Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harold Loves Maude


It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, from one of my favorite movies of all time, Harold and Maude. The scene is rather simple, yet incredibly evocative. Harold and Maude have spent all afternoon at an arcade playing games together and Harold is smitten. They are now sitting on the banks of a river.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Yeah?
Harold: [pulling a stamped coin from the arcade out of his pocket] Here.
Maude: A gift! [she reads the engraving]
Maude: "Harold loves Maude."... and Maude loves Harold. This is the nicest gift I've received in years.
[she tosses the stamped coin into the water]
Harold: [gasps]
Maude: [looks at Harold with a great deal of love] So I'll always know where it is.


I’ve been talking with some friends about just skipping the whole ebay/craigslist/freecycle thing and giving them all of my furniture for long-term storage. The idea is that I would be providing people I care about with things that they actually need. In exchange, they would hold on to my furniture until I figure out what to do with it. This would be a long-term loan of sorts. And I will always know where my furniture is.

I’m a bit conflicted about this. For one thing, I’m sure there is a part of me that looks to this as a way to ‘keep’ my stuff and not have to go through the trauma of actually selling it. To use ebay or craigslist would, in essence, put a dollar figure on the money I wasted trying to live a ‘material’ life. This would force me to come face to face with the consequences of unmitigated consumerism.

I’ve also been thinking about the idea of freecycling. There is definitely value in giving for the sake of giving. Of recognizing one’s past vulnerabilities and attempting to make amends. I can’t go back in time and save the trees that were destroyed in order for me to enjoy an 18th century Chinese bookshelf. I can’t recapture all the fossil fuels that were wasted when my handcrafted king-size sleigh bed was delivered.

But I can let go completely. I can just give it ALL away. Why do I need to charge someone for something that really shouldn’t have been mine in the first place?

I have through the middle of next year to figure this out. But I would certainly appreciate your advice, my dear reader. What would you do?


LiveWorkDream said...

Ok you asked for it. . .

I don't like the long term loan idea, as creative as it is. It gets too complicated: how will you collect your things if they are scattered all about? Think about the logistics if your friends move while you're away. And it will be awkward when you do want your stuff back and have to ask for it. What if they grow attached to it? Plus, what if someone ruins something you really care about?

I get the sense that you haven't quite detached yourself from the tons of nice things you've bought. You seem to like what they represent, based on the vivid detail in which you use to describe them. Nothing wrong with that; you worked hard for them. I don't think you should give it all away, you may regret it later on.

Do what we did; keep only the most important pieces.

Also, there is nothing wrong with charging people for these things you want to get rid of. You paid good money for them, if you want some of that back, there's nothing wrong with pursuing it, as long as you're realistic and can be flexible with the price.

If the items you keep are paid for and of good quality, you may want them some day in the future. Because if you plan on living a simpler life, having some of these key pieces of furniture will make your life easier since you won't need to get caught up in earning money to try to furnish your home all over again.

So go through these things carefully, then choose only the most important pieces to keep. Good luck!

Elizabeth Halt said...

oh good -- liveworkdream said some of what I was going to say while my brain fumbled around with words .. :-)

First, I would never get rid of everything unless I had identified a plan I was moving towards that called for this - like moving abroad long-term or an RV lifestyle or my current furniture was all large enough that it would be too large for any type of home smaller than the current one or .. Without that plan, I would still need a home of some sort and would need some furniture and want some of my things to make my home a home. So in your position, while I might get rid of everything that I did not consider essential furniture-wise (all but 1 bedroom, e.g.), I wouldn't make any decision on the rest until I had an idea in mind.

I also wouldn't do the long-term loan thing. The only way I'd give something and ever want it back would be if I knew I'd be needing the item in the short-term and the person I was loaning it to only needed it for the short term. If they really loved it, I'd have a hard time ever taking it back - especially as the amount of time they had it increased. If they only needed it, I wouldn't want them to have the hassle if at some point they no longer needed it - but either felt like they had to keep it or had to try to get ahold of me to do something with it.

Otherwise, I think Freecycle and selling are both fine.

Sharon J said...

Well if the friends you'd be storing your furniture with need the stuff, why not just give it to them instead of expecting it back?

I take it you've already ear-marked the pieces you'll need in your future home? No point in getting rid of everything just to buy more stuff, after all.

As for selling it, you could perhaps donate half of what you get to your favourite charity or something? Or even all of it if you really don't want any return on what you consider to be a past mistake.

I wouldn't worry too much about the trees and carbon footprints behind your furniture either. If you turn it around, the shelf is a piece of history made during a time when there were more trees available and people didn't have the same understanding of sustainable forestry as we have today. And the bed may be a luxury but it put a few meals on the table of the guy who carved it. If nobody ever buys anything, nobody will ever earn anything. Sure, you could have bought something locally instead but you didn't and you can't undo what's already been done.

You may have been guilty of over consumption but you've learned tons and there's a bright side to most things :)

Sharon J x

anita said...

I guess I'm with elizabeth and wondering exactly what your plan is. Unless you're planning on living in a van or bus or something, you're still going to need furniture. Isn't it better to keep the nicer things that you're attached to, than to have to replace it with something else? It's possible to downsize, but still keep nice things. I don't know, I wouldn't give up that beautiful bed if I didn't have to. It IS okay to have beautiful things in our lives and our homes, that give us pleasure. If you're not sure what to do with them, or if you're planning on traveling for awhile, put them in a storage unit for a year. Yes, it'll cost you money, but much less than what you're paying for your home now.

Anonymous said...

Yep. You're going through it too. I am still amazed at how easy it is to get stuff but so hard to get rid of it.
Wishing you better luck than I'm having at it.

Anonymous said...

1. Decide where you are going to live
2. Decide about how many rooms you will have
3. Decide how much furniture you need for your place
4. Get rid of the rest of it -- give away or sell, it doesn't matter.

HaveFaith said...

Simplicity means something different to each person that tries to describe it. Unless you plan on sleeping on a cot or the floor, why get rid of a bed. If you are upset about the tree that died for it or the gas that was used to deliver it, get over it. It is done and can not be undone. You can still enjoy a good night's sleep knowing the lesson you have learned. Lack of material things should not mean discomfort. Think of the basics. We need a place to sleep, a place to eat and a place to keep our necessities neat (bookcase, dresser, cupboard). It's the excess!!! The duplication!!!! The bits and pieces of a lifetime that clutter your mind heart and soul. Get rid of all that and the bigger pieces will start to look very simple.
p.s. I used to think that I was "helping" unfortunate people have something nice when I used freecycle. Then I started seeing what I gave away being offered on Craig's list for a hefty price. Sad.

Anonymous said...

hi Jack
If I was selling high quality items like your's, over here in the UK, I would use an auction house.
I see no problem in you getting some money back on your items. You cannot control anything you have done (or bought) in the past, what is important, is what you do from today.
Keeping or selling to me, depends on how long you will be gone

Jack said...

Liveworkdream, Elizabeth, Anita, Jerry,

All good points and definitely all downsides to the loan idea (I don't think i could take stuff back either if people have gotten to love the stuff). Will have to consider this as i figure things out. I would say though that I am definitely NOT 'attached' to any of this stuff. If there is any vividness in my descriptions it is probably because I enjoy humoring the materialism that begot the stuff to begin with.

And yes, have already identified some stuff that I think I wouldn't mind keeping, assuming I actually stay put and just downsize my living arrangements. No sense in getting rid of things that I may actually need again. Again, all is still in flux so I think the plan that is slowly coming together in my head will eventually dictate a great deal of this.

Yeah, I've been struggling with that issue of how to deal with those decisions I made that I now find so repugnant. I think that once I figure out a way to deal with this issues, I will be half-way to where I want to be: simple freedom.

Jack said...


I absolutely understand this intuitively. But that is precisely the issue: simplicity for me may actually mean not owning ANY of this stuff.
You comments regarding freecycling made me cringe a bit. Will have to look into it because I am definitely thinking about it very seriously. Thanks!


Yeah, I've been thinking about auctions as well. In fact, I will be calling some of the furniture dealers that I bought some of this stuff from to see if they might be interested. Will definitely let you know!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the stuff is still controlling you -- even past decisions you make about the stuff. Remember, stuff is just stuff. Past decisions are gone. Concentrate on future decisions. Those are the ones that matter now.

Unknown said...

(the scene in "Harold and Maude" was not shot on the banks of a river, but at the Emeryville Mud Flats of San Francisco Bay. At the time the movie was made, art students/hippies from nearby Cal Berkeley used to go down there to build wonderful sculptures with the flotsam and jetsam)

I have a house and I'll be downsizing in a couple of years. I lived in a studio apartment for 25 years... saved... bought a house and while I love not having a landlord, I've acquired more than I wanted to. On the other hand, compared to most other Baby Boomers my age, I have very little and I'm happier that way.

Antiques that have value now will likely have value later. Put them in storage. They are a little bank account. There may be a time when you must return to a more conventional life and may need things. Then you'll be bashing your head against a wall about having to buy a crappy IKEA shelf when you'll remember your lovely antique shelf.

As for giving it away, what's to prevent someone else from putting it up on eBay or something? There may come a time when you NEED to be able to access some extra cash. So, pay $90/month and put that stuff AWAY. If after ten, fifteen years you think you'll never want it or need it or the money it may bring, then get rid of it. Don't do that now. De-clutter, yes, but don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Even people in the smallest little huts in romantic and poor parts of the world need furniture.

Lauri in L.A.

Anonymous said...

I'm going with the general consensus here and advising against long term loans. Like sharon j said, if you're set on getting rid of the stuff, why not just give it to your friends? Is there a fear that you'll wish you had it back someday and every time you visit the friends it belongs to, you'll feel a pang? If so, then maybe selling it is best. Or putting it in storage as lauri said.

Not too helpful, but really, down deep, this is a question only you can answer.

Anonymous said...

Final thoughts. Separate the furniture into two kinds:
1. Antiques
2. Others

Give away Others. Others can always be replaced.

Put antiques in storage. They are an investment just like stocks, bonds, gold, etc. Draw on them as needed, just like stocks, bonds, gold, etc.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with those who advise against the long-term loans. What if your friends don't want those things later, but you're the owner? What if they don't want them now, but are having trouble telling you so?

There's another option, although it can be time-consuming: find charities who need what you have, and give it to them. It took me a while to find someone who would take my futon couch (it was in great condition), but on the day I was moving, I got a call from a charity that needed a bed--any kind of bed--for someone who was rejoining society (prison? long-term rehab? can't remember).

As for determining what has the most value to you personally, maybe this will help: when I clean out my closet, I have a friend help me. I tell her about the clothes as I pull them out. It's surprising how, once I've told her the story of them (for example, the ornate designer cocktail dress that cost $40 on sale, and was fabulous when I bought it, but is hopelessly out of fashion today), I can let them go pretty painlessly.

By the way, if the bookshelves have been around for more than 200 years, at least they've gotten plenty of use. And better to use them (depending on the carbon cost of transporting it to you) than something made from trees that were cut down last week. You are part of a chain of people who have re-used that resource.

But if you want to free yourself from stuff, then do it. Don't make your friends into your storage unit.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely not "loan" it out to friends. Liveworkdream is right as to how complicated it could get. If I were you I would think about each piece in question -- do I love it? Do I really want to keep this? Would it just be holding me back? Then I would either sell it on Craigslist or eBay or an auction house or just give it away.

Kristina in Nebraska

Anonymous said...

Jack (I think that's the right name?) Since you asked for comments, please take this idea with a grain of salt...
Based on what you are writing, I can tell you are wanting to do something, but you just need guidance since you're not sure. I think you should sell it all, give it to the poor, and then join the Franciscans! :)
Here's a link:

Again, just an keep your options open and all. It just sounded like I was reading the life of St. Francis for a while there :)

Jack said...

Lauri, jerri, amy,

I stand corrected on the H&M scene. Not a cali person and clearly did not know. And yes, it may make sense to separate out the 'antiques' from other stuff. Will have to explore that option, though, at this point, the line of separation is stuff I actually like and stuff I can just do without.

Anonymous and Kristina,
I'm definitely getting a strong sense that the loan option is just not workable. I tend to agree with that, though maybe the thing to do in that case is to sell everything that is not an 'antique'. I have some time to think about this. We shall see.


Nina said...

Hi Jack- well you have certainly received a lot of comments on this issue. I agree about the loan possibly being awkward in the future but my reason for deciding against the loan would be for selfish reasons. I wouldn't want the mental attachment. I would also cringe at the idea of freecycle (guess I'm not that giving, lol)

I would just give the things I did not need to people I know and care for- or sell it and pocket the cash ;-)

wow- this comment makes me sound a bit ego-centric.

I agree about the books, btw. I could live with out most of my belongings but I cannot give up the books. I would carry them in a back pack if I had too- they just mean that much too me.

you are really making progress! Good luck on the issue, sounds like you're weighing out all the options.


Anonymous said...

I lied. Not my final thought. Jack, you stimulated another one.

We are making progress. You have a "line of separation". Now, is that the line you want? From my point of view, there is nothing (at least in a material sense and we are talking about material things) that you "can't just do without" (at least in a survival sense). So, I would say you need to shift the line a bit (at least in a reality sense).

Nicola said...

if you are really ready to separate yourself from the items as being yours and if you think you can do without the money you would earn from selling it, i would long term loan it (i.e. give it) to your friends. don't expect it back (or at least not in the condition you loan it in.) point is, letting it go to friends is letting it go. you don't need to punish yourself for furniture you bought in your pre-simplification days. giving to friends is an equal gift as giving to strangers, though each have different perks. i freecycle A LOT, both giving and receiving, but i often happily give to family and friends first. what goes around comes around.
that said, if you have not separated from the items, don't loan or give them to friends. (my husband's mom needs a "new" car and we have been toying with replacing one of ours, but i had to make it clear that i could not pass my car to my mother in law without strings. it would forever bug me how she cared - or didn't - for MY car.)

Nicola said...

oh, and you don't have to get rid of EVERYTHING to live simply!

Sharon J said...

Hi Jack. Hope you had a lovely weekend.

There's an award waiting for you on my blog. It's just a bit of fluff really but it's up to you what you do with it. Apparently you can either ignore it, accept it then forget about it, or post it on your blog then pass it along to a few other bloggers.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Thanks for the Harold and Maude quote. I have a wonderful old Martin guitar that was a gift hmmm almost 40 years ago. I can't play it anymore (fingers) but I don't want to take money for it. And, I can't bear to part with it to someone who won't love it.
Yesterday I asked an old friend who is a guitar master if he would like to take it and play it. Yes, he would.
And then I will always know where it is.

Me said...

Holy comments!!!

I agree, disagree, and agree again with all of them...

I don't think I could give any advice that hasn't already been givin.... except....

unless you plan on going "Into the Wild" with a bag of rice, a berry book, and a map of alaska (read the book, it's great...) then I agree, cash is good...

Despite what it may lead to (useless spending and frivilous vacations) which I have been victim of as well, it still makes the world go around and anything and everything we do still requires the moolah to do it with....

on another note... putting your future "cash" items in storage is very smart, I'm sure your watching the economy and it's one of the only ways to get ahead right now... hold on to it until it stabilizes and then sell....

Hugs and luck--Dana

donna said...

sitting on the fence... could you do a bit of both?
i think loaning the stuff is ok if you're not desperate to get it back- could be tricky asking for it back after a long time.
freecycling sounds like a good idea, spreading good karma

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I don't have time to read all the comments right now (though I look forward to going back through them later), so I apologize if this is a repeat. But here's my $0.02:

We've been struggling with a similar dilemma. Here's what I came up with in terms of weather to keep or give away each item:

- Does it require us to consume extra resources to keep it? E.g. if we have so much furniture that we need a bigger house to fit it all, then the furniture needs to go.

- Is there a chance we'll use it again in the next few years? Assuming it passes the first test, we might keep something that there's a chance we'll use again in the next few years since it wouldn't make sense to give it away and then eventually buy a replacement.

- Are we too attached to it? The biggest thing we've been trying to focus on is attachment. We have decided to keep some of the nice things we had from the old days -- after all, they're not bad in and of themselves just because they're nice. But we're just making sure that we're not too *attached* to it. E.g. if I stop inviting the neighborhood kids over because I'm afraid they'll scratch my precious hand-carved buffet, then it's time to get rid of it.

Hope that helps!

Jack said...

Three Moons,

Excuse the late reply, been working wayyy too much. That fact alone validates why I’m even doing this.
And you are no ego-centric. One of the common threads on this post is that there are sooo many different ways to do this. Cash is cash and I will definitely need some once I downshift completely. Oh, and I found a good place for my books (and every book I get from now on): my mom’s bookshelf. So I will always know where they are!


My apologies for the late response, things have been crazy at work lately. With respect to the line of separation, this is a constantly-shifting line. Not even sure where it will be when I have to deal with this. But you will definitely know! 


All good points. Did you see the comments earlier about how people freecycle and find their stuff being sold on ebay or craigslist?? It really bugged me. Need to do more research on that.


Jack said...


I loved your comment. Maybe I can adopt this philosophy, to the extent I am giving stuff away. On the other hand, you can’t be as evocative with furniture-giving as you can with your guitar!
BTW, VERY interesting blog. Been reading it off and on for a while now.

Dana, Donna,

Not going “into the wild,” believe me! Good movie by the way
Yeah, I guess I’m currently leaning to a mixed strategy, with getting some cash for some of the not so nice stuff and keeping the nice stuff somehow. Isn’t the economy scary??? Urggg…


BTW, couldn’t catch the interview. How did it go?

On point one: I think I have this down. I am leaving my huge townhouse, after all and the reason for getting rid of all the furniture is because I can’t quite take it with me in the first place.

On point two: Check! Thought about that, hence the idea of a ‘loan’ to people I know until things are figured out. This, though, has its disadvantages…

On point three: double check! I am not AT ALL attached to any of my things. That’s why, I think, letting go will actually be pretty simple. It’s only the thought of the cash wasted and the impact of consumerism that is giving me pause.

Anonymous said...


I think your instinct is telling you how you would truly feel holding on. Since you need to have some money in case your townhouse takes a little hit in this housing market (though I am keeping my fingers tightly crossed for you that it won't), it might be a good idea to sell the more expensive and rare items on ebay. I agree with liveworkdream that you may even keep a few that you really love because you worked hard for them. I regretting donating some books that I loved, and had not read. VS doesn't mean having no possessions, just that you don't have too much so you are not bounded by them. Just beware not to let your emotions make you hold on to too much. You worked for them so there is no harm in selling some also. You may donate those that are not that pricey - be they to charity or to your friends. The storage idea is a trap that I have seen a few of my friends fall into, and it will still make you feel bound and less free if you know deep inside that you still possess them, and haven't let go.

So keep a few, sell some and donate the rest. Let me know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I think:

If you could get money that you need by selling it, sell it! Capitalism rules when you need cash!

If you're just addicted to capitalism or selling it to reinforce some idea of materialistic value, then dude, give it up and give it away. Who cares if someone you give it to sells it? All that says is that they need the cash more than you did.

Anonymous said...

I love the quote "Sell all you have, and give to the poor."

I love it because it is about following an ideal, giving up a false past, and moving in true liberty into the future.

So, based upon that, I would advise not giving stuff on permanent loan. You'll never be free if you do that.

And as far as giving away stuff you worked long and hard for, why not conserve your own energy and simply recycle your hard work into new results. Sell the stuff, give to the poor, and make sure that you keep enough to be financially viable so that you can remain free.

Well, in the been there done that category, I simply offer that advice. Simplicity is great, poverty truly does suck unless it is done wisely, in the spirit of simplicity.


Jack said...


I like the balance approach you are pushing. Totally get it and believe me, it will dictate how this will go.

Hobo Stripper,

Of all posts, I think yours is the most straight to the point and most on point. I will need some cash so will probably sell some stuff. The rest I will probably give away, except for some pieces I will keep as investments.

Thanks for the comment. Totally get the problems with permanent loan situations. Like I said above, it looks like the consensus is leading me to get rid of most of the stuff by selling it and keeping some stuff for investment purposes. Along the way I will definitely be helping some people!

k said...

hi, new here....


and it's my favorite move too....

"A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room. "

Jack said...

eating dust,

thanks for the input. should have a little update on this issue shortly. And yes, another great H&M quote!

take care,


Anonymous said...

Hello Jack! I am only 'anonymous' because I can't be fussed with opening a Google account. My name is Elizabeth-Jane and I am a British woman who has, for many years, been living a more simple life in London.

I would like to make a suggestion here - perhaps a rather different focus from the comments thus far on this topic. I worry that you are using too much energy thinking about the 'what to keep/what to lose' issue, without first really getting to grips with the most important thing.

Basically, while it is good to get rid of clutter and excess objects that provide no real use or pleasure in your life, it is a mistake to suppose that doing this will, of itself, automatically allow you to live a simpler life. I worry that you may be making this mistake.

Conversely, it is quite possible to live with a lot of objects and yet still maintain a simple outlook. As an example, I love old table linens and have a large stash of them. Many people would regard this as 'junk' and exhort me to get rid of it so that I can be 'free'. Yet, for me, there is great simple pleasure in laundering and maintaining these lovely objects and enjoying them each day. Friends also enjoy them, alongside the Victorian china that I use.

So please don't feel you have to throw/give everything away before you can be free. Freedom is something you must generate internally.

I also wonder whether you have some misplaced feelings of guilt about the antique objects that you have acquired. If so, getting rid of the objects themselves may not solve the problem - you need to resolve the feelings and start to see the objects for what they really are - lovely things, which you are free to keep, give away or sell.

But whatever choice you make, it will not - on its own - make you free. The things themselves are not the enemy, you see.

Good luck with your journey!


Jack said...


Thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree with your definition of simplicity; it is, after all, my own. I think on my end I actually find most everything I own unnecessary and an obstacle to freedom. That is why I am so focused on getting rid of so much. I am certain someone on a similar journey would have a different cut-off.

Don't be a stranger.