MY GRANDFATHER was a rancher all his life, and a minimalist. Not so much for philosophical reasons, but as a product of his upbringing. The only son of Czech immigrants, raised by a single mother due to the untimely death of his father, he had little desire for things that weren’t of practical use to him. He left behind few material possessions, save for the land he owned (which will always have value) a truck, a house, a barn, and a herd of cattle.
My grandfather owned a “regular” (non-HD) TV with no VCR, DVD, or cable, watching whatever his antenna could pick up for free. He lived in a small home, spending most of his time outdoors and mainly coming in to sleep and eat. He wore a few, specific articles of clothing that all served a purpose – what you might call a “capsule wardrobe” today.
And… that was it. He didn’t collect things. He didn’t own objects that served no purpose. No movie memorabilia, no posters, no models or figurines or any of the other junk that we fill our homes and offices with. He lived an intentional, no-frills kind of life. He was frugal. His one vehicle was a farm truck, at least 20 years old. Even cigarettes – his one vice – he quit cold turkey after they got “too damn expensive.”
What little money he did spend was always on investments that would bring dividends; not index funds, but real estate and livestock, tangible assets. And he did very well for himself, growing the original homestead (now a century farm) from a few acres to several hundred.
Sounds pretty boring though, right?? Perhaps… but he lived a good life, and was content with what he had. Two things I can’t always say about myself.
MY GRANDMOTHER, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different. I hesitate to call her a “hoarder” because of the stigma that word carries. “Hoarder” evokes the image of a person on a reality show, worming their way through a house cram-packed with old magazines and newspapers they won’t throw away because they “might need them someday!” Grandma wasn’t that kind of hoarder, but she was a collector. A hardcore collector.
She collected dolls. Hundreds, maybe thousands of dolls… All the dolls. Porcelain dolls, ceramic dolls, fancy dolls, creepy dolls. Mostly creepy dolls. And as collections often do, what started as an innocent hobby grew over the years into an obsession, consuming all of her time, money, mental, and physical space. Needless to say, my grandparents were divorced.
Unfortunately, as a recovering collector/addict I seem to have taken after my grandmother more than my grandfather. Is there a real difference between collecting toys and action figures and collecting creepy old dolls? There’s not a lot of daylight between a 20-something man who spends his paychecks on Dragon Ball figures and Doctor Who t-shirts and a 70-something woman who spends her social security checks on porcelain dolls and faux fur coats.
The truth is you can hoard more than trash and cats. You can hoard media. You can hoard books and comics. You can hoard toys and action figures. You can even hoard data in the form of images you’ll never look at again, MP3’s you still haven’t listened to, and terabytes of movie torrents you’ll never get around to watching. That’s the same “I might need it someday” mentality that drives people to keep old magazines and newspapers. And they’re not just taking up space on your hard drive; they’re taking up space in your brain.
PEOPLE CARE ABOUT YOU, NOT YOUR STUFF
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like” -Will Rogers
When my grandfather died, his house was in disrepair and the family decided to demolish it rather than rebuild. That house, along with the one he grew up in, are both gone. The barn too, and the truck was sold. But those were just things, and they had served their purpose. His only worldly possessions that still exist are the land, which will remain in the family, and a few treasured items: an award won showing cattle, a pair of leather work gloves, a belt, and his old cowboy hats. These items currently reside inside a box in my parents’ attic.
I may keep that box when my parents pass away, along with a few of their things, but I doubt my future children will be interested in some dirty old hats or a trophy from decades before they were born. They likely won’t care, just as no one cared about my grandma’s dollhouse. Every single thing she bought, owned, and curated was unceremoniously sold at auction.
“But these things are valuable!” you might say (I know I’ve said it) “they’re not just junk!!” Yeah, and my grandma’s dolls were valuable to someone, but we loved her, not her stuff, and when she was gone so were the dolls. As Ty from Get Rich Quick’ish put it bluntly in his excellent piece, “Material possessions are just future garbage.”
YOU’RE NOT IMPRESSING ANYONE
Who was I impressing with my cartoon robot collection? So I got the newest “Masterpiece” figure. Great, now what? Guess I better show it off! To whom? The one or two people I know in real life who also collect that stuff? Some anonymous people sharing pics of their collections on message boards? And then what? I happily spent $100+ for the thrill of consuming the latest offering from my favorite product line, so I could flaunt it to a few enthusiasts like a kid at show-and-tell, waving their new toy in front of the class. But most of those kids don’t care about your new toy, and the ones who are mad jealous will soon move on to the next big thing.
I realized the thrill I got from opening that big box from Amazon or Big Bad Toy Store soon faded, and I was left with a feeling of ennui; Not buyer’s remorse per se, but a feeling that now The Thing was on my shelf and my mission was to go get The Next Thing. I was never satisfied, never happy, and I imagine this is how my grandma must have felt.
When I’m gone, no one is going to care about my robots or video games, beyond whatever monetary value they might still hold. I’ve always been sentimental about things, and no matter how much of a minimalist I become, I’ll probably always keep my first game console, an SNES. And there’s nothing wrong with that… but I don’t expect that SNES to be sitting in a box in my grandson’s attic alongside an old cowboy hat when I’m dead and gone…
Because no one cares about your stuff, and they never will.
And that’s okay!