We’re still away in California, good children. I wanted to throw a quick lesson out there that’s been plaguing me for a few days. I try to not judge what people do with their money as long as they are in good financial standing. I’ve written about my in-laws before. They’re doing great in retirement and are very comfortable. They were pretty frugal and responsible with their finances on a sole provider/breadwinner’s salary. Even now, they’re retired and comfortable, but they’re still frugal when they don’t have to be.)
But if this was anyone else, I would feel very much shocked at the amount of stuff. You guys didn’t have to go through the amount of clutter My Husband and I had to go through this Christmas. It was stress-inducing that we actually had a fight about it. What to take back with us, what should be saved vs dumped etc. He had sentimental feelings towards old college papers and…well, I’m the type of person that dumps the past any chance I get.
The Boomer Clutter
A common trait that I noticed about our entire family (mine AND his) is our inability to throw away things. My parents, Hippo’s parents, all of us – we all hoard doodads since decluttering is not part of our natural vocabulary. One of our chores for the 8 day Christmas vacation (including a free room at Casa Mom & Dad, bless them) was to declutter the garage for Mom in exchange for their creature comforts.
Our job was to ransack and decide what childhood “stuff” should be kept versus trashed.
There are 30+ boxes sitting in the garage waiting for us to go through them. That’s essentially what they accumulated after 30 years of middle-class living and 4 children from birth to adulthood.
I totally see us heading down the same road too if my millennial generation and fellow personal finance bloggers weren’t so into minimalism (advance thank yous for that.)
Before entering this community (our Pre-FIRE days as newlyweds), Hippo and I had a large electronic piano keyboard, 2 deep fryers and a cotton machine for whatever reason. We used the piano for a week and one of the fryers once. The second fryer and the cotton candy machine are both still in their original packaging.
We got them on sale. Not great sales; just discounted enough for my mind to go “oh yes I should buy that, it’s on sale.”
When we went through the garage boxes, we found things like 20-year-old keys that no one knows who or what it belongs to.
We found a tonnnn of kids meal toy ranging between 1979 to 1999 because Hippo and his siblings went to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King every Sunday after church for decades. There was also an absurd amount of board games/puzzles and 100 duplicate pots and pans in the cupboard (enough to service a small army.)
Oh, not to mention the cases of Beanie Babies with original tags that were purchased on the fly. By the way, those Beanie Babies are not worth much. Who thought these stuffed toy things could be good investments? What marketing gimmick did Ty (the toy company) use and how can I get in on that scheme? My family was poor so we didn’t have a ton of stuff…I actually think they’re pretty normal by Baby Boomer/American standards.
Hippo’s family is normative and I’m the odd one out when it comes to my fear of stuff. It still made me a bit crazy, all the clutter. Layers and layers of stuff!
Everything was kept in really neat storage boxes. BUT all I saw was stale $ when I looked through the clutter that has been in the garage all these decades. They were worth something once when they purchased it decades ago.
Now I hear this a lot…“I don’t know what to do with this stuff.”
We went through about 15 boxes (more to go tomorrow) this week. I did check online for the resale value of these kinds of stuff since I don’t think any of the kids want it. I used eBay and I toggled on items actually SOLD to gauge the real demand.
Sadly….99% of the stuff isn’t worth half the shipping fees that it cost to ship – IF they even sold.
If anything IS worth past $20, shipping fees would make up 75% of that because it’s bulky so it’s not even worth the effort. I figured they would be worth something for their age and condition but unfortunately it’s…dare I say it…junk 🙁 Even the Atari game system!
Everything goes to the landfills. Goodwill won’t be able to sell them nor are they likely willing to sell them.
I know it’s normal to have clutter (especially after 4 kids!) but from now on I will be more conscious of every single purchase and what to keep vs give away/sell (before it loses all of its value).
Small Clutter Things
The $1 and $10 that slips away every trip out of the house to buy a little something adds up. The saddest part is that it’s instantly forgotten when it comes back home with them. Then it follows the trend of things: it ends up in the garage, or if unopened they end up in the attic. In my eyes, all I saw were uninvested dollar bills pouring out of the stuff that came out of those boxes.
The grown-up kids don’t want anything to do with them. They’re adults now and they don’t remember which toy belonged to who and they certainly don’t care about them now. The grown kids like spiked Kahlua pork recipes and going out for sushi; not 10-year-old fire trucks with siren and real hose action.
My working theory is the millennials love minimalism because it’s partly a reaction from their parents (Boomers) who gravitated to a big yard, bigger homes, and 3 car garages capable of storing boxes after boxes of stuff.
My in-laws are very frugal and financially capable so I’m certain this isn’t a particularly bad case of de-cluttering. I can’t help imagining what would have happened if they or anyone else with a garage and decades of stuff invested that money instead.
Imagine how much money could have been made if they invested it over the 70s, 80s, and 90s – the shining era of 20-30% portfolio returns as norm.
There are thousands of dollars in stuff purchased and quickly forgotten. It’s been stored in the dark of the garage for all these years! But now it’s dolla-dollar bills of worthless “Made in China” plastic and cheap stuff animals. They didn’t increase in resale value, barely 5% of the stuff paced with inflation. Plus, don’t forget however much it cost to store toys for 30 years when they could have converted the space into an additional bedroom, office, or bar.
4 Decluttering Lessons
1. Avoid Accumulating Stuff
It doesn’t sound like a big lesson because the frugal living mantra is naturally to void the addiction to “stuff” but I’m staring at the end result of a live 3-decade experiment!
There is so much stuff in this house and no one knows what to do with it now.
The fastest way is if all of us organized a good long afternoon to get together and go through the boxes since no one recalls who and what other people want or don’t want to keep.
Kids have flown the coop, started their own nest, you want all of us to get back into the same nest to pick the scraps?
Not going to happen. Has not happened for the 4 Christmases I’ve been here.
It’s always put off because no one wants to dig through 30 years of junk. It was this way this year, and it’s going to be this way next year if Hippo and I don’t do our part now. And right now, I’m the one dragging Hippo’s feet.
Update: We actually got into a fight over the stuff in the garage. He was overwhelmed by stuff and I wanted to junk the clutter (or according to him – being insensitive to his childhood memories). The in-laws felt bad so they stopped making us clean up.
2. Avoid Repetitions of Stuff
What I dislike the most is how they have multiple items of the same thing. It just builds and builds. There’s a strainer that can double for a fry basket yet they have two of each. There are many spatulas that can double as a meat press yet they have a cast iron meat press. You know, for that one time that you need a cast iron meat press instead of just using a spatula.
3. Declutter Often
Anything more than once every 30 years I imagine should do it. Do it before the kids move away for college, they don’t have to take it with them. But it would have saved the adults less hollering if she just had the kids make the final judgment on what to keep vs thrash, label it, before they leave the house (possibly forever).
4. Store & Shop Smarter
When we were house shopping, our agent told us our current townhouse didn’t have much storage space and Hippo agreed. I didn’t understand the big deal about storage so it didn’t make me hesitant to put in an offer. I think the lack of storage (and Airbnb) made us forcibly conscience on what should go into our house. We don’t have a 3 car garage to smush things in for 30 years.
If we ever start a family I’m going to force myself to be super mindful about every purchase. I don’t believe you need a billion toys to keep a child active and occupied. There are still 7 bikes rusting in the backyard for the past 20 years (OK that’s actually kind of cute, from small bike to big). Sadly no one can ever use them again. They could have been donated or sold when the kids outgrew them. I don’t want to hoard purchases like this. I want to spend it on experiences and make sure that our children (biological or otherwise) become worldly and balanced citizens. It’s a very big lesson that Hippo’s parents taught me. Since I have a natural tendency to not throw away things either, I have to be extra careful.
This has been an eye-opening experience, even simply to compare and contrast what is the norm of stuff back then vs culturally what is going on now with the minimalist movement. Very very interesting times.
Readers: how did your parents handle clutter? Did you get stuff out of mom’s basement or are they still there too?
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