Joy and Stuff: A Complicated Relationship

In Articles, Retirement Thinking, Weekly Articles by Adam Cufr

I love my home and I often hate my house. I love driving my car and I often hate the car itself. It seems that the ‘stuff’ that surrounds us can both give us incredible joy and also imprison us, depending on the day and circumstance.

In the most recent edition of Financial Planning magazine, an article by Carolyn McClanahan caught my eye. Titled, ‘Fewer Regrets, Better Retirement’ the article stated, “Many expensive items have ownership costs, while experiences actually bring happiness. Identifying and disposing of physical assets in a client’s life that no longer bring meaning helps them simplify their existence and expenses.” This, I thought to myself, is an area worth exploring.

In the spirit of maintaining some level of moral authority, I thought I should explore this further in my own life before asking you to examine it in yours. After all, who am I to offer advice if I’m not willing to heed it myself? So, I’d like to share an example with you from my own experience, in an effort to show a truer cost of the stuff that I love, and sometimes hate.

About two years ago, I bought a little two-seater sports car as a purely recreational endeavor; it’s not my daily driver. I did a tremendous amount of research and was able to pay a shockingly small amount for it. It’s really nice, but I paid so little that I could watch it roll off a cliff and it wouldn’t hurt much financially. Just know that if you saw it, you’d say, “You only paid how much for this?!”

I’ve enjoyed driving this car more than any person should. I literally smile from ear-to-ear when I’m buzzing around town in it. But you know when I don’t love it? When it breaks, needs maintenance, is parked in the garage taking up space that could be used for other things, when I’m paying insurance premiums on it, when I feel compelled to improve it or modify it, or am just giving it mental space where just about anything else could occupy. In other words, even though I didn’t pay much to purchase this car, its very presence in my life takes up an enormous amount of space.

It’s this Jekyll and Hyde relationship I have with a silly car that leads me to ask you a few questions:

  • When you think about the ‘stuff’ you own, how much joy does it bring you, really?
  • Is there a major item that is supposed to be fun that has become a boat anchor for your happiness and peace of mind?
  • If a hurricane washed away a major possession or two, would you secretly be relieved?
  • Is social pressure causing you to hang onto something that you’d otherwise part ways with that would allow you to experience more freedom?
  • Is any of your stuff owning you more than you actually own it?

When I ask myself these questions, I struggle a lot with my answers. It’s almost as if I’m stuck in a tug of war between “I’m blessed to own these possessions” and “I’m cursed to have to care for these possessions.” I wonder if you ever feel the same.

If you ask others to consider your stuff dilemma, you’ll often hear things like, “oh, you need to have a hobby” and “you work hard, so you should play hard too.” These are awesome and supportive things to hear, but that sentiment may not help you get to the core of your joy-stuff relationship.

I don’t claim to have the answers on this matter. I do think asking yourself some pointed questions about some of the stuff in your life may help to clear out some of the clutter, both mental and physical. Because if it’s true that experiences (and I’ll add relationships) are where the real joy exists, wouldn’t it be fun to get to the task of finding it?

One more thing…I sold the car I’d mentioned. And I love and hate that I did it.

All the best,

Adam Cufr Signature

Adam Cufr, RICP®