Give stuff away

Giving stuff away

The rise of consumerism means that most people have an over-abundance of “stuff” – clothes, appliances, sporting goods, household goods, and general items.

For example, of the children (up to 18 years) in the world, American children make up 3.1%, yet American families purchase more than 40% of toys globally.

However, several studies have shown that having a lot of goods does not necessarily make us happier. A 10-year study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 2001-2011 on hyper-acquisition found that too much stuff has “consequences.” And yes, hyper-acquisition is now a term for excessive consumerism. Researchers of the study, led by anthropologist Elinor Ochs, analyzed 32 families in Los Angeles over a period of ten years, monitoring their consumer habits. Family members in homes with an over-abundance of goods per person showed a higher incidence of cortisol levels (a stress hormone) when discussing their purchases. The levels of cortisol increased when describing the rooms with the most purchases or acquired goods.

Of the children (up to 18 years) in the world, American children make up 3.1%, yet American families purchase more than 40% of toys globally.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, led by Stephanie Preston, conducted a study on acquisition habits. When participants were made to feel rejected or guilty (controlled by the researchers) they resorted to acquiring more things shortly afterwards. They indicated that it made them feel better about themselves. The researchers concluded that the more anxious people were, the more they were inclined to acquire or make purchases. Hence anxiety was a sensation that could lead to over-consumption.

Over-consumption has increased since the 1970s due to credit cards, online points of purchase, and the release of newer up-dated models of appliances, cars, and goods. “Fast fashion” – fashion that lasts one season – is cheap and easily purchased in favour of classic styles that cost more and potentially last longer.

With over-consumption, there has been the rise of two industries: (1) storage units, and (2) de-clutter consultants.

In the United States, storage was a $24 billion industry in 2013, with 48,500 storage companies – compared with 10,000 storage companies throughout the rest of the world. Storage was not just for people that had small units, for it was revealed that 87% of the storage facilities in America were rented in 2013 for an average of 8-12 months, with 66% of users owning a garage, 50% of users having an attic, and 33% of users with a basement.

De-clutter companies and individual consultants increased due to the demand by people seeking counseling and assistance to “let go” of stuff in their homes. Over the past few years, people are re-considering the need for belongings and an excess of goods. This has resulted from changing technologies (such as kindle readers that lead some people to reduce their purchases of “real” books in favour of electronic books) and a new wave of anti-consumerism. Researchers in the psychology department at Cornell University in the United States have explored the psychology of acquisition. They found, in a series of studies, that experiences, not belongings, elicit true feelings of happiness.

The good part about de-cluttering, down-sizing, and reducing the amount of household “stuff” is that it enables people to pass the unrequired goods to relatives, friends, fetes, and charities. Giving stuff away is providing people with a sense of “release and relief” as well as charitable feelings. Giving stuff away has benefits for both the releaser and the receiver.

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls specialises in human rights, peace and reconciliation, disaster relief, and aid development, primarily in developing countries, states in transition, and conflict zones. She is the author of four books: The Sudan Curse, Kashmir on a Knife-Edge, Bardot’s Comet and Liberia’s Deadest Ends.

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