The Hidden Costs of Material Possessions

When wealth is beyond the subsistence level, humans accumulate possessions.  Each possession acquired has a market value that tells us it is worth something.

One cannot go to a store and buy an item of negative or neutral value.  Every item we can buy has a positive value that represents the good it will contribute to our lives.  Every value on the price tags is the cost of acquiring a possession.  There will never be a price tag that adds all the hidden costs poorly chosen possessions can bring into our lives.

Vendors naturally want us to be surrounded by all the wonderful things we can buy.  Pay up and its ours.   It’s up to the buyer to realize that acquisition is not necessarily in one’s best interest and each additional possession must be chosen wisely.

There are many factors to take into account beyond the price tag when looking at the store shelf:

-Takes up space

If we have possessions, we need some place to store them.  If not in a residence, in a rented storage unit.  Either a residence or a storage unit are expenses we must pay when we own more things than we can carry.  All possessions that occupy space are thus subject to this ‘tax’ on ownership.  If we added the costs of storage to the original price of a good, the number on the tag would likely be radically changed.

-Maintaining a residence

If one needs a residence large enough to store possessions, how much time, effort, and money does it cost to keep the residence in working order?

-Maintenance costs of a purchase

Does it need to be repaired, tuned, patched, primped, polished, scrubbed, dusted?  Does one need to pay a specialist to come in and take care of it?  If not, how much time does it take to do all these things oneself.  Even if dusting a single item takes very little time, what if one has many items that need to be dusted.  How much precious time in a year do these possessions collectively suck up in rote maintenance tasks.  What could one have been doing instead?

-Costs money to move it

Not only do possessions occupy space, they have to be moved to another space whenever there is a change in residency or even in the configuration of the residence.  The result is additional time and trouble added to the true price of each item.

-Ties one down to a single location

It is very difficult to be flexible or mobile if one has a residence full of material possessions.  Moving one’s base of operations becomes an extremely unpleasant, time consuming, expensive operation.  Once again, the actual monetary cost of each possession rises each time it is moved from one residence to another.

-Makes the owner a target/vulnerable to loss

If you have something worth stealing, you must sacrifice a certain peace of mind and perpetually worry about someone taking it all away.  It gives dangerous strangers an incentive to approach you or your residence, putting one in danger.  Furthermore, any number of accidents or mishaps including a fire could result in the destruction of one’s possessions.  Is the worry and the increased vulnerability worth the benefits derived?

-Does it break? Is buying new ones periodically cheaper than investing in a high quality one.

Buying the cheapest, flimsiest version possible can lead to long term greater expenditures.  On the other hand, one need not be concerned about the cheap or disposable version getting lost or broken.  It’s sometimes worth it for increased mobility and peace of mind.

-Adds to Distraction/Confusion

Each material possession occupies an area in space that could be occupied by another.  Which single possession gives us the highest payoff when it occupies a given area?  What losses do we suffer by choosing sub-optimal items to occupy a given space?

Each sub-optimal item is a distraction that makes each valuable item more difficult to find, access, and use.  Beyond an economical number, possessions tend to pile up, obstructing and hiding one another.  The collective value of one’s possessions starts to go downward.  The returns of acquisition start to diminish.  Each additional possession becomes more difficult to  keep track of than the last.  Tracking each item takes up mental space we could be using for other things.  The more items, the more ways these items could interact, compromise, or hide one another.  Thus, the increase in energy and thought required to keep our possessions in order is going to increase geometrically rather than in a linear fashion.  Thus, sub-optimal possessions actually obstruct our ability to derive benefits from our most useful possessions on both the physical and mental levels.

-Opportunity cost

Is a good the single best thing one could be buying?  What opportunities is one losing by choosing to acquire?  Another, better possession is usually the least of one’s worries.  How much personal freedom does one lose by making it necessary to work in order to pay for one’s purchases?  Even if a possession would be nice to own, surely it must be truly wonderful or indispensable to be worth a measure of time and freedom.

When these factors are considered:

Do we own our possessions or do they own us?

Are we living for ourselves and the people who matter to us or the things we buy?

How much time do I NOT spend supporting pre-existing purchases and straining to be able to make new ones that create still more liability and obligation?

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2 responses to “The Hidden Costs of Material Possessions

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