My wife and I recently helped her parents close on their house which they have owned for the past 50 years. I should clarify here that my wife did most of the work dealing with lawyers, real estate agents, scheduling and gathering of papers and information. I helped by providing backup and support as needed and playing chauffeur. In the end, the entire process of listing, selling and closing on the house had many twists and turns, drama and many lessons learned.
As I attempted to summarize the key takeaways from our experience, I realized that there was just simply too much material to cram into one post. So, over the next couple weeks I will be posting various topics on lessons learned. Some posts, such as todays, will not be directly related to stock, finances or even estates; but others most definitely will.
But first, a little background and some of my own personal (unique) observations about the greatest generation.
Many folks who were born in or around the 1930’s experienced financial and economic hardship that many people had never experienced before or perhaps will ever again. Living through the Depression made a lasting impact on people and families which shaped the way they look at life, jobs, belongings and finances. As a result, many people of that generation seem to look for stability. They want to hold on to and save everything.
You know the old sayings “To save it for a rainy day” or “you never know when you will need it”.
And yes, based on my parents and my wife’s parents, sometimes this behavior can verge on being hoarders. As a result, it is extremely difficult to downsize. In their eyes, everything is extremely important and valuable.
To quote another saying. “Waste not, want not.”
Don’t get me wrong, this hold mentality can serve people well. For instance. The house they lived in for over 50 years was completely paid off free and clear of any liens. Sort of, more on this later. But suffice it to say, having a house free and clear of any payments when you retire is a blessing.
But holding on to everything can lead to clutter and to not being able to take care of everything properly.
Take this picture for example.
The dolls actually look a lot better in this photo than they did in the dark, damp, mildewed basement. It was truly a scene straight out of a horror movie. To my mother in law, these are not old dolls. These are not dirty moldy dolls. Or even old dirty moldy dolls. These are dolls which must be saved for another day.
My wife was asking me about them on the way back home. “Why would somebody save old dolls like than in damp dirty basement”. There was no value in it. It did not make sense to her.
That is when I said: “Obviously, adjectives are irrelevant.”
They were dolls. They were memories. They were valuable. And needed. Perhaps not needed anymore but in my mother in laws mind someday they may be. So they were kept.
Unfortunately, they ended up being kept as clutter. And the funny thing about clutter is that even though it exists, it doesn’t command our attention and then gets old, mildewed or even broken.
And loses value.
The moral of this story, if there is one, and I believe there is, is that one needs to be focused on what is truly valuable. And keep it in good condition. It deserves our attention, and ultimately others as well.
I believe Steve Jobs once said the trick to being focused is the ability to say no.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Otherwise, I believe you end up with clutter, by saying yes to “save everything”, and losing focus on what is truly important.
And when you do say no to something, sell it, donate it, or give it to somebody else who will use it.