Spending & Your Financial Bell Curve

By Melissa Tosetti

I first noticed the bell curve when my in-laws sold their house.

They lived in a beautiful two-story home overlooking the San Francisco Bay for over 30 years.  In that time, they raised children, my father-in-law ran his liquor store and my mother-in-law became highly successful in real estate.

When they decided to finally move full time to their vacation home on the Russian River, they began to prepare their house to put on the market.

My mother-in-law is an impeccable housekeeper and one of the most organized people I know. But, 30 years of accumulation is 30 years of accumulation.  They spent the next two years going through books, memorabilia, nostalgic toys and more.

The accumulation of their lives had become a physical burden.  I watched my mom go through the same thing when my grandmother passed away.  Like with my in-laws, it took close to two years to properly go through everything and give it its due.

How It Begins

For most, our adult lives begin with a beat up used car and living in an apartment with multiple roommates.  This is the beginning of the bell curve. At the time, it feels like it takes forever, but finally, we fall into our careers and buy our first homes.  This often triggers an overwhelming desire to outfit those homes.  We have kids, and all the equipment and accessories that go along with them.  We buy books.  We buy clothes.  We buy power tools and gather knick-knacks on our travels.  Some of us even collect – for my husband – it’s swords – You can’t find a corner of our house where there isn’t a sword, if not three.  This is the peak of the bell curve.

This accumulation goes on for 30 – 40 years.  Then, for many different reasons we decide to downsize.  For some it’s the flexibility to travel more.  For others, it’s the desire to not have to clean and maintain such a large home. This is the tail of the bell curve.

This is when we truly realize how the majority of those items have become burdens.  They’ve taken over the garages our cars have never seen the inside of.  They go to storage units only to be thought of when the bills are paid each month.

Unfortunately, the burden, if not dealt with, becomes someone else’s.  Over the years, many of the clients I’ve worked with were paying for storage units to house the items they inherited from parents – of which, only 10% had real sentimental value.  The other 90% too often is held onto out of guilt.

When it’s time to FINALLY face all the “stuff”, evenings become sorting sessions and weekends are focused on delivering unwanted items to consignment shops, thrift stores, libraries and the dump.  The latter costing a surprising amount to utilize.

Not About Minimalism

This article wasn’t written to convert you to minimalism.  I promise!  Instead, it has two purposes.

  1. It’s about creating an awareness of the lifetime of the things you buy. What does that mean?
    • Create a checkpoint for items you’re thinking about purchasing.
    • Do you need it?
    • Are you madly in love with it?
    • If you had to move, is it something you’ll want to ensure goes with you?
  1. It’s about not letting things build up because that keeps you from seeing what you actually love, need and use.
    • When you have a baby, of course you’re going to acquire a crib, a car seat and other accessories. But when you no longer need those items, give them a new home!  Don’t relegate them to the garage or a storage unit where you’ll have to shift them once a year to get to the Christmas decorations.
    • Become vigilant about what you keep in your home to ensure you’re surrounded only with the things you want and need.

It’s easy to fall into a thought process that in order to build the life we want, it entails certain purchases and that can be true to an extent.  But we also have to ensure that we don’t burden ourselves by the things we no longer need or love.