We are living in a time where transactions for acquiring things, whether physical or otherwise, are happening at a dizzying rate. A mere few swipes, taps, and clicks and we can effectively consume something within a few days, if not immediately. It’s never been easier to buy. Select, order, ship, and receive.
Of course, we would be ignorant to not appreciate the human feats that deliver us such goods and services. From the digital infrastructure that handles our requests to the orchestration of groups of people and machines to get things places–all for some former hunter-gatherers to skip the hunt, and get straight to gathering. It feels so easy, and for many, it even feels rewarding.
It’s no secret that we all need things. In our own individual ways, the things we have provide us with some security; a sense of order in a chaotic and ever-changing world. But in at least some instances, we cannot deny that we have things that we do not really need, and they may even be subtly taxing on our lives. It ultimately takes honesty and some discomfort to face your relationships with these things.
But what is to be done with these items? Laying out a set of things and deeming each one as ready to toss, donate, or sell, can feel like exhuming a grave. You dig through the layers of nostalgia, attached sentiments, and past meaning, to expose the underlying skeleton—the thing itself. After shedding this history, you can assess your real relationship with the item, and decide if it’s still appropriate for you.
This internal process of deciding to remove something from your life can be complex though. It’s a mental exercise at which you can improve–but it takes time and practice. While this is valuable, I believe a better solution is to get ahead of the curve. If we could take a few extra moments before deciding to incorporate something new into our lives, we could save ourselves a lot of deliberation later.
But how would you have this internal dialogue? I think it begins with asking yourself some basic questions when you are confronted by something new. Is this thing a want or a need? Is it within my budget? Will it cause me to take on debt? How much of its value is lost as time passes after purchasing it? Does it align with my values? Do I already have something that accomplishes the same task?
These criticisms all provide insight as to the ultimate question. Will the item add value to your life? Be honest, and really consider it. There are entities that strive to influence what you think you need. But we have the knowledge and ability to decide this for ourselves. We can be intentional about bringing a consumable good into our lives, and we should be conscious of how it can affect our daily activities.
People certainly have areas of their lives where they do reflect before incorporating something new. Sometimes it’s a subconscious process that zips by in a matter of moments. But if we are mindful, and dig deeper than the dollars, we can often identify aspects of an item that may impose a burden on us. You’ll find that criticisms that are specific to certain types of items can help you to highlight some of these aspects.
Cookware, dinnerware, kitchen appliances—do I already have a duplicate or something similar to this item? Is this something I am going to use to prepare food regularly? Is the item is going to be used rarely, and will it mostly just sit and occupy shelf space? If it is only for a few uses, could I borrow this item from a neighbor or friend? If not, is it something I could easily sell or donate after I buy it?
Clothing, linens, accessories— do I already have a sufficient number of duplicates of this item? Will this item quickly become disposable, or will it be durable for a considerable amount of time? Does this item align with the expression of my style and feel comfortable when I wear it? Will this item only be used to evoke a specific reaction from my peers?
Furniture, shelves, fixtures—will this item provide use or value in the room where it will live? Is this item just being used to store or display items in an unnecessary fashion? Does this item’s aesthetic bring value to my life? If this item is not aesthetically pleasing, will it be occupying space that could be freed for another use?
Machinery, tools, materials—do I already have a duplicate or something else that can accomplish the same task as this item? Unless the item is going to be needed regularly, can I borrow it from a neighbor or a friend? Is there a service or a local hardware store that will allow me to rent this item for a period of time?
Laptops, tablets, auxiliary devices—do I already have a device that is able to serve most, if not all, of the purposes of this new device? Do I already have a device that supports the software and features offered by this new device? Does this device provide unique ways to do meaningful work? Is this item going to become obsolete in a short amount of time?
Software, apps, games—does installing this item add valuable ways to use my computer or device? Is the item going to distract me or keep me from doing what I find important? Is the software going to add a burden to my computer or device, in terms of memory or performance, and affect the things I need to do?
Music, podcasts, audiobooks—how might listening to this work affect my mood or attitude? Is this work interesting or entertaining to me? Am I listening to this work on my own accord, or is it to meet the expectations of my peers? If I will only be listening to this work once, should I stream it, rather than downloading and storing it on my device?
Books, magazines, news articles—am I genuinely captivated by the subject of this writing? Am I buying this book only because of its reputation or its status in a best-seller list? Am I actually intending on reading this work in the near future, or will it just be forgotten in my reading list? Would it make sense to read or listen to the material in a digital format, and avoid having to keep and store a physical book?
Consider these questions the next time you open up Amazon to order an item.