Friday, November 20, 2015

The Desire to Acquire

The desire to acquire starts when we’re young. We’re setting up our first apartment, or our first house. We want to put our stamp on it and make it feel like home, so we shop for just the right pieces and decorative items. It doesn’t matter how much or little money we have; whether we’re going wild at a pricey shop or at a thrift store, we regularly buy lots of goodies for our new digs to make it feel like home.

Over the years, we tweak and sometimes redo our environment, which means acquiring more things. Add to this our continual need for clothes, linens, kitchenware and entertainment options, and we’re amassing quite a lot of things.

Should we decide to have children, we’ll find that our desire to acquire increases exponentially, because there are just so many cute little toys, duds and pieces of furniture crying out for a place in our home. And of course, as our kids grow up, their needs change, and we bring into our home anything else they (or we) think they need.

By the time we reach middle age, most of us are afloat in stuff, thanks to that desire to acquire. I said “most of us” because some people are very good at keeping a minimum of stuff in their homes. But they are few and far between. Meanwhile, the rest of us have overflowing basements, attics, garages, and sometimes even rented storage units.

But there is good news. As we age, the desire to acquire begins to subside. It takes a lot more to impress us, and there’s not much out there that we really want anymore. We find that a small quantity of chosen beloved items can make us quite comfortable, especially after we’ve jettisoned the bulk of the belongings that we acquired over the years.

So if you’re awash in stuff, so much that it’s keeping you tied to a house you no longer need, take heart. Once you decide to free yourself of the burden of stuff, you may find that the desire to acquire is just a little impulse you feel occasionally. In its place roars the desire for freedom from clutter, which is all the motivation you need to lift the burden of stuff from your shoulders.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Is Downsizing the American Dream a Bad Thing?

A recent article posted at laments the findings of interviews and surveys that show that an increasing number of Americans, particularly young Americans, are more concerned with hanging on to what they have than moving up in the world, and are also more interested in becoming debt-free.

Clearly this is a reflection of the stagnating economy that we’ve been dealing with for many years now. Young people in particular are overloaded with debt, especially student loan debt, which keeps them tethered to whatever job they might have and limits their ability to buy a car or house.

One thing missing from the article, however, is that many of these young people saw their parents overloaded with stuff, and the debt that comes from buying more stuff than you can afford. They grew up watching their parents buy houses with three-car garages when they only had two cars, just so there was more room to store their stuff. They watched them clean around all their stuff and lose spare rooms to all their stuff. And of course in extreme cases they saw them hoarding stuff.

The real theme I see in this article is that people want freedom. They want to be free of debt, and they don’t want to become loaded down with stuff they have to pay for, for years to come.

They also want affordable housing, but not necessarily impressive housing. Note the survey reference to owning a nice home. In recent years, “nice” meant “bigger and more impressive than your friends’ homes.” Given the survey and interview responses, perhaps “nice” can go back to meaning “affordable and comfortable.”

The sad tone of the article could use a little optimism. The fact is that downsizing your lifestyle can be freeing. Moving to a smaller place means you spend less time caring for your home and more time doing things you’d rather be doing. Moving to a more affordable place means improving your financial bottom line, and maybe even helping you become debt-free.

Yes, it can be painful to go through a downsizing of the American Dream. It sure hurt when my family was forced to go through it. But it only hurts for a little while because the freedom you gain feels so good. Eight years on from our involuntary downsizing, we are thriving, enjoying debt-free life in a small, nice home.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Giving Up Your Furniture When You Downsize

What do you do with your furniture when you downsize your life?

Most likely you’re moving to smaller quarters and you just can’t fit all of your furniture into it. So you’ll have to make some decisions.

We moved from a 5-bedroom two-story house to a 3-bedroom ranch when we downsized. As a result, we gave up a lot of furniture, something you may also have to do.

The downside of this is that you won’t get much for your furniture, even if it’s very high quality, solid wood, leather, etc. Most of today’s young people would rather spend $600 on an iPhone than on a solid oak end table, so the demand for high-quality furniture is not what it once was. But it’s not dead, either, so you should be able to sell your unneeded furniture, though you probably won’t get what you think it’s worth.

We were in the middle of moving, so we wanted to get rid of things quickly. We put a sofa sleeper on Craig’s List for a few hundred dollars, and it sold fast. We put a loveseat that had seen better days on the curb and a neighbor snatched it up within a few hours. We also had a sale at our storage unit where we sold our kitchen table and chairs, a few dressers and some other pieces of furniture. 

We didn’t make a fortune on our old furniture, but we got it out of our way quickly, which was our primary goal.

The upside to today’s listless furniture market is that you can find some really nice pieces for reasonable prices that will be better suited to your new (smaller) home. After we downsized, we did buy a few new pieces, because we needed smaller-scale furniture.

Our best purchase was a leather loveseat, built like a tank and in pretty good shape, bought from someone who was also downsizing and didn’t want to take it on their cross-country move. It cost us a whopping $200 and fits perfectly in our modestly sized living room, where a sofa would be too large.

The person we bought it from moved to the other side of the country after selling all her furniture, then outfitted her new smaller home with quality wood and leather pieces as well as appliances that she found on Craig’s List. She said it was well worth the money she paid to rent a small truck to carry the larger pieces to her new home.

Of course there’s always IKEA, Big Lots and Target if you prefer cheap, trendy furniture. But if you like quality pieces, a little legwork can get you well-made furniture at a very reasonable cost in just the right scale for your new home.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"I Was Gonna"

Were there ever three other words that got more people into clutter trouble?

I was gonna learn to paint so I collected all these paintbrushes, paints, books about painting, and canvases I bought on sale that are sitting, covered with dust, in my basement.”

I was gonna start a jewelry making business, so I started collecting tools, stones, books about making jewelry, magazines about making jewelry, and display cases I was going to use at craft sales, all of which are now parked high up in the top of my garage rafters.”

I was gonna start an in-home daycare, so I bought up toys on sale, including big climbing toys that fill a corner of my backyard to this day, but I never did get that business off the ground.”

Sound familiar?

Here's one of my own (many) “I Was Gonna” stories. Years ago, I read a book review in a magazine like Glamour or Mademoiselle (remember that magazine?) for a book about making your own wedding gown. So I special-ordered it.

As it turned out, not long after I got engaged I found my dream gown on a mannequin in a bridal store and it was only $50, so I snapped it up and thus didn’t need the book after all. But I kept it just in case.

A few years later my sister got engaged and I thought I’d make her a wedding gown, but I became so busy with my new baby that I quickly realized that I didn’t have time to take on such a project. But I kept the book so I could make my baby girl’s wedding gown someday.

And I kept that book for 30 years. Finally, during our big purge several years ago, I admitted defeat and donated it to the local Goodwill.

Since then, two daughters have gotten married. One eloped and the other wanted a specific gown that she saw in a bridal shop. So I never would have used the book anyways!

How many things do you have that are “I Was Gonna” items? Things you were gonna do but never did. Have you gotten to the point that you can admit that you’re never gonna do them? That you had good intentions but life got in the way?

It’s OK to admit that, by the way. It happens to everyone. The important thing is what needs to happen after you admit that you’re never gonna use that stuff: 

You let it go.

That’s right, just move it along. Donate it, give it to someone who wants it, or pitch it (especially in the case of very old, dried-up tubes of artists’ paint.)

Let yourself be who you are today, not who you were back in the day or who you intended to become. The space you reclaim will be your reward.

Friday, June 19, 2015

“I Hope My Kids Don’t Do This to Me!”

The estate sale I went to last week was a packed one; it was like a museum of my childhood, complete with ash trays with bean-bag bases, thermal coffee mugs with woven-straw sides, and a large wood stereo system on legs just like you would have found in most of the houses in the neighborhoods of my childhood, back in the 1960s.

But what was most memorable about this sale was that on two separate occasions I heard women say, “I hope my kids don’t do this to me!” as they looked at the displays of two elderly folks’ personal possessions.

My goodness, do they think their kids will keep their houses (and contents) intact after they go to a nursing home, or after they die? Something will have to be done with their things, and it’s extremely likely that their kids will do this to them; what other choice will they have? Do they expect them to keep all of it? We’re talking about a houseful of stuff: tables covered in bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, plates, glasses, linens, tools, you name it.

I wanted to tell these women that there is only one way to be sure your kids don’t do this to you, and that’s to go through it yourself while you’re still alive and kicking. Make the tough decisions now so your kids will never have to put all of your things on display for strangers to pick through someday.

As the late Percy Ross used to say, “He who gives while he lives knows where it goes.” Keep only your most favorite and necessary possessions, give the next best items to people you love, and sell or donate the rest. You’ll relieve your kids of a huge burden someday, and you’ll never have to spin in your grave because your home is the site of an estate sale.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Six Reasons Why a Family Might Want a Tiny House

Many of the commenters on this article are questioning why a family would want to live in a tiny house. I can think of several reasons why; they all hinge on the fact that doing so would not be on a whim, but because it makes the most financial sense for a family that’s trying to stay afloat financially in an environment where many jobs are disappearing:

  • Children need stability. If you have to keep moving to find work, it will be stressful on your children. But if you can take your house with you, as you can with a tiny house, they’ll always be able to sleep in their own beds at night.
  • Living in a tiny house may be too much togetherness for some, but it beats having one parent with a job living in one state while the rest of the family lives in another. This is an increasingly common scenario and means kids only see one parent on the weekends. But a tiny house can be moved near the parent’s job so that the kids see both parents on a daily basis.
  • Financially strapped families looking to lower their expenses dramatically (to get in balance with lower incomes) find that their expenses are slashed by moving into a tiny house. No more five-figure property taxes, no more high utility bills, no more expensive home maintenance; it makes a huge difference on your bottom line.
  • A tiny house can be parked on land owned by relatives or friends; if the family pays a little rent for use of the land, they’ll provide extra income for the landowner. If the family can’t pay rent due to job loss, the landowner can help out the family by letting them live on his/her property until they find work again.
  • As rent prices go up (an ongoing trend), a family with a declining income must struggle to keep a roof over their heads. But the family that buys a tiny home will never have that problem.
  • The young couple that wants to start a family but can’t afford a mortgage will find that investing $30,000 in a tiny house (less if they do the work themselves) allows them to get started on raising a family when they want to, instead of waiting who-knows-how-long until they can afford a house.

Some commenters ask why the family doesn’t just buy a used R.V. Yes, used R.V.s can be cheaper, but a well-built tiny house will last far longer than an old R.V. that likely has (or will soon develop) a leaky roof, mildew, or cracked water or waste tanks.

Many of the commenters seem to think that moving to a tiny house is something a family would do for the novelty. But a tiny house is a great alternative for anyone who is struggling with unemployment, underemployment or a dying business. It can dramatically reduce shelter expenses until the breadwinner(s) can get back on their feet again. And it sure beats maxing out your credit cards so the whole family can eat on a regular basis!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I Buy at Estate Sales

As I said last time, if I buy something at an estate sale, I have to get rid of something else when I get home. This “one-in, one-out” policy is the key to staying on top of clutter once you’ve gone through everything and kept only what you really love or need.

So what kind of things do I buy at estate sales?

First off, I buy linens and towels. Not just any linens and towels, however. What I like are new or almost new items. Many of today’s seniors used to set things aside “for company.” So while their everyday towels and sheets may look like they’ve had many years of use, their “for company” items are like new, and often are new, sometimes with price tags still attached.

Just this weekend at a nearby estate sale, I found a lovely dishtowel with a design that screamed “1960s,” hot pink with roses on it. It was like new. Its quality was so far beyond the dish towels sold in stores today that I couldn’t leave it there, so I bought it for a dollar. Then I pitched an old and faded dish towel when I got home so that there would be room in the drawer for my new find.

The quality of today’s new linens and towels are just not up to the standards of the mid-20th century. Even luxurious plush towels quickly degrade within a year or two of washing and drying. But the old goods just last and last.

Another reason I buy things at estate sales is that I can find things there that I can’t find in the stores anymore. A while back I bought a very sturdy eggbeater, much like this one. It’s perfect when I need to beat something quickly and don’t want to take the time to dig out my hand mixer. Good luck trying to find one at your local Target!

Finally, the prices at an estate sale can’t be beat. I often find hardcover books for a quarter. I read them, then donate them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. If you need a plate to put a cake on for your family reunion or church picnic, a 50-cent china plate from an estate sale makes the perfect display, and you won’t be concerned if the plate is accidentally broken, or if someone takes it home by mistake, after the event.
I’ve always felt that going to an estate sale is like going on a treasure hunt: you never know what kind of treasure you’ll see. You just have to have some rules about what you can take home, and follow those rules!