February 28, 2008
As is frequently the case, a dozen article ideas struck me as I was checking my daily blogs today. One article I read seemed particularly noteworthy - the Tyranny of Stuff on Get Rich Slowly. After reading it, I thought about how much Stuff is appropriate for various kinds of people. Then I thought, how much Stuff do I, a web worker, REALLY need? The technogeek in me cried out “lots of it! Gadgets define me!” The philosophe in me grumbled “I need nothing. Sell! Trash! Throw out!” Then the rational side started to churn. I’ve always gone through short periods of BUY BUY BUY followed by long stretches of GET RID OF EVERYTHING I OWN. It’s a vicious cycle. More than that, though, it’s telling of how I view Stuff. Something that few people seem to think about is the exact level of Stuff they need to be happy and productive. Most are content with continually buying more and better Stuff. A rare few find happiness in owning next to nothing. We really need to think about not just what makes us happy, but what makes us happy for the lowest personal cost. That isn’t just cost in terms of money, either. Every single interaction we make has a cost of some kind, and this is particularly true of acquiring Stuff. Stuff has multiple costs - the monetary price, the space it takes up, and the time its usage takes away from other things. There are also a bunch of other indirect costs, such as what others think of us for acquiring this Stuff, opportunities lost because of it, and so on. Rarely do we ever consider all of these; most of the time, we are purely focused on the monetary cost. I blame that mostly on our materialistic culture, but the cause isn’t important. Only the solution is. So, let’s look at exactly what a web worker in general needs to own in terms of Stuff. Obviously, a computer is a necessity. While it’s possible to use only public machines in Net cafes and the like, it’s not cost-effective by any reckoning. So, that’s one item of Stuff that’s necessary. Coffee, Mountain Dew, energy drinks - all consumables that really have no lasting positive effect on us. Bad Stuff there. Housing is vital. Renting versus owning is outside the scope of this article. Utilities, obviously, are also vital. Groceries too….though we really don’t need to buy that extra yummy snack just because it’s on sale. The latest gadget off of ThinkGeek is not vital. In my case especially, we’re only likely to use it for a few days or a couple weeks at most before it becomes just another part of the scenery. So, too, with the latest computer games. That’s not to say that computer games are bad Stuff, though - just reduce the frequency at which you buy them. One or two a year is plenty. One or two every couple years is better. Cars are very sturdy things. Buying brand new ones is just silly, so if you really must buy a new car, get a used one that’s at least three or four years old. If you’re going for a hybrid, though, that’s a different matter. Do NOT buy a used hybrid right now….the new battery cost will eat you alive. Get a new one if you must have a hybrid or other alternative energy vehicle. Similarly, how many blogs/websites do you REALLY need to read every day? Though they don’t have any monetary cost, they DO have associative costs like time and opportunity. Knowledge may be power, but knowledge at the cost of living tends to drag you down in the end. There are hundreds of thousands of other things I could list here, but I’m sure you’ve already come up with a few of your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you believe is necessary Stuff and what isn’t.