From Paul Ford’s Grand Unified Theory of Buying Stuff essay at Wired:
The problem is that certain kinds of stuff simply attract more stuff. The home is an obvious one: It craves sofas, sweaters, buffet cabinets, chandeliers. Computers are another; they grow USB tendrils. Smartphones beget earbuds, cloud backups, and music service subscriptions.
Sounds pretty accurate.
I often trick myself into thinking that the road to less stuff might be paved with more stuff. Recently, under the influence of some long-suppressed percussive desire, I bought a drum machine.
After a few weeks of use, the [drum machine] began to call out: Feed me accoutrements. Boxes of stuff started to arrive—bendy legs to prop it, rubber feet to stabilize it, a padded case to protect it, a battery pack to power it. While I had a microphone and many headphones, I decided that I wanted a special microphone and special headphones just for this thing. Then I downloaded 100 gigs of audio samples from the 1990s, which meant that I needed to upgrade the Sonic Spreadsheet’s microSD card. Each thing, each unit of stuff, came with its own, pet stuff—a stand, a foam cover, cords, a manual, a little drawstring case. The supply chain is fractal: Zoom in on your stuff and there’s more stuff, ad infinitum.
I don’t think Ford is overstating anything in his example, and I’m convinced it’s an example to which we can all relate.
We buy something to make our lives easier, to provide some convenience that we desperately want, only to discover the ownership of that thing led us to buy a lot of associated things in an effort to gain the full experience.
Houses and cell phones are great examples of these types of purchases, but there are many more.
We all know someone who bought a new guitar only to discover they needed a case and a stand and an amplifier and audio cables and distortion pedals and a new tattoo.
Or the person who bought a car, only be be lured into upgrading the stereo, adding bigger tires, shiny rims, and a throaty exhaust.
And of course what new computer doesn’t come with new cables and hubs connecting to any number of important and relevant gadgets and gizmos.
We soon discover that the sticker price on our stuff isn’t limited to the dollars we fork over at the time of purchase. It’s all the additional stuff we buy to compliment our stuff plus the time and energy to keep up with, maintain, organize, store, and clean all that stuff.
I hit on this topic on Instagram not too long ago.
Several years ago we bought our move-in-ready house. Without any necessary renovations, I thought our move in would be fairly inexpensive.
But then I realized we bought a house with a yard, and I didn’t own any yard equipment.
A new lawnmower, weed eater, hedge trimmers, extension cords, brooms, watering hoses, and trove of gardening tools later, my dreams of a low cost move in were shattered.
Then I had to buy hooks and shelves and cabinets to organize all the new stuff I had acquired.
As Ford put it, my stuff was attracting stuff at a pretty rapid clip.
Oh, if this happened just once or twice in our lives, it probably wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.
But you and I both know this occurrence is anything but rare.
I’m betting that wherever you are right now, if you look around you’ll see stuff that you haven’t touched our used in a long time. Perhaps stuff that you’ve had for years, just sitting there waiting for the right moment – the right weather, the right mood, the right mindset, the right time.
Perhaps some of our stuff was compatible with who we were 5 or 10 years ago, but we aren’t that person anymore.
That drum set that just sits there. Those train sets that remain boxed up in storage. Those clothes that used to fit and we promise will again someday.
We end up living in a pile of stuff, and none of it quite delivers the experience we were expecting.
And then one day we’re sitting down surrounded by a house full of stuff and empty Amazon boxes trying to figure out why we can’t seem to save any money.
Back to Ford:
YEARS AGO, I asked a friend what kind of case she planned to buy for her shiny new flip phone. She paused, a little offended. “I don’t like to buy stuff for my stuff,” she said. Those words drilled directly into my hippocampus, never to depart. She’s right! I thought. Don’t buy stuff stuff! So simple!
Stop buying your stuff stuff.
*Feature image by Bench Accounting on Unsplash
Different tools have different uses. One cannot fix everything with a hammer. You also must know where your tools are located and would probably prefer them to look tidy and not pose a danger to anyone. I see nothing wrong with being thoughtful about the care of things that one enjoys.
I also see nothing wrong with holding on to something that brought joy in the past. These things may become useful again or heirlooms in the future. My wife wanted to sell her violin that she hadn’t played in years. The guitar player that I am, with a collection of several guitars and amps at the time said, “Why, so you can punish yourself for not practicing?” We formed a duet about a year later and play wedding ceremony music now. We’re in our sixth year of business playing weddings and our side-business has remained lucrative even throughout the pandemic.
Buying a new acoustic for myself was a nice business write off this year. I sold my Gibson Les Paul standard to pay for my Martin D15 and pocketed the extra cash. I think the acoustic will make just as good of an heirloom someday for our either of our two boys, but they’ll have to pry if from my cold dead hands! Because in the end… the player with the most guitars wins!
I liked the title and I liked the advice.
Live Your Wage
Thanks. My 11 year old son read the title and thought I messed up and wanted to help me fix it. 😂
If you haven’t already, you’ve got to listen to George Carlin’s rant on “stuff!” An outtake: “When it’s yours, it’s stuff. When it’s somebody else’s, it’s s–t!”
Live Your Wage
Ha! I’ll have to check that out.