Stuff and the law of proportionate hassle

Photograph 054 by Ashley Schweitzer found on


Derek writes:

Occasionally, at the most mundane moments in my daily life, a flash of what seems like revelation flits across my semi-alert mind. Recently this happened in the shower.

I began wondering why my life was so much more manic than it seemed to be for my parents when I was young. There were 5 of us children and 2 parents trying to get by on a farm labourers wages and yet life seemed much less crazy.

As I looked round the bathroom I could see all kinds of bath-toys and a myriad of soaps, bottles and creams. There was a shower, 2 sinks and a washing machine and dryer. Only the sink (plus bath) and family shared soap, toothbrushes & shampoo were present in my childhood home and I recall a tin bath for the early years in front of an open fire for the weekly scrub and brush all over.

It suddenly dawned on me how the degree of hassle in one’s everyday life increases in proportion to the amount of “stuff” you manage to accumulate even if the stuff is there to increase efficiency and save time. This applies to any physical object you can acquire. So clothes, cosmetics, toys, white goods, magazines, computers, garden plants, gadgets etc all follow this law of proportionate hassle.

This also applies to something that nearly all of us seem to feel we need- more space. Extra rooms and larger gardens all follow the law of proportionate hassle, not least by encouraging us to buy more stuff to fill the space.

Every physical object brings with it most if not all of the following time-sucking and hassle-feeding activities:

  1. Financing. The need to earn the money to purchase/rent/mortgage it. So we work longer hours to fund that large garden or the oh-so-necessary-in-this-day-and-age wide-screen TV and wonder why we never have time to sit down and enjoy them…
  1. Purchasing. Before we buy things we have to trawl around shops, test drive the alternatives, search online comparison web-sites or go nearly crazy in Boots trying to decide which of 100 tooth-pastes will give me perfect teeth.
  1. Cleaning. We will need space to put it and will need to keep it clean. Build more cupboards, buy more furniture or even build an extension… Hire a cleaner or lose a few more hours a week cleaning your-self.
  1. Maintaining. We need to maintain it, insure it and get it mended if it breaks down (or buy a new one which is what usually happens).
  1. Disposing. After its finished its useful life we have to find a way of disposing of it. Before I acquired an environmental conscience this wasn’t a problem but now I can’t just chuck stuff into landfill.
  1. And on and on, ad nauseum… Once we’re used to having that something we can’t imagine doing without it. So once it reaches the end of its useful life we have to go through the whole process of funding, researching, shopping, storing, cleaning, mending, disposing all over again.

The application of this law provides an intriguing take on Jesus challenge to those who are anxious or stressed out about their lives in Luke 12 v 33- “Sell you possessions and give to the poor”. Maybe we should take it more literally than we do. We’d certainly have an awful lot more time to do the stuff that really makes us happy AND we’d have treasure in heaven!