How to Money
How to Money

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Enough stuff

“It's like they can't get enough, until enough is enough, and then it's too much” Drake
In this article, I’ll look at enough things, since it’s the easiest place to make immediate, actionable changes which should also have a big impact on your investing and early retirement abilities.
Enough”. This simple word to me is what it’s all about.
Enough isn’t a goal. It’s a basic equation to solve and once you’ve done so, it becomes the launching pad for a lot of other things in life.
For me, enough is enough to be safe, to be healthy, and to be comfortable. Enough stuff to be comfortable, but not so much stuff that I feel I need to work more to get and keep the stuff. Enough money, so that I don’t have to work, but rather that I get to choose what I want to work on. Enough money gives me something money can’t buy: time.
Everything more than enough usually just goes to waste.
Let’s take eating, as an example. On the one end of the spectrum, you can certainly get full by simply eating cheap white bread until you’re not hungry anymore. On the other end, every meal can consist of a giant table full of food; a banquet where most don’t get eaten and are thrown away. For most of us, “enough” is somewhere between those two extremes, and probably a whole lot closer to “white bread” (the almost enough side), than the “banquet” (the wasteful side).
When talking about “enough”, there are actually two things we struggle to define: enough things and enough money.
(You can create your own framework for other things like enough exercise, enough alcohol, enough travelling, enough shoes, enough news and so on. Over time, you’ll see that there’s actually a specific, quantifiable figure you can attach to most of these things.)

Stuff. Enough is enough

We pile up a staggering amount of things in our homes in middle-income and rich countries (over 300,000 ). Things spill from our cupboards, dressers, drawers, attics and storage facilities.
The impact of all these things can be devastating and has an impact on three important things: your retirement, your psychological and physical well-being, and the environment.
First, take financial independence. You’ll literally have to work longer to acquire and keep the stuff around you, end of story.
If you just spent $100 less each month on the random category of “stuff”, either in acquiring it or in storing it (investing it instead), you’d turn it into about $18,000 every ten years (and nearly $60,000 every twenty years – compound interest doing its magic). If you simply have less, you won’t need to pay extra for closet space and rooms and attics and storage facilities just to house your ever-increasing pile of crap. My advice is to hold off on buying things (anything more than “enough”, that is) until you retire and to downsize the things that you currently have. You’ll notice that you actually want and need a whole lot less than you currently have. Or, at least: you should want and need early retirement more than the stuff around you.
The psychological impact of too much stuff literally impedes our brain’s ability to function, according to . Over-consumption – food, social media, entertainment – is bad for your body and your mind.
(I added a whole section further down on the ways to understand – and fight – the psychology of stuff).
Third, it’s not just about you. The two-dollar price tag you see on that stupid kitchen gadget (the onion chopper, say, when you have a perfectly sharp knife that will do the job) isn’t the true cost of the gadget. Think about the pollution cost of producing the plastic and metal bits, and the ethical cost of production happening in countries with poorer environmental, safety, and health standards. The cost of transporting the materials and final product around the world is measured in emissions and impact on the ozone and ocean. The cost of storing it and moving it between places. The cost of disposing of it and the truth that hardly anything really gets recycled and that it will still be around for many years after you’ve died.
The possessions you have today shouldn’t have a bigger impact on the planet than your life will. For most of us, it will. The video below explains in simple language the impact of a linear system of production on a finite planet.
📺 Recommended viewing: (21 min, YouTube)

Five ways to understand and fight needless consumption

It didn’t magically dawn on me one day. It was rather a phase of increased clarity – one of the most important phases in my life – where I started to figure out why I made certain purchases.

One: You’ll always think you’ll need it

For most of human evolution, we’ve lived in times of scarcity. We had no idea where our next meal, our next sharp tool or useful piece of clothing would come from. Resources were limited, so we’d compete over them and keep them. Hoarding was a rational response. We didn’t know if we’d ever find such an item again, so we simply kept it. These items were few and far between, probably useful enough to keep with us for the rest of our lives.
Fast forward past our nomadic, roaming lifestyle, to modern times where we live in houses, with space, security and material comfort beyond imagination. We are in a world filled to the bursting point with cheap goods, mass-produced, available to most of us by simply walking outside or even by pressing a few buttons. Resources aren’t scarce anymore, but part of our brain still treats them that way.
Open any closet or drawer in any room of your house if you’re still not sure what I’m talking about.
Understand that a primal part of your brain still clings to this mindset (“one day I might need this, I might as well keep it”). By understanding that you are a resourceful person, living in this world of unfettered abundance, you can also make better decisions than hoarding (or consuming). You can always find a piece of paper when you really need it, you don’t need that extra conference notebook, not just in case, not at all. Stop signalling to producers that you’re okay with this sort of overproduction and waste. This includes the crap you see in checkout isles, the “free” T-shirts or conference goodie bags that will add exactly zero extra utility and joy to your life.

Two: You’ll never feel like you’ll have enough

One of the few lessons that actually stuck with me from my university years (side note: I learned the most valuable lessons outside of class during that time) was during a marketing course on .

The hierarchy was developed to show the relationship between basic human needs and human desires and is usually shown in pyramid form, split into five categories:
Physiological needs
Safety needs
Social needs
Esteem needs
Self-actualisation needs
In short, it explains that the fundamental urges we have at the bottom of the pyramid must be fulfilled before we can strive for those higher up.
For instance, once you have your basic physiological needs met, like having enough food and water, you’ll start focusing on your next level: needs of safety, shelter, and security. The problem is that the pyramid is slippery: a need can only temporarily be satisfied before you crave a new one. Even at the top of the pyramid, you’ll always slip down.
The real “aha” moment came when the lecturer explained that modern marketing and consumption is based on this very hierarchy of needs. For the majority of people on this planet, their needs for “stuff” will never be fulfilled. You’ll never feel like you have enough because over time the need will simply be replaced by something else. You’ll want a bicycle until you’ll have one and very soon after that you’ll want a better one. Or computer or car or house...
These consumer “needs” are molded and defined not by you, but by marketers, designers and advertisers. It’s a never-ending slide down the greasy pyramid.

Three: The endowment effect

By age six, most kids already exhibit the , where we place extra value on possessions that we own, compared to identical things that we don’t own.
It doesn’t matter if we buy these things, make them, or receive them as gifts. We simply value our things more than the exact same thing belonging to someone else.
This “over-valuation” of possessions turns into attachment and, also from a young age, jealousy. By our early teenage years, we start using and showing off stuff to signal to others how we want them to perceive us. It soon becomes part of our identity, which follows us for most of our lives. (Just look at the correlation between Porsche ownership and certain male midlife events, as a random example.)
It’s not hard to understand (or fight) this. There is nothing wrong with loving your home, making it into a comfortable place that you see as an extension of your personality. Having a seemingly irrational amount of love and affection for a pet or a child is a wonderful human quality. But that’s obviously not what this article is about.

Four: We like to send signals

In 1899, an economist named Thorstein Veblen wrote and wrote about the idea of “conspicuous consumption”. The theory is that we don’t buy things based only on satisfying needs, but for the “leisure class” (the rich and upper classes of the time), people buy and do things to send signals of status and prestige.
It might seem absurd that rational humans will, by choice, pay more for a near-identical alternative, just to signal that we aren’t from an undesired “lower class”. Sadly, the world is full of examples of this – from handbags to watches to water to tote bags.
In 1899, you see, you really had to be from the leisure class to afford fancy silverware and monocles, things that would signal your class to everyone else. Today, with easy access to credit (usually in the form of credit cards), it has never been easier to signal a life of prosperity, when in actual fact you have a net worth close to zero.
(In , Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explores the more modern version of the leisure class, called the “aspirational class”, and writes about inconspicuous consumption. Instead of spending money on visible consumer products, the aspirational class increasingly spends on invisible, expensive goods and services like nannies, gardeners, Soul Cycle and Economist subscriptions, and joins elite universities. These intangibles give them the nod from the upper rungs of society, signalling that they belong there. On the surface, the absurdity might seem harmless and funny, but sadly there is proof that these trends may deepen inequality.)
Next time you see someone walk out of a store with a brand new designer bag, the logo screaming that we just see what the owner is trying to tell us so badly about the class they want to belong to, take a moment to smile at the silliness of the game they’re inadvertently playing and be happy that you’re not participating in it.

Five: Enough is actually enough

My quick, hand-drawn Fulfillment Curve below, adapted from the highly recommended , shows in a picture what this whole article is trying to say. You can spend an infinite amount of money to acquire things, but the fulfillment you get out of these things is actually finite.

How to downsize?

Hopefully, by now you’ve put some thought into what your definition of “enough” is and you probably want to get rid of unnecessary excess in the short term and avoid it altogether in the long run. Or go full-out minimalist. I’m rooting for you.
Below are a few things that have helped me.

Empty out

First, take all possessions that you have out of their hiding places. Empty everything you own—the content of all drawers, wardrobes, bags and pockets— into the middle of each room in your house. From the onset there will probably be a lot of crap you can immediately and obviously get rid of, probably enough to fill a bag, if not a few of them. Hopefully, the guilt of seeing that amount of stuff – which will linger long after you’ve left this world – should make it a bit easier to say “no thanks” when presented with similar items in future. Donate, recycle and trash it. Much of it you could sell on second-hand marketplaces; money that you can use to pay off debt or invest instead.

Get a best-before box

I was left with the obvious “must keep” items, but the majority of items were a bit less clear. I mean, I put my favourite knife back in the drawer but what about the other four knives? I placed all of the less-obvious things in a box in the same room with a “best before” (or “use by”) date, three months from now, written on it. If I didn’t physically take out and use that second, third or fourth knife; the bottom-of-the-pile sweater; or that second wooden stirring spoon in three months, they would get donated, recycled or thrown out on the expiration date. (You might have to extend this date for seasonal clothing).


Another way for me to keep on target is my one-in, one-out rule. Whenever I buy something (say, a new pair of running shoes), I force myself to get rid of another pair. Since I only own shoes that I really like (I didn’t get rid of them during the purging stage) and shoes that I use (they survived the use-by date) I really have to think about all my purchases. Other than replacing completely worn shoes, I spend virtually no energy even thinking about footwear. No adverts, no Kickstarter campaigns, and no strolls through areas of commerce have an effect on me anymore. The same is increasingly true for almost everything else in my life.
(Depressing data: the average US woman has , of which only four pairs are regularly worn).


Maybe you have the luxury of owning your home. For me, being a near-lifelong tenant has forced me to be more strict about accumulating worldly possessions. Moving to a new country, city or even neighbourhood can be a huge pain in the ass, much more so when you have a lot of stuff. Moving (or simply doing spring cleaning) is a great way to see what bad decisions you’ve made in the past few months or years.
A few years back I took it to the extreme and sold nearly everything I owned, other than that which I could take in a carry-on bag, and travelled the world for a few years. It still came to around 130 individual items. An extended period of time on the road really gave me perspective on what I actually need. The average Airbnb apartment is sparsely furnished, yet I’ve hardly ever felt that these places needed something stupid like that silly onion chopper you see in the checkout aisle.

Only keep things you love

This one was actually pretty easy, mostly because all of the things I don’t love ended up in the “use by” box and on the infrequent occasion where I find myself buying something, I buy high-quality items, almost exclusively without brand names or logos printed on them, even if they’re more expensive. I’d rather own one really nice hoodie, than three or four sub-par ones.

In closing

Everyone needs to find their own definition of “enough”. Hopefully, this article will help you craft your definition (and help you work to achieve it and stay on track). By trimming down on needless stuff now, you’ll also make it easier to define what you want your retirement (your “I don’t have to work for money”) to look like and to know what it will cost to maintain that lifestyle. Oh, and some of the unnecessary stuff you have, you can turn into money, which can be used to pay off debt and invest. More on that later.
Some more articles on the topic:

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