Voluntary Simplicity

A Slave to Your Possessions

by John L. White


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At one point in the past few years, I actually said to my wife during a heated discussion, "I refuse to be a slave to my possessions." Once you have finished laughing yourself silly, let me try to explain what I mean by that statement.

Have you ever noticed how much junk there is in your life? I am purposely using the word junk to make a point. When I look around my house, many of the things in it, when you get down to it, are really junk. Even the things that aren't junk now are on their way to becoming junk someday. For example, we have a Maytag washer and dryer. I'll go out on a limb and state that in 25 years or less, they will be classified as junk. When I look in our closets at all the clothes we have, what will most of them be in 10 years? Junk. The next time you go into Goodwill or Salvation Army, remember that all that junk in there is something that someone bought brand new with their hard-earned money.

So, take a look around your house sometime. Do you see any junk? Any shirts, shoes, or pants that you paid good money for and wore only a few times? What about all that junk out in the garage? Is there anything that's broken or don't use any more and you now realize you never really needed? Is there anything out there that was never used at all? When I scan our garage, all I see is junk. Junk that I spent my precious time earning money to pay for.

And speaking of time, how much do you spend moving your junk? Cleaning your junk? Do you buy shelves or special containers to store your junk? And worst of all, do you rent a storage building to house your junk? Step back for a moment and think about the wisdom of that decision. You shell out money every month in order to house your junk that you neither use nor see. Not only that, but you paid money for that junk when you bought it. Did you pay cash for it or credit? If you paid credit, are you still paying interest for the junk you don't use in addition to the money for the storage unit every month? If you had taken all the money you spent on the junk, the interest on the purchase of the junk, and the money you spent for the storage unit and saved it instead, how much money would you have today? Would you be any closer to retirement?

Once you understand and internalize the fact that the junk you buy puts you farther away from retirement, I think you are well on your way to getting control of your finances.

So, what percentage of the junk you buy is something you really need? When you are in the checkout line at the grocery store, before you grab that magazine and plop it down on the conveyor belt with the groceries, stop and think: "Do I really need this?" When you're walking down the aisle at KrapMart (you know which store I'm talking about) and you see that cute little knick knack sitting there, just waiting for you to grab it, ask yourself this: "How important is this thing to my life?" Then ask yourself if it's worth the real price you'll pay for it.


John L. White is the author of I'm in Debt, Over 40, With No Retirement Savings! HELP! and My Job Sucks and I Can't Take it Anymore! HELP! (The Real-Life Job Survival Guide). He also works full-time as an IT professional for a large International Company.

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