When my family and I moved from Japan to the US as part of my relocation for work, we had to go through an interesting exercise: making an inventory of everything we wanted to ship with us from one country to the other. Which, basically, meant an inventory of everything we own in the physical world.
This was an interesting thing to do, although at the time kind of nerve-racking. I hadn’t imagined that I would have such homework to do ahead of an already stressful move. But we worked on it, went through every single item we owned, from my “pricey” collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, to our pairs of socks.
Specifically, the question that needs to be answered in the inventory sheet is “what would it cost [an insurance company] to replace this object?”. For most things it’s a matter of finding how much it would cost to buy some similar object (e.g. how much does a used Back to the Future Trilogy DVD set cost?), for others, the sentimental value of the object made the estimation a bit more difficult (Grandma gave our son this handmade t-shirt. nobody in their right mind would buy it, but it has some value to us).
After a few hours of the grueling process, we started evaluating things in bulk: “I roughly have 20 t-shirts, probably worth $5 each. Done!”. Interestingly, I think I would find this process more relevant today, than I did back in 2014.
Now here’s the shocking number: my family of 4 owns $25’000 worth of stuff. And that’s it! Our most valuable items are my collection of DVDs/blu-rays (evaluated at $4000) which I’ve been trying to resell recently, and our bed (about $2000).
By comparison, the average cost of a new car was $31’000 in 2015, according to Bing.
So, if you bought a new car recently, there’s a chance your car alone cost you more than what it would take to replace all the stuff that my family owns.
I’m by no means a crazy minimalist. But one thing that I know has helped us tremendously (from a financial perspective), in hindsight, has been to live in very small places. Our first condo in Japan was about 300 square feet, then we moved later on to 500 Square feet, then to 700 Square feet when our first kid was born. Today, the 4 of us live in 900 Square feet. I feel it’s small: I grew up in the countryside of France, in a house so big I have no idea how big it actually is. Maybe 3000 Square feet if you don’t include the basement? All I can say is that 900 Square feet for 4 of us feels small to me.
But the insane benefit is that we don’t have room for useless crap. We never had. This means I’m very conscious about what I buy, especially if it’s going to be bulky. This lack of space used to be a huge source of stress for me, but today I’ve embraced it as an additional vector of frugality.
Owning less, and not owning any expensive stuff is a huge boost for my peace of mind too. There’s nothing in our condo someone could steal, that we couldn’t replace at minimal cost. It doesn’t mean we own crappy products either, although they might not look as shiny as the Jonese’s. My $200 HD TV shows me the same movies you’re watching on your $5000 smart TV.
Owning less crap, and less expensive versions of it too, is one of the ways we’ve been saving way more than the average, and are on our way to Financial independence.
Oh, and yeah, we don’t own a car.