I administer several deceased estates (the process for which is to locate and prove the will (if applicable), gather in and dispose of the assets, distribute the balance).
As most deceased people tend to be in the 70+ age bracket, it is very unlikely that you can even comprehend the volume of "stuff" involved in that undertaking.
Typically, 1% - 5% of the stuff has any commercial value. There might be jewellery, an antique or two. I can usually get $100 for a working fridge. Unfortunately we live in a disposable culture - we are geared to buy new rather than re-use old.
Some small proportion of the rest of the stuff can be donated (ie. charities will accept it). The rest fills up 2-5 rubbish skips (6 cubic metres each) and subsequently landfill.
Look around your house. Experience indicates that on your death I'll recover approximately $900 from selling your stuff.
In order to empty a deceased apartment, they publicly sell a limited number of tickets (~20-30EUR iirc) for a cleaning/looting event.
At the event, they let in a certain number of people at the same time, so it doesn't feel too crowded.
Once inside, everyone is free to take whatever they want and can. This is fairly popular with students who just moved into their new flat and need stuff like kitchen supplies, lamps, frames etc.
It's really interesting. There is so much stuff going around that a student shared house doesn't have to really buy any furniture at all.
I think a lot of that has to do with the markets for new & used goods. There are many things I would be perfectly fine buying used, but have no hope of locating for sale in any reasonable span of time.
A sobering thought. I'm a bit late for my spring-cleaning, now is as a good a time as any.
Why can't people just enjoy the fact that they're doing better than 90% of the planet, and not always be trying to find something to have an emotional crisis over? As someone who's been unemployed and weeks from insolvency, I'm happy for the job and stuff I have, and appreciate it, because it could be taken away at any moment.
People lack, for want of a better word, meaning in life. They're looking for it in various places, whether that be via the frisson from buying that glass hummingbird at Gump's or getting a new job selling advertising space on the web.
That this is a 'first world' problem is a sign of affluence. You're bouncing against the ceiling of Maslow's 'esteem' and failing to break into 'self-actualization'.
When you look at these people wondering at the angst they feel because they can't believe they made poor choices in buying not just twice the amount of stuff they need, but three, four, or ten times as much, it's because they live in a society that has (more or less) solved hunger, personal safety, social interaction, etc.
There's this middle ground where they can see that they're unhappy. They can't see what would make them happy, only things that would make them unhappy. They look at people who don't have the current source of unhappiness and they see that those people do not seem less happy for their lack of possessions. "Oh, it must be my attachment to tchotchkes that causes my unhappiness. If I get rid of everything, I will be happy."
In many cases, this "meaning" was provided by religion or by an extended family. Some "higher purpose", whether it was preparing the next generation for the future, or their souls for a post-physical existence. In many cases, it's a "legacy" that is a third way to immortality.
People have to reach a point of deciding if "happiness" is the optimization they need or want. A friend uses the phase "Budweiser and NASCAR" for the condescending view of the basest American pursuit of short-term happiness or amusement. This is just another form of that, just of a different social class.
Looking at the 99% or the developing (or failed) countries is still an externality. It can help frame the scope of your unhappiness, but it is irrelevant how happy you are related to a child soldier in Somalia. You can be grateful for your fortune and privilege, and that can be a good thing, but you're not interchangeable.
Unfortunately, there's no royal road to enlightenment. It is, and should be, hard work. Knowing yourself and discerning what is truly important takes a lot of honesty and reflection. You'll have to redefine superficial and deep, as well as a lot of other labels. You'll have to figure out your worldview, your true values and principles, and how far you are from becoming the person you want or need to be.
So people aren't allowed to think critically of their lives if they pass a certain income threshold? Who gets to make that decision? While I agree that we should be happy if our only problems are "first-world", we can still strive to improve ourselves. This article in particular made me realize maybe I should turn my AC off more often. I (or a charity) can do a lot with an extra $50 a month.
Despite the ordinary prejudice against the wealthy that has developed over the past few years it is still a universal truth that life is a difficult thing, and figuring out how to lead a rewarding and fulfilling life even more so.
And on this subject - it's worth noting that one of the most popular books on how to be rich of recent times, "Four Hour Work Week", devotes a substantial section at the back of the book to a discussion of how to cope once you are rich - talking about depression, search for meaning, and similar things.
That's pretty good evidence that being rich, in fact, does not automagically cure all problems, and that there's not a one-sentence answer to those problems remaining.
If you feel like not owning stuff, stop buying it right now or throw it away. Simple.
So? Do you really think that simply screaming "first world problem" at somebody makes their problems any less important to them? At the end of the day, we are all living our own lives, and our own problems are pretty damn important in relative terms. Should we criticize somebody for wanting to maximize their happiness during their short-time in this world?
I can't understand this mindset that having money to buy crap is "doing better" and that people should be "thankful" for it.
That implies that people with money -- regardless of how they chose to spend it -- are doing better than people without money.
Unfortunately, I could not find the original study, however that link seems to summarize it pretty reasonably.
While most people may choose the money, that choice isn't necessarily better, and hence doesn't mean the people with more money are necessarily 'happier'.
The point is that "doing better" comes at a cost, and unless you live in a society that taught you to value that above other things, it's pretty hard to understand.
We actively re-adjust our perspective of the world to balance ourselves. If you grew up under impoverished conditions, that would be your default line, and if you then became 'rich' afterwards, you would probably be happy for an amount of time proportional to the amount of time you spent miserable. But if growing up under 'well-off' conditions, that will be your default line, and objectively speaking, you'd need a lot more to be happy/thankful than the person who started off in a lower position than you, just because you adapted to your living conditions that well. That being said, tradition/values/morals/etc are all a part of our environments just as much as our pay checks.
This strong ability to adapt to our environments is what helped us survive so well; unfortunately, it's also the same trait that makes us treat bills like they were saber-tooth tigers.
EDIT: To clarify, I dislike 'first-world problem' rants as much as anybody else, but the problem isn't the people writing them. The problem is right there in the name of it: the "first-world".
I echo your feelings. I was homeless (living in an abandoned boarded up storefront) for two years after the downturn. I think back to then whenever I get wacky irrational feelings of material inadequacy.
Georgia Thomas: Ally, what makes your problems so much bigger than everybody else's?
Ally McBeal: They're mine.
Everybody thinks this way - a little thing that happens to me is a big deal ... because it's mine.
Read up on the hedonic treadmill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill): the tendency for humans to return to a level of happiness no matter what their circumstances.
Optimistically, maybe this means that our well-being and contentedness is a lot less dependent on external circumstances than we tend to think. Maybe practicing gratitude as a means to lead a more fulfilling life, and less on chasing external carrots, is the way to go.
Incidentally, saying you're happy for what you have because it could be taken away at any time sounds like Stockholm syndrome.
We have become great at having more than enough food and shelter, ie. surviving. Great. But have we learned to live a fulfilling life? That is shrouded in mystery to many people, still. Some people want to live, not merely survive (even comfortably so).
I find I have a hard time throwing stuff away that I know somebody would use. (example a complete orignal Xbox with about a dozen games, two controllers, remote etc) Freecycle used to be good for this, Craigslist still is. Weird though when people get into fights over something you're tossing.
..'anything that Hobbits had no immiate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.'
So a lot of crap got ditched (after paying to move it clear across the country facepalm). We now live by the equal-volume rule: For anything that comes into the house, something of equal or greater volume must leave.
All I can say is that I'm very happy that media no longer takes space to store. My father has acres of shelf space dedicated to books, CDs, records and even cassette tapes.
I will never buy a physical book again, and I really need to get around to giving away all the books I have now. I've never owned a physical CD or a DVD. I wont be plagued by photo albums.
And then there is paper. If I never receive another letter in my life it will be too soon.
What's on your digital storage and how tidy, and necessary is it all?
It required two garage sales and countless trips to goodwill. It was sickening at times, how little you could sell your things for. We got back a thousand maybe 1.5k on our goods, the rest was a write off. Even still we had about 8 boxes of stuff when we moved out.
We came back from traveling sooner than expected and had to re-buy a lot of things, but we've been cautious not to get too many 'useless' things. That isn't to say there is nothing to adorn our apartment, just... much less.
In general I'm happier this way, we've got pictures we took on the walls, a few things we picked up traveling, kitchen stuff, and furniture. I hope never again to get to the point where we were before.
Worst part of selling your stuff: getting rid of our books.
The actual mechanics is easy, OXFAM. Its the choosing I find hard. I cleared a couple of single shelves (out of 34!) and ended up re-reading about 5 books.
I'm also given a regular reminder by my parents who have a nice plot of land in the suburbs, a pool, hot tub, and whatnot, and all the time that's spent keeping up their impeccable lawn, keeping their pool and hot tub clean, frankly, I'd rather just pay my $14/mo for a gym membership to have that pool and hot tub when I want without having to dick around with maintenance.
That said, I still have a stack of old decommissioned servers that I just can't bring myself to throw away despite the fact that a cluster of a few Raspberry Pis will be just as powerful for significantly less power. I need to just bite the bullet and scrap them.
Though I probably wouldn't go quite that far.
The majority of my 'stuff' by volume, and probably by weight, is books. Even with the advent of ereaders, I still prefer having the thing in my hand. They're interesting things but I find it a lot harder to just flick through reference manuals and the like picking out interesting things in that format.
Next up's probably clothes - it just takes a lot of space to hang stuff properly; if you fold a nice dress into a draw, it can easily get ruined.
"...once you've accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn't retire to the town they preferred because they couldn't afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn't theirs; it's their stuff's."
(I recently translated the essay into dutch; it's at http://www.michielovertoom.com/articles/paul-graham-spullen/)
A good chunk of the space is used up by a sideboard and a display cabinet full of fancy china which is used once a year at most.
I asked them why they didn't just buy a smaller table but they wouldn't answer the question. I have a hunch their relationship has failed and has been for some time and they are using the extension as a distraction.
Since I moved house earlier in the year I've had 5 boxes of "stuff" sitting under my desk. I make bravado about selling it but I haven't had the balls to yet. What if some day I need all those CDs of mediocre 90s indie? Instead I read endless blog posts by preachers of minimalism and take comfort in my good intentions to do something about my own shit, some day.
One thing I do really miss is my piano.
Not owning too much stuff feels really great. I get this strange anxiety whenever I have too many possessions.
Moving is a pain in the ass if you have too many things and I don't like staying in one place for too long.
At the end of the day, it saves money and you can spend that on traveling, good food and other entertainments.
I'll never understand why more people don't live like this.
Most people wouldn't have to work so much if they didn't waste all their money buying useless stuff. Hell, they might even save enough to retire early.
Some of my buddies in college had a whole kitchen of utensils, giant tv, desk, couches, humongous bed, piles of clothes, etc.
When it came time to move out, it took me an hour to pack up. It took them days.
One occasion, I helped a friend move out after his lease ended and he was taking a vacation in Taiwan.
He took me to his storage unit and I was in awe at the sight, piles of plates and cups (I had no idea why he needed all these plates), brooms, fans, old tv, etc.
I think it costed him more money to store this stuff than the values of the stuff itself. In the end, he ended up never coming back to the US.
I've watched them for the last decade clinging onto these things and I think it's kind of pitiful that possessions hold so much value and are so important.
They have sacrificed their health and remaining life to have a large house to hold it all rather than take a bungalow which they can actually get around and live in.
There is no conclusion here apart from: please don't end up like this - it's heartbreaking to watch people enslaved by it.
I myself have a precise "100 things for me and 100 things shared with the family" policy. I will never compromise on that.
Having had similar experiences recently, that may not just be the things. It may be the memories of children, life &c, coupled with a reluctance to face the loss of independence.
There's no need to throw a good book away, or leave it collecting dust on your shelves (which is close to the same thing). Most books nowadays won't last longer than a human lifetime due to the perfect binding and terrible paper, so you're not keeping them for posterity by hoarding them.
Is this a universal view, or are there people who have no trouble discarding unwanted books?
With movies, say, you know it was hundreds of people. So it's no big deal. But with books you are tossing someone's whole world.
Also I like to reread them. Honest.
I always have a few books that I do not consider mine althought they legally are. I just borrowed them from the public.
I'm enjoying the life of frugality as a college student right now. My summer apartment has little besides my laptop, a couple of books, clothes / toiletries, my saxophone, and food. It's rather nice. It's hard to waste time being idle. If I'm bored, I need to be social and hang out with someone; I can't waste time playing video games or watching TV. (I'm fortunately pretty sparse with my computer use — GChat, vim, and music mostly.)
Every now and then, a friend, upon entering my apartment, will comment on how bare it is. I just smile and say, "Isn't it much simpler this way?"
I tend to think things like "do I really need to own a large pot? Couldn't I just do several smaller batches of food in a small pot?" and "why do I need a chair in my bedroom if I can sit on my bed?"
But I actually try to banish these thoughts--they're almost as dangerous a mindset to get into as that of a hoarder, I think--because the experience of sitting crosslegged on your bed typing on a laptop, with your back aching, reminds you that some possessions actually are a marked improvement to your life. There are a certain number of objects I am alright with being owned by.
I think the bigger picture to look at here is that we, as humans, are creative. When we move into an empty apartment, we see a blank slate, prime for decoration. It's very easy to browse Target, Marshalls, or Ikea and want to buy things that look cool because hey, I have a decent salary and cheap housing. Case in point — I bought a Nerf basketball hoop as a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Haven't touched it once. I definitely had to use restraint on other such purchases. So I guess that's what worries me. It's so easy to acquire junk that isn't essential. A pretty Spartan summer definitely showed me what is really essential and what isn't.
You could give up the bed (get a futon on the floor) and keep the chair. :P
Why are other people the magic fix for everything? Hanging out with people can be just as much of a waste of time as watching Paradise Hotel, or whatever. If you walk over to your friends place for three years and hang out with the same three people every day, what has that given you? Maybe it was fun, but did you grow as a person and expand your mind? Or did you crack the same old jokes and references from the same cult movies that you've always done, and whine about the same problems that you had yesterday and still are doing nothing about, and bicker about something on the comical Seinfeld-level of pettiness?
"But it is it's own reward". Yes, but the same can be said for video games, computers, TV, or whatever else we've decided to label as "bad", probably because we are either 1. know nothing about it 2. did it in excess and now think it is the devil.
All of this breaks the monotony.
Plus, there's something to be said for human interaction and contact comfort and whatnot. So what if I see an old friend and we reminisce about old times, maybe crack some inside jokes? Being with others is psychologically healthy.
I'm not arguing that everyone should pull a Walden. I myself will be moving into my fraternity next week, which has a television and an Xbox 360 (the horror!) and a beer pong table. But I'm certainly living in one extreme this summer, and if I had to choose, I'd definitely choose this one.
1. Beautiful things
2. Things with emotional value
3. Functional things
4. Everything else
Here's a link to the Scripting News article which has got a link to Sterling's talk. Listen to the whole thing!
But you can take my heat and air conditioning out of my dead, 72°F hands.
Of course modern, wealthy Chinese are starting to eat ice cream in summer and turning on the heat in winter (and, to be fair, in places where it gets really, really cold, like in Beijing, they've always had heating in winter) so this attitude is changing, but some of it still persists. Bottled water (and beer in restaurants!) is mostly sold unrefrigerated and Chinese shopping malls in summer are nowhere near as glacial as their counterparts in SE Asia or the west.
That wonderful temperature between 21-22ºC is truly excellent. Paris in the springtime.
- laptop / server
- chef's knife
- cutting board
- kitchen table
I'd love to hear that from my life partner. In her case I'd like "vases" to be replaced with "pots", "flowers", "mugs", "cups", "plates", "furniture", "shoes".
Going with good enough alternatives that could be rented instead of bought goes a long way. That said, I don’t own cars, desktop computers or musical instruments, so YMMV.
Edit: Things could be worse though. I play guitar, not drums. :)
I do have books but not too many, and I don't take them with me. I keep most of my stuff like in long term storage (my parents basement).