The Lifelong Burden of Material Objects
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I saw a tweet recently that read like a blunt kick in the butt.
“The Vast Majority of Baseball Cards are Worthless”
The tweet came from a Twitter handle and blog called Unusual Investments. The blog post was inspired by a recent Wall Street Journal article about a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card going up for auction.
This tweet was a direct hit on my sensitive parts, targeting an ever-present nuisance taking up space in my basement. Not the 25-year-old autograph, but my two large plastic bins full of baseball cards.
The one bin is so heavy it collapsed the bottom level of my storage rack. So now it sits on the concrete floor, occupying space and crushing my minimalist aspirations.
Nearby is another bin, mostly full of childhood memorabilia like trophies, old film from photography class, bad pottery pieces, a tattered The Smiths posterand pictures of me and friends wearing baggier clothes.
After at least a half-dozen serious tossing sessions over the years, the contents of these bins is all that remains from my pre-college bedroom. Each time I throw stuff out, these items survive the cut.
The Origin of Title
Writing about money online makes one ponder many topics. But most revolve around the very basics of building wealth.
Earn more. Spend Less. Invest the surplus.
I tend to focus on the earn more and invest the surplus parts of this trio. Spend less was always more obvious to me. Countless blogs focus almost exclusively on spending less. Spending is the piece that is most under your control and can be improved upon every day. It’s simple, but not easy.
And it’s the most consequential piece of the early retirement equation. The lower your monthly spending, the less you need to save to reach financial independence.
Skimming Pinterest one day, I came across a quote that made me rethink spending altogether. It came from a pin titled 16 Personal Finance Tips I Learned from Mr. Money Mustache. Number two stood out to me.
Every material object must be looked upon as a lifelong burden. – MMM
I traced this quote back to a gem of a post from 2013 called Wealth Advice that Should Be Obvious.
If you’re not familiar with Mr. Money Mustache, his website is one of the most widely read personal finance blogs on the internet. MMM retired at age 30 and writes about his lifestyle of reasonable frugality, smart financial choices, and healthy and meaningful living. Read that post above and you’ll get the gist.
As a one-time bike-less minivan owner in the suburbs, I’m nowhere near winning the “mustachian” of the year award. But MMM’s obvious money advice and engaging writing style still motivate me to be wiser with money and lifestyle choices, and more elegant with my choice of words.
The Triple Play
My baseball card collection feels like a lifelong burden. I’ve owned it for 30 years. The burden is a triple play:
- Financial burden – The liquidation value of these cards could be put to better use elsewhere.
- Physical burden – They take up space in my home.
- Mental burden – What should I do with these mostly worthless cards, and when can I prioritize the time to go through them? Can I even sell them? How much time will that take? Will my son like baseball, let alone baseball cards?
During the accumulation phase in my pre-teens, the assumption was that I’d keep the cards forever, or at least until I’d pass them on to my kids (and forbid them from disposing of them).
But keeping them forever was based on the assumption they would increase in value. They have not.
Instead, unless I have some hidden rare rookie card in the collection, they are probably worth less today than what was paid for them. And most are worthless because so many millions of cards were printed during that era (1987-1991 ish).
The 1952 Mickey Mantle ended up selling in November for $1.13 million because only a scarce few are left still in good condition (crate loads were dumped in the ocean).
There’s no scarcity in my collection.
I probably paid for and received gifts of… I don’t know… maybe $1,000-$1,500 worth of cards during the collecting years. Had I invested that money in stocks instead, the investment would be worth quite a bit more than a plastic box full of cardboard in my basement.
Collecting cards wasn’t as much about baseball for me. I was obsessed with the value of the cards. Each pack I bought felt like an investment.
Today, the cards are only worth as much as someone on Craig’s List is willing to pay for the whole lot unless I put in the time to sort through them all. Even then, the value would likely disappoint.
Mrs. RBD wasn’t charmed when I texted her the MMM quote a while back.
Hey honey, think about this quote next time you’re in Target. – Me
Admittedly, it wasn’t a thoughtful or appropriate text on a five-poopie-diaper day.
About a year ago, we priced out some bedroom furniture from a “nicer” store (i.e. not Ikea or Wayfair). We’re both using old and not-so-high-quality dressers that we’ve been meaning to replace. A five-piece high-quality set that we both liked would set us back about $4,000 delivered. We had the cash to pay for it, but we delayed to look for other options.
We never placed the order, and instead opted to buy only a low-cost headboard on Wayfair for our bed. This purchase helped complete the room and made it easier to forget about the new furniture.
A recent evaluation of our long-term goals led to an agreement that we want to work less and travel more with our family in the coming years. We’ll need to align our spending behavior with our goals to achieve them. That means sacrifice at times.
Translation: no new bedroom furniture.
That doesn’t mean we can’t buy a new console table for plants or a space-saving bookshelf for the office. Those aren’t so burdensome.
Nice bedroom furniture is a lifelong burden because it’s a lifetime purchase. The $4,000 would disappear instead of compound indefinitely to make us wealthier. And we’d always need a bedroom large enough for our solid-wood occupants.
We want more flexibility someday, maybe to live abroad for extended periods.
Where would we store our wonderful bedroom furniture? I suppose we could sell it at a huge loss. Or pay for a storage facility. Yuck.
Worst of all, the furniture, combined with all the other possessions we’ll accumulate if not careful, might be a deterrent for living abroad or extended travel.
Getting on the Same Page
During our recent discussion about long-goals, we reaffirmed that we see eye to eye on the future. However, I repeated this quote to her again and it didn’t register.
Money nerds think about financial stuff all the time. Non-money nerds do not. So when I talk about the opportunity cost of purchasing items instead of investing, she rightfully rolls her eyes.
For example, when I mentioned the furniture and how it doesn’t align with our long-term goals, she was quick to point out that the furniture would help us be more comfortable on the path to our goals.
In other words, if we have X number of years before reaching our goal, that’s a long time to live with shitty dressers. Valid point.
Most people agree with her on that, and I do too in certain circumstances. We’re considering adding a deck to our house which would add value, be cool to have, and not need storage if we sold the house and moved to Reims.
The furniture would make us more content where we are. However, where we are now is not where we’re aiming to be. The purchase would hurt us financially in the near-term and make it more difficult to reach our desired future state.
My wife gets that money spent is money not saved. But she doesn’t think about it all the time like I do.
So it’s essential to have an open dialog about money. We’ve re-instituted a monthly budget meeting to help stay on track. I mostly annoy her about this stuff. But we do usually agree.
To be fair, I eliminated most useless possessions from my youth (old papers, tests, clothes etc.) from my parent’s house after my 14-month backpacking trip. Living out of a 40-pound backpackfor more than a year straight changed my perspective on possessions.
But we’ve accumulated enough stuff in the past five years. It started with wedding gifts. Then furniture to fill our bigger home, then baby stuff and now toys. I need to prioritize time to tackle some of the nostalgia, sell what I can around the house, and rid of all the clutter accumulated in the basement.
The baseball cards are square one. I’ll keep some complete sets and my favorites that are in a separate box. And maybe try to sell parts of the collection if it’s not a time suck. But it’s just the beginning. The cards are near old paint cans, unneeded drywall pieces, baby clothes, countless unused toys, scrap wood, spare tiles, and a clunky workbench.
With a full-time job, three kids under age five, and a busy blogging schedule, I struggle to prioritize the time. It’s easier to toss something in the basement than to decide on the spot if it’s worth keeping or not.
And Christmas with the grandparents is around the corner. We’ll need to make some space for new toys. Once I permanently clear some space in the basement, the plan is to make it a
dumping ground for toys playroom.
We inherit some nostalgic traits from our parents. Mine taught me to value certain keepsake possessions such as family Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and even some furniture. They had no problem storing my baseball cards for 25 years, then delivering them once we had a big enough basement. That allows me to be the final decider of the cards’ destinies.
Don’t worry Dad, your grandson will still get some cards and the three of us can all enjoy them as much as you and I did. Just not all of the doubles, triples, quadruples, and quintuples and…
At least 80% need to go.
And during your next visit, Dad, maybe you can watch the kids while I take care of some things in the basement?
What pieces of nostalgia in your house need to go? Has anyone ever just tossed it all?
Photo credit: RBD – actual junk in my basement. Significantly reduced in 2018.
Craig is a former IT professional who left his 20-year career to be a full-time personal finance blogger. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three children. A DIY investor since 1995, he started Retire Before Dad in 2013 as a creative outlet to share his stock and real estate income portfolios. Craig earned a Finance degree from Michigan State University. Read more HERE.
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Really enjoyed this post! Those triple plays hurt – for me it’s the mental burden that weighs the most, although the physical burden weighs really heavy when I venture down to the basement.
No spending sure helps. Luckily my husband is also on the same page with me and we’ve adopted much of MMM’s wealth advice. Even sold our beloved Jeep Wrangler earlier this year.
As far as furniture goes, is there anyway to upcycle what you do have? It’s amazing what some new paint and handles or knobs can do. If your items are just too crappy or falling apart, maybe you can find some gently used furniture that you like ‘as is’ or upcycle it. We’ve created some great pieces with just a little bit of time and not a whole lot of talent ;).
Good luck with the cards…hopefully you can find a hidden gem in them.
I wanted a Wrangler when I was in high school. Thought they were so cool. But they’re so impractical! Never made sense for the cost. And do cold in the winter. Maybe some day if we move to a beach town.
My dresser is IKEA and about 10 years old. It works fine, and looks actually pretty good and isn’t particularly board. It wouldn’t make a good upcycle project.
My wife’s is a 1950 era hand me down from her grandmother. But it was low quality stuff. Her dresser would make a better paint and hardware project, however, it’s far down the list of priorities. It should have been a pre-kid project.
We bought a new bedroom set after getting married, and although we kept it pseudo minimal – it’s still a bedroom set. When we bought a new mattress this month that needed a frame, did we get a new set – hell no. 🙂 We just found a nice looking minimal frame that mostly goes with our furniture. It doesn’t stick out and the whole thing only cost $189. Done, and done.
Like you realized we didn’t want a massive bedframe we’re going to have to keep up with for th rest of our life, or its life.
I never collected baseball cards but realized I collected msic instruments along the way. it took a few months but i was able to unload an electric bass and amp, full size electric piano, mandolin, banjo and guitar. And yet I still have 3 banjos and 2 guitars. The cases alone just eat up so much space, lol.
I was also gifted a lot of guns when my dad died. I need to sell them, but don’t want to take a massive loss from what he paid. I guess not knowing what he paid helps, but it’s just been difficult to actually do it. Not for sentiment, more the legality of “where can I sell guns that isn’t a gun show and still get a fair price?” My goal is by next summer have them gone – at least down to a “reasonable” number.
Our bed is quite minimalist too. Just a headboard. For five years it was just the frame.
Guns, yeah that must be a complicated sell. Add that they are something special from your father, there’s no hurry to unload. Make sure you do things right.
Enjoyed this post. I have a room full of some useless junk that I can’t be bothered to even throw out.
As long as it doesn’t bother you… My in-laws have a ton of crap and they have no interest in throwing anything out, even if it means one less bedroom when we visit!
Great post RBD! I’ve got a comic book collection. Most were purchased at face value, but some were purchase above cost, I don’t even want to guess at how much money I have sitting in the two big boxes. I know I do have a handful of comics with a $40-50 resale value. I need to just unload the lot and invest the money.
Comics are similar. I was never into them, probably because none of my friends were. It’s a matter of going through each one and figuring out which are most valuable. Or just dumping them all at once.
Have you tried theminimalists.com? They have a solution for those cards. Coming to your bedroom furniture, is that something you may make on your own? These days there’s so much we may do thanks to diy blogs. Maybe a fun family project where the kids get to paint the dresser or something else. I’m just throwing out ideas that come to my head while reading your blog.
Thanks for the ideas. The kids would love to help on a project like that, but they are still at the age when they are not helpful. It would take forever. Even so, I don’t think we want to spend our time on something like that. Mrs. RBD was really into Young House Love for a long time and always thought those projects would be easy. Of course, they aren’t. They’re life consuming!
I do like the minimalists. I’ve been more intrigued with some minimalist podcasts I’ve heard. Unfortunately, my time is limited to get really serious about it. I did recently clean out my dresser, basement, and closet and it was liberating. Ditched some really old stuff. More needs to go.
Dumped the baseball cards for free on Craigslist about 5 years ago (cards from ~1979-1980). I ran them by a couple of sports work mates, and there were only a few worth anything (total value about $20-25). Gave it away. I don’t have any other collections but one-off knicknacks seem to be in abundance. The last thing I need to conquer is school yearbooks. I’m tempted to use a camera scanner app (Google’s looks promising), photograph them, then dump them.
I do plan to keep yearbooks. Not throwing those out. But they take up little space on a shelf.
Bummer about the 1979’s. I’d have thought they were worth something. I actually have some 1978’s that I collected for a while. Probably worthless.
I don’t mind throwing things out and giving things away at all. I’m not very sentimental. Maybe that’s due to the fact that we moved around a lot when I was young and I didn’t have a lot of stuff. Mrs. RB40 on the other hand hates throwing old things out. She still have toys from her childhood. I don’t think she will ever throw those out, but at least she is not accumulating much stuff.
As for furniture, I’m trying to get used stuff first. There are good stuff on Craigslist that’s way cheaper than Ikea.
I think I inherent the sentimental side from my parents. They keep a ton of stuff and wouldn’t dare get rid of certain things taking up space. Although, they’ve gotten better recently. We never moved. Toys are mostly gone. It’s the collectible type of stuff, and yearbooks etc.
I’d like to spend more time on Craig’s list looking. Friends have told us our area is picked over because it’s so dense. But if you look 30-60 minutes out, it’s easier to find nicer stuff. Then timing comes into play. We don’t have the weekend time to go look at furniture an hour away with the kids. Maybe putting in the time to find a nice bedroom set would be worthwhile. Then we’d still be stuck with a bedroom set that always needs a home. Thanks for stopping by!
Sounds like a happy medium. I used to want a big house with lots of stuff. But that doesn’t make sense at all for the lifestyle I want. A good friend of mine recently moved into a big beautiful house. I thought I’d be jealous when I visited. But then realized my friend made a huge mistake and was saddled with it for the rest of his life (most likely). I felt sorry for him. He had aspirations to buy a reasonably sized home, but gave into the allure of the big house lifestyle.
I had the benefit of being raised on military bases. All of that forced travel made most of our possessions time-limited. Right now, I’m culling books that I don’t think I’ll re-read. I don’t intend to have children, and as a lesbian it is unlikely that suddenly they will appear, and don’t need so many books around in case they will interest future progeny. So hard to commit to that goodbye, but I have more than my shelves can hold.
Zee… I was watching the Minimalism documentary the other day and they addressed this. They said, hey, if your books bring you joy, then by all means, keep them. I have a friend that has kept every book she has ever read. I met her backpacking in South America. She would buy books and mail them back to London. I couldn’t believe it. Here was this backpacker traveling on a budget, but carried around all these books and wasted money mailing them! 15 years later, she posted something on Facebook how it’s gotten out of control. Ha!
Moving definitely makes you want to get rid of things. Never thought that being a military family would help keep junk to a minimum. But makes sense.
I still haven’t found the time to throw out the baseball cards.
Woah. That’s dedication. Some books no longer deserve space on the shelf. Many will stay. Good luck with the baseball cards.
As my husband and I near retirement (about 9 years away depending on economy) I am so thankful that our home is small in comparison to the McMansions surrounding our area. We have the same sofa and love seat in the living area that I bought about 20 years ago, I bought slip covers for it to change the look. Now when I want to purchase anything I stop and ask myself do I absolutely need it? Does it bring me joy? If I can’t answer yes to either of those two questions I pass. I think about how that money can get me closer to retirement.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. When retirement is approaching, why delay by buying a new couch! I hope I have the same will power as we approach.