How much “stuff” is it actually possible to enjoy?
Take a mental inventory of all of the stuff that you own. Now imagine all of the things you think are “missing” from your life. You could be yearning for that one special kitchen gadget that you’ve always wanted (melon baller, anyone?). You may have been eyeing your outdated TV lately and browsing new models online. You may even open your closet once and awhile, wishing that your wardrobe was packed with trendy clothes.
Take a moment and imagine that your house was filled with all of that – and more. Imagine that you had twice as much stuff as you do now: your kitchen was filled with every possible kitchen gadget available, you had the latest and largest plasma screen TV in every room, and your closet was lined with dozens of pairs of designer shoes and stylish outfits, one for every day of the year.
While this vision may seem like paradise, it brings up two very important questions about the relationship between stuff and your overall happiness:
- If you owned twice as much “stuff” would you be twice as happy?
- If you had everything that you felt was missing in your life, would you be completely satisfied?
Chances are the answer to both of these questions is, “No.” And it all has to do with your joy-to-stuff ratio.
The Secret Formula: Your Joy-to-Stuff Ratio
The authors of the book Your Money or Your Life argue that frugality and living a life full of happiness means having a high joy-to-stuff ratio. It’s easy to understand the principle of a joy-to-stuff from the scenario above; the massive accumulation of stuff does not return an equally massive amount of joy. Remember your fulfillment curve? We already know that spending more money doesn’t necessarily lead to more happiness. Well when it comes to your joy-to-stuff ratio, the same principle applies: recognizing that less stuff and spending less money doesn’t mean less joy, this thought process can be the secret to boosting your overall happiness.
Frugal vs. Cheap
But what the joy-to-stuff ratio also teaches us is that there is a major difference between frugality and cheapness.
Let’s say you’re an avid cook. If you bought a high-quality but expensive set of pots and pans, it could actually be considered a frugal purchase. You would likely get a lot of utility and joy from purchasing that quality set of pans. On the other hand, if you chose to buy the cheapest set of cookware just to save money, you might end up frustrated each time you had to use them and they might end up falling apart. So even though you saved in the short-term money, your level of joy from that purchase would be significantly lower.
This is where knowing your values helps. If you need a comfortable bed to improve your sleep, if you want a wardrobe full of clothes that make you feel confident or if you love cooking great meals, most quality purchases aligned with those areas will bring you a lot of joy – and it’s perfectly okay to spend more money to enhance those areas of your life.
It also means if there is something in your life that doesn’t bring you great joy – like watching TV – your joy-to-stuff ratio for those purchases may be significantly lower.
What’s obvious from Your Money or Your Life is there’s a difference between a smart, frugal purchase and being plain-old cheap: overconsumption of cheaper goods doesn’t lead to joy, but intentional enriching purchases which align with your values, can absolutely enhance your happiness.