Eight Things I Ask Myself Before I Buy More Stuff

Carpinteria State Beach

Sunset at Carpinteria State Beach in California

I am really starting to enjoy the minimalist lifestyle or as I call it “the luxury of little”.  I have now reduced my physical possessions down to where with little thought I can identify all of them. Conscious awareness of all my possessions enables me to be more mindful for when I must inevitably make new purchases. I have never claimed that I planned to live life as some sort of modern day ascetic. When I want to buy something that will make my life easier or even perhaps for entertainment purposes I will, with forethought, assuming I can afford it, go ahead and make the purchase. I do however ask myself some pretty hard questions.

1) Do I have anything already that already serves this purpose?

No sense wasting money and resources on things that I already have. There is no need to buy a specialized tool to perform tasks I rarely do where others will suffice. For instance, I don’t need a fancy pack that I will only occasionally use when a cardboard box or shopping bag will do the trick in a pinch. If I really need the pack I would get it though. However, if I was overly concerned about how I looked to others while transporting things, maybe I am packing issues that go beyond transportation.

2) Am I buying this because I have been influenced unnecessarily?

I will admit that advertising has a purpose. Being made aware that a product exists when it fills an actual need is a good thing. But the question is, has my NEED been cynically created by clever marketing or does it really exist? Am I being sold a fake “premium” product at a giant markup for ego purposes when generic will do. Lexus vs Toyota. Chrysler vs Mercedes. They will all get me where I am going. The question is one of value. If in the long run one is more economical than the other then I will take that into consideration. If it is a matter of how I feel, ego or how I hope others will perceive my value as a human being because of my choices; that is another matter.

3) Is this the highest and best use of my money?

Money is flexible. It can be used to purchase many things. Does making this purchase delay me getting something else that is of higher value to me, (notice I didn’t say cost, I said value)? This is a decision I make on a case by case basis. Sometimes the answer is I go ahead and get it even though I may have to wait longer for something else. It isn’t a science. This goes to lodging too. Could I stay in a $30 a night hotel rooms and be traveling for two weeks vs staying in a $100 a night room and afford to travel for only one. What is the priority?

4) Is this purchase going to complicate my life unnecessarily?

To use an outrageous example, consider buying an exotic monkey. It requires cages, feed, baby sitters, veterinarian care and daily attention. Sure it is cute but would I feel the same excitement months or years later when I couldn’t leave town on a great trip because I couldn’t find or afford a sitter? What if I planned to move and the new place I found was perfect except it didn’t allow pets? Suppose I found that my monkey required expensive and hard to find food? The monkey is an outrageous example but what about say, a jet ski? (I know, I once made this mistake.) Jet skis have to be maintained, licensed and stored. They make finding a place and moving more complicated. They are expensive and depreciate rapidly. I find all that complicating.

5) Can I rent it?

Do I want the headaches and expense of ownership? Everything from motorhomes to, jet skis (again), to SCUBA equipment can be rented! If I am going to use something only a few times a year why would I want to transport it or mess with the headaches of ownership? Shouldn’t all these things be about experience and not about ownership?

6) Am I buying this just because I deserve it?

In the past I have bought things just because I could and thought I deserved it. Isn’t it possible to deserve something and then consciously NOT buy it? After a few days the thrill of ownership will be gone anyway. How about I just enjoy the feeling?

7) Does it fit with my lifestyle?

I have arranged my life and my things so that I can change the country I live in via airline luggage. For me buying a giant metal sculpture of a Spanish galleon just doesn’t make sense. For someone else maybe it works. To some extent however all possessions tie us down and restrict us from other things. Almost every new object adds weight or bulk literally and figuratively to our lives. Eventually things have to be disposed of in one manner or another. If you are mobile they have to be transported. If you are stationary they have to be stored or walked around. There are people that build special rooms on their property for things they don’t use. Is this thing going to wind up there sooner or later? If it is, why bother?

8) Would I buy it twice?

This is perhaps the biggie. When it comes to getting something new one question I always ask myself is would I buy it twice? I other words, if I were to lose something immediately after I got it, would I pay to replace it right away? If the answer is no I have to ask, did I really need it anyway? If it doesn’t fill a need that is so strong that I would not buy it twice; why would I bother buying it once?

This is not a perfect system and if someone wanted to examine my life for some hypocritical behavior I am certain they could find it. The main thing to me is being more conscious of my purchasing decisions. I will admit that it is okay on occasion to get yourself a treat. I am also aware that if there I a mental hole in my life that I somehow believe can be filled with physical objects then I need to have my head examined. What do you think?

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Also published on Medium.

Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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