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Have You Reached Peak Stuff?

How do you know when you’ve reached peak stuff?

I spend a lot of time helping people clear clutter. Which leads me to wonder, why do we over-consume in the first place? This can be food or stuff or both. Weight Watcher’s found such a high correlation between excess weight and excess stuff that they recommended Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. Americans are known as the world’s super consumers. For the most part, we’ve worn that title like a badge of honor.

I always thought it was my civic duty to go shopping and support the economy, but it never occurred to me that I might be depleting the world’s scare resources in the process. Darn! Not good news for someone who likes shopping. But my desire to shop is definitely diminishing simply because I have finally hit peak stuff. I really don’t have space for much more. I have reached the point of enough. And, yes, I could acquire more stuff, but then I would have to get rid of something I already own, which isn’t so easy to do if you like what you already have. I have hit peak stuff. Anything more and I’ll have more than I can comfortably store, use and enjoy.

And yes, I can always upgrade, making it easier to part with inferior goods. I had told my husband to only buy good quality jewelry for future gifts, but then I thought, I really like my fun, costume jewelry so why upgrade if I’d have to part with the fun stuff?

There are three main reasons why I consume:

1. Shopping is fun!

I like having a snoop around the shops with a good friend to keep me company. And, when I thought I was also doing good for the country, why not shop even more?

2. Unmet emotional needs.

Every time I’d buy something, I’d get a little endorphin high which made me feel cherished in that moment. Buying nice things for myself was my unconscious attempt at meeting the emotional need to be loved and cherished. It worked until my credit card bill arrived and I didn’t have enough money to pay it off in full. Yet, I still kept shopping knowing I really couldn’t afford it. The problem is that you can never get enough of what you don’t really need (e.g., shoes, handbags, new suits). You can take the Emotional Needs Quiz here (its free) to find out if your consumption is driven by an unmet emotional need.

3. Medicative or compensatory spending.

When I was working at the bank in a job I didn’t love, I used to go shopping on my lunch hour as a way to compensate for a boring job. Here, the solution is to find a career you love. Then you won’t feel the need to engage in retail therapy to make up for the rough day at work. Thankfully, there are some really great assessments that can help you identify what careers would be more fulfilling. If we aren’t using all of our natural talents and abilities, we end up feeling dissatisfied with our life and start consuming more to try to fill that void. It doesn’t work. As above, you can’t get enough of what you don’t really need.

What about you? If you think about what prompts you to overspend or over-consume, what comes up? When have you bought something and later regretted it? When do you feel the sudden urge to go shopping? Is it after a difficult day at work and you feel the need to make up for it by hitting the shops or spending in some way? This isn’t usually a problem if it is a one off, but if you find yourself regularly spending to compensate for a job you hate, you won’t be getting ahead financially. Your job may be costing you more than it’s worth!

For many, consuming is about keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses. If your friend or neighbor gets a new car, do you feel yours suddenly needs upgrading, too? My teenage daughters desperately want a particular brand shoe to wear to school for style, status and fitting in with the crowd. For them, it’s all about being cool, being accepted and liked. All basic emotional needs!

The key, then, to consuming on your own terms, to really being free, is to get your personal and emotional needs met and to build your confidence such that you don’t need or concern yourself with the approval of others. Very difficult for adults to do, let alone teens, but it’s the only way to true freedom. If we are subconsciously being manipulated into buying things, then are we freely choosing? 

Talane Miedaner
Talane Miedaner is a Master Life Coach and the founder of LifeCoach.com. She is the international bestselling author of Coach Yourself to Success: 101 Tips for Accomplishing Your Personal and Professional Goals (McGraw-Hill, 2014), Coach Yourself to a New Career as well as The Secret Laws of Attraction.