Letters To A Much Younger Me: On Accumulating Things

This series of posts (and accompanying podcast) is dedicated to my children.  It consists of a series of letters from my current, older self addressed to my younger self.  These letters would have helped me navigate some of the rough waters I faced during various phases of my life and when I was faced with difficult decisions.  Through these letters, I hope to impart some of my admittedly limited experience on my two wonderful children and, eventually, on their children.

“The things you own end up owning you.” –Fight Club, 1999.

Dear 20-year-old self:

You’re at a pivotal point in life as you transition from the college years to the working years.  Instead of all of your income going straight to the University of Utah, you’re finally going to begin to learn about the concept of “discretionary income.”  There won’t be much of it for a while, but you’ll be tempted to spend it nonetheless.

You’re embarking on what will be a fifteen-year journey of accumulating “things.”  It’s a slow and gradual journey that will finally terminate when you wake up one day realizing that 1) you’ve wasted a lot of money over the years on things you don’t use or need, 2) that the gratification from things doesn’t last for very long, and 3) that “the things you own end up owning you” (credit: the movie Fight Club, 1999).

1. Don’t Waste Your Hard-Earned Incomehard work

Be careful buying things before you’re pretty certain you’re going to need them.  When you’re finally talked into trying snowboarding, don’t go and blow ridiculous money outfitting yourself and Ana with the latest and greatest snowboard gear.  You’ll end up snowboarding six or seven times, hating it, storing the gear for about ten years, and then donating them.  Boy would you be better off putting that money in tech. stocks and selling before the bubble bursts in 2001.

2. Spend on Long-Lasting Experiences & Not Short-Lived Thingstravel

I know that nothing I can say will make it so you don’t want to own the sexy cars you’ve long dreamed of; I will try anyway.  A car, no matter how unbelievably fast, fun-to-drive, and great-looking, is just an object.  If I’ve learned one thing about objects it’s that their allure is very short-lived.  You’ll really enjoy a few of your cars for a few weeks and then, not only will they just become “yet another car”, rule #3 below will begin to apply.  Instead, spend your limited money on trips and experiences shared with your family and friends.  Those experiences will become lifelong memories that you’ll relish, as well as becoming common memories you share with your loved ones.

3. Things Weigh You Downthings

A friend (thanks, F.M.) will at one point remind you of the quote from the movie Fight Club: “the things you own end up owning you.”  It’s only at that point that you’ll quickly start to unravel the mess you’ll have built.  You’ll start by evaluating your belongings and you will quickly realize how much you’ve spent (and continue to spend) on storing, moving, insuring, maintaining, and worrying about your things.  The more things you have, the more they weigh you down.  Don’t buy a house that fits your stuff; limit your stuff to those things that fit the house.  It’s easy to buy a house for your stuff instead of for yourself; don’t fall for that trap.

Sincerely,

Your 40-year-old self

ps. Good luck this year; it’s a big one as this is the year you’ll fall in love with your future wife.

The next letter in the series is On Working Hard.

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