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 (156 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.

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