Years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Don Aslett, lecturer and owner of Varsity Contractors, talk about the clutter in our lives. As the owner of one of the largest facility services firms in the United States, he has witnessed firsthand that a cluttered house can be almost impossible to clean. He went on to say that we have not only cluttered our homes with stuff but that we have cluttered our lives with stuff as well. Anyone interested in reading more about Mr. Aslett should seek out one of his classic books, including my favorite, Clutter’s Last Stand. In this book, he takes a look at the clutter in our homes and our lives and tells us how to get rid of it.
Years ago, late comedian George Carlin did a colorful routine in which he poked fun at our stuff. In the routine, he said that a marriage is a union of two people’s stuff. It was funnier the way he said it, but it rang true.
All of us here in the United States love our stuff. From recent sales figures it seems that most of us like to buy our stuff at Walmart. Unfortunately, Walmart seems to get lots of its stuff from China. (Disclaimer: this is not an article to bash China. On the contrary, I wish the country well in its move towards a free market economy. The recent history – comprised merely of China’s past 300 years – is a fascinating one. Anyone interested in learning a little about how China arrived in its current state would do well to read Clavell’s books Tai-Pan and Noble House. While they are good fiction, they are based on factual events. They examine the political upheavals that helped to shape modern China.)
Back to our stuff. The United States has been called “The Mouth” of the world. We consume more than anyone else on the planet. Please don’t get me wrong; I am all for reasonable consumption and a high standard of living. The problem, however, is that we are borrowing from our poor overseas cousins by having them continue to prop up the dollar and our national debt so we will be able to continue to purchase our stuff, most of which we do not even need. Only in the United States would someone charge an ugly sweater that no one will ever wear on his or her Visa card and then finance it for the next 10 years – long after it has been donated to Goodwill!
I believe a person or a country can spend his, her or its money any way he, she or it sees fit to do so. I just think that a person, or a country, is far down the road to ruin whenever it has to borrow money from others to buy useless stuff that it cannot afford to pay for out of its own wallet. How many of us have seen ATMs in fast food restaurants and movie theaters that allow the customer to get a cash advance from their Visa card to pay for their purchase? If you do not have the cash in your wallet to afford the burger or movie then perhaps you would be better off staying home and eating a sandwich and reading a book. There is good debt and bad debt, and almost all stuff purchased on credit is bad debt.