As we minimize possessions, how do we overcome the guilt of money spent on things in the past?
As part of Uncluttered, I answer lots of questions from participants as they seek to own less. I’ve answered thousands over the years.
And by far, one of the most common questions I hear is, “What do I do about all the money that I wasted on things? How do I get rid of things that I spent so much money on?”
It is a significant roadblock for many people and I want to try to answer that question for you today.
I’d like to accomplish in three ways: First, by introducing an Accounting principle, and then by reminding each of us about two truths about life that are incredibly important.
First, the Accounting principle of Sunk Cost.
In college, at the University of Nebraska, I learned about the sunk cost trap (my major was Finance).
Sunk cost is an accounting term that has countless applications to the way we live. The principle is this:
A sunk cost refers to money that has already been spent and which cannot be recovered. It should be excluded from future business decisions because the cost will remain the same regardless of the outcome of a decision.
It looks a little something like this. Let’s say I spent $10,000 on a business machine to do a task three years ago. But now, there is a new machine to accomplish the task that only costs $5,000. It does the work better, faster, more efficiently, and higher quality. It is unwise to think exclusively, “I am not going to buy the new machine because I spent so much money on the old machine.”
The principle also applies to life outside of business. Correctly applied and considered, the sunk cost principle is incredibly freeing.
Just because we wasted a lot of time and energy and money on things in the past, doesn’t mean we need to hold onto them if they’re not contributing to us living our best life today. Don’t cling to a past mistake just because you spent a long time making it
Second, two truths about life to help us overcome guilt.
1. We cannot change the past.
We simply cannot go back and redo any events from our past. There are countless moments and decisions I wish I could undo, but the reality of life is that is not possible—ever.
When it comes to overcoming the guilt of an expensive purchase, unless the tags are still on the item, you cannot go back and unpurchase the item. It is done. It is over. It happened. And nothing is going to change that fact.
Which makes the second truth about life even more important:
2. We cannot change the past, but we can always learn from it.
When we learn life lessons from our past mistakes and determine to not make them again in the future, we begin to redeem the past. It begins to serve us and contributes to a brighter and better future.
We cannot undo the purchase decision, but the money becomes less wasted when we learn a lesson from it. If you feel guilt in removing possessions that you spent considerable money on in the past, learn from that guilt. Don’t allow it to paralyze you, but learn from it and move forward in freedom.
And when you remove those items, look for the best places for them to go. Maybe someone else can use them, maybe they can be sold or recycled, but don’t continue to carry that guilt and burden into the future.
There is not a doubt in my mind you will love owning less. You’ll find more money and more time and more energy and more focus. You will be able to live a more fulfilled life focused on things that matter most. To get there, almost all of us need to overcome the money that we wasted on things in the past.
Choose to live for the invisible and the eternal—not physical things that perish, spoil, and fade.