The Cost of Owning Too Much Stuff


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There is a thought-provoking blog on the New York Times website that examines the price we pay when we own too much stuff. This article hits home for me as a pack-rat at heart.

In particular, this sentence really jumped out at me:

When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them.

Almost everything I own has a twin. If I find a pretty pair of shoes, especially if those shoes happen to be on sale, I feel I must have them in brown and in black. If we are talking about handbags, which are a particular obsession of mine, the options are endless.

But why do I feel the need to own more than one of most things? I know I am not alone. For some people, their downfall is gadgets. For others, it may be tools. Some people can’t get enough clothes.

It is clear that this is about much more than fulfilling our basic needs. And I am the last person to look down upon an occasional impractical splurge, but I am left wondering if it would make more sense to focus on the quality of what we own rather than the quantity.

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While I realize this is a problem that can only come with having disposable income, I would be willing to bet that even families living paycheck to paycheck can relate to this on some level. I also think this is highly influenced by culture, and that the United States is a society of hyper-accumulators.

I am fascinated by this tendency which, on its face does not make any sense, but at a gut level is so natural.

What do you think? What is your favorite thing to collect? Are you more likely to splurge on one high-quality item or to buy a lot of smaller, lower-quality, but similar items? Why do you think we hold onto things that we don’t use? Do you have trouble giving things away or do you frequently purge?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

If you liked this, you might also like:

Times are Rough: I’ve Got Too Much Stuff! (

The Hazards of Mountain Living: Colorado Forest Fires (

Our Disposable Culture and the Gentle Giants of Music (


Filed under Culture, Home, Love, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures

72 responses to “The Cost of Owning Too Much Stuff

  1. This is not only a question of personal choice, but also a question, I think, that has to to with eventually transforming our economy into one that’s more sustainable. The growth economy–directly tied to conspicuous consumption–simply isn’t sustainable! Politicians will be the last ones to push this idea, sadly.
    I collect books. Even though I read countless materials and texts online, I still like browsing my bookshelves and lending them out. How do you loan or trade an e-book?!
    If I do need something, I like to buy used items. I’ll never buy a new car (at least I tell myself that). But the quality issue is one I think about too. I’d rather spend money on something that will last and is essential, so I recently bought some Cut Co. knives. They are amazing, and will hopefully last at least a decade!
    Here’s a link to one of my first blog posts about nature and the economy that will hopefully add to what I’m sure will be a great discussion thread!
    Thanks for another great post!

    • Indeed: “the growth economy simply isn’t sustainable.” That’s a message for our times. But try to tell that to the politicians who keep preaching about “growth” and “progress” and “maintaining our lifestyle”!! Good comment.

    • You are so right about that. This is a much bigger issue than just overconsumption. The drive to always have the newest of everything is really doing irrepairable damage to the planet. Thanks for sharing your link and for bringing up this critical angle to the issue.

  2. I currently live in a three bedroom house here in England, my loft and garage are full to the brim with stuff that I just can’t through away just in case I might just at some point need to use it again. However, having all of this stuff, doesn’t stop me from purchasing other things, that might make my life better or easier. I made an agreement with myself the other day, that I would try not to have more of one colour for a pair of shoe type, so now I have a black court shoe (for Work) and black peep toe shoe (for work – Summer) Black sandal (going out), Black high boot for wearing with leggings & a black ankle boot to wear with Jeans. Sometimes I think we just buy things because we think it’s going to change our life in some way. it may only make us happy for a while, because at the end of the day, it’s all got to be paid for. I agree, we really do live in a material world.

    • Absolutely. And yet, somehow, your description of a house overbrimming with things brings me comfort! You probably can find anything you ever need in there! have a love-hate relationship with things and am basically requesting some much-needed free therapy here today. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  3. I collect books – I am addicted to them. I could probably build a house with them.

  4. For me, there is a deep need being fed (a not particularly healthy need) when I over-acquire. I work at not feeding it ‘junk food’ but sometimes, when I walk into a kitchenware store or a bookstore…. I am not good at controlling myself.

    Great question Jennifer — and I tend to agree — not just the US but our western culture feeds this one.

    • I can completely relate. And you are so right about this being more of an issue in Western culture. And I wonder how much the media and advertising influences this. I like the idea of thinking of things in terms of their cost to organize and maintain. I hate organizing and maintaining, so maybe that will stop my insanity! 😉 Thanks so much for your comment, Louise!

  5. the Jotter's Joint

    I am a pack rat too. And you know my love of shoes and handbags. I’ve been trying to live by the “if I haven’t used it in 6 months than get rid of it” philosophy but it goes against my nature. Thankfully it’s not against my husband’s nature. I tend to buy little things like notebooks (I have 7 new ones sitting by my bed) and ink pens. He tends to buy gadgets and apps.

  6. clothes, but I buy quality not quantity. 🙂

  7. When we moved from next door (!) about 15 years ago I threw everything in the dumpster we hadn’t used for five years. That was my rule of thumb. An awful lot went into the dumpster. But it has started to accumulate again. Perhaps it’s time for another visit to the dumpster! Food for thought! 🙂

  8. Barneysday

    It’s actually quite liberating to be a minimalist. Good post

  9. Carrie Rubin

    My husband and I are trying not to accumulate more stuff. When we go on vacation now, we just bring home a fridge magnet to add to the collection of places we’ve been. And we’re trying to get rid of things we don’t use. It will be easier when our kids are grown, I think (so many Christmas decorations we have!)

    • You an NEVER have too many Christmas decorations, can you?? Actually, it’s funny you say that about the refrigerator magnets. The post “Times are Rough, I have too much stuff” posted at the bottom of this post is about a NYT article which specifically mentions refrigerator magnets. You may want to check that one out! Thanks so much for your comment! Good luck with your quest to stop the madness! 🙂

  10. I feel the need to ALWAYS stock up on toiletries!! I don’t know WHY, bu for some reason I feel he need to have 5 different deodorants 4 different shampoos, and 10 different hand lotions…. but I am working on breaking the habit! Oh yeah, and office supplies – I stock-pile office supplies too but I don’t work in an office and I don’t have an office. Crazy.

    • Isn’t that funny? We all have our things. One of my other ones is chapstick/lipsticks. I have a gazillion of them and have even found the perfect color, several times, but still always want more! I need a 12 step plan. 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment!

  11. I remember when staying in Europe being amazed how lovely antiques (at least what I call antiques) would be left on the curb for anyone to “adopt.” My German mother said this is because living space is tight and there is no room for extras. I don’t recall seeing storage units or even thrift shops about, at least not in Germany. How different it is here in excess America.
    I too succumb to “I love this skirt. I’ll order it in green.”
    We are paring down–ever so slowly. Christmas decorations were among the first to go. No more tree, just a wreath above the table and stack the presents below!

    • I have noticed that when I travel outside the US as well. I like the fact that my husband and I live in a pretty small house, so it can’t get too out of control. And he is a neat freak, which my dad says is the best thing that every happened to me! 😉 Thanks so much for the comment!

  12. I’m finding as I get older that I’m parting with more and more stuff because the emotional attachments are there anymore and I give myself permission to let go. When I do that, I don’t miss it and try not to fill the space with something else. I like an uncomplicated life and hate dusting knick knacks – clutter in general. Overwhelms me. Great article!

    • I love that! I am finding myself a little better about it and would give full credit to my husband, but it sounds like I could learn a lot from your strategies! Thanks so much for the comment!

  13. Hi, my name is Sue and I’m a pack rat. I come from a family of pack rats, so I think it’s genetic. I tend to hold onto things for sentimental reasons. I am also an impulse buyer. I hate cleaning, so purging doesn’t happen very often, but it is something I definitely need to do in the near future. I have accumulated a lot of stuff from my parents and grandparents that I don’t really need, and I have been avoiding the act of going through everything and making the decision to get rid of things. That’s another problem in our family – making decisions. So I have a double-whammy, genetically speaking. I think I need an intervention! 🙂

    • If you find a good intervention, let me know. You pretty much described my life to a T! 😉 I come from a long line of gold star pack rats too. But there’s a beauty to that too, isn’t there? My grandmother was a pack rat and never forgave my family for ruthlessly (her words, not mine or my aunts’) packing up some of her things and sending them to goodwill when she moved in with my Aunt. And maybe there were some valuable and important things in those bags. It is hard to find the perfect balance here. Although I know the perfect balance does not include going to stores to accumulate more. Thanks so much for the comment!

  14. I just collect books. Many, many, many books. And I love old hardcovers, so they can be pricey sometimes. But only one of each! 🙂

  15. As I am in the process of packing for a move to a new home, I can definitely say that I collect books more than anything else. I’m working on paring down my stuff, but can’t say that I’m sad about collecting books, I like having my favorite books around.

    • I’m with you. Books are priceless and I will organize and maintain those with joy and gusto! They are always the first thing unpacked in a move – and then I feel right at home. 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment!

  16. We are a family of readers and books are our clutter of choice! 😉

    • I love that. I think I would make a general exception for books – especially as e-readers are starting to make them extinct. Books will always be worth collecting! 🙂 I wonder if I can come up with any other good exceptions to focus my gathering energies toward…;-)

  17. Great post. At some level, is buying stuff a path forward to a greater sense of self worth? I am 53 years old and own a lot of stuff. When we moved from a house with a large basement to store things to a house with no basement, but huge attics, we had to deal with what we stored in a basement does not easily store in an attic. So,we have some unopened boxes in our attic that I don’t know what is in them. By the way we moved fifteen years ago. :>) This is my way of saying most of the stuff we buy does not amount to much.

  18. I’ve enjoyed the process of cleaning up and cleaning out – donating so much stuff that we never used, needed or found redundant. Don’t get me wrong, we still have more than we need, but there is something very freeing about letting some ‘stuff’ just go…

  19. I find that paperwork is my main problem. It piles up and, instead of chucking out what i could, for some reason I keep things to deal with later or i ‘file’ them or whatever only to find myself having to spend the time to deal with them again months later.

    • Me too!!! You should SEE my desk. The only plae my husband let’s me get away with being a slob. It is not pretty. Let’s make a pact to do something about that this year. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  20. I feel like we’ve ended up with too much useless stuff because of our children. I am always whining that I wish our house were more organized and had less stuff in it, but it tends to spontaneously multiply. Someday I will conquer it all.

    • I have faith in you that you will conquer it. We don’t have kids and we STILL have way too much stuff! It is such a natural tendency, I think…Thanks so much for reading…and for the comment…and for the VOTE! 🙂

  21. I can definitely relate! I go in cycles…sometimes I get in this acquiring phase and then I hit a point where it all feels like too much and I clean it out, sort it and get organized. And I love that feeling and often wonder why I can’t keep it like that all the time. But then I remember that there is something so satisfying about turning chaos into order and realize there must be something in that for me! 🙂 I hear ya on the pile of papers on the desk… 🙂

  22. Dear Jenni,
    I just made my daughter pare down her collection of stuffed animals. It was heart wrenching for her….but even she admits, her room feels so much better!
    Stuff=security to many of us. But when the stuff=stress….it has to go!!!
    Great post, as always dear!!!
    Love, Lis

  23. Good article and timely too. I have cut back significantly on buying “stuff” I don’t need or want since 2008. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Still, I find that I have plenty I could dispose of. I agree it’s a problem mainly of an affluent culture and that even those with little disposable income suffer from this disease from time-to-time. It’s all around us, and no one is immune.

  24. I think we’re all trying to fill a void, and we’re doing it in how we’ve been taught or literally told [marketing]. You’re aging use this cream, you’ll never be young, beautiful, thin enough so wear this type of dress, cover yourself up hide the flaws, resist wrinkles… Use this deodorant, yogurt can and will change your life, a respectable home will be organized like the container store and look like a catalogue; styled and very hip or modern or traditional modern or country etc. I used to have a closet full of bags and tags as I termed it. I had so much stuff I would buy and then a year later perhaps finally pull it out of the bag, cut off the tag and use it. Or worse, I’d donate it realizing that I didn’t need it nor did I want it, but at the time of purchase, I had to have it. We accumulate stuff, we occupy space…rather than occupying ourselves. Cleaning out the stuff is like cleaning out the head, the thoughts, the thoughts that I am not enough and never will be. The truth being I already am, just by being.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! You are so right. And the advertising industry just feeds on that and perpetuates the problem. I like the idea that cleaning out our stuff is like clearing our minds. I need to start thinking of it that way! Thanks again for the thoughtful comment!

  25. I have a regular clear-out and recycle stuff to various charities, including family. 🙂

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