FA Yardstick for Mutual Fund Expenses

“So, this must be what an intervention is like.” That’s what I thought as I went around the house with the moving company representative. He was going through our house, room by room, noting this and that piece of furniture.

He saw the bookshelves. He asked what we were taking and what was being left behind or sold. When we told him a couch or a chair was moving, he punched it into his portable estimating machine. The machine was silent, but I knew it was making little cash register ka-ching’s inside.

He was the intervention. Somewhere I heard Shania Twain singing:

“All we ever want is more
     A lot more than we had before
     So take me to the nearest store”

He wasn’t, like the loving relatives and friends in a conventional intervention, going to tell us we would die if we didn’t stop. No, at the end of the process, he just told us that we were moving nearly 10,000 pounds of “stuff” and we were going to pay for it.

Shania continues singing:

“Can you hear it ring
     It makes you wanna sing
     You'll live like a king
     With lots of money and things
     Ka-ching!”

Five tons! Just for daily living!

We were moving that much “stuff” in spite of the fact that we had been “simplifying” and getting rid of stuff for at least three years. In spite of the fact that the people who bought our Santa Fe home had requested four nearly impossible-to-move antiques be included with the sale. Not to mention that we were going to put the furnishings equivalent to a fully equipped small house in an estate sale.

But even after all that, we were still going to be moving nearly 10,000 pounds from Santa Fe to Austin. So much for our illusions of living a simple lifestyle.

Previous moves haven’t revealed as much. Until now, we have done our own moving because, well, I have a strong back, wonderful friends and a wife who is a close relative of Wonder Woman. I also happen to enjoy driving big noisy rented trucks.

Now, however, the amount of “stuff” was inescapable. And we would pay for moving each pound.

The odd thing is that in the course of packing we realized, again and again, that most of the “stuff” wasn’t necessary. For the better part of a week we packed boxes. In the end we were surrounded by boxes even though the garage was stacked with boxes like the shelves at a Lowe’s or Home Depot.

But we were still functional.

We cooked, ate, slept, washed, changed clothes, talked on the phone, and read. We made margaritas. Life was completely normal, even though most of our 10,000 pounds of stuff was sealed in cardboard boxes.

The stuff, in fact, could remain in those boxes and we might not remember it. With the exception of a few totem objects— a bronze sculpture by my paternal grandfather, a box carved by my father, a plethora of family pictures and a bottle of 1940 vintage Madeira that is sipped on very special occasions— it could all disappear somewhere in west Texas and not be missed.

There is a message here. It’s definitely one of those embarrassing “Do as I say, not as I have been doing” messages— but it is a message nonetheless.

Many of us don’t need a lot of what we have.

We don’t need to replace a lot of what we have as it wears out. We can dematerialize. As I pointed out in a recent column on “Kindle-nomics,” we can substitute a Kindle for books. We can hide an entire music collection on a laptop hard drive. We can get along quite nicely, thank you, with less “stuff.”

This is not a new message. It is far older than Henry David Thoreau and the little box he lived in on Walden Pond. But it is comforting because lots of people don’t have the money to buy “stuff.” And while some Americans simply can’t get along on less, many others may find that adapting to less is easy and beneficial.

It’s just possible that what we see as a loss today will be seen as an opportunity tomorrow.

On the Web

Shania Twain singing “ka-ching” (Red Dress version)

Lyrics to “ka-ching”

Sunday, August 14, 2009: Kindle-nomics