Why I Threw Away $40,000 (Or a Lesson In the “Just In Case Syndrome”)
“Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers. The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume.” ~ Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff
Since the spring I’ve been on another purge spree — taking a look around and figuring out what I no longer needed or wanted and getting rid of it. More books, over 100 CDs, files of papers, clothes I had not worn in months… the list goes on.
All the while I’ve used the process to ask myself why I have held on to all this stuff for so long, in many cases hauling boxes across states and house moves: What about this stuff did I find so important to keep? Were the emotional connections still there (or there to begin with)? What value does it provide me right now?
What sparked this latest round of stuff-shedding were a couple of amazing posts from blogs I follow: Leo’s description of “Just In Case Syndrome” hit home like a ton of bricks. While Raam’s essay on“Voting for Poverty” caused me great pause as I thought about that child in the photo and all the other children like her across the world. Contemplate for a moment this thought:
“Every time you buy something you don’t need or spend time in the pursuit of a selfish goal, you’re placing a vote that says you’d rather see people suffer than sacrifice your own wants and desires… I couldn’t stop questioning the moral implications of the apparent addiction to waste that now surrounded me. Food thrown in the trash. Money thrown around as if there was nothing better to do with it. Hours, days, and months of time and life wasted on entertainment.” ~ Raam Dev
Take an extra moment to let that sink in. Deep. Deeper still.
Beyond the human suffering that my stuff-hoarding of the past might have cause, the thought of the impact on this precious Earth is just as devastating in my mind: How many resources went into to producing, buying and maintaining all this stuff makes me cringe. How could I have been so careless, so ignorant of the interconnectedness of all things?
Alas, I try not to dwell on these “eco-sins” of the past. What is done is done. It is about making better choices here in the moment. With awareness comes responsibility.
So what’s the $40,000 all about, you ask?
My M.B.A. (Masters in Business Administration) at Northeastern University in Boston cost about $80,000, give or take a few thousand. I am fortunate (and extremely grateful) because a large portion of that was covered through a scholarship, causing me to only have to take out a limited amount in student loans to cover the balance (we’ll save the burdens of school loan debt for another post).
Aside from the new friends and amazing memories of all-nighters, crazy new product ideas and some life-changing international residencies in Mexico and China, at the end of the 18-month program all I was left with was a ton of books and binders full of business cases, research papers and the like. The topics ran the gamut from statistics to finance to economics to marketing to accounting to human resources management. I know, all riveting topics.
But why was I hanging on to it all? Some people might cringe at the thought of parting with all that “knowledge” but from my vantage point, there were just some things that I would never, ever use. Never. I don’t care where on the corporate ladder I found myself (if on that ladder at all, frankly). So why hang on to it all “just in case”? I suppose I could have tried to sell all those Harvard Business School cases but it wasn’t worth my while. So after a few nights worth of weeding through it all, I parted with over half of it. Applying some simple math, I figured that since the price tag for the whole degree was around $80,000, I must have tossed about $40,000 worth into the recycling bin.
So as we head into fall (or spring depending on where you live), perhaps now is a good time to take a fresh look at everything around you and see what you can start to part with — what you can begin to let go of to lesson your load and lift your spirits from the Grip of Stuff. Ask yourself honest questions about why you continue to hold on to things. Separate need from want, the emotional from the rational. Sell or freecycle what you can and recycle as much as possible after that. Find new uses for things. Take those additional steps towards lessening your footprint and thinking about the interconnectedness of all things.
What have you held on to for so long? What have you thought about parting with but can’t seem to take that next step? How does having fewer things make you feel?
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