Last month I wrote about moving past wasteful “frugality” and talked about my own tendencies not to use things so that I wouldn’t use them up and have to spend money for more. As I was decluttering last weekend and reflecting on minimalism, I realized that the reason I keep a lot of stuff is that I might use it again someday. It’s not that I’m putting off using it like I was with the soap or crayons, just that I have no need for it now but might in the future.
I found this unsettling because my grandmother is a hoarder and I do not want to turn into one. I should establish at this point that I’m not talking about the mentally-ill type of hoarding, with pests and dead animals, and stacks of newspaper that could kill you. I’m talking about the kind of hoarding that interferes with our lives to a lesser degree by cluttering all available surfaces, by using up all the space in the house, and perhaps by causing people to buy storage.
For example, my grandmother has a book on cars from the 1970s. Because who knows, she might buy a car from the 1970s and need the info. She wouldn’t let me throw it out during the move. Same with a kids book from the 1930s which was falling apart from age & the pulpy paper it was printed on—some visiting kid might want to read it. Her youngest grandchild is about to start college & the book was just put on an already-cramped bookshelf.
When I was thinking about what we could get rid of and what we should keep, I finally hit on the thought that keeps me from throwing out stuff I’m not using any more. I’ve normally thought “I might need it,” but this weekend my brain asked “So why not buy it again if you discover you need it?” and the answer? “Because I don’t want to spend the money again.”
I’ve never had a ton of money to spend. In highschool and college, I spent very little on clothes, some on books and crafting, and saved most of it for big things like a violin or trip to Europe or just having money when I graduated! In theory, keeping stuff is free but throwing it out might cost you.
My grandmother’s a child of the Depression, and not just of the Depression but of a single (widowed) mother with three kids and very little money. As the oldest child and the only girl, she helped her mother run the household. Throwing stuff out just wasn’t an option. Unfortunately, it stuck.
This leads me to wonder whether people who are financially-responsible in other areas of their lives also have hoarding tendencies. Certainly, there are financially-responsible minimalists, but it takes a special effort for people at all levels of financial responsibility to move toward minimalism.
For my own decisions, I’ve found it helps to ask how long it’s been since I’ve used the item, how much it’d cost to replace (both time & money), how well I could live without it if I developed a need for it, and whether I could borrow it (this was a great way to convince myself to unload some 200 books that are available in libraries and/or very cheap in used bookstores).
What about you? Do you find yourself sometimes saving things you’ll never actually use? Is it to avoid spending the money if you turn out to need it again or for another reason?