How much are you worth?


What is the value of your life? If you sold a day to another person, how much would they pay you in return?

Obviously you cannot put a price on a life. Even a single day is priceless. But every time we buy that new thing–the newest gadget we just “need” to own, that pair of shoes we’ll wear once, the kitchen appliance that (according to the label) will change the way we eat–we put a price tag on our time.

How much time do we spend in a year shopping for things we don’t really need and perhaps barely even want? How many minutes tick away as we diligently research reviews on the web and hunt for the best deal? How many hours have we spent window shopping? We often do not have a specific item in mind, just a strong want to fill an imagined void. Collecting more junk to fill a void is like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst. All it does is make the hole a little bigger.

The only currency we need to spend is time. Every day is worth 86,400 seconds that we can never be given back. Whatever void we might contain can only be filled by spending more of our time living, and less of it spending.

photo credit: (cc)

How much are you worth?

That sinking feeling.

I have never been a hoarder, but I definitely have the potential to be one.

Every item has a story. Every new thing has a purpose. Every piece of junk has a situation in which it could be useful, if only the correct scenario would appear. These are the things we tell ourselves to justify maintaining closets full of clothes we never wear, boxes stuffed with decorations we never look at (let alone display) and shelves lined with books we have never read or will never read again. “I might wear/use/read it one day.” It is a mantra we know well, and it has the potential to drown each of us in an ocean of unneeded crap.

Shutting the consumer floodgates is difficult. Advertisers have spent decades tapping into our instinct to acquire, to fatten ourselves up during plentiful times so we might survive the approaching winter. In this case, winter is not coming. We can empty our closets and take comfort in knowing that tomorrow the Sun will rise and the stores will open. The sandwich press you haven’t used in a year can be replaced. For now the only purpose it serves is to make your life a little more crowded. That “amazing” new “life changing” piece of technology the sales rep says you need will only be new and amazing until later this year when the next version comes out and the same person is telling you the “old” model is obsolete.

We know that sinking feeling all too well. The moment of joy accompanying a new acquisition is brief and quickly supplanted by a knot in the gut. In contrast, donating a box of dusty ornaments or a bag of clothing results in a strong and lasting feeling of relief. Consider the consequences before an impulse buy. Not just the consequences today, but tomorrow, next week, and next month as well. Will this thing improve your life in a long-lasting way or will it be a reminder of money and time better spent with friends. Make conscious choices, not snap decisions. Purging the daily purchase is not just about limiting acquisitions, it’s also about decreasing how much you want to acquire.

That sinking feeling.

It’s not a race.

Since starting my movement toward a more minimalist lifestyle, I have been stricken with the wish to quickly cut away all my unneeded possessions. On several occasions I have had to remind myself that minimalism is not a race with a finish line or a competition with a prize. There are no losers. The speed with which someone can adopt a simpler lifestyle and remove their excess material baggage depends on what kind of lifestyle they lived before. Some of us can easily shed a large percentage of our possessions in just a few days.  This is not the case for me.

In a slightly different situation, I might be very happy simply giving my items away to friends or donating them to charity. However, given the level of debt I have accumulated by purchasing so much junk, it would not be financially healthy to give things away. I need to sell as much as possible to recoup at least some of the cost of my old habits.

The act of paring down my collection is no longer emotionally difficult. I have gotten beyond the feeling of loss watching the stacks of miscellany slowly leave for different homes. Only the logistics of selling so many items remains painful. For the most part, dumping items locally is less profitable than moving them on the Internet, but online sales means time spent boxing, labeling, and shipping. Selling locally is more convenient, but the extra revenue generated by Internet buyers has me torn. For now I am trying a two-pronged approach. Locally sold items will be those that are difficult to ship or are not worth very much. Stuff posted online will be anything valuable enough to justify the time spent in shipping.

I have a few notes for anyone who wants to live more simply and is starting in a similar situation. These points might be obvious to some people, but they were not clear to me at first.

– Selling stuff, especially when trying to get the most out of your items, is difficult, even if you purchased all of it below market value. You need to find a buyer, work out a price you can both be happy with, and if the item(s) sell online, you need to ship them. All of this takes time and time is not always plentiful.

– Do not give up. I have shed material possessions for a couple of weeks and I have recently realized how large an iceberg I am trying to melt. It is easy to get discouraged when looking at others who have already transitioned into minimalism or had more freedom in the beginning to simply give stuff away. We can eventually get there too.

Be methodical. Make a plan and stick to it. Write down what you get rid of, how much you make, and what you are going to purge next.  Systematically paring down will help you stick to your goals and give you a stronger feeling of accomplishment.

The biggest enemy to our goal of living with less is the creeping desire to slip back under the blanket of excessive consumerism. The blanket may be warm, but the protection it provides is imagined, and all it can offer is a limit to how free we can be.

It’s not a race.