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The True Cost of Things

Truck with roof luggage and bikes on a bike rack parked in the sand

What is the true cost of things?

*This article was originally published on the independent media site Elephant Journal and can be seen there by clicking on the link at the bottom*


The Purpose of Things

"We aren't rich by what we possess, but by what we can do without." - Immanuel Kant

One year before Betty and I sold everything and started living on the road out of our truck, we began preparing ourselves and all of our things for the day of departure. We had a nice little house with a nice sized yard in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Inside the house were more nice things that we had acquired over time.

There were things that we purchased to enhance the aesthetics of the home according to our personal preferences.

There were things that we had always wanted and things that we needed.

There were things that were functional and used regularly, as well as things that ended up in the corner of a closet or on the back of a shelf and forgotten.

It took the entire year to get rid of everything that we had. It wasn't necessarily because there was too much of it, it was because we had to sort through everything repeatedly. There were items that we expected to be able to get rid of easily that we had a hard time letting go.

There were also items that we anticipated would be hard to let go of, that were not. The procedure involved going through everything multiple times before slowly weeding it all out and to be able to let go of it.

For that year leading up to our departure every single purchase that we made was intentional, it was made with thought and purpose. We knew what we were about to get in to - to a certain degree - and we were planning accordingly.

Impulse buying or therapy shopping no longer had a place in our lives. Every single purchase that we made was for a specific reason.

Real estate is very limited when your truck is your home so everything had to have a legitimate purpose - multiple purposes if possible. Weight, space, and functionality were all considered before we would buy anything.

Gone were the days of purchasing a coat or a shirt or any other article of clothing simply because we liked the appearance of it or thought it would look good or feel good on us.

There was no more buying of something because we felt like it or because we thought we would enjoy it.

What was its purpose?

Will it help to protect us from whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at us?

How often would it be utilized?

Is it awkward and bulky or is it easily packable?

Is it durable enough to withstand the elements and being bounced around in the truck?

How functional will it really be?

These are the types of things that we felt that we should consider in order to best utilize available space and to be as relatively warm or as cool as we could possibly be while being outside throughout the majority of the year and in any climate that we might find ourselves in.

When we began the purge, when we began to sell everything we owned, it was all put outside in the yard or on the porch to be sold in our yard sales. It all had a place and it all looked good inside the house but once it was placed outside, I looked around at all of it and was sideswiped with the realization that;

"This is just stuff. It's nothing but a bunch of things".

Money Changes Everything

For the majority of human history money did not exist. When currency came into the picture it would alter our perception of goods, services, and belongings, and completely change our relationship with things.

Today, anywhere between 40% - 80% of all purchases are impulse buys, depending on the product, and over 50% of all groceries are bought spontaneously. According to one particular survey, purchases that are made while lying in bed account for 37% of impromptu spending. To top it off, over 87% of US shoppers make impulsive acquisitions.

As I see it, the most common reasons that we buy things are to display our status; to show our individuality or our allegiances; because it's new or original; because the people that are similar to us or close to us buy very similar things; or for that dopamine hit.

Does having the things satisfy our hunger, or does it further feed our cravings?

The credo of consumption - we believe we are upgrading ourselves and label it as progress.

Right now we can order a package from half way around the world and have it delivered directly to our door while never having to leave our comfy, climate controlled environment. Is it broke? Are you tired of fixing it? Is it old or outdated? Has it lost its appeal? Do you not like it any more? Just buy another one.

We are attached to our things while, at the same time, we treat everything as disposable. In this age of instant gratification we don't hesitate to snatch things up for a quick happiness boost. But that thing that was new and exciting eventually becomes old and familiar. The novelty and the newness soon wears off and the item quickly becomes just another thing.

What we have is no good and what we don't have is better. We can over-consume without batting an eye in the pursuit of money and shiny objects - we call it economical. We call it a luxury.

The Price We Pay

It's been about five and a half years since we sold everything and began traveling and living out of our truck. Most of what was sold in those yard sales will not be missed, but to say that I don't miss any of it would not be true. There are a few things that I still miss and wish that I still had. But I have noticed that living with less makes everything that can't be priced and put on a shelf more valuable and more important.

I am much more aware of my time now, and what occupies it. I'm more aware of my energy and what is consuming it. I don't have to worry as much about all of the things that I can't see because I now have the time and energy to deal with them.

I've learned things about myself that I would have never learned otherwise, and I am more invested in every single experience. I have realized that these experiences have a deeper, more meaningful, and longer lasting effect than any other thing that I could possibly buy.

I may be "homeless", but I've never been more engaged with my own life and I've never been happier.

This isn't to say that we can't have amazing experiences while we have a lot of things and, of course, there is value in new things. This isn't a declaration saying to get rid of all your things, nor is it saying that having a lot of things is bad. I do, however, believe that we probably need far less than we think we do.

Money may have changed our perception of things but we still choose what we put value in. But this isn't about money or things. It's about our relationship with them.

There is having things, there is letting go of things, and there is the understanding of things.

What do we value and why do we value it? Everything has a cost, but what is the true cost of those things? What is the price we're willing to pay?

One of these days we may settle down again into a nice little house with a nice little yard in a nice quiet neighborhood. This house will surely have things in it, too. I can assure you that a lot more thought and consideration will go into the purchase of each and every one of those things.

For right now, I think I'm much happier investing in experiences - they're priceless.

To see this article as it was published on Elephant Journal click here.

Photo by Grant Krasner


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