Don’t Let Your Stuff Own You

In my post this week, I thought I’d share a story about a friend of mine from high school. This will date me but my hope is that you can either relate or find some value in the meaning of the story.

Back in the early 90’s, I was good friends with someone named Angie. She was a huge music fan so she owned hundreds of music cassettes. This was back when CDs were just starting to become mainstream but before cassettes were discontinued.

One day we were wandering around a store, trying to find a cassette of a new album that she wanted to buy. The sales associate explained to her that it wasn’t available on cassette and only on CD. She became frustrated and told him that she didn’t want the CD. Of course she didn’t get anywhere with him so we left empty-handed.

We went back to her house and were listening to some of her cassettes. I asked why she was so upset about the conversion to CDs. After all, the quality is much better and it’s easier to jump from one song to another.

Her response? She didn’t want to have to convert all her cassettes into CDs. Given how many she had, it would be really expensive to do so. It was actually causing a lot of stress for her to see where things were headed. Along with replacing her cassettes with CDs, she’d need to buy new storage for them as well.

The point of this story is to illustrate how we go from owning our stuff to our stuff owning us. 

Rather than only replace a few of her favorite albums, she immediately decided that she’d have to replace all of them. She was no longer in control and instead let her possessions control her.

It’s so engrained in American culture to own as much as we can. But we have access to everything so why isn’t that good enough? Isn’t it better to own only a few things that we gain the most value from, rather than own as much as we possibly can?

Part of my personal finance journey has been exploring the concept of minimalism. How much of my stuff do I actually need? As I start to sort through things, I’ve decided it’s much less than I’d originally thought.

For example, I’ve decided to only keep the books that have been autographed by the author (I’ve been to a lot of book signings over the years). All other books are available at the library or the information can be found on the internet. Only a few of my favorites have been transferred to my e-reader, since I enjoy reading them over and over again.

Last summer I sold over 100 of my CDs, only keeping those that I’ll listen to in their entirety. All were converted to digital files anyway, making the physical copy less relevant. At some point, I’ll likely pare down my collection even more.

Granted, we didn’t have the option of digital media back in the early to mid-1990s, but I think that this story is a good illustration of placing too much importance on our belongs, regardless of the format.

Speaking of digital copies, it’s now much easier to hold on to the content without keeping the physical copy. But don’t let digital clutter become a problem. Just because you can own the content doesn’t mean you should.

After I left for college, Angie and I grew apart so I don’t know how she handled the total discontinuation of cassettes. I’m sure it was difficult for her and I wonder just how many of those cassettes she still owns and how many she converted to CD.

Do you have any possessions that own you? Would you ever consider adopting a minimalist lifestyle?

2 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Stuff Own You

  1. I’m going through this right now. Not with cassettes and CD’s (I ditched all my CD’s years ago in favor of pandora and Amazon music) but with stuff in general. I am half way through the minimalist challenge (purge 1 incremental thing every day for 30 days). Last week I purged over 77 things and it’s hardly a dent. I can’t even really recall many of the things I’ve given away because they are so meaningless. Even the things I thought would have meaning… don’t.

    It’s fascinating that we live in an “Amazon and it’s done” culture that makes it so easy to have “stuff” show up at your door in 24 hours. Personally, I’m so grateful for this experience of forced purging because it’s making me realize how much money I’ve wasted on useless stuff. Even sadder is that much of it will eventually end up in a landfill. I’m having a hard time dealing with that idea.

    1. I agree with you on all points and have to commend you on the amazing job you’ve done with the minimalist challenge. It’s no small feat.

      Besides the waste of money, I feel horrible about the environmental impact of my past spending habits. But at least we’re aware now so we can do better going forward, right?

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