The Secret of Stuff

As children, my dad taught us how to sort pennies...dirty pennies.  We used a big sorting board that was covered with shallow boxes labeled by year.  We turned over thousands of pennies looking for 1955 double strucks.  We never found one.  We rolled pennies until our fingers turned green.  In addition to priming our immune systems, this was great training for someone destined to become the king of stuff.  

We started by organizing coins, then graduated to basements, barns, and garages; then onto the family business which was auto recycling.  

By fourteen, we had learned how to convert any mountain of stuff into a bucket of cash.  To become the kings of stuff, we used modern equipment, proprietary software, massive warehouses, fleets of trucks, and creative advertising.  The basic formula was simple: move everything to the center, sort it into smaller piles, toss the junk, containerize, label, and rack the remainder, age the rare stuff like wine, and price the common stuff to turn over quickly.

The business of stuff included scrap, auto parts, electronics, and consumer goods; it led to an acquisition by Ford Motor Company, spin-off businesses, wealth, security, and the freedom to acquire a stream of - you guessed it - endless stuff.  

I have handled more stuff than most people on earth.  I even started a business called ‘Stuff Pro’ to help people that were drowning in their stuff.  As the king of stuff, I’m writing this post to share the secret of stuff.  Ready?  Nothing distracts one from achieving true happiness more than the pursuit of stuff.  Ask anyone that can’t leave a bad job, that can’t afford the car they are driving, the house they are living in, or the credit cards they are paying off, or anyone else that’s drowning in clutter or deprived of time: does the pursuit of stuff lead to happiness...or not?

Marketers don’t want you to know this, and the consumption economy would crumble if everyone did, but there’s a HUGE, hidden burden that comes with every single bit of stuff.  Beyond the purchase price, there’s the time-cost of stuff, including the time to acquire it, move it, store it, clean it, repair it, upgrade it, move it again, dust it, box it, bag it, rack it, sell it, ship it, move it again, account for it, dispose of it or recycle it.  Moreover, consumers rarely think about the cost of insuring, heating, cooling, renting, powering, and paying taxes for the space where they store their extra stuff.  And, even fewer worry about the cradle-to-grave, environmental impact of simply having stuff.

Back to true happiness.  At the end of life, nobody ever wants more stuff, they want more time!  Time is your most precious commodity.  People that undervalue their time spend it on futzing with stuff.  Smart people account for the future value of their time.  If you want to earn $100 an hour in the future, then why do you spend so much time cleaning and moving your stuff?  it’s a low-wage job.

Furthermore, your stuff is worth way less than you think.  Have you checked eBay or Craigslist lately?  There’s so much stuff on the web now.  Rare things have become common, and regular things are free.  Your time is worth more than your stuff.   Your heated, taxable space is worth more than your stuff.  Are you holding onto worthless stuff?   

If you want the freedom to create anything, or the ability to travel, or to be the master of your time, then consider the hidden cost of everything you acquire.  Think about this: if you could afford to rent everything, you’d have the time to do anything.  Truth.  Stuff is a burden; the burden begins the moment you start looking for it, and it doesn’t end until it’s been properly recycled; and when you give it to others...the burden travels.

Whether pursuing or purging stuff, ask yourself: will this enrich my life?  If not, use the time instead to create something, read a book, write a book, play an instrument, exercise, or travel.  Remember, people are remembered for what they create, not for what they consume.

This post was written by @brucewarila

related reading:

The Story of Stuff

21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own