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I recently wrote a comment on a post that seemed to resonate with numerous people. It was in reference to an staff writer audition article about “stuffitis” and the liberation the author felt once she let go of a large portion of her belongings. This seems to be a common point of discussion on personal finance blogs. For instance, J.D. has waged his own war on stuff.
In my head, I see the logical connection. Once we begin to take control of our money, it often means curbing our consumerist tendencies. Shopping is oftentimes an American pastime. I have to admit I am not immune to this either. I get it – we need to curb our desire to spend and fill our homes with needless things.
But this really isn’t the whole picture, is it?
Minimalism Is Not Mandatory
I would argue that the minimalist household is largely an aesthetic ideal. When I look at Real Simple or a West Elm catalogue, I feel a twinge of inadequacy. My home doesn’t have empty tabletops and one lone vase on the mantle.
Part of me craves sleek design for both aesthetic and practical reasons. It’s much easier to clean a mantle with nothing on it than it is to remove all the frames, broken toy parts, and other random things that grace mine at the moment.
So, you might ask, what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, really nothing. But that’s the whole point.
A cluttered home doesn’t mean you are one step away from bankruptcy. Conversely, neither does a minimalist room equal financial restraint. The reality is that I live in my home.
I also take care of kids in my home all day long. Like most families, with young kids, we have lots of toys. They have this strange way of multiplying right before my eyes. It would make me miserable to expect my home to not have stacks of games and puzzles on top of the china cabinet. Or dozens of Hot Wheels stalled in a traffic jam on the hardwood floor. This is my life. It’s a stage that I must embrace.
And if I look further in the future, maybe I shouldn’t expect to go back to a simpler household. Even now, I think it will be hard to get rid of the wooden trains with all their dents and chipped paint. They will eventually trigger memories of an important and comparatively short time in my life. And wouldn’t it be meaningful to save at least a portion of them for the next generation?
I know I cherish my father’s metal tractor that now sits on a shelf in my eldest son’s room. I’m grateful that my grandmother didn’t dispose of it as clutter but rather tucked it away for me to find some day.
Stuff Isn’t Evil
We can all agree that our belongings or the desire for more of them shouldn’t control us. But neither should we hold ourselves to an ideal that might not be practical or sustainable for us personally.
In general, we should be careful about conflating financial prudence with matters of personal preference. Perhaps the next time we see the loads of knickknacks that fill our great aunt’s home, we should think of all the memories attached to those items. They’re not always useless objects but are sometimes important markers of past times and cherished experiences.
J.D.’s note: This story reminds me of a post I saw at Metafilter last month about a culture of clutter.
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