I need stuff. You need stuff. Hell, everyone I know loves spending their money on stuff. Our great-grandparents were happy with a few potatoes, but my generation wants the newest iPhone. Using data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 24/7 Wall Street estimated a couple of years ago how much money Americans spend on items they don’t need. For a family earning around $63,000 a year, they estimate $8,000 a year is spent on items we don’t really need.
But what is need? Do I need that newest dog figurine for my collection? Okay, maybe not. I think the basic needs are something like food, water and fresh air. But I love adding to my collection. In my mind, that classifies it as a need more than a want. I may want the iPhone 5, but I don’t need it to the point that I’m going to buy it right now. When I see the next dog for my collection, though, I will immediately need it.
As a result of my parents having the means and the desire to lavish their children with material items, I never learned the power of money. That is, until I moved away from them and was forced to live on the money I had in my pocket.
When I first graduated college, I was eager to dive right in and experience life in the “real world”. When my first paycheck arrived, I paid my rent and my utility bill right away, patting myself on the back that I knew how to do this. I had planned on a huge housewarming party with catered food, great decorations and the whole works. As I looked at what was left in my checkbook, my dreams of this great party were dashed.
Fast forward a few years. I have worked hard, often putting in 50-60 hours a week. I was finally able to throw a housewarming party but in a much smaller scale than I originally planned. I finally learned the value of money.
At this point in my life, I am able to buy more than just food and water. But does the ability to buy stuff affect our lives negatively? My young niece visited here one day and immediately fell in love with my adorable Yorkie figurine sitting on my wall shelf. I was surprised by the strong reluctance I felt in giving it to her. I wanted to scream, “No! That’s mine! Mine, mine, mine!” Wow, where did this two-year old inner voice come from?
I successfully distracted my niece and gave her a lollipop inside. But knowing how I reacted in my head to this simple request of hers made me feel anxious. Had I regressed into a child like state of mind that hated sharing and didn’t want to give anything up? Why was I so attached to a simple figurine, cute as it may be? It was not a gift from anyone, nor does it have any particular meaning attached to it. In fact, it is one of 27 figurines in my collection.
I found an interesting article by Psychology Today that explained ownership and how reluctant people are to part with their stuff once they own it. It also described how we price things higher in our heads than what they are actually worth, if we do indeed own that item. For instance, if someone wanted to buy that figurine, the first figure that would have popped into my head would have been $20. That particular Yorkie was found at one of my favorite vintage shops. Yet, I would not part with it for less than $20.
The discrepancy in prices is described as the endowment affect. Much to my relief, I found that it is a common trait and I am not officially off my rocker—yet. Hoarding is another psychological issue I looked into, to assure myself that I was not in the 2% of the population that absolutely cannot give up their stuff.
My figurine collection has not cluttered my living room to the point it is not usable and it is not causing me significant distress. Well, unless you count when my niece wanted a piece of it. I did find out that only about 23% of people my age still have collections. That did give me a bit of a pause but hey, I’m single and I don’t have a pet. That’s enough of a reason in my mind to have a few collections.
I understand that people get attached to sentimental items, and this is, again, completely normal. I know that that stick drawing of me in my new apartment from my four year old nephew is not the work of the next Terry Redlin. But I have framed it and hung it in my living room regardless. Those are the types of items that cannot be priced and no one should feel guilty having about. But what about the 34 letters from my first boyfriend in eighth grade? Yeah, I was sentimental about those for awhile but can happily say they have now been thrown out.
When I discovered that my obsession with dog figurines would not qualify me for psychological help, I breathed a sigh of relief. To find out that I am, more or less, normal, made me smile. Now I can freely buy my next figurine as soon as I find the Labrador I have been searching for.
The upside of having collections is that, in a way, they are an investment. At least an emotional one, if not financial. You always hear stories of someone selling their entire baseball card collection online for thousands of dollars. What about Becky selling all of her glorious clothing and accessories in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Takes Manhattan ? If I ever really, really need the money, I can do what Becky did and sell it all. Well, most of it. I might have to save the Yorkie from such a fate.