Two years ago exactly we were in the process of repatriating (moving “home” to the U.S. after 7 years in China). Our lives became consumed with the quest to reduce all of our belongings into 8 suit cases. We failed but just barely.
Part of my transition back to the States was discovering something that I really hated about myself. I have never been a stuff guy. I have plenty of issues but materialism has just never been one of them. All of the sudden, though, I was feeling overwhelmingly greedy and sorry for myself. Walking through the homes of our old friends I could feel my internal organs ranting.
“They have furniture!” my gut would say “IN TWO DIFFERENT ROOMS!!”
To which my heart would respond, “and look! Cutco knives! The whole set! We don’t even have spoons!”
My lungs would gasp and mock, “oooooh . . . an air purifier . . . must be nice.”
It was the most pathetic midlife crisis I have ever heard of. I couldn’t even fathom daydreaming of a red convertible. I just wanted a bicycle . . . and maybe a TV.
Our friends, whom we were once on a level with stuffwise, had continued to move forward on the timeline of accumulation, uninterrupted. We, on the other hand, had downsized the entirety of our possessions to what would fit on the plane . . . twice.
There was considerable jealousy and subsequent guilt.
That was two years and several dozen yard sales ago. Now my organs are freaking out once again because . . . frankly . . . we have too much stuff.
And we’re leaving again.
This is what I (along with my organs) am learning about transition and stuff:
We spent two summers restocking our lives with other people’s stuff. Then we tried to sell it all to different people in one day. While I did make a hefty 200% profit ($2.25) on one of our lamps I spent way more than that on donuts for our employees (pictured here). On everything else we either broke even or sold at a loss and at the end of the day we still had 85% of the stuff we had at the beginning of the day.
As the most ironic financial consultant in the world I feel you should know that if you’re looking for a reliable investment strategy to provide peace of mind and security in your retirement . . . buying new stuff and selling it all every two years is not it.
That will be $200. We accept housewares and kitchen utensils.
2. Stuff generally demands more emotion than it is worth
Playing lifeboat with all of your possessions (especially when there is more than one of you) can be painful. Deciding which things make the suitcase and which things don’t is an organ wrenching exercise. Dollar values. Sentimental values. Can I get this there? Will I use this? Will I wear this? Will this fit? If I keep this what do I need to leave behind?
Everything is connected to story or a memory and there is only so much space to go around. There is much growling and showing of teeth.
Now plug that into a yard sale and watch the tension consume you. “NO – I will not take 50 cents for my drill bits! I love those drill bits!! Now GET OFF of my property!”
It’s a sensitive time.
The sweetest moment of our yard sale came as we were cleaning up. My wife and I both shared a sense of sarcastic irritation — “Great. Now what?”
Another yard sale? Please no.
Sell it online? 12 emails to set up a time for someone to come give us two dollars for our spatulas? . . . uh . . . no thank you.
Give it all away? Argh. We can’t keep doing this.
Frustration mounted and we were both at a loss. Finally I made a suggestion. Let’s wrap our heads around giving $100 worth of stuff to the Thrift Store. That won’t kill us and we could thin out this pile of mess.
Moments later we realized that there were very few things that didn’t fit into our $100 category. We took it all to the garage and put it in two piles . . .
- Thrift Store stuff (most everything)
- Stuff worth selling online
We felt much better.
4. It’s ok to NOT let go of stuff
We still have a looming layer of things that didn’t go in the yard sale. Bigger items that we are still using, have invested more in and would definitely feel the pain of zero cost recovery. I am a terrible (albeit self-aware) businessman. I love to make a profit but I would prefer for you to just have it.
“Yeah we’d love to get $10,000 but . . . aw heck, just take it.”
I’ve had to wrestle with my own lack of materialism. The whole notion sounds ridiculous to the cut throat entrepreneur but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling (misplaced) guilt for putting price tags on stuff that I could give away.
Recovering what we have paid does not (necessarily) equal greed.
5. Stuff is not people
When I think about how I want to spend these last few weeks, running a flea market doesn’t even make the top ten.
People. That’s how I want to spend my time.
I want to make new memories with people that I’m going to miss. I want to take pictures with people I love at places I love. I want to sit around a fire and stay up late. I want to get up early for coffee and donuts. I want to have cookouts and eat stupid amounts of meat. I want awkward eye contact and healthy goodbyes. I want to go kayaking with my best bud. I want to eat family dinner on paper plates while sitting on a blanket in the middle of an empty living room floor and watching a movie on the iPad because . . . once again . . . we don’t own a TV.
I love my stuff . . . but I love my people more.
So these are my guidelines:
- I will get stuff out of my way so I can spend time with people.
- I won’t stress about losing money on my stuff.
- I won’t stress about making money on my stuff.
- When I can I will bless people with my stuff.
- When stuff creates an awkward situation I will call it awkward and move on.
- If my family owns stuff that gives them security or builds their confidence then I absolutely want them to keep it.
- I will not lose time with people for the sake of stuff.
That’s my plan . . . I’ll let you know how it goes.
For those of you whom transition is just a part of life — What’s your story? What’s your secret when it comes time to buy, sell, give, keep, pack, repack and unpack stuff?