Escaping the cult of stuff

stuffchartUnless you were born into money, your travels are probably funded like mine — by scraping together what you can and doing without many of the gadgets, luxuries and stuff that your friends are likely accumulating and, yes, enjoying.

Some people take pride in this (possibly forced) asceticism, others find it difficult. Certainly stuff can be fun, but it can also get in the way of your life, particularly if you’re looking to travel the world.

Still, there’s no denying the surface appeal of stuff. You might like to think you don’t really have much stuff, that accumulating stuff is something other people do. Or, as George Carlin says in the video below, “have you ever noticed that [other people’s] stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

But, whether you like it or not, we all feel the pull of stuff to some degree, but we also, at the same time, tend to feel the ultimate emptiness of stuff — so how do you resist falling for the sometimes seductive allure of stuff?

How can you really convince yourself that you don’t need that new camera before you travel the world no matter how much you think you want it?

Well, one way might be to reverse the usual thinking, forget how much stuff you own — how much does your stuff own you?

Matt SF over at Steadfast Finances has post about Visualizing How the Things You Own, End Up Owning You that breaks down how many days of the month he spent working to pay the mortgage, the car payment, credit card debt and so on.

The end result? Only three days a month were spent earning money that wasn’t already accounted for by stuff he had already purchased.

That means 22 days a month were spent working to pay for stuff (and Matt’s figures are post tax, include the government’s cut and your stuff owns you for far longer).

Perhaps you don’t have huge mortgage or similar large, fixed monthly costs — how much does you stuff own you in that scenario? Matt details the process he used to chart his own stuff so you can do the same. It’s not difficult — it took me about 20 minutes to plug all the data into a spreadsheet — and the results are illuminating.

In fact, I’ve never done any exercise that so made me want to get rid of any and all the stuff I own (which isn’t much to begin with) and never buy another thing as long as I live.

If, after running the numbers on your own stuff, you should find yourself roiling the self-loathing that lives beneath all that stuff, here’s a bit of vintage George Carlin to cheer you up. Maybe. As was often the case Carlin’s humor cuts through much of nonsense we tend to take for granted (caution, the video is probably NSFW).

[photo credit: Steadfast Finances]

Posted by | Comments (7)  | January 26, 2010
Category: Money Management, Simplicity, Vagabonding Advice

7 Responses to “Escaping the cult of stuff”

  1. brian Says:


    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I saw this live when they did Comic Relief for the first (?) time and I sat through all 10 hours of stand-up. I feel old.

  2. Shalabh Says:

    Scott, your post already makes me feel vain. I bought a new camera 10 days ago and I now have more ‘stuff’, even to move around with and travel.

  3. Scott Gilbertson Says:


    Don’t feel too bad, the camera line is actually self-indicting since I just did the same thing…

  4. niamh Says:

    The thing that baffles me is how I can travel round an alien country with a tiny bag but need a house full of ‘stuff’ to survive living somewhere? It doesn’t feel like too much shopping is going on but the evidence is mounting!

  5. Matt SF Says:

    Thanks for the mention, Scott! Lots of people have written in how depressing, or how eye opening, that post was for them.

    Either way, it was pretty cool as a fairly new blogger to create such a simple graphic that causes such a strong emotional reaction.

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