We Are Living in a Material World…& I am NOT a Material Girl

I can’t really recall what age I started to care about STUFF, but being raised in the typical ‘American dream’ era, I fear it was incredibly too young.  When you live in a society that encourages the accumulation of material items as the source of happiness, scary things can happen.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health

Depressive disorders affect approximatley 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 adn older in a given year. 

Science Daily reports that 121 million people worldwide are affected by depression.  A new study published in BMC Medicine looked at 18 countries across the globe finding that 15% of the population from high income countries (compared to11% from low income countries) were likely to get depression over their lifetime.

The more wealthy, powerful nations are also the most depressed.  

Could it be that we are placing importance on all the wrong things? In my opinion, the answer is simply YES.

In the past several weeks, I have been slowly uncovering how I got to this place in my life.  Digging through my past is an essential part of my process of working through things.  I need to figure out the WHY.  Then I can move on.  

My thoughts took me back to University of Delaware where I was a poor undergrad student having too much fun studying my ass off.  I recalled one too many frustrating phone calls home begging for money to buy deodorant and shampoo.  Just writing that sentence brings back those feelings all over again. Ugh.  When it finally occurred to me that I was old enough to open my own credit card, well…let’s just say that I certainly showed them! About $30,000 later and an average APR of what, 20%, long story short: I ended up just screwing myself big time. But the good news is that I have discovered my WHY and so now I can move on with it.  Expensive lesson(s) learned.

In September 2005, soon after college, I met the man I would later marry.  We bought our first home together at the height of the housing market in 2006.  It was a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,900 square foot townhouse in Philadelphia, PA.  For just the two of us.  While we love our home and community, the decision to buy it was our first of many terrible financial choices that were driven by emotions instead of logic.  We took out a huge loan to fix up the house and gut it – because that’s what everyone else was doing at the time and we were just keeping up.  We went on an exotic vacation about every 6 months and continued to purchase new things for our home that we ‘needed’.  All the while ignoring our growing credit card bills, student loan repayment letters and overdraft fees.

We always talked about cutting back and stopping spending ridiculous amounts of money, but we never made substantial changes.  At some point along the way, the spending was no longer fulfilling the need it once had. It had to stop.

Eventually we started to take baby steps.  Our first step was to become a one car family.  With easy access to the train station, this was a no brainer.  We then focused in on our credit card debt and have gotten rid of about 85% so far.

Once Xavier was born in February 2011, it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

If we didn’t step up and start taking drastic measures, we would never be out of this mess and Xavier would be the one to suffer. 

I will not let that happen.  We have stepped it into high gear and it feels empowering to finally take control over something that felt for so long like it was controlling us.

I am a woman on a serious mission.

Step 1: Downsize Our Life – Sell or get rid of half of everything we own

  • The majority of our stuff is sitting in the basement, untouched and unused.  I have a goal of 1 bag/box to charity or sell every week, which I talked about in The Ostrich Effect.  I am currently on week 9 of doing this successfully!
  • I had a huge yard sale at my parents house at the end of October.  I made a bit of money and refused to bring any of the stuff back into our house – so I loaded up my Dad’s pick-up truck at the end of the day and he took the unsold goods to his work where everything was taken!
  • I sell the bigger ticket items on Craiglist such as furniture, snowboards and name brand jewelry.
  • I recently loaned many huge baby items (car seat travel system, high chair, swing and breast pump) to a friend of a friend for her baby’s arrival in December.  Not only did this feel great to help someone in need, but I also cleared out some more space to work with in the basement.  Why doesn’t everyone trade baby stuff? It’s brilliant!

All of my procedes are going into a mason jar so we can watch it accumulate – which is pretty fun!  So far I have $710 in there!

The stuff weighs you down, physically and emotionally.  As I am clearing things out, I am noticing that I am feeling more creative and energetic.

While making all these drastic changes in thinking and lifestyle, the emotions are running high. It’s scary, exciting, fun and above all, necessary for us – and our freedom!

One of my favorite websites gives ideas about how to get rid of your crap.  You should really check them out over at Man vs. Debt…they rock!

What are some interesting ways you have gotten rid of your crap?

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