Thinking About Not Buying

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"Some day," I told myself, "I'll have a house to keep all my stuff in."

I was right. What's particularly strange to me is that when I actually start looking through my precious hoard, it doesn't generate the comfort and security I had dreamt of. I won't bore you with an inventory, let's just say that I have a tremendous amount of things that I don't need. Over time, I also have excelled at burdening myself with another category, many of which those things I don't need have become: things I don't want.

The things I don't want generate worry and a tremendous psychological burden: the things I thought would root me to my home have done just that, and it has turned my house not into a personal museum dedicated to displaying my awesome array of interests and fine taste, but instead into a burdensome place that offers me only problems and limitation. Do I really need laser discs? VHS tapes? Manuals for computer operating systems I will never use again? Will I really scrapbook those old party invitations? How is it that I allowed myself to accumulate so much pure crap?

Persons with far greater understanding of economics than my own have surely meditated at length on this issue. What troubles me is the specter of artificial need, and what scares me is the thought that I am the one who always has given myself permission to have such junk to begin with. I can understand how my changing tastes might contribute sometimes, but what on Earth has been so wrong with me that I let it get so bad?

To participate in society, we must exchange. One fundamental reason so many goods are available is because they are so ubiquitously needed, and of course we most often purchase certain goods because the labor or expertise required to produce them exceeds our own means, or because the expense of producing them at small scale is greater than the number on the sticker-- especially when marked down. How simple it would be if when surveying my piles of junk I only saw evidence of that kind of buying: Instead, somewhere I allowed the signal to noise ratio to become very poor.

I'm not really questioning whether it's okay or not to buy things, and I can't possibly comment on anyone else's perception of their possessions and their personal value. I am saying that if I had considered the burden of physically possessing my junk before I let it get so far out of my hands, I would be able to look around and say "I use that" or "I like having that", instead of being worried with where I was going to put things or how hard the junk would be to get rid of. I want my sense of freedom back.

One of the Chap's hallmarks is a kind of disdain for the mass-produced. It's not that a Gentleman of Leisure avoids ever purchasing anything meant for a broad market, but that he knows that such owning such goods requires giving up some individuality-- almost by definition. It's one more handy ideological tool that can be used to evaluate whether or not something's worth having, because by the time I paid for that one gizmo and all those extra boxes to keep floppies in, I could have afforded two tickets to Shanghai after all.

Good memories don't take up any extra space.

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