Every item you own has a lifecycle. Let’s call the item “Joe.”
Items come into our lives through many channels.
If you bought Joe, then you spent money and time looking for Joe, and if you had to travel to acquire Joe, you definitely spent more time, plus gas, or a bus ticket, or a train ticket (and in extreme cases, a plane ticket). If you bought Joe online, then you may have to adjust your schedule to sign for the package, unpack Joe, and dispose of Joe’s packaging.
If it was gifted or inherited, then your costs will mainly be mental. You may or may not like Joe. Joe may not be right for you. Gifts are inherently not “free” – once the process of gift-giving starts, there tends to be a cycle of two people wondering if they’ll get something in return from the other person, if they’ll need to give for every holiday, if they’ll owe that other person something every year, if they feel guilty for not giving, and so on. Gift giving is even touted as a love language. Couples will fight over not buying something. Is Joe really worth that? If Joe was inherited, the person who wanted you to have oh precious him trusted you to keep him safe. If you end up accepting him, you may worry about the person giving him to you feeling betrayed should you choose to let him go down the line.
If you got Joe for free, well…you still have the next few steps to go. If you purposely took a separate trip to acquire him, you’re still spending time and money to fetch him. Or, in the case of giveaways – you might be giving personal information to a bunch of unknown marketing companies. Who knows how much junk mail you’re going to get now?
The burden of gifts is often more than people realize, and the cost of buying Joe is more than what is on the price tag.
Joe needs a home. It may be as simple as tossing him into the pantry or the linen closet. If Joe is a heavy piece of furniture though, it may require a more complicated ordeal. You may need to make room for him by disposing of an older piece by selling it on Craigslist, moving it to a neighbor’s house, or moving it to a dumpster (perhaps by renting a truck – alas, more time and money spent). If it is too big for you, then you have to enlist someone else’s help, spending their precious time too. Hopefully no one gets hurt in the process! Even if you were rich enough to hire someone to move it for you, you’re still spending time and money on someone to actually do the work. In any case, any room that Joe takes up is now less room for other things and less room for you to move around, if Joe is on the large side.
And what about putting Joe away? Every time Joe is out of place, you have to either pick up after him or step over him or work around him. If he simply was not around, you wouldn’t even have to think about those tasks.
Consumption can take on many forms. If Joe is decorative, then consumption will be mainly visual. Well, how many times are you going to look at Joe before you get tired of him being there? Will consuming him be a worthwhile exercise? Will his existence in your home enhance your life in a positive way? Yes, “to live is to consume,” but when do the tables turn, and to consume is to live?
If Joe is edible, this is an especially important stage to consider, because the consequences could be even more far-reaching.
Maintaining Joe depends on his form. This is a stage that we don’t often think about in detail when we buy stuff. One example of this is dry cleaning. Every wash of a dry-clean only garment will cost you at least a few dollars, not to mention the time spent bringing it to the dry cleaning facility. Another example of this is cars. A beater will require a lot of maintenance, but a luxury car will also need proper pampering to keep it looking…well, luxurious.
Finally, Joe reaches the end of his lifecycle. If he was a food item, he stopped at step 3. If he wasn’t and he isn’t with you for life, he needs to be disposed of, by selling, donating, or adding him to the 18,433,779,281 cubic feet of landfill Americans generate every year on this planet, destroying natural habitats, polluting oceans, killing wildlife, and creating unsightly regions of smelly, toxic garbage. Selling Joe would be an optimal end for us, because we an at least recoup some of the monetary costs. Donating Joe would help, if he was in reusable condition, but keep in mind that about 50% of Goodwill’s donations are not usable, so don’t donate garbage like used underwear. Eww??!!
In the end, was Joe worth it? Was he worth all of the time we could’ve spent running in the park, dancing outside, creating art, laughing with our friends, working on personal goals, or playing board games with our families?
Now, this isn’t true of everything we own – own too little, and life actually ends up being more difficult (I know that my Japanese hot water pot has ended up saving me lots of time, and having enough clothes makes it so I only have to do laundry once a week), but for most middle-class Americans, for all of the stuff that we buy to make our lives easier, or happier, a tiny fraction of it is instrumental to our life satisfaction.
Let’s face it: most of the time, we are better off without Joe.