I’ve mentioned this blog before, having stumbled upon it by accident several years ago. While MMM has gone through some upheaval in his personal life, and while he also isn’t writing very frequent posts these days, I check in periodically to see what he’s up to. His most recent article concerns his back-and-forth inner debate about whether or not to buy a Tesla, about which I could not possibly care less, but he’s actually onto a bigger principle:
All of us carry around inside of us what he calls a “Purchase Justification Machine.”
We want something (in MMM’s case a Tesla) that is totally and completely optional, and so we come up with reasons to justify our purchase of the desired object. If you think about it for about 30 seconds you’ll realize that you have something of the sort rattling around in your own brain. If you’re self-aware enough to realize what’s going on you can then make a rational choice about whether or not the object, whatever it is, will substantially add to your happiness, a perfectly good reason for buying it, or whether it’s just a dream machine: something that you just imagine will add to your happiness and change your life for the better. I’ve said before that when I was single I bought an awful lot of clothes on credit cards because I imagined myself wearing said clothes in some nice situation. But of course you don’t go around in that dress or suit saying to yourself, ‘Oh man, it’s such a great experience wearing this!’ The newness wears off pretty quickly.
On to the actual point here (you knew there was one, didn’t you?): MMM describes the desire of a friend to remodel his kitchen even though he can’t afford it and is already in debt. Here’s how MMM describes the situation:
A friend of mine loves to cook, and has been pining for a kitchen upgrade for many years to make this activity more enjoyable. And I can’t blame him – his kitchen is indeed dated, as is the rest of the house. But he’s also in debt and not climbing out very quickly. And too busy to do the kitchen upgrade work himself, because work and kids suck up all his time. Should he allow himself to upgrade this kitchen?
It’s hard to just tell yourself “no,” and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to remodel your kitchen. But what you can always do when faced with a decision is to say, “not now.” Or, to quote our mustachioed friend again as he looks at his Tesla desire:
I divert my attention into living a good life right now, instead of doing the easy thing which is just buying myself another treat.
Will granite countertops actually make his friend a better cook? No. Will he spend more or less time in that new kitchen than he spends now? Probably less, since he’s going to go into deeper debt to pay for it and so will need to work overtime or take on a second job. There are lots of expensive fancy kitchens out there in which very little cooking is ever done.
So how does MMM suggest that his friend “divert his attention into living a good life right now”? Well, I’ll summarize here, but you should read the whole article. His suggestions basically boil down to:
- Quit wasting your time with social media and online entertainment. Don’t watch TV. Cancel your cable subscription. Close down your Facebook account. Etc.
- Start getting an hour of exercise a day.
- Start spending another hour a day cleaning and organizing every nook and cranny of the house as it is right now, including the yard. Make sure that every single aspect is optimized, so that your garage is spotless and your closets are a joy.
If you’ve done #1, the implication is, you’ll have time for #2 and #3. Yes, maybe sometime down the road you’ll do that kitchen renovation, but doing it now is going to be a huge mistake. Your life isn’t going to be any better in essence just because you now have the latest cabinets. (Many of these fancy kitchens look like they’d be a nightmare to keep clean, by the way. Cabinets with carving and glass fronts! Pots and pans hanging over the stove, collecting dust and grease! Etc.)
It all boils down to the same thing I keep saying about fad diets: Human beings want drama and newness, so we’re suckers (or, as MMM would say, “suckas”) for the latest thing. We think that the diet itself, or the kitchen, or the Tesla, will give us the life that we want. We picture ourselves in the kitchen whipping up fabulous meals, but guess what? We’re still going to have the same old stuff in those fancy cabinets that we had in the old dumpy ones. Since the man who wants the fancy kitchen likes to cook, maybe he’d be better off spending a fraction of the money that the kitchen would cost on a cooking class and a trip to an exotic spice store, both of which really would up his cooking game in a way that quartz countertops would not. (I say that as someone who obsessed over the countertops we put in our new little kitchen over here at the in-laws’. But hey! We had to buy something! Those sheets of cardboard just weren’t doing the job. And we refused to even consider replacing the countertops at our old house even though we, or at least I, didn’t like them much. It just wasn’t worth it.)
What’s tumbling around in your own Purchase Justification Machine?
Resist the Call of the “Purchase Justification Machine”