Future Fantasy Fills Our Homes With Stuff

past, present, future

I posted a little while ago about the mountain of stuff that I had to get rid of when I moved flat but my interest doesn’t stop there. I am genuinely intrigued by psychology and philosophy and after recently listening to some of the lectures given by Alan Watts, a chief speaker on eastern philosophy in the western world, I have come to realise that gathering more stuff is almost a compulsion that the human race suffers from.

I believe now, after listening to the wisdom of Watts, that one reason we manage to accumulate so many material possessions in this world is because of a very widespread focus on the future rather than the present. Now I realise that this sounds a bit wishy washy but it actually makes a lot of sense.

Tomorrow Never Comes

Consider for a moment the following quote by Watts:

[...] making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present. Because when you make plans for the future and they mature, if you can’t live in the present you are not able to enjoy the future for which you have planned. Because you will have in you a kind of syndrome whereby happiness consists in promises and not in direct and immediate realisations, so long as you feel that tomorrow it will come.

I totally understand where he is coming from because I have often been guilty of thinking ahead too much and not enjoying what is happening right now.

But how does this apply to consumers and our general desire for more?

Well, if you are anything like me, you’ve suffered from this very desire before. I can think of times in the past where I have had an item in mind that I really wanted to buy and while I might have been able to resist for a little while, I have eventually given in.

Then, when I get this thing home, unpack it and start using it, I quickly feel something akin to buyer’s remorse. I realise that while it was a nice fantasy to have, in reality I am no more fulfilled in my life now that I have it than I was before. Within a short space of time I will likely have a new “thing” in my sights and I always think that this will be it; the thing that is going to make me complete: the bigger TV, the better surround sound system, the faster car (just an example – I don’t drive).

So I have, in essence, suffered from the very syndrome that Watts speaks of. I have not been able to enjoy the future for which I have planned when it matures to the present because I have always seemed to move quickly on to the next thing on my list.

Do you know how this feels?

The Present Is The Only Reality

Ok, so this is going to continue to sound a bit new-agey but one clear way to overcome this continuous desire for more is to stop letting your mind drift off into the future but rather maintain your focus on the present moment whenever possible.

If you genuinely need a new pair of shoes then that thought can be acted upon at the time you first realise that your shoes have holes in them. You do not need to think about that new pair of shoes in the shop window all day, imaging how they would look with this outfit or that outfit (ok maybe a little bit of a stereotypical view of women there). This type of thinking is only going to lead to greater levels of consumption and yet it is unlikely to ever bring you true happiness. You’ll only ever want more shoes!

Now I’m not saying that making plans should be avoided; planning is somewhat of an essential day to day requirement so that you can get things done such as the shopping or paying your bills on time, but there is only so much that can be planned for; things that are out of your control will always happen whether you want them to or not.

Buying something is totally within your control; you decide whether you need it or not and only you can convince yourself to buy it. Bringing your attention to the present moment can focus your mind and allow you to make a more rational decision rather than giving in to flights of fancy.

The Mind Is A Funny Old Thing

Like I said, I am really interested in how the mind works and how people make decisions. Living perpetually in the future is just one example of many that collectively drive us to buy more and more things – I’ll be looking at other examples of the psychology of stuff going forward but I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this one – what do you think drives peoples’ desire to buy?

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


7 Responses to “Future Fantasy Fills Our Homes With Stuff”

  1. Merv
    August 20, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    There is alot to be said for this another way of putting it is that to be happy with what you have. Buy things because you need them not because you want them.

    William Morris had it right when he said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

  2. John Stell
    August 24, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    My house looks like a bomb has hit it! There is just stuff everywhere, any flat or undulating surface for that matter is covered! This happens because i’m married and i have kids – oh to be living on my own where i could live a minimalistic lifestyle – If only I had a time machine? I keep telling the wife to stop buying more junk (as i cal it) but she persists – we seem to have 3 of everything – is it possible she could actually get rid of something first before buying the same stuff – unfortunately “no” seems to be the answer – RANT OVER!

    • August 30, 2012 at 9:27 PM

      HA! I’m not going to bring out the stereotypical view of women and shopping – oh wait, I just did!

      But seriously, some men can be just as bad…

  3. Keisha
    August 30, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Usually I find that when some of my immediate family come over to stay, they usually leave a lot of their stuff and say they will come back and get it but never do. There are already 3 people staying in this 3 bedroom house that already have a lot of stuff that we dont have room for. Even though we give stuff away and what is not giveable we throw it away, we still seem to have more stuff than we have room for of our own let alone someone elses stuff that they wont come get probably because they dont have room for it.

    • August 30, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      Ah the old guest junk that you don’t really want – I know all about that and usually I just try and find a home where I can or recycle.

  4. Nic
    March 6, 2014 at 3:02 AM

    Hi Steve,
    The problem with new fancy shiny stuff is that they are full of promises of a fantasy life – they promise that your life will be so much happier, healthier, more fulfilled etc as long as you owned said item. Unfortunately, these promises are never fulfilled. Because ‘stuff’ does not fulfill the human soul. And so, we keep looking for & purchasing the next fantasy item…
    Until we re-wire our brains to think differently about ‘stuff’ we will keep making this fundamental error.
    To John, fellow Minimalist: maybe you could make a pact with your wife – something along the lines of a ’1 in 3 out’ policy? E.g. for every 1 item brought into the house, 3 (or more) equivalents must be thrown out. Take heart: there are plenty of family homes where clear house rules mean they are not constantly overwhelmed by ‘stuff’. One other suggestion: perhaps you could teach the kids the value of having clean, clear, uncluttered spaces by getting them involved in a regular clear out? You could make it a fun activity & donate all those unwanted/unused toys to charity. Win-win all round :)

    • March 10, 2014 at 1:27 PM

      I agree Nic, the human soul is not lifted by “stuff” and we need to shift how our society views people so that what we value is not what is owned by someone but rather themselves as a person who interacts with others and (hopefully) brings joy to others too. I think a life spent more in the present would also help and thankfully certain books such as the Power of Now have become hits recently so more and more people are coming round to the idea that the now is the only true time in which to live.

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