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Stuff hangovers and aspirational buying

Posted by on Thursday 17 November 2011 in bad buys, decluttering, personal finance | 5 comments

In this, the Decluttering season, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff and about how it comes into our lives. My intention was to write this post about the idea of a “stuff hangover” but after reading an article on Get Rich Slowly, I think it’s about more than that.

I suffer from a stuff hangover in several different areas – I’ve changed who I am and what I do but I’ve got stuff hanging over from previous versions of myself. For example, when I moved into our last house in 2000, I was straight out of university and I brought over all my uni notes, books and accoutrement. We brought a large proportion of those books and notes over here when we moved too even though I have long ago abandoned my post-grad plans in that area of study. Another thing: about five years ago, John wrote a comic strip that was quite popular in its incredibly nerdy niche and we sold t-shirts, stickers and badges based on the “characters” and in-jokes. The comic eventually wound up and when shirts sales reduced to a tickle, we took the shop offline too – but we still have a couple of boxes of stock leftover. Together the books/notes and t-shirts take up a fair amount of our storage space and because I see it regularly, I know I need to be brutal and get rid of it.

But there are smaller things that I’m blind to – the twenty pairs of trainer socks I cleared out from my sock drawer the other week were a smaller example, as are the various bits of jewellery I decluttered during last week’s mini-challenge. The jewellery hardly took up any space at all but it was there – in a jewellery box I didn’t use except to keep that unused jewellery in. It all adds up.

So that’s stuff from past-louisa still cluttering up life for present-louisa – the Get Rich Slowly article I mentioned at the start is, in part, about accumulating clutter/wasting money on things present-louisa wants to buy in order to be the perfect possible version of future-louisa: aspirational buying. The article (and comments) talk about things like when people buying exercise equipment because it’ll “force” them to keep fit, or buying the perfect dress or winter coat just because you like them, even though you never go anywhere nice or cold. The main focus of the article is about “buy for every day not special occasions“, which is something I’ve thought about before in terms of not getting use out of things because they’re saved “for best” but in this circumstance, it’s also about choosing a home or car that suits your every day needs not the once a year family get together, or camping trip (in both cases, it’s usually cheaper to pick something smaller and rent a hall/camper van when you need it, rather than having to pay for the extra cost, insurance etc).

I’ve definitely been guilty of aspirational buying in the past – getting over-excited about a new hobby and quickly growing a tool/supplies stash before realising it’s not for me. Thankfully my hobbies/aspirations tend to be smaller than the snowboards & mountain bikes mentioned in the article so it’s not a lot of money wastage (especially as I buy a lot of stuff secondhand/on eBay), but it is clutter that adds up – and it robs me of spare spending money to put towards better materials and tools for the hobbies I do enjoy. I also used to buy a lot of clothes that I thought I should want to wear, rather than actually did want to wear – for example, when I was in my mid-20s I bought a lot of skirts and dresses because I loved the pattern on the fabric and thought that as a young woman, I should dress up more, but they were all only worn one or two times at most, usually when we were on holiday and I felt the “should” more strongly. I also bought a lot of clothes that I really wanted to wear even though they were impractical on me – I love the look of halter necks and spaghetti strap tops but have learnt that strapless bras are EVIL. I guess I hoped that somehow this top or this bra would be different but it never was. (I think even before the 12 in 11 challenge, my clothes buying had dropped off considerably because I had developed a more accurate idea of what I do actually like to wear, what suits me and what is going to be a waste of money.)

The “buy the right size for everyday” idea also struck a chord. I think we did just about right with our house but we periodically talk about getting a new(-to-us) car and that conversation swings between getting a van with seats (for carrying large things and going camping – the latter of which we don’t do at the moment, the former we need to do rarely) or a small run around. (Our current car is an old but reliable Vectra, bought when we regularly transported two or three adults around in the back seat but it’s usually just us and the dog these days so even that feels a little big to me.) After reading that article, I’m definitely leaning more towards the small run around.

So anyway, the article really spoke to me on a few levels and has given me a few more questions to ask myself so my spending is even more conscious: after all, today’s wasted money is tomorrow’s clutter.

What do you think? Do you have a stuff hangover? Have you bought things aspirational in the past and regretted it?

(Photo by krossbow)


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Maria

    So true! ‘today’s wasted money is tomorrow’s clutter’. To add to that – the time and effort we put into finding the ‘right’ skirt/item of clothing/piece of equipment for a new hobby, then has to be added to the time we spend de-cluttering and taking things to the charity shop!

    I can relate to the aspirational-buying, especially on the ‘should’ and ‘clothes’ front. I moved to London a year ago, got a new job in an office… and found that none of my wardrobe seemed to fit the office standard. I thought I had out-grown being a sheep and wanting to be like others, but I have in the past few weeks been making a concerted effort to rehaul my wardrobe so it is office suitable. While I do this, a small part of my brain nags at me that I should be myself, not make myself in the image of others. I am trying to keep the balance by remembering to buy only clothing which – while being smart enough for the office – is comfortable enough that I will wear it, repeatedly!
    Totally with you there on the skirt/dresses things. They are not really me yet I find myself thinking I ‘ought’ to wear them more often.
    Fortunately I have *definitely* moved beyond trying to force myself into anything uncomfortable in the bra department – I hope I never forget that, it is just not worth it.

    I enjoyed another thoughtful post from you – sorry for overly long comments!

  2. Louba

    Recognise all of this! Last year I took on a new project / role at work which involved lots of meetings with banker so I thought I better dress the part and bought fitted shorts and tops to update my work wardrobe…….all this in the knowledge that I hate ironing with a passion. Wore them for a while and they are now clogging up my wardrobe. Books on aspirationsal new hobbies and fitness regime, yup got them too. I’ve doen a first clear out of the wardrobe but need to be more ruthless!

  3. Maria

    Louba – snap! (minus the banker involvement). Ironing / dry cleaning – really, who needs it?

  4. Rachel

    I read the first half of your title as an exclamation made by someone who’s decided that drinking’s not worth it – Stuff hangovers!

    I can only think of one aspirational purchase in recent years – an oil press – but since the aspiration is still alive, I don’t think that counts as a hangover. I do have quite a few clothes left over from working in an office, which I don’t any more, but since I made several shirts into a dress I can’t really see the point of getting rid of the rest of them – those are useful craft materials! Just don’t ask me about old lecture notes…

    Oh, and your next car? Buy a 2CV – it’s a small, economical runaround that’s perfect for camping ;-)

  5. HouseCat

    When I moved out of my old house, I sent bags and bags and bags to charity… I’m not even 30, and I’d accumulated so much JUNK and so much of it was stuff from school and college that I was just never going to use. My school notes got a mix of shredded and composted and shredded and used as the beginnings of fire. I got through about 5 black bin bags filled with shredded notes, and that was with keeping a few notes that might be useful in ring-binders. A lot of it was because I felt that school and college were the only thing I’d achieved in my short existence and that without my notes, there was no proof that I’d spent all this time studying furiously apart from my grades… I was also attached to all the interesting essays that I’d written (and got As on :P and I was worried that all the knowledge would fall out of my head with time (it does) and that I’d need to re-read my notes (never have, never will) etc. I sold/gave away most of my old text books.

    The other stuff I’d accumulated was clothes. As a teenager I was subculture-hopper, starting out Goth with Punk leanings, then going Boho/Hippy, then going Steampunk, before finally going back to Goth in a decidedly anachronistic way – unfortunately as a teenager I thought I needed clothes to match my current musical/aesthetic/lifestyle tastes, and even though all I could afford was usually stuff from charity shops, I ended up with lots of clothes that I simply never wore any more because they were either not Goth enough or didn’t fit. Anything that no longer fitted me was sent to charity, and then anything that did fit was divided between stuff I could modify for my Goth wardrobe (usually “dye black and change buttons”) and stuff that also went to charity.

    I thought that perhaps my children would want to see my school work, with same curiosity as I had when I looked at my Dad’s exercise books from 50 years ago, but I then realised that a lot of it had bad poetry and doodles of dragons scribbled in the margins, and that I didn’t want any future children seeing that!

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