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Paying the materialistic tax

Back in 2003 or 2004, I moved out of a house that I was renting for $700 a month and into a small apartment whose rent was $250 a month with all utilities included. It was part of a plan to be better off financially. I’d save and/or pay down my debts with the money I’d save from not renting the big house anymore. After all, I was single. I didn’t need that big house, even if the rent was dirt cheap compared to living in the city.

Unfortunately, a lot of my stuff didn’t fit in the apartment. So I rented a storage unit for $60 a month. That’s $720 a year. I spent about $7,200 all this time. Here’s the sad part: I didn’t need or even visit that storage unit in the last five years since I married my wife and we moved into our new house. And all because I didn’t know how to let go of stuff.

Had I taken a few hours each month and gone through my stuff and gotten rid of what I didn’t need, I could have easily saved all that money. But no! I had to hold on to all those material things, even if I didn’t need them. I couldn’t let go of one bicycle even when I bought another one because I thought I might need the second one. Then I thought I might need a third one.

I also kept a bunch of old notes from when I worked on getting my MPH. I kept books from when I studied for my medical technology board exams. That old window air conditioner unit? I kept that.

I really don’t know why.

Today, I finally hired a trash hauler to take everything out of the unit and go throw it away and recycle whatever could be recycled. It was bittersweet. There were so many memories in there, but, again, all of that stuff had been in there for five years. It was time to let it go.

As I helped the hauler and his wife, they told me about how business has been very good for them. They said that they own some rental apartments in town and that they realized that people move a lot. They also realized that people collect stuff and then need to get rid of it when they move. That, or those people rent storage units when they move and then have to empty those out. As they told me all this, I came to the realization that we are all paying a sort of “materialistic tax” when we hold on to things we no longer need. (The tax becomes more than money when we hold on to memories we no longer need.)

It felt really, really good to get rid of all that stuff. It was a sort of catharsis that I really needed as I get all my ducks in a row before one last push at school. And, even though the haulers charged me a couple of hundred bucks (it really was that much stuff), I will be saving much more than that not paying the rental fee the rest of this year… Or the next ten years.

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

8 replies

  1. We are starting to downsize. Kids are finally starting to move out, and a house that was great to raise three kids is now too large. So I am gathering things to give away, from kid costumes to books and extra furniture. Oh, and a piano. We actually have two pianos.

    Hopefully when the child who graduates this week from college moves out this summer, she’ll take some of the furniture with her, plus all of her sewing stuff that often ends up in our dining room.


    1. See. We’re facing the opposite problem. We’re planning on having a child in the next year or so and one of us is going to have to give up their office. That, and we’ll need to make room for the new stuff that comes with a child… Also, I’m scared to death of the responsibility.


      1. “Also, I’m scared to death of the responsibility.”

        That is so normal. Though for some reason we manage to deal with the issues (I speak as a parent of someone with many medical issues, it was not exactly what I expected… but you learn to deal because you are of no use if you are a quivering puddle on the floor).

        Remember, there are stores that sell used kid stuff. You do not have to buy new bedding, clothing, toys, etc. And then you can sell them back, either to the consignment store or at a yard sell. It was cool when the kids themselves sold the kid furniture at their own yard sale, the kid furniture ended up down the street… and then was sold again a few years later when that family moved).


      2. Okay, sometimes you cannot sell it back. I bought a used double stroller that was wonderful, but by the time we were done with it, it was completely trashed.


  2. When I downsized, I donated about 20 linear feet of gardening books to my local community college which has a horticulture program. They were THRILLED! I donated another 40 linear feet of equine-related books to a handicapped riding program. They were kind enough to track what they earned from selling them at their annual “barn sale” — more than $5,000. I was thrilled. I’m working hard on not building up again.


  3. What Chris said about “renting” the kid stuff. And !!!!!! Bébé planning!!!!! I’m excited on your (plural) behalf.


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