The Older I Get, The Less I Want

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan. Our home looked like a museum of Japanese antiques.

When Brett retired from the navy in 1992, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier; I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff.

We had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of our tour Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods weight allowance. I, to put it mildly, went nuts.

Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English conversation, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and other items that I convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself these things were an investment. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. Looking back, it was obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything. We had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And the shopping stopped when we arrived home in the U.S.

Our household goods were supposed to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did in 1992. Four weeks arrived and no shipment. At five weeks we called to check on the status of our shipment and were told it could not be located, that it had been lost. Initially all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. But then something changed. As I began to think about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the house we’d rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all of those things. I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few items of our son’s I had kept from when he was a baby, the truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. But for everything else, I felt no attachment whatsoever.

I wanted our simple life back again.

Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We spent the years after Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of most of our Japan things. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped fund our adoptions, pay down our debt, and get us moved to Hawai’i. I haven’t missed even one of the things we sold, and never regretted that we let them go.

When we left Japan, our household goods weighed 12,500 pounds and filled five huge crates. Our shipment of goods to Kaua’i two years ago weighed just 4500 pounds, and barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container. We live with much, much less now and manage quite nicely. The things we kept are functional, or like my bells or jubako, carry special memories that we’re still not ready to part with.

Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love shopping and love stuff, but even they have downsized. Brett, the former King of the Pack Rats, got bit by the downsizing bug, and made immense strides in reducing his hoard. He’s no longer in thrall to having or holding on to stuff.

Maybe it’s a function of aging, or just heredity. When I was young and stayed with my grandmother, she always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived very simply. My mother also divested herself of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where I’m at now as well.

Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.

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17 thoughts on “The Older I Get, The Less I Want

  1. Kevin says:

    Good post! I need to take a few lessons from you and decrease my hoard as well. Or move to Eastern Washington, buy a big spread and get more treasures!!!

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    • Laura says:

      And let someone else get rid of it for you! No really, it does get to that point, either needing more space or getting rid of stuff. I’ve always preferred smaller over larger spaces, so getting rid of stuff was a no-brainer for me. It’s a process though, not something you can do in a short amount of time.

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    • Laura says:

      Yes! I think when we’re young we look at what our parents have, or our grandparents, and think “I need lots of stuff too” without realizing then how long it took our parents to accumulate their things, nor how much they (for the most part) want to get rid of it or are tired of taking care of it or at least wish people would stop giving them more things.

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  2. Joy Franks says:

    Boy, did this hit home!! We “thinned things down” twice and this time it’s going to stick!! Probably the best thing we did was rent our little apartment. Now we CAN’T accumulate stuff again. Thank goodness!

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    • Laura says:

      It’s one of the reasons we’re happy too here with a smaller house. We’ve only bought four items since we moved here two years ago, and those things came after a LOT of thought whether we really needed them or not. I’m genuinely happy with what we have now – it’s enough.

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  3. Hawaii Planner says:

    After moving a few years ago, never again. It was so much work to pack, unpack, & sort through a bunch of random stuff. Much of which was rarely used. Knowing we need to move again (when our lease is up) I have been making a dedicated effort to get rid of things every time I go through the house. Now, my husband & the garage is another story. .. .

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    • Laura says:

      Oh my gosh – our move from one house to another in 2005 was the biggest wake-up call ever. We had been in the first house for 10 years, and added our three daughters, and boy had we accumulated stuff. That move was awful. We had had a lot of “extra” room with a full basement and garage in that first house that we hadn’t had before and we filled it up. Moving to Hawai’i though was the best incentive to downsize. All we had to ask was if we wanted to pay to move something over here, and ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the answer was a big “NO!” I’m still amazed at how much we got rid of. I’ve never missed any of it.

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    • Laura says:

      It is definitely a process! At the end of the summer, go back to some of the stuff you kept, and ask yourself if you still want to keep it. I was so surprised to find that three months later, or six months later, I was ready to part with something that earlier I couldn’t imagine doing without. Let me know about your progress!

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  4. Diedre Cain says:

    Great post Laura! Although we still have quite a few things in some categories such as kitchen items and books, I know that I would be fine with much less. I belong to a wonderful online community of neighbors called Buy Nothing that focuses on members gifting items to one another. Members can also place an “ask” if they are in need of something. Knowing that my neighbors would benefit, I have given away dozens of items on this site. I’ve also received a few items. As a result, I’m happy knowing my former items are well-loved by someone else, and I haven’t bought much at all since I’ve been an active member. It truly is a freeing experience to let things go and to spend a minimal amount of money on “things”.

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    • Laura says:

      Diedre, I will be forever grateful for your letting us know about the Community Warehouse in Portland to donate items that others will find useful as they rebuild their lives. It’s another very meaningful way to let go of things you no longer need. I know a couple of others in Portland who are active members of Buy Nothing groups, and who have formed neighborhood swap groups so that not everyone has to own their own carpet cleaner or some tool or even luggage. Less really can be more!

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  5. Vivian Gibson says:

    It took ten years to have enough furniture to fill my trailer. The family room stayed completely empty for most of that time. Now 35 years later and in my slightly bigger house I am swamped with things. I just went thru my collection of cd’s and took a huge bag to the library so they could sell them and make some money for the library and still I have far too many. I am trying to avoid being like my mother and my aunt (mama’s sister). Both are hoarders, my mother finally gave me permission to clean out one corner and then got upset with me for throwing so many things away. My father has trouble getting rid of things as well. It must be genetic, because I struggle when I try to purge. At least I have been successful in getting rid of some of my things. You are a source of inspiration in showing that minimalism is freeing to the soul and I thank you for the example and the encouragement that I find in reading your blog.

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    • Laura says:

      I understand where you’re coming from – Brett and I owned very little for a long time, but mostly because our weight limit for household goods was so small. I look back now and wonder why I thought we needed so much.

      I don’t think I’m really much of a minimalist, but I think I’ve finally gotten the simple living thing figured out. It took a while, but our life is much easier.

      I wonder too if genetics does play a role, or whether it’s the environment you live in. Brett was always a pack rat and threw nothing away; his mother was too as was her sister. My family went the other way though, and it was like we never had quite enough – I always thought we needed a bit more. But I was always throwing things away. I feel like Brett and I have finally found the happy medium though. But, it’s taken years . . . give yourself time.

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  6. becomingmenaturally says:

    I am trying to throw out or donate at least a bag a week and that is just working on my room. The living room has managed to stay simple and with just two chairs, the sofa and three end tables with the lamps(but the end tables have no shelves underneath so no crap can be collected) and no coffee table to collect crap either.

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    • Laura says:

      You’re doing it right! Just keep at it. It took me so long to figure out that it’s a process, that it takes time and that you should go back again when you think you’re done and look at everything again. We gave ourselves small goals along the way, like to finish just one project in a month, which really helped us. And, once we got the ball rolling, it was easier to get rid of other things.

      I’m finding the same thing now – when you don’t have places to collect things, you don’t. Everything gets put away now, or recycled, or thrown out.

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