Financial Independence

Everything You Own is Garbage

My financial epiphany has been more of gradual progression rather than a single ‘aha!’ moment.  A handful of events each lighting my pathway to financial independence.  One of these moments happened when I came to the realization that everything you own is garbage.

Everything You Own is Garbage

Everything You Own Is Garbage

I’ve written about a few of these aha moments, but my first light turned on about 12 years ago when my Grandpa passed away.  Grandma had died a few years earlier so we, their remaining family members, were left with the task of sorting through their possessions.

It was eyeopening to say the least.

As Grandpa’s kids and grand kids were cleaning out his home, a few heirlooms and other items were claimed, but the overwhelming majority of the possessions in his house were discarded.

The things being thrown out were the material possessions Grandpa and Grandma had collected and surrounded themselves with during their 80 years on this planet. The contents of their toy closet, which was like a treasure chest to me as a little kid, were thrown out.  So was furniture.  Dishes.  Clothes.  Decorations.  Ornaments. Trinkets.

Basically everything was tossed out.

Material Possessions Are Just Future Garbage

A few items of value were kept or sold, but the vast majority of my grandpa’s earthly possessions were either donated or thrown in the garbage. Things he’d spent his time, energy, and his hard-earned money on were basically trash.

And that bothered me. A lot.

I was upset that his possessions were so carelessly discarded.

Shouldn’t somebody be keeping all of these things as a way to remember Gramps?

I thought about keeping some of the toys from that toy closet that mesmerized me as a kid.  But I didn’t really want those cheap plastic toys. What I wanted, what I truly valued, was the memory.

And that’s when my first light bulb went off:

Material possessions don’t matter.

Everything you own is garbage, or will become so very soon.  The “stuff” that we surround ourselves with and decorate our homes with is crap and will be mostly likely be thrown out when we die. What people will hang on to are memories.

I don’t want more “stuff” – what I want is a lifetime of fun, crazy, and unforgettable memories!

Technology becomes outdated.  Tastes evolve. Things break or wear out.   The things you buy today are pretty much nothing more than future garbage.  That’s harsh, but I’m not wrong: everything you own is garbage (or will become garbage very soon).

When my time comes and my progeny has gathered around, I don’t want somebody asking “does anybody want this old baseball?”  I want them asking “do you remember that time Ty took us to the baseball game?  That was a lot of fun!

People Matter, Stuff Doesn’t

I try to remember this as I buy things and take inventory of my current possessions. I don’t do this to be cheap or frugal, although I do spend less money when evaluating things this way, rather I do this because it helps me keep things in perspective:  Stuff doesn’t matter.  People matter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like nice stuff as much as the next person. In fact my wife and I recently spent a small fortune on some new furniture, but I’m hoping that we’ll create a lot of fun memories of us snuggled up as a family on this oversized couch eating popcorn, pizza, and watching movies.

I’m also doing my best to save and invest money like a madman, not so we can spend our cash on stuff, but on the most important thing money can buy, our freedom.

Chime in!
Material possessions can bring a lot of joy, but is that joy permanent or temporary?  What’s going to happen to your stuff when you pass away?  Have you had to throw out the possessions of a loved one?

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

30 replies on “Everything You Own is Garbage”

I had the same epiphany about 2 years ago. When I die, my stuff would most likely get sold at a garage sale for pennies on the dollar, or tossed to the garbage. The value I place on things is not the same that someone inheriting my stuff will place on it.

We've come to realize this as well. We had to get rid of 90% of our stuff in order to move into our Airstream this past month. But we don't miss any of it! It's amazing how the more space we have, the more stuff we feel we need in order to fill it, and the more someone someday will have to get rid of.

I had these same thoughts last year when my dad passed away. I struggled with wanting to do right by all, but since we're planning to downsize further, I didn't want to bring a bunch of stuff home. :/

We just went through this over Easter when my grandmother passed away. It was enlightening, but also a bit disturbing. I wish I would have had more fun memories, conversations, or experiences with her. Instead there were closets full of unused kitchen gadgets.

Enlightening, yet disturbing – exactly! My wife didn't know I had written this blog post until after the fact, but after reading it she made the same comment about her Grandmother's possessions: mostly discarded. So sad, but it helps me keep things in perspective.

I’m sorry for your family’s loss. I definitely want to minimize the stuff my family will need to handle when I pass. I’m already worried about my elderly relative’s possessions and sorting through it all. None of it is junk, but there is so much. He’s been unwilling to part with any. Even as he’s moved into less independent living. It will add to the stress of losing him.

Great post!

At this moment I am living a dream I had when I was battling cancer 12 yrs ago when I was 19, to travel the world with my wife. We are exactly one year into it with four months to go before we settle down. Luckily, I have built my career to where I make really good money and can work remotely. All this traveling definitely costs quite a bit but just like this post says, it’s about the memories.

I get asked all the time, if I worry about the cost of all this traveling. I smile and say no because when I die, I would have much rather have spent the money to travel the world rather than having X dollars in my net worth from not having traveled.

The sooner you detach yourself from material things, the sooner you will be free.

Thanks, JC! After your battle with cancer I’m sure you’ve got a much different (better) perspective on life than many of us do. I can’t tell you how envious I am of your world tour – that sounds amazing! When my time finally comes, I hope I’ve got a memory bank full of amazing memories rather than a bank account full of dollars.

Oh my, this rings so true. Anything and everything you buy will one day end up in the dumpster. I prefer travel and memories over goods. New cars, even cars less than 10 years old, have never excited me.

I had a similar epiphany when decluttering my office recently. After assuming for decades that my journals, mementos and photo archive would become some sort of family heirlooms/historical archive after I die (I don’t even have kids,) I realized that in all likelihood, no one is going to want any of it, let alone take the time to look through it all. It’s worth is pretty much limited to the value it brings me in my lifetime.

This post comes up in conversations with people all the time. My sister was having issues with my wife and I being more minimalistic. I told my mom at the end of the day all our stuff is just garbage when we die. That was when her face turned and knew exactly where we were coming from. She say all of this first hand after my grandpa passed.

Sometimes I feel like a wet blanket when I bring this up. I honestly wish I didn’t view everything as future trash, but it really does limit the amount of crap that I buy

Unfortunately, I find myself repeating ALL of this all over again but for a sadder reason. This time it is because we are going through father-in-law’s estate.

We have a few piles (I’m ordering them in size):

The keep pile is mostly stuff that is useful and not because it is meaningful (like a bread maker, non-expired food, slotted spoon, etc).

Albeit I completely agree with the intent of the post, and we finally saw the light too, I got one exception to the rule…..
There are a few items that will never become garbage……rocks 🙂 We have a couple of salt stones, some amethyst and a few fossils (fascination with geology, everyone has a weak spot). Doubt they will end up with the garbage as they never wear/break.

I totally agree with you, Ty. Everything we own is pretty much garbage and what’s truly important are the memories we create in our lifetime. Life is beautiful and it shouldn’t be reduced to the things we buy. I also like to buy stuff but I’ve started reducing the things I buy to the ones I really need or want.

On another note, when it comes to investing, have you ever considered investing in cryptocurrency? If so, what are you investing in?

My next door neighbor recently passed away unexpectedly, in his house, he was only 57.
His family came and took everything of “value”, mainly his Detroit Tigers-related collectibles, also lawn equipment, not sure what else. They didn’t donate anything.
When they were done, at the curb was a giant stack of about 50 totally full garbage bags. I really wanted to go open them. What could possibly be in them? Was there some towels I might need? Some cookware? You couldn’t tell what any of it was and all tightly sealed.
So instead, I took photos of this man’s end-of-his life’s remnants, stacked up at the curb in 50 garbage bags.
My photographs of this are one of the saddest and most depressing things I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve been a semi-pro Photographer for 25+ years, usually I do abandoned buildings, also old prisons and derelict hospitals. But none of that ever affected me like my neighbor’s 50 bags of trash, stacked up, sitting out at the curb, waiting for the garbage men.

It is depressing to see someone’s life end up on the curb in trash bags. I’m sure your photographs are powerful (I’d love to see them if you’ve got your work online?) and it reminds me to live differently. Thanks for sharing!

Hey, Ty,

You nailed this one. I’ve gone through this with both parents.

They would both be considered pack rats. They saved everything. I have a ton of stuff from my mom’s gathering dust in storage at our house. My brother and I, for the most part, got rid of much of dad’s stuff. What did we keep? Pictures, awards, recognition of mom and dad, etc. – memories of who they were.

My wife and I are in the process of decluttering. My mom’s stuff takes up a lot of space. Most of it will go to trash. I mean, what do you do with her grade school homework? Did I mention she was a pack rat? Mom passed over ten years ago. Dad this summer at 96 1/2, which is one heck of a run.

To my younger brothers and sisters. Don’t accumulate stuff. Your kids will just have to get rid of it.

Great post, my friend.

Great article, Ty!
The things I remember most from my childhood are the experiences, not the things. But I do miss the Tinker Toys from my grandparents’ house. They were solid wood and much better quality than the sets they sell today.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We’re planning to travel once I retire and I see the time leading up to that as a good opportunity to get rid of stuff. In addition, we’re getting our will & trust set-up and realized that we have collections of things no one else will want. Best to sell what we can now.

I always say this to my wife when she says “Wow this is X% off!” I say, it’s all going to a landfill so yeah of course they’re discounting it heavily. It’s all worth nothing in the end. It’s a lot of fun being married to me as you can imagine.

Last year we sold our 10 room colonial home with a full basement and an oversized garage. It was amazing how much ‘stuff’ we had collected over our 35 years raising 3 children in that house.
Our kids didn’t want any of the mementos we had saved from their childhoods. They didn’t want any of our furniture, china dishes or crystal because they thought it was all ugly. The first few donations were tough to let go but I soon realized that it is just ‘stuff’. It was an immensely freeing feeling. We are now in a small condo and I still marvel at how little we actually need.

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