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Growing up in America with immigrant parents from Thailand wasn’t always easy.
Because I commuted from home to college everyday to save on housing, I still lived with my parents until my early 20’s.
Their hoarding tendencies clashed with the minimalistic ideologies I was starting to develop during this time. Arguments erupted over why I was getting rid of certain things.
“It’s waste of money to be throwing that out!” “Do you know how much that cost?” they often shouted at me as I was hauling things away to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
“Why don’t they understand?” I remembered asking myself many times. It took me years to get to what I think was the root of it.
At some point during my early adulthood, I stumbled upon Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it changed my life.
Her book was the spark that helped me glimpse beyond the wall of clutter that my parents had in their house and, in effect, how their hoarding tendencies rubbed off on me.
“When will you get to the point about how it affects our money?” you might ask. Hold on, we’ll get there 😀
In the spirit of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” TED talk on YouTube, I’m going to get right to the point of why I think my parents (and maybe your parents too) hoarded.
Sinek talked about how at the very core of our brains, we think in terms of “Why.” “Why do we do this?” “Why does that happen?” “Why is this important to us?” And most importantly, “Why should I care?”
After this core “Why,” we get into the second layer of “How.”
“How does this affect us?”
Finally, the outer and newest part of our brain is the “What.”
“What am I doing? What are they doing? What is this and what can I do about it?”
To put it all together, the question for this post is:
“Why do our parents hoard? How does this affect me and my money? What can I do about it now?”
Why Do Our Parents Hoard?
I think because both of my parents grew up poor (think: metal shingle roof and dirt floor in Thailand), when they came to America, they held on to everything because it gave them a sense of control and power over something in their seemingly uncontrollable, messy, and financially turbulent lives. (Of course, I could’ve sworn Buddhist teachings say that you have to learn to relinquish control over all things, only then will you feel inner peace. This might explain why my parents are usually never at peace with themselves and the world around them. But that’s a story for another blog post).
I reached out to Kristen Wong, author of the new book, Get Money: Live The Life You Want, Not Just The Life You Can Afford, to ask if she experienced something similar growing up with an Asian immigrant parent.
She said, “My mom definitely always had a ‘scarcity’ mindset with everything, so it was very hard for her to throw anything away.”
Nice to know it wasn’t just my parents! lol. There are worse habits and tendencies than treating everything with a scarcity mindset.
I also reached out to Adam, a blogger who writes about minimalism and financial independence at minafi.com. He said that perhaps our parents hoard because “[coming] from a lower income background meant you hold on to what you have in case you need it later.”
Both Kristen and Adam have good points between the “Scarcity” mindset and the “what if I need it later?” mindset.
Treating everything as scarce, you use more of what you currently have, saving you money. And if you hold on to something long enough, you might use it again instead of spending money on a new one.
These all sound good but I think there are even deeper reasons for why our parents hoard. Here are the 3 main reasons.
1. Insecurity & Fear of Confronting Who They Really Are
Life isn’t without its insecurities. Fresh off the plane, in a new country where they were now the minority, barely able to speak the language, and being poor, my parents were probably insecure about a lot of things.
To borrow from Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, and author of the Tao Te Ching, via silence, we can get to the root. By getting to the root, we can get to the truth.
Let’s assume that everything you keep around you creates some form of mental and psychic noise.
I think my parents were subconsciously surrounding themselves with noise in the form of stuff, to avoid the silence. They avoided the silence because they were afraid to confront the root of the their insecurities, the truth of who they truly were and what they truly felt. They drowned out the sound of their truths with the noise of clutter. And They walled off their emotions by creating a dam of things.
Maybe if they confronted the truth more, they would realize that they were spending money on things that didn’t really make them or their family any happier, all to keep up appearances with the Joneses of society.
The idea of confronting our deeper thoughts and feelings can scare people, especially if we didn’t learn how to properly deal with them growing up.
We’d rather hide behind music, social media, and closets full of clothes because, superficially, they’re easier to deal with than complex human emotions.
That’s why I think those who follow the minimalism mindset are actually quite courageous because it takes strength and courage to let go and confront the truth within ourselves.
2. Need For Control & Stability
My parents grew up during the turbulent era of Thai politics. Since my dad was born, Thailand has had several military coups and political upheavals.
Since your parents were born, they have probably been through several ups and downs in the stock market, Vietnam war, war on drugs, terror, and high crime rates.
You can imagine how out of control they might have felt when everything around them was going crazy. How did they deal with this feeling of lack of control and instability? They bought stuff, i.e., retail therapy, (or drank) to feel like they had control over something (yes I mentioned this earlier).
3. Things Are Cheap
This is why I love reaching out to people and asking them for their thoughts and insights into these topics. Because sometimes, you get these golden nuggets from left field that you totally didn’t foresee.
I asked Dr. McFrugal, a doctor who blogs about minimalism and finance, for some comments on parents and hoarding. Knowing he was an adult (Hey, he’s a doctor. You have to be an adult for that, right?) I thought his parents would at least be from an era that this post pertained to.
After the 1970’s, he said that because China had opened its doors to trade and was flooding the market with cheap, mass produced goods, “this led my parents to semi-hoard and accumulate random stuff because it was cheaper and readily accessible compared to times in the past.”
“A lot of us are overwhelmed by the constant overstimulation of social media… Fewer of us are equating the accumulation of things to happiness…And a lot of us see the excess and waste of our consumeristic culture and how it is destroying our environment and planet. All of the above is why younger generations are more likely to reject traditional consumerism and embrace minimalism.”
Well said, Doc 👏. This makes a lot of sense. Our parents grew up around a time where things cost a certain price. Then, the market gets flooded with cheaper priced goods. According to the law of supply and demand, when the price of goods drop, demand increases. This could be one of the reasons why our parents semi-hoarded. Because things were so readily accessible and cheap and they, for lack of a better phrase, “didn’t know any better.”
How Our Parents’ Hoarding Tendencies Can Affect Us & Our Money
I understand that we are our own individuals and that we are responsible for our own choices that we make in life. With that said, let’s entertain the idea that there might be some habits and tendencies passed down from parent to child while they raised us.
They Hoard, You Hoard
Some examples of what my parents hoarded and how it affected me growing up. Your parents might have hoarded different things and you grew up hoarding different things. Every situation is different 😀
For example, my dad kept business documents and receipts that spanned back YEARS, even after the statute of limitations had passed. When I asked him why he did that, he replied, “Just in case the IRS ever asks.” If the statute of limitations was 5 years, he still kept papers and receipts going back 7 years, “just in case.”
So what did I do? For a couple of years, I kept all of my credit card receipts and PAPER statements in a FILING CABINET. This was around 2014! Like how old school was I?! Lol. I felt like such an adult because that’s what I saw my dad do.
I kept these papers “just in case” some legal entity ever asks me for my credit card statements and documents. F-ing no. They have never asked and most likely are never going to ask. Just let go. I now do all e-statements and mainly only keep electronic records of everything so it’s not taking up physical space.
The Money Cost: It was one of the “Invisible costs” I never really paid attention to. The costs of buying folders, binders, dividers, paper clips, staples, printer ink, tape, and a filing cabinet with hanging folders. The hundreds of dollars I spent on those things could have been put toward investments. But alas, lessons learned.
By growing up poor, my parents overcompensated for it in later years by buying a lot of stuff, thinking that it will make them happy. Even if that means having lots and lots of clothes, food, and kitschy little knick knacks. My mom still goes through “retail therapy” and buys stuff at Costco and the mall anytime she wants to “be happy.”
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already heard ad nauseum about how research has shown that spending money on experiences, not material objects, increases life enjoyment, happiness, etc., in the long run.
Knowing my parents’ clothes-hoarding mentality, what did I do growing up? Have closets upon closets full of clothes piled high. I remember spending an average of one hour each morning deciding what to wear for school because there were so many shirts and pants to choose from.
You can imagine that not only did I already have to deal with the stress and social anxiety that comes with high school, I had micro-stresses and anxieties each and every morning regarding outfit choice. No wonder I didn’t quite enjoy high school. And it’s no wonder that maybe there are millions of anxious high schoolers across America. Because not only do they have to deal with social media, parents nagging, teachers nagging, homework, health, puberty, getting enough sleep, sports, clubs, and a lot of other things, they have to deal with the mini-crisis of choosing an outfit from their hoarded closet clutter of clothes.
(With that said, do minimalist kids have an easier time in the morning regarding their morning routines and lifestyles? Any minimalist households want to comment and let me know?)
I’m so thankful to be out of that stage and now maybe only spend a couple of minutes each morning choosing an outfit (TMI, I now own a total of less than 15 shirts and 1 pair of jeans instead of the 100+ shirts and pants).
The Money Cost: Just spending money on so many clothes. To try and have enough outfits to please people you don’t truly care about, because that’s what angsty teenagers do.
But You’re Not Your Parents
Because you’re an independent-thinking and responsible young adult, you are in charge of your own life, your own destiny. You are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your soul (Cue inspirational Invictus Poem by William Ernest Henley).
I can blame my parents for the 2 decades of programmed hoarding tendencies that they “nurtured” (AKA incepted) me with. Or, I put on my big boy pants and choose to live a life that’s of my own design, that’s of my own choosing.
The benefit that we have over our parents is that we are self-aware of how their hoarding tendencies affected our mindset growing up and what we can do different moving forward.
What You Can Do About it
Declutter the noise from your life, whether that noise is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social media, etc. Do what Lao Tzu recommended, get to silence in order to get to the truth of who you really want to be and what you really want to do. But most importantly ask yourself WHY do you want to do this and be this?
You’re in charge of your own life. Don’t live it according to how anyone else says you should. Heck, don’t even heed anything I say here. Go out there and live the life you want. Go out there, and get what’s yours.
(Shameless plug: You can also read my blog post on how to start decluttering your finances to make it “spark joy” if you don’t know where to start. Or this post on how I started decluttering my Facebook friends list)
The ancient Egyptians believed that the sunrise not only ushered in the start of a new day, but a whole new world. Therefore, what kind of world do you want to create for yourself come sunrise tomorrow?
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