I was just reading an article about how people preparing to retire are getting rid of all their stuff. Apparently, the stuff they had acquired was making them ill, stressed out and unhappy. They equated their freedom with trashing their stuff. More and more couples are coming to therapy saying that they hate their jobs, but cannot leave them. They feel burdened, old, and worn out. They go to work to buy more stuff and the more stuff makes them feel anxious, depressed, and unhappy. The article I was reading reported that for the first time in our history people are reporting unhappiness due to the accumulation of too much stuff rather than too little. The article humorously called this concept “Affluenza.” Affluenza makes people as sick as Influenza. It leads to stress related illnesses, emotional upset and physical deterioration. The cure lies in reassessing why you continue buying all this stuff.
Social science studies have repeatedly shown that values are linked to our personal well being and happiness. It appears that people who are driven for intrinsic goals (those that help someone, making a difference in peoples’ lives) are much happier than those driven for extrinsic goals (I will look prettier, I will be more popular or have more status, or make more money). Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois reports that in studies crossing all income groups and demographics, the finding is consistent: when people focus on extrinsic values they end up having a worse psychological satisfaction of their needs and end up less happy as a result. Kasser goes on to state that beyond perception of happiness or unhappiness there are physical effects. People more focused on extrinsic values have more headaches and stomach aches, and children raised in extrinsic-focused societies experience these things as well. The people who were focused on extrinsic values also reported more sleep problems.
Since study after study has shown that personal growth and helping others is more likely to promote happiness than money, then why are all of the advertisers still trying to make us want stuff? The newest handbag, shoes, car, laptop, iPad, or whatever stuff you purchase may make you feel happy thoughts for awhile, but soon it will add to the stress, headaches, hypertension, anxiety and depression you may later project on to your job. If you are buying the stuff to make you happy, why is the stuff making you less and less happy? If happiness is about having a sense of well being and feeling healthy, why is it that people who have the most stuff are also more addicted to alcohol, drugs, or other vices in order to escape? If you were happy, wouldn’t you want to stay in the moment?
I have a few suggestions to help you become clear about how much stuff is too much stuff, and how to begin de-cluttering your life.
The process of getting rid of stuff should happen way before retirement or your next move. It should begin at the kitchen table with your partner, a pen and paper. Ask yourself and each other why do we have all this stuff, and what are we ready to get rid of?
Has your equating stuff to happiness caught on to your kids? If so, are they constantly asking for new clothes, computer games, cell phones, and gadgets? Are they any happier than you? Talking to your kids about your values and what decisions you are making is a talk worth having.
Identify a cause. What are your intrinsic gifts? How could you help if you had more time to give because you weren’t so busy working in order to buy more stuff?
Ask yourself, what do you want to leave this world with? Are you giving yourself to work, only to acquire more stuff? Is this really what you want? If not, only you can make the changes.
What are you teaching your kids? Do they believe money buys stuff and stuff makes you happy? If so, is that what you want them to believe?
My grandmother had a wonderful motto and she died by it. She never wanted more than what would fit in a suitcase. She lived in a small apartment most of her adult life, and worked for other people as a live-in maid. She told me that having more stuff than would fit in a suitcase felt wasteful. She was one of the happiest people I ever met, and she died with her kids and family around her bed. Her estate was small; a big black suitcase, a hat in a hat box, and several black envelopes filled with cash under her mattress.
One of the biggest problems facing couples is the unevenness of chores; who does what, and how much time do men and women each contribute to daily household chores? With the majority of couples, women do the majority of chores, and guys when they are asked to help out complain that they can never do it to their girlfriend or wife’s satisfaction. A recent study revealed that the potential for a divorce could be cited by talking to the couple about who does what chore and is it equal with the amount of time spent. The study was very clear that it wasn’t only the chores and who did them, but how each spouse felt about doing them, and the extent to which one of the spouses felt they were not shared equally.
The division of labor or who does what chores depends on many factors. I can understand one partner doing more chores if there are small children and one of the parents stays home with the child. The stay-at-home parent may be more responsible for more chores during the week. However, this doesn’t explain why they continue to be totally responsible on the weekends. When is their day off from chores? Add to that, the statistic that women who work full-time outside the home are still doing 87% of the household chores while their male partner is doing 13%. When asked “why,” the couples themselves didn’t have an answer. I don’t understand how the man or woman is okay with this division of labor. It seems very likely that one of them will eventually become upset and retaliate. This is what usually happens, and it comes across in all sorts of areas while working with couples. It may show up in their sex life, how they manage money, and how they talk to their husbands. They are angry about the chores, but they may act the anger out by over-spending, withdrawing from sex, or engaging in the silent treatment. They feel that their complaining and nagging falls on deaf or defensive ears.
Perhaps the best time to talk about this is way before the couple end up married or living together. With cohabitation these styles of who does what are developed very early in the relationship. Whoever feels the most vulnerable in the relationship usually ends up doing more. The majority of the time this is the woman. In fact, even in cases where the woman is living with the guy, working full-time while he stays home and/or looks for a job, she is coming home to a messy house that needs picking up, straightening, and the dishes washed. Somehow this is still considered “her work.”
If you find yourself fighting about chores or you feel guilty for not doing your fair share, I do have suggestions that have been recommended by couples I work with, as well as programs such as smart relationships which focus on the chore list during premarital counseling programs.
There is a computer game titled, “Chore Wars.” It promotes doing chores by awarding points to the person who cleans the toilet, wipes down the tub, and vacuums. Couples get a sense of “playing with chores.” This makes it fun, and the person who wins can cash in on rewards set up prior to the game. I can see this being fun, but it seems like a lot of work to keep points, and I am not wild about the competitiveness.
Write all of the chores down on a whiteboard in the kitchen. Each of you checks off what you will do. This is done Sunday evening before the week starts. Next to each chore is a value assigned in dollars. If you don’t do it by a set time, you pay whoever does it. I have done this in my home, and it worked great. If you travel, this will not work. You will lose a lot of money.
Hire a housekeeper. No one really loves to clean all the time, and we all love coming home to a clean house. It’s expensive, but so is divorce.
Instead of naming chores, name hours. Basically break it down to fifteen hours a week, or whatever time allotment it will take for you during a week’s time to do all of the chores. Assign hours instead of jobs. The jobs are already listed on the white board, so everyone knows what must be done. This one must be clarified because some people work fast and others move slowly. If you say 5 hours per week and your spouse doesn’t know how fast you move and what you are able to complete within those hours, you will need to be clear about that.
Specific cleaning days, mornings or evenings can be very helpful. For example, Saturday morning after you enjoy breakfast you can clean and then have something fun planned. Both of you cleaning together will be more motivating, you can listen to great music, and it can be enjoyable and even fun. This one works great for families, and counts as a family day. Families that work together are engaged and understand the importance of working toward a shared goal.
It doesn’t really matter in a marriage who does what, but how one feels about what they do is everything. When I talk to couples about getting married this is one area most of them haven’t discussed or thought about. When it is first mentioned the guy looks at me and says, “We are going to share EVERYTHING.” I want to believe him, I really do, but the statistics will not support him. If you want a happy contented relationship, talk about who does what prior to someone getting angry. If you aren’t doing your fair share, step up to the plate. The guys who pitch in the most, and do their fair share, have more time to enjoy intimacy. Their wife is usually happier and more receptive as well.