What things do we need

How many things do people need?



By Stefanie Pfeifer, Zwickau

"Poor is not someone who has little, but someone who cannot get enough."
(Jean Guéhenno)

Books, DVDs, cutlery, plates, cups, towels, socks, shirts, trousers, ... this list could go on and on and would bring together many thousands of items that are found in every average household. According to statistics, every German owns around 10,000 items and more are being added all the time. But do you really need all of these things? What dimensions has the consumer cosmos assumed and why do we make ourselves so dependent on the objects in our everyday life?

10,000 items. That sounds like a lot and you can hardly imagine calling so many things your own, but when you move house at the latest, everyone realizes that you actually have countless little things. Often you don't ask yourself whether you really need them all. Those who muck out their wardrobe often come across fashion sins from last season or clothes that have long since ceased to fit. But again and again we find excuses why these things are worth keeping. The trousers, which have become too tight in the meantime, are no longer a reason to lose weight. After all, you could fit in again at some point. Corduroy trousers, which were still in vogue a few years ago, could one day be fashionable again. Year after year, more and more pieces accumulate and at some point the wardrobe is bursting at the seams. The abundance of clothes that one owns not only results in disorder, but also the frequently occurring statement that one has nothing to wear, which inevitably ends in buying new clothes.

What applies to clothing also applies to numerous other everyday things. You usually have more than two towels, although you don't really need more. The kitchen has plates and cutlery for at least 20 people and as many pots as in a large kitchen. Then there are the countless small, more or less useful kitchen helpers, from coffee machines to toasters and kettles to sandwich makers and hand blenders. We are collecting more and more things with which we want to simplify our everyday life a bit. We're saving money on a large flat screen TV. If the sound is not enough for us, we buy a sound system for it. The right Blu-ray player is needed for the latest films. In this way, a new purchase is usually followed by another and so it continues until we hardly have any space in our apartments and have to move into a larger apartment.

The business of abundance

Resourceful business people have long since taken advantage of the fact that our apartments are always full of all our possessions. Storage space is particularly valuable in large cities. Small apartments without storage rooms or attic chambers offer little space for our everyday treasures. Self-storage is the name of the trend that has come to us from the USA. Companies offer rooms in large warehouses that can be rented to store things or to outsource them. This is certainly an interesting offer for people who are going on a longer trip and do not want to sell all of their belongings. But it also tempts to outsource possessions with the necessary change in order to make space for new acquisitions. There is room for a lot of things in such warehouses: excess furniture, collections, files - all kinds of things are outsourced because your own four walls no longer offer enough space for them. So for entrepreneurs, excess is good business, because before you part with some of the things you have cherished, you often try to find ways to store them.
While the so-called “self storage” is increasingly becoming a kind of popular sport in the USA, it is only slowly gaining ground in Europe and especially in Germany. There are already around 50,000 such storage centers in the USA, while there are just under 1,500 in all of Europe. Nevertheless, the existing facilities are used intensively, not only by companies that outsource various goods or files and documents, but increasingly also by private individuals. In this way, through our constant consumption and the bond that we often build up to objects, an industry has emerged that has found a veritable gold mine in the passion of many people.

How a passion for collecting becomes a disease

Everyone has their little treasures and accumulates different things in the course of their lives. There is basically nothing wrong with that, but in some cases my passion for collecting - mostly caused by traumatic experiences - turns into an almost pathological hoarding of a wide variety of things. Messie syndrome is arguably the most extreme form of collecting passion. Experts disagree about the exact causes of compulsive collecting. It is often postulated that severe mental disorders cause the disease. Often it can be traced back to traumatic events or deep-seated fear of loss. Holding onto the many small, important and unimportant objects of everyday life gives people a bit of security and supposedly helps them to plug the holes in your soul. They make themselves dependent on their possessions. At the same time, the chaos in the apartment is a reflection of the inner chaos.

In addition, there is probably a great fear of losing control in the excessive collecting of objects. Messies don't have to live in a messy and extremely messy way. Some of those affected have meticulous order in their homes and sort all their belongings according to a strict system. Every yoghurt cup and every magazine is exactly where it is and is always ready to hand. The knowledge of having all kinds of things and having them at hand at all times gives people a sense of security. They are prepared for all eventualities and thus have full control over their lives and their surroundings.

Have something, are something - why we always want more

We buy CDs, books, DVDs, clothing, and electronics; mostly with the firm conviction that these things are absolutely necessary. The consumer arms race is getting bigger and bigger and we are collecting and collecting. We buy Christmas decoration, Easter decoration, autumn decoration, spring decoration. We buy computers, eBooks, tablets, smartphones, televisions, DVD players and stereos. We buy pressure cookers, iron pans, frying pans, grill pans, wok pans and braising pans. All of this to prepare us for any eventuality.

Basically, you buy something to fill a gap and meet a specific need. In most cases, however, we confuse real needs with wants. Let's take a look at the actual needs of people at this point. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow published the basic idea for a hierarchy of human needs as early as the 1940s. In addition to the basic needs of eating, drinking and sleeping, the most important human needs are summarized in this pyramid. Although this so-called hierarchy of needs has often been criticized because of the lack of evidence and theoretical foundations, it can still be read off important criteria that justify our lives and also our consumer behavior. Maslow divided the summarized needs into deficit needs, which have to be satisfied due to a deficiency, and the so-called growth needs, which do not result from a deficiency, but include our urge for social recognition and self-actualization. Deficit needs that strive for (professional and private) security as well as love and friendship are less of a cause of exorbitant consumption. The need for recognition and self-realization, on the other hand, often leads to heavy consumption.

We learn from an early age that material wealth is beneficial for reputation and status. Anyone who has great toys in kindergarten has many friends who want to play with the toy and with the owner. People who have cool clothes at school are popular. Anyone who drives a large car and wears expensive branded clothing in their professional life is often highly regarded. The same applies to apartments that are furnished with high-quality furniture, art objects and many small treasures and astonish visitors. We define ourselves through the things we own. The clothes underline the character, many books in the house show that the owner is well-read, souvenirs from trips to distant countries show where you have already been. In this way we build our identity around us, because what is alone in us cannot be seen from the outside. Without objects that tell a story about us, the people around us cannot see who we are and what we have already experienced. Our apartment is, so to speak, the mirror of our soul.

In addition to the desire to define ourselves and to gain respect with other people, objects are often used to remember something. Photos of friends and family are everywhere in the apartment to remind us of the old days and wonderful experiences. Souvenirs from a trip bring a piece of the carefree holiday feeling back into the gray everyday life. Or the old teddy bear, which is already missing one eye, makes us think of the carefree childhood. Thus, with the objects that we collect, we not only define what we are, but also what we were. We can often reconstruct our entire life from the objects we own. We collect mementos from past partners, the child's first shoe, tickets from particularly beautiful concerts or old school notebooks and use them as bridges to the past; as little anchors that remind us of what we have long forgotten and make us what we are. When we look at the ticket, we think we hear the music again and feel the feeling we had back then. When we leaf through our old school notebooks, we find little notes in the margin that we wrote to our best friend or the blurred print of a tear after a bad class test.

The little treasures of everyday life make up what and who we are. They hold memories and arouse feelings. And maybe we need these anchors to remind us of the past. Of course you can think of your school days without an old exercise book, but by touching the brittle paper and looking at the faded ink, the memory becomes more real and you think back wistfully. It is not for nothing that we often hang wholeheartedly on apparently worthless things and it is not for nothing that the loss of a family photo album seems much more painful than the failure of an expensive television set.

You have nothing, you are nothing? - Live minimalism

People who lead a minimalist lifestyle prove that there is another way. That doesn't mean that they are giving up essentials. They just make themselves and their identity less dependent on objects than other people do. Their possessions are reduced to a minimum and yet one has the feeling that they are particularly rich. You have different priorities in life and have separated from many things that would be considered normal and everyday. They have broken with the constraints of possessions and no longer want to own their property.

The trend of minimalism has gained a lot of popularity, especially because of the distribution opportunities offered by the Internet. One of the pioneers who made renunciation socially acceptable and thus gave great importance to the question of the necessity of possessions was the American Kelly Sutton. A few years ago, the programmer decided to get rid of most of his possessions. During a lengthy stay abroad, he had noticed that he really only needed a little of it and still wanted nothing. He started selling everything he deemed unnecessary on the Internet. Including countless books, films and, above all, tons of clothing. He shared his experiences with a large readership on his blog and thus established the “Cult of less” - a lifestyle that renounces so much and yet leaves nothing to be missed for those who live it.

Especially in the digital age, you can own a lot of things in digital form. Books, music and films in particular, as well as numerous documents and photos, are stored on hard drives or on the Internet in so-called clouds. This is also what makes a minimalist lifestyle easier, especially for internet-savvy people. In this way you do not become dependent on property and you are flexible to go where you want. They share their experiences in various blogs and exchange ideas with other people. It's not about competing with others and owning as little as possible. Rather, it is about concentrating on the essentials in life and breaking free from the compulsion to consume.

One of these people is Alexander Rubenbauer from near Nuremberg. Some time ago, the 25-year-old prospective psychology student came across the statement of a US blogger who claimed: “The less I have, the happier I am.” Fascinated by this attitude to life, he decided to turn his life around and part with all unnecessary baggage. Like many other minimalists, he describes his experiences on his blog. About three years ago he started cleaning out his life. And that didn't just include a lot of unnecessary items. “For me, minimalism means only having the things, activities and relationships in my life that are really important to me and eliminating everything else. In doing so, I try to take the “middle way”, that is, to avoid extremes. ”Alexander owns around 300 objects. He cannot determine an exact number. For him, it's not about winning a competition, but rather focusing more on the really important things. “I have less, I feel more free and mobile, more relaxed, and I am more focused. I've never consumed too much, but now I consume even more consciously, ”he says. “I used to think I needed more material success to be satisfied. That has changed. It takes surprisingly little to be satisfied, everything else is just a huge icing on the cake. Much that is really expensive is only something the ego would like to have. In more honest moments, however, you notice how pointless it was or would be to spend a lot of money chasing an illusion. The illusion that you would be a better, more valuable or happier person if you had certain items. ”Alexander doesn't think much of mementos. You can keep the important things in your memory anyway or you can revive them with conversations. Much more important to him than the little anchors in the past is the more conscious experience of the numerous valuable moments. Instead of taking countless pictures while on vacation and then meticulously sorting them into a photo album, one should rather experience the vacation intensively and soak up all the impressions.

Michael Klumb also leads a minimalist lifestyle and shares his experiences and helpful tips on his blog. About three years ago, the 31-year-old optician first came into contact with this type of lifestyle through the book “Simplifiy your Life”. He wanted to change something in his life and, above all, to simplify it, and not just by clearing out the closet. Numerous blogs by like-minded people brought him on the path he has been following since then. “In my opinion, this process goes from the outside to the inside. First you start to deal with the topic. Then the decision has to be made to really want to change something in his life, ”he says. “After that, most minimalists start mucking out, giving away and throwing away. Consumer behavior changes, one generally clings to less and experiences great freedom and flexibility as a result. You also feel contentment and happiness. ”Nothing is left of the around 2000 CDs and several hundred books that were once among his treasures. Much has been digitized and is still available without taking up unnecessary space. In addition to the personal freedom that can be gained, Michael Klumb's consumer behavior has also changed significantly: “I question many purchases more consciously and opt for quality products and things that have been produced fairly and sustainably. I can only give many people the tip, especially for impulse purchases, to write everything down on a list and only buy items after 30 days. For example, I deal intensively with a special product that I consume on a regular basis. Research, compare and then make a much more conscious purchase decision. ”In general, it is the dependence on consumer goods that many minimalists complain about.They are turning away from the belief that having possessions makes you happy and makes life better. And so Michael Klumb also says: "For me, minimalism is a way to reduce and focus, to find happiness and thereby become more independent from the outside."

This is not a call to radically clear out your apartment and throw it away, which can be seen as superfluous. It is much more an attempt to show that there are different models of life and different understandings of what is important in life. If objects can define us at all, then it is not the big car, the flat screen TV, the smartphone or the designer sofa. The little things show who we are a lot more. A black and white photo of a child, an old exercise book, the one-eyed teddy bear. Even if we don't necessarily need these things to know who we are, they still give us a sense of security and help us not to forget who we were and where we come from.

And so we come back to the initial question "How many things do people need?" What we really need fits in a big backpack and of course the things that surround us and that we call our own also harbor constraints and obligations, but they give us security and are a cherry on top that should not be underestimated.

KOMPASS city magazine | Edition 12/13 | www.deinkompass.de