Thursday, May 10, 2012

I have too many things

Nagging at my mind over the last six weeks is the fact that I haven't posted my budget nor spending numbers for what I think is three months now. It's only a gentle nagging though, nothing like the feeling I get when I see piles of clutter in every room of my house. There are stacks of books in the basement, piles of mail on the kitchen counter, random knickknacks on the coffee table. I've gotten used to spending a significant portion of the weekend tidying. I didn't think to question it. But maybe there's another way. Maybe not everyone fights this literal battle against entropy so fiercely as I do.

Maybe I have too many things. Maybe if I had fewer things I would spend less time looking at them and I could spend less time organizing them. And yet, for any given pile of stuff I look at, I feel a psychic resistance toward eliminating any one item from my life. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, to some extent at least.

Looking at piles is exhausting. Processing piles is exhausting. When I have the energy to put my things away, to order the piles, I feel temporary relief. But the piles remain in one form or other. They are a tax on me, constantly, and one which is proportional to the size and number of piles I own.

I can think of only one solution. Fewer piles! I'm trying harder to recognize useless things I don't need and to trash them. I'm making piles of books and clothes (and beanie babies) to be donated, and listing other piles of books and electronics for sale.

My effort has been steady over the past week. My progress seems slow but I know I am moving forward. It has taken me most of my life to accumulate these possessions that surround me. It will take a while to purge them. I have this feeling that my purge will pay dividends in the future.

Items I can sell translate directly into dollars for my Stash. Items I donate show up later as more money on my tax return. Items I throw away will unfortunately end up in some landfill, but at least they won't be in my house.

This exercise shows one more reason to avoid buying things. Even if an item you buy is super useful, it still has a cost long after you pay for it. You need to manage that item for its entire life, until it ends up used and broken in a landfill somewhere. Not a thought that has me running to the mall any time soon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

If debt is an emergency, is the absence of debt a party?

I took to heart Mr. Money Mustache's news flash that DEBT IS AN EMERGENCY and needs to be treated as such. I still have over $26k of student loan debt, and through that lens a lot of my purchases seem flippant. I like the occasional (metaphorical) punch in the face that MMM provides. But I have another point to make about my living situation.

I may have student loan debt, but my girlfriend does not. It makes a great deal of sense for me to live frugally and spend all my personal income on debt repayment; in fact, that's my only non-wussypants option. But does my girlfriend need to live the same way? I don't think she does.

Obviously I think it's in her (and everyone's) best interest to convert to the ways of Mustachianism, and I've been heavily recruiting her. But it's not my decision how she lives and how she chooses to spend her money. I do think the Mustachian way offers a path to true happiness versus the consumption-fueled hedonism that advertising and American culture shoves down our throats.

But answer this question: is Mustachianism necessarily incompatible with furnishing your house with non-Ikea wares? We're twenty five years old. We haven't had the time to blow large sums of money, nor to accumulate the legitimately valuable and useful set of durable possessions you'd expect a couple of adults might have. I'm thinking of solid-wood furniture, a few well-made pots and pans, maybe reupholstering a hand-me-down couch. Do you know what I mean? Foregoing purchases like these would speed up one's journey to financial independence. But let's say you're debt free, and you have a large and growing stash. I think it could be reasonable to make some sensible upgrades to your stock of worldly possessions.

I just had a crazy thought. What if there are two stages of Mustachianism? The first is the part where you're spending $7 at Starbucks every day with $10k of credit card debt driving your Escalade around town and you couldn't come up with $1000 in an emergency. The cure is a regimen of daily punches to the face, only spending money on peanut butter sandwiches and debt paydown, and doing anything that Mr. Money Mustache tells you. Stage two is when you're out of debt and you're building your stash. Then your job is to work toward consuming as few of the earth's and society's resources as you reasonably can, while living a fulfilling life and making the world around you a better place. And you can do that at your own pace, and if that means occasional trips to Yankee Candle because you like it when your house smells nice, that's fine.

I'm not sure about that yet. And personally I'm not past stage one, so I'm going to keep pruning my spending and reworking my lifestyle.