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 shuff. 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.
The U.S. even gave birth to a multinational e-commerce platform, eBay, to deal with our surplus of stuff, and eBay has made quite a business out of recycling our stuff. As a matter of fact, if you have any stuff you are not using, then snap a photo of it and start selling it on eBay! Turn the clutter in your life that is going unused into family capital and become a capitalist.
After 9/11, we were told it was patriotic to continue spending and consuming. We were informed that if we cut back on our spending, we were letting the terrorists win. Some of my friends certainly tried their best to be “patriotic” during that period. While it is not my intent to bore everyone with a discussion of the velocity of money and how it impacts the economy, it is fair to say that consumer spending is only a part of the equation. We cannot consume our way into prosperity with borrowed money used to buy foreign-made goods. The ultimate result of that policy is a falling U.S. dollar and a lower standard of living.
In order for the United States to become a great country once again, we must save capital and reduce debt. Capital is used to build new factories that increase our productivity and allow us all to live better. The first part of saving capital is to stop borrowing money. The next step is to pay off debt. Finally, we must live below our means so that we can save capital for investment. Unfortunately there are no television commercials encouraging us to save capital. Commercials only promote consumption - and we are doing that just fine without additional help from Madison Avenue.
During the Christmas season we are bombarded with commercials luring us to spend more than we can afford. Before you go shopping, look around your house at all the stuff you already have and do not use. I have told my wife that she cannot bring anything else home until I measure and weigh it at the door. We will then have to go inside and find something of equal size and weight to dispose of before she can bring the new item inside. Without this precaution, the walls might explode.
I do not recall reading anything in the Bible about exchanging gifts during Christmas. Only the gifts of the three Wise Men are mentioned. Perhaps we should follow their example and limit our gifts to those given to God. It is His birthday, after all. And I am pretty sure that He does not want anything that you can charge on a credit card.
Larry lives in Shreveport, LA with his wife Puddy, and sells precious metals at the Silver Trading Company.
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Larry sells precious metals at the Silver Trading Company, LLC. Visit us at www.silvertrading.net . Worried about storage issues? Ask us and maybe we can help.