Friday, February 24, 2012

Buying a Home for Your Things - Dumb!

Do you need a house for all your things?  Owning less things is a better idea.

One of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life - and one I see a lot of people making - is buying a home for their crap.  No really, people think this way - I need a house for my furniture, clothing, boxes of crap, and of course my cars.

Or they buy a vacation home with a dock, so they have a place for their boat.  A $300,000 house so they can park a $50,000 boat.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  Particularly when you calculate in the overhead and carrying costs.   Ouch!

When a developer knocked on our door and offered us $300,000 over market value to vacate in 30 days, we panicked, and said, "we need to find a house to live in!  We need a place for all our stuff!  Our furniture!  Our cars!  Our boat!  Our precious collection of Elvis memorabilia!"  OK, maybe not the last one, but the rest.

And so we bought a house - a big one - and filled it up with our crap.  The owners of the house sold it and built a larger house to put all their crap in, because they had overfilled a four-bedroom, five-bath, three-car-garage house with finished basement, with crap.

How do you do this?  By valuing stuff over ideas and experiences.  They had every piece of electronics they ever had bought - tape decks and record turntables, plus old televisions.  "Well, that's still good, let's put it in the guest room".  And furniture - their own, their new stuff, their parent's stuff - it filled up even the new house.

And clothes - she kept every dress and outfit she ever bought, even though, as a retiree, she would be wearing little else than golfing togs for the rest of her life.  And most of it didn't fit, was wildly outdated, or just worn out.  But they needed "more closet space!" to put it all in.  How did our ancestors get by with the tiny closets they had back then?  Answer: They had less crap and more fun.

I got off the bandwagon, but only after making an expensive mistake.  I realized that "things" were weighing me down, financially and psychologically.  After a while, you start to worry about "things" - where did I put that?  Will someone steal it?  Will it get broken?  Will it get damaged?  I paid good money for that, I need to preserve it!

But in most cases, the junk we buy is just that - junk.   Stuff you use and then should get rid of by selling or throwing away.  But today, we keep.  And we live in huge houses to keep it all.

I see this here on the island - where retired couples live in four bedroom houses filled to the brim with furniture, clothing and stuff.  When it comes time to downsize, they freak out.   "I can't let go of this stuff, it has sentimental value!"

By then, it is too late for them.  And perhaps by then, hoarding disorder has set in.  And I think that is the real problem - if you don't renounce "stuff" by a certain age, you will become a hoarder later on.

Eventually, you die, and your kids throw it all away or sell it at a garage sale, or worst of all, rent a U-haul and haul it off to their over-stuffed house and add it to their pile of crapola.

It is hard to get off the "things" bandwagon.  Probably the most difficult thing you can do, period.  I recall my Dad looking into a retirement condo.  It was a great idea - two bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, with a porch overlooking the Rockies.  But the idea of downsizing was problematic.  All their friends had big houses chock full of stuff!  Living in a retirement apartment would seem like "giving up" or giving in, or worst of all - being poor.

So he bought a split-level ranch home that was mostly stairs and the week after closing had heart surgery and wished he had that one-level condo with handicapped access.

The joy of LESS STUFF is multifold.  First, it frees up capital for investing and living on.  Selling off junk raises money, period.   Second, you can live in less space, which costs less.   So your money goes further and you aren't paying property taxes and utility bills (and a mortgage) on hundreds of square feet of storage space.  Third, you can now DO THINGS instead of just OWNING THINGS.  Freed of the material, you can take that trip to Europe that you always wanted to do, and see the world.  Or just goof off at the beach all day.

But alas, many folks feel they can't leave their things behind, and never take that trip.   One friend turned down a trip to Florida on the premise that he had to stay home and make sure the pipes didn't freeze.  Does he own the house, or does the house own him?

How do you know if you have too much stuff?

1.  Are there more cars than people in your house?

2.  Are there more bedrooms than people in your house?

3.  Are there more bathrooms than people in your house?

4.  Do you have boxes of things that you don't even know what is in them?

5. Do you have multiple closets of clothes?

6.  Do you keep old electronics around on the premise that "someday I might use that?"

7.  Do you have an alarm system or worry about people breaking in and stealing your stuff?

If you can answer YES to one or more of these things, then maybe the things you own are owning you.

We come into this world with nothing and leave the same way.   Hanging on to things is a futile attempt at immortality.  Use things, and then sell them or discard them.  But accumulating is never a very good plan.

And if you find yourself buying a house that is larger than you need, just to house your "stuff" then maybe you might want to think why - and where this is going.

Because in the end, possessions are just a form of slavery.

The Material is Mortal Error.

* * * 


Think of all the stuff you own in your life.  Think of the most precious thing you have - some collectible, keepsake, memorabilia, a fancy car, watch, jewelery or item of sentimental value.

Now think of what your life would be like without this item.  It is hard, but try to envision it. 

Would your life be worse off, about the same, or perhaps even a little better?

Would your life be horribly worse without this one particular "thing" in your life?

Now think about the most important person in your life and how your life would be without that person in your life.

How do the two compare?  There really should be no comparison.

Apply this to the lesser important "things" in your life, and very quickly, you realize that "giving up" on stuff isn't that hard to do.  And in fact, it is liberating.