” challenge by asking yourself these two questions. 1) “What horrible thing would happen if I didn’t have this thing in the future?” and 2) “Who would get the most use out of this thing?” If the answers are “Not much” and “Not me,” get rid of it and get a small piece of your life back.

3. A NEW CAR

There used to be a time when auto makers touted a three-year cycle for purchasing new vehicles. Whether that was ever true is subject to debate, but the latest research shows the average age of vehicles on the road is 11.4 years.

Today, cars last far longer than they used to, and are far cheaper to maintain. Whenever you get that urge to upgrade and take on another car payment, remember this statistic: it only costs $151 more per year to maintain a car between 6-15 years old than it does to maintain a newer auto. That’s far less than a single month of payments, and the old wheels still get you from point A to point B.

4. MORE SPACE

Hypocrisy alert! It’s hard for me to write this, as my family is in the process of moving to a different home. But any time we say, “our little 1700 square foot house is too small,” we know it’s all in our heads. Even though our two extremely loud kids make the place feel like an echo chamber.

But statistics show the average American home size has nearly tripled since the 1950’s. Back then, a single family home averaged just 983 square feet. Today, it’s 2624. At the same time, the average size family has shrunk from 3.5 people to 2.5. Granted, people are bigger these days, but I’m guessing we don’t need an extra 1641 square feet for our girth alone.

Bottom line: rather than asking, “What are we missing by not having more space?” I need to remind myself to ask, “What do we gain by being closer together as a family?”

5. THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS

Ah yes! This was one of the biggest things I learned from our experiment. When I found myself wanting to buy something, whether it was different clothes or a different car, I would have to ask, “Why do you want it?” At best, I simply wanted the item because it would make my life simpler or better. Like a four slice toaster or an ultra-thin laptop for traveling.

But often, when I dug beneath the surface, there were many things I wanted because I thought they would make me better.

I am a professional, so I should get some better clothes!

How can my clients take me seriously if I show up to our meeting in my 15-year-old, compact car?

Our kitchen table looks like it’s been bouncing down a rocky cliff since the late 1980’s and just now landed in our house. What does that say about us?!

You see, “stuff” isn’t inherently bad. What is bad is the meaning we derive from it. The instant we begin to let our stuff define who we are, that’s when we start to tell Our Maker that the way he designed us just isn’t good enough. When we start to compare the cutting room floor of our own lives with the highlight reel on Facebook or TV commercials, we start to believe that perfect is normal. We start to believe that we are “less than.” We start to believe our worth is tied up in how others perceive us.

Here’s a news flash for you. There is no bigger lie.

The truth is, whatever your life situation, your stuff does not define you. In the end, the only thing we truly need is to fill ourselves to overflowing with the knowledge that we are all beautifully flawed and wonderfully made. To see ourselves as God sees us, and then give that same unconditional love to others.

I’ll buy that.

And I hope you will, too.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Five Things You Think You Need, But You Don’t

  1. AMJ

    If I adopt this practice, does it mean I can’t buy your book? 🙂
    Seriously, I’m struggling with this issue, but in a slightly different way. I’m 41 and I have a home overflowing with “stuff.” My fiancé is 38 and he also has a home full of stuff. We intend to live in my house, which means both of us are getting rid of a lot of stuff!
    This is a first marriage for both of us and we don’t need anything! But I’m concerned that if we don’t register for stuff we don’t need that we will end up with stuff we don’t need AND stuff we don’t want! There is no proper way to ask for money (which, although we don’t need it, we are paying for the wedding ourselves) and we’ve already identified charities for gifts to be made in our honor. (Which people are already saying they will donate to, but still want to “get” us something!)
    Oh, the burden of stuff!!! Would love to just “unregister” and ask our guests to come to one of our too full homes and, as their gift to us, take something with them as they leave!

  2. Amanda Cutler

    How did you go a year without buying clothes for your kids?! My kids (4, 6, 8 yrs) grow out of their clothes so fast. They would never make it a whole year in one size not to mention the season changes. I always try to buy used clothes and shop ahead for the next season when I can, but going a year without buying clothes for them would be impossible! Love all the other ideas though, I will add your book to my reading list!

    • It takes a village! We had many people loan us hand-me-downs and such. My wife was part of a mom’s club that has continued to stick together as kids have grown up, and they share a lot of stuff. We were amazed at the generosity of people. The world is filled with good, with a sprinkling of the not-so-good.

  3. I started the weeding out process last year. I do a large amount of food shopping online. I rarely go shopping in a physical store except for produce, dairy etc. I am streamlining my online shopping to necessities. I have preordered your book on Amazon. Thanks for blogging about this subject…..it is encouraging me to continue on with the “eliminate” project I already began.

  4. What? My stuff doesn’t define me? I thought she who dies with the most books wins! Seriously though, this sounds like an excellent read and is something I’ve been pondering for some time. Amidst my mounds of clutter.

    I recently stumbled across your blog here, and I love your style and wit. I look forward to the book, but don’t ask me to pass it along. I am an unashamed book hoarder. Hmmm. I suppose I need to read your book more than I first thought…but doesn’t that just feed my obsession? Is this an example of irony?

  5. Gosh, what an insightful read. I almost bought your full yr journey but decided not to because I did NOT need it. FYI, people spending money makes the economy strong which then creates jobs therefore helping homeless become not homeless and the poor not so poor. Again I say, THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE AND WHOM IT MAY IMPACT OR IMPRESS UPON.

    Happy to help, Cherice Burch

    • Marquitta

      I think Scott had some very good points about how we waste time, space and money on things we really don’t need. And the money we save can be given to help the homeless and poor. How could you have totally missed his point? What snarky, arrogant comments. You must be a blast at parties (sarcasm entered here).

      • You’re right. I’ll donate the money I didn’t spend on this book to the family living in the woods behind walmart. FYI, parties are a waste of time and money. I’d much rather donate my time volunteering at the local food bank. No sarcasm inserted. My opinion, have a nice day!

  6. Charlie Palmgren

    Jesus, St. Francis and Pope Francis would all agree with your effort. Thanks for your insight.

  7. Lots of good points here, thanks for challenging us.

  8. Reblogged this on Memphis Service Ministries and commented:
    Here is some true wisdom, especially number 5!

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