The hidden cost of materialism

The hidden cost of materialism

Growing up my dad and I used to go to farm auctions on the weekends.  Most of the time we'd never even bid on anything and looking back I think it was just an excuse to get out of the house to spend a little time together.  It was always fascinating to me to see the entirety of people's lives spread out on the ground or stacked high on a slew of hayracks for the world to see.  It was like looking at a museum exhibit cataloging that person's whole life, except you could buy a piece of it if you wanted.

One weekend I was home from college and I tagged along to an estate sale for something to do, not knowing at the time that it would start to change the way I looked at things and my desire to own them.  It wasn't a large auction, by comparison it was actually much smaller than most.  I was just wandering around when I walked by a couple of small outbuildings.  Several men had grain shovels and were scooping load after load of what at first glance just appeared to be nothing more than wet garbage.  For whatever reason I took a closer look at the damp, mice chewed, piles and was shocked by what I saw.  Personal photo albums, toys and other personal effects that I only assume had made their way into these buildings to be stored because the previous owner had run out of room to keep them inside the house.

Something that at one time was valued by the owner was now a waste deep pile of worthless mess that these two workers were now burdened with cleaning up.  I kept thinking about the people that had bought all these things.  They had spent hours of their life working, saving up to buy all of these things only to inevitably run out of use for them.  At which point they were put away to be forgotten and ruined only to again see the light of day when they were tossed into a dumpster.

That sight stuck with me and I started thinking about all of the "stuff" I had.  How many hours I'd spent working to obtain them and how little I was even using or enjoying the vast majority of it.  It was overwhelming and frankly depressing.  It's so easy to see something online or in the store and look at the price tag and think "Oooh I must have that!"  But have you ever taken the time to calculate the true cost of that item? 

For the sake of easy math lets say you make $10hr.  Some trinket catches your eye while you're out shopping that costs $20.  No big deal right?  But lets look at it in terms of hours.  That $20 item would take you working over 2hrs at your occupation to acquire, by the time you factor in taxes and other things into your wages.  So is that item really worth 2-3 hours of your life?

You are only given a very finite amount of time on this planet, the exact amount is unknown to each of us and we will spend the majority of that time sleeping or taking care of rudimentary tasks.  The rest of that time is limited, and it's something we can't create more of.  So is that toy, trinket or do-dad worth the exchange rate?  Is that momentary fix of joy worth the hours of your life you had to spend working to get it?


I'd like to offer you up a challenge.  For one week, every purchase you make write it down, the dollar amount it cost, and then divide it by your hourly income rate.  At the end of the week tally it together and determine how many hours you had to work to earn what you bought.  Does it all feel like time and money well spent?  Would you have rather of had some of those hours back to do something more worthwhile of your time? 

Maybe you'll find areas where you have been unconsciously spending money that bring little to no value to your life.  Maybe you'll find that by eliminating some of that waste you could work less hours, or work a more fulfilling job for less money!  I hope in the end you can at least walk away with a more heightened awareness of how and where you are spending your money so you can start spending it more on the things that add real value to your life rather than just take time away from it.


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