How to Want Less Stuff

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We Americans may be tightening our belts, but that doesn't mean we're happy about it.

We sure love our stuff -- shopping for it, setting it up, displaying it, and demonstrating its superiority (speed/capacity/color/taste/size) to the other lesser stuff out there.

Of course, no discussion of stuff is complete without a reference to George Carlin's famous monologue about it. "The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff," he says. "That's all your house is ... a pile of stuff with a cover on it." (Watch it here. PG-13 rating, FYI.)

Good point, George.

  • The only reason most people move is to find a bigger place for their stuff.
  • When someone breaks into your house, they're not interested in your 4th grade mementos. No. They're after the good stuff.
  • Stuff is so important to us that an entire industry exists simply to keep an eye on it.

A while ago my colleague Selena Maranjian wrote about stuff, and gave advice on how to want less of it. She quotes a nice four-step system provided by "NaggingFool" from our "Living Below Your Means" discussion board:

Step 1: Avoid people who want you to want more stuff.

  • Throw away catalogs without reading them.
  • Don't watch commercials on television.
  • Don't read the adverts in the weekly paper.
  • Don't hang out in shopping areas for recreation.

Step 2: Realize how much junk you have now, and how much trouble it is.

  • Take a complete inventory of your house contents for insurance purposes.
  • Do a weekly "27-fling boogie" a la Flylady (go through the house and find twenty seven things that you don't want to keep anymore).
  • Visualize moving all of your stuff to a new home, or your heirs going through everything after your death.

Step 3: Learn to appreciate the stuff you have.

  • Keep warranties.
  • Perform basic repair and maintenance.
  • Loan things you don't use frequently to other people.

Step 4: Think about what else you might want, instead of more stuff.

Hi ho, it's off to the mall we go anyways
Of course at some point you're going to have to replenish the pantry, replace some light bulbs, and maybe even buy some stuff to keep the other stuff you have in good working condition.

Before you reach for your wallet, do some pre-shopping prep so you acquire only as much stuff as you really need:

This article was originally published on July 24, 2008. It has been updated.

Foolish personal finance expert Dayana Yochim is the author of The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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