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A Man Possessed

Jonathan Clements

IT’S NEVER GOOD to be self-indulgent, and that’s doubly true on a day like this. Still, while the rest of you relish the gifts that came your way this holiday season, let me offer a guided tour of my most prized possessions.

I now have a firm idea of what they are, thanks to a ruthless process of subtraction. I’ve spent the past four months throwing out and selling countless things I don’t greatly care about. What remains?

There are things I’m extremely fond of: the Edwardian loveseat and armchairs originally purchased by my parents and which moved with them from England in 1966. The dining room table that was likely owned by my great-great-grandfather, who was one of the richest men in England when he died. A Queen Anne desk, originally bought by my mother. Some oil paintings of moderate value. My all-carbon bicycle, which has the ability to make me feel decades younger.

But while I like these things a great deal, I don’t love them. In fact, for the right price, I would probably say goodbye to all of them. Therein lies the problem. No, the problem isn’t that I would part with them. Rather, the problem is that others would also value them.

They may have sentimental value to me, but they potentially have real value to others—and that real value crowds out my sentimental value, leaving me somewhat ambivalent. In my perhaps twisted thinking, some object doesn’t rise to the level of lovable if it could be so easily liked by others.

Instead, the possessions I treasure most are things of almost no value to others: The teddy bear I had as a baby and which now sits on top of my bedroom armoire, surveying the room. The ugly mug given to me one birthday by my son, and which I drink from whenever I can. The paperweight I remember sitting on my father’s desk for decades and which I took from his house after his death. The small plate with the Emmanuel College crest that, during my undergraduate days at Cambridge, I found sitting in a dorm room kitchen and decided was best owned by me. The third-place award I won on a stinking hot July evening in Key West, Florida, when I ran a 5K with my father, daughter, son and sister, and after which we drank the race party’s free beer and watched the sun disappear.

These items would have little or no value for others, but for me they are priceless. Does that mean I equate zero monetary value with great sentimental value? Not at all. Rather, the items in the accompanying photograph have survived the test of time. Many other items of inconsequential value have passed through my hands over the decades and been discarded—because they held little or no meaning. What remains are those things that recall times, places and people that are important to me.

Will you find something of comparable personal value under the tree today? I wouldn’t count on it. Instead, the items you’ll one day treasure will come into your hands almost carelessly—and you’ll know they’re valuable because somehow they never leave.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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John Daniels
John Daniels
4 months ago

Very interesting column. Am I correct that you consider yourself better off than if you had received a large inheritance from your GGgrandfather?

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
4 months ago
Reply to  John Daniels

The fortune was gone long before I was born, so I’ve never considered the question. Would being born into wealth have made me less driven and less thrifty? I suspect so. I imagine I would have happily taken the money when I was younger. Today, it wouldn’t make any difference to how I live my life.

SanLouisKid
SanLouisKid
4 months ago

This is a “second vote” on the pictures comment. I was in the insurance business for several years and the one thing that people really missed when their houses were destroyed were the pictures. It’s another good reason to get your family collection of non-digital pictures scanned and backed up.

Michael1
Michael1
4 months ago

My wife and I have gone through a little exercise over a cocktail that goes something like this: if we were going to downsize dramatically and could only take ten things, what would they be? You can make your own “rules,” but generally functional “necessities” like the refrigerator need not be counted. Inevitably there are these meaningful treasures that rise to the top of the list.

Catherine
Catherine
4 months ago

Not under the tree, but near the fireplace, hangs the Christmas stocking my aunt knitted. All her nephews and nieces got one that year, when she didn’t have money for store-bought toys and other presents. Each had the child’s name and was individually embellished. This was so long ago, that when I first got it my entire leg could fit inside. Imagine my excitement to think how many sweets and good things it could hold!
My brother is here for Christmas and as he has in past years he marvels that somehow I never lost my stocking while his vanished many decades ago.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago

Merry Christmas Jonathan. We went through a similar winnowing process in the last year. I had a little trouble with getting rid of some of my work memorabilia. But we pushed through.

nick silvestrone
nick silvestrone
4 months ago

Agree 100% , but you betta not sell that carbon bike unless you really wanna be miserable ( or you’re trading it for a carbon MTB 😉)

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
4 months ago

A few picture albums that ecapsulate life’s journey with my wife and kids are our most valued treasures. They are the only “keepers” that we plan to take with us should we ever need to transition to some sort of care facility.
And our electronics, so we can stay connected with our kids and of course, Humble Dollar.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
4 months ago

Merry Christmas Jonathan! What a wonderful reminder that those things most precious to us are rarely bought for/by us. The memories and stories we hold in our heart are what make them so special.

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