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The Cost of Ownership

In this year's Amazon Prime Days which have now ended, I noted two things that I thought best to share within my personal context as a tech blog at the intersection of minimalism and parenting:

  1. There were a lot of sales on technology and companies like Amazon prey on a layperson's inability to tell what is a good deal and what they really need; in fact, their business model literally depends on the latter.
  2. It is a particularly difficult proposition these days to find toys that are both minimalistic in nature and interesting to children, e.g. every programming robot in existence comes with 1000 pieces and the one that looks like a unicorn is overly simplistic and will gather dust within a month, but it is also the one my child pines for.

The minimalist sentiment I have heard a number of times is stated in one of two ways:

  • If you had to buy this sale item at full price, would you?
  • If you had to replace this item, would you?

What I find most interesting in this context is the "No" answer, as I call it. Most of the Amazon deals are good ones, but would I even give it a second thought if it was full price? If the answer is no, shouldn’t that inform my decisions about the item itself or consumerism more generally?

Now that the sale prices are gone and I purchased nothing, I have my personal answers to the above. Simplicity in this context is about not purchasing, even when it is convenient or all signs point to doing so. I often add things to my cart and wait 24 hours; if I still feel the need to purchase, I move forward, but this helps me control impulse and clear my mind. If the price or availability changes, I have either found my answer or start the process over.

When want and need don't align, the answer becomes more clear, but still takes intentionality in a world wrought with the constant pull and consistent ease of the purchase/return workflow. What is buyer's remorse if a return is so simple? "You might as well buy it, you can always return it later" is another fallacy of a worldview based on the assumption that consumerism is simple, inconsequential, and inevitable.

The word to describe just how complex the “simple” act of ownership can be is responsibility or, otherwise stated, maintenance. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain things, in a number of key ways:

  • Space for storage
  • Added effort of cleaning/clean up
  • Charging it or replacing consumable components
  • Fixing it when broken
  • Disposing of it when it is no longer necessary

Everything I bring into my house is mine in all the above senses from the time it enters to the time it inevitably leaves. As I delve deeper into the leaving of the things in my house, I realize the burden that exists when these things have no value after purchase. Throwing things away that are useful is often my downfall because I now realize just how little value things have out of context.

I can't assume someone else's context, but I also can't assume that there is someone out there who can use everything I have purchased over time. Which means I need to be OK with either outright throwing things away or holding onto things that have little to no value to me to keep it out of a landfill. The true cost of ownership is not just the up front dollar amount and that is not how humans should think about it, especially in a world that isn't made healthier by our garbage.