The Folly of Wanting More When You’re Not Using What You Already Have

You buy a book, but there are already a bunch of unread books on your shelf.

You buy a computer game, but there are already a bunch of unplayed and barely-played games in your Steam library.

You buy a new cosmetic product, but there are already a bunch of unused and barely-used cosmetic products in your bathroom drawers and closet.

You buy a new Bluray, but there are already a bunch of unwatched Blurays on your media shelf.

You buy a new cell phone, but the cell phone you have works perfectly fine and does everything you want it to do.

You buy a new video game, but there are already a bunch of unplayed or barely played games in your entertainment center.

You buy a new item for your preferred hobby, whatever it might be, but you already have a bunch of items just like it that you’ve barely used.

In the lives of many people – I’d say most Americans, in my experience and in reading about overall trends – this is a common phenomenon. I know it’s a phenomenon in my own life, particularly when it comes to books and board games.

We want more – and often spend money on more – when we’re not even using what we already have.

Why is this? Why do we want more when we already have plenty? Why do we want new when we already have plenty?

In the end, it’s all about desire. Desire is all about wanting what we don’t have. We already have the things in our closet and on our shelves, so they don’t elicit any desire. On the other hand, we do desire the things that aren’t on our shelves and aren’t in our closet, simply because we don’t have them.

Obviously, desire that is constantly fulfilled causes financial problems. You spend all of your money on new experiences and things, and eventually you need space to store all of those things. The constant desire for more wears down your wallet.

The thing is, desire is a fleeting mistress. Desire is like an itch on your back – you scratch it and it feels good, but then you often feel an itch somewhere else very quickly thereafter. On the other hand, if you don’t scratch that itch at all, it will drive you crazy with distraction… but not for long. If you pay it little mind, it usually fades away, particularly if you know deep down that you can scratch it whenever you like if you choose to do so.

This realization actually gives us a lot of helpful advice on how to quell the beast of desire and keep it from devouring our financial future. Here are 10 strategies that I use to dampen the desire for more when I already have plenty.

Work on your self-awareness. In other words, recognize and acknowledge that you have desires and then reflect on why you have them and whether they’re meaningful.

The goal here is to try to step back from subconscious acting on desires, where we buy things and do things nearly on instinctive autopilot rather than thinking about what we’re doing and the impact those actions might have.

There are a lot of ways to improve self-awareness. One simple way is to use your downtime to think about the reasons why you behaved the way you did in a recent moment, whether that was the right way to behave, and whether there was a better course of action. You can do this while driving somewhere or waiting at the doctor’s office or any time in which you have a free moment.

Many people practice that kind of self-awareness and reflection in the form of journaling, where they sit down and evaluate situations in their life and other things in their mind in a similar fashion. Why do they feel this way? Why did they react this way? Why did they choose this course of action? What would have been the best way to act?

Over time, that kind of self-awareness can actually shape your subconscious instincts so that you end up making better decisions in the moment, so that you’re not driven primarily by the momentary desire of wanting something.

Schedule blocks of time to actually use the things that you have. I love to read and I love to play board games. Over time, that has somewhat channeled itself into collecting books and board games; there’s always something new to desire!

Part of the reason for that desire, though, is that I don’t have the time I once had to get lost in a book or to play a six hour long board game. As that time has slipped away while the desire to participate in that hobby remains, I’ve filled it by buying board games and books that I intend to read/play “someday.”

The reality is that the desire of collecting when you have a busy life is really just a cover for the desire to have time for those hobbies, and the solution to that problem is to intentionally block off time for those hobbies.

What I often do is that I’ll spend many evenings doing household tasks until I’m ready to fall in bed rather than watching television, or I’ll turn off distractions to get a ton of tasks done. That way, I can feel good blocking off several hours on the weekend to play a big epic board game, or I can feel good blocking off an hour or two on a weekday evening to get lost in a book without worries.

In other words, I make participation in the hobbies I care about into a high priority. This tends to keep my focus more on doing things rather than acquiring things. If I’m going to have a desire, I’d rather that desire be oriented toward doing rather than buying.

Practice conscious regular rotation of the contents of your closet and collections. Whenever I start feeling a great itch to buy a new game or a new book, I spend some time going through my current collections. I’ll re-shelve my board games or go through my bookshelves and pull off everything I really want to read or play. I’ll create a new Kindle category and go through my full Kindle library, putting books into that category that match it. I’ll go through my closet and rearrange the contents.

Almost every time, I’ll find some games I want to play or books I want to read and I become very motivated to engage with those things. The desire to experience those things becomes front and center, pushing the desire for more stuff to the background. I want to play this game I’ve forgotten about, so my desire to pick up a new one has faded!

The goal of all of this is to uncover things that you currently have that may have slipped your mind, so that your desire to acquire something new is transferred instead to a desire to explore this item you’ve uncovered.

Use the 30-day rule. If you’re completely focused on acquiring some new thing, simply agree to do a “check” on that desire. Put the item down for 30 days. If you still want it 30 days from now, then buy it.

This is really a check against the fleeting nature of desire. Quite often, the thing we desire very strongly this week will fade next week and disappear the week after that. If you examine that desire from the vantage point of a month, it will seem unexciting or perhaps even silly.

I usually write down desired items in a pocket notebook, so that I have this sense in my head that I “took action” on that desire. I did something. This often takes the edge off of that desire and it starts fading. Almost always, a month later, I have no interest in that thing that I was desiring and I can easily just forget about it.

Redirect into a different area of life. If you find that your desires are constantly pushing you to consider purchasing the same kind of thing over and over – books, board games, and so on – then consider redirecting your focus into other areas of life.

For starters, consciously choose to spend less time reading and watching media related to that area of interest. If you read a website related to this point of interest every day, then delete that from your bookmarks. If you follow a bunch of social media pages that stoke your acquisition fires, stop following most of them.

Instead, seek out other areas of interest in your life. Different hobbies. Different passions. Redirect your energy and focus elsewhere.

For example…

Intentionally build a focus on more fundamental desires that lead to self-improvement, such as your physical health. If you need something to focus on as a redirection from that expensive hobby that’s full of desires, try focusing instead on some aspect of improving yourself for a while. Make your diet front and center, or make your physical fitness front and center, or some area of learning front and center, or make your relationships front and center, or make your mental health front and center.

In other words, focus intentionally on things that are oriented almost entirely around taking action that will improve your life. For a long period, improving our personal finances received this kind of laser focus for us and it’s still an area of focus. I find that whenever my focus is on making my life better, my desire for purchases declines sharply, because most areas of genuine self-improvement do not involve spending money.

That’s because, in the end, improving yourself really means using what you already have. You’re using your body. You’re using your mental faculties. You’re using your mind. You’re using your social network. You’re not investing your desire in things you don’t own.

Here’s another approach to that same idea…

Intentionally build a focus on collecting “achievements” rather than things. For example, rather than focusing on buying books or the size of your book collection, focus on building a list of books you’ve actually read. Rather than building a huge collection of Blurays that you’ll barely watch, focus instead on building a long list of films you’ve watched, whether it’s from your collection or Netflix or borrowing them from the library or whatever.

Do things. Read books. Watch films. Play games. Go on hikes (and keep track of the trails and parks you’ve done). Do whatever it is that you’re passionate about, but rather than focusing on possessing the stuff involved, focus on making a big list of the things you’ve achieved within that hobby.

I love to track the games I’ve played and the books I’ve read and the trails I’ve hiked on and the geocaches I’ve discovered. When I pair that up with the earlier strategy of consciously devoting time to my interests, I can actually contribute significantly to these lists, and that keeps my desires channeled toward doing rather than acquiring, which is much less expensive.

Here’s yet another way to channel your focus…

Intentionally build a focus on desires that help improve the world. In other words, rather than aiming your desires at acquiring things for yourself or pleasuring yourself, aim your desires toward improving the world and follow that desire with action.

Consider what frustrates you and disappoints you regarding the world right now. Is it climate change? Is it extreme poverty? Is it the lack of a cancer cure? Is it simply hungry children in your neighborhood? What element of the world sears you to the core that you wish you could change?

Now, what can you do with your time to help bring about change in that area? Even if it’s just throwing a single starfish back into the ocean rather than clearing the beach, you can make a difference with your actions, your energy, and your time. Take direct action to fix these things, or else make a nuisance of yourself to the people in power regarding this issue.

If you care about something deeply, channel your energy into making that change happen. You can do this.

Use negative visualization to take an edge off of the less urgent desires. Negative visualization is a powerful tactic that helps you really put a check on a constant desire for more and amps up your appreciation for what you already have.

Just do this simple thing. Make a list of the three things you care about most in the world. Someone you love deeply. Something you love doing. Your favorite regular aspect of your life. Now, imagine, one by one, what your life would be like without those things. What would my life be like without Sarah? What would my life be like without a hike in a park on a nice sunny day? What would my life be like without the ability to read a great book?

My life would be a much emptier place. The more I reflect on what that life would be like, the more I come to realize that I actually have an incredible life abundance already. It’s a pretty good life – what exactly do I need more for?

This type of negative visualization is a great reality check for those times when the desire for more gets way out of hand.

Put a sensible, pre-planned cap on your desire spending. In the end, even after all of those tactics, there will still be times when you desire some object or some experience that costs money. It’s human nature. Those tactics will help knock that desire down quite a bit, but it won’t disappear.

That’s why it makes sense to have a monthly budget with some breathing room in it, with some money intentionally budgeted and set aside to allow you to fulfill some of your desires. I call it my “free spending” allowance – I can spend it on whatever I want. If I come to the end of it, then I know I’ve given in to a lot of desires lately and I can wait until next month. If I’m careful with it, it lasts for a good month or more.

You can make up your own rules for what comes out of that budget, but I recommend that you include things like eating out, experiences out of the home, and entertainment and hobby purchases in that “free spending” segment of your budget.

Final Thoughts

If you’re reading this, it’s extremely likely that you already have a plentiful life. You likely have lots of relationships, some interests that you enjoy, and lots of little things in life that keep you lifted up.

In the end, the real key to avoiding a desire for more and a neglect of the many things you have is to simply be intentional with your focus. When you find yourself desiring something, put that desire down and spend some time considering the abundance you already have in your life.

Do you really need more? Does it really gain you anything that’s really worth the desire and the cost? Probably not.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.