Normally I don’t wax poetically about my childhood here on this blog. But for today’s post, I’m going to need to drop a little background in order for you to understand. I’m going to share a few choice tidbits from my past life.
While most children in my same era (the 1980’s and 90’s) grew up in the safe suburbs of clean and prosperous cities, I most certainly did not.
Without giving-away certain details that might give-away my secret identity, I can reveal that I grew up in one of the few truly uncivilized regions of the world (which shall remain nameless). Few people live there, and it’s a dangerous and dirty place. It probably still is today, but I haven’t been back in over 20 years.
I learned a great many harsh lessons in life from growing up in that place. Many of which shaped me in a variety of strange ways.
One such lesson, was about dirt. Yes, dirt! (See, I told you I was a weirdo!)
A Life Filled With Dirt
Growing up, I discovered my mother had something of an aversion to dirt. Being that we lived in a very uncivilized part of the world, dirt was literally everywhere. Even the roads were dirt. Eventually some of that dirt would get tracked into our home, and she hated it with enthusiasm. My mother kept a very clean home.
It goes without saying that I spent a goodly portion of my youth scrubbing away every last speck of dirt and grime, making our little part of the uncivilized world as spotless as possible. Growing up, my sister and I were always scrubbing and cleaning.
Dirt (and dust) are of course everywhere. The world is quite literally a giant ball of dirt, and cleaning it is essentially an endless task.
Living on the edge of the world as we did (far from civilization) we often needed to make due with the meager resources. It didn’t matter if a thing was old, dirty, or broken — We’d clean-it and fix-it-up as best we could, and then just learn to be happy with imperfection. As long as it was clean, it was fine.
This is the way I grew-up, and I have never viewed cleaning or fixing something to be a hardship.
It occurred to me today, as I scrubbed away the dirt from my latest used-acquisition, that I have profited greatly over the years from my relationship with dirt. In a manner of speaking, dirt has made me quite wealthy.
Entropy ensures that everything will eventually turn back into dust… given enough time. A great many people forget this, (I believe) largely because they live in perfect concrete metropolises where sparkling new products are merely a button press away.
It doesn’t matter. Entropy will win. Eventually every new cell phone will break, the designer clothes will rot away, and that fancy new car is going to rust into a heap of junk. Given enough time, the dirt always finds a way in.
Most people don’t even bother trying to resist entropy. At the slightest hint of dirt, they simply huck the item into the waste-bin and buy a new one. Easy peasy.
Oh the luxury of it! Sadly, this is exactly why the world is filling-up with mountains of trash. Rather than putting in the work to resist the relentless forces of entropy, laziness wins in modern society.
It is fortunate then, that those of us willing to put in a little elbow-grease, can profit greatly from this incredible wastefulness. With a little care, cleaning, and a few cheap repairs, you can save yourself many thousands of dollars a year!
None of this is a secret of course. I’ve been extremely verbose about it over the years on this blog. I’ve shared the fact that most of my clothes come from the thrift store. Most of our furniture is used too. My tools in the garage are used, as are many of our kitchen appliances. I even bought a used car.
Just by virtue of being not being afraid of a little dirt, I’ve added thousands of dollars to my net-worth over the years. It’s one of those frugal secret hiding in plain sight.
Ewww, That’s Gross!!
Growing up as I did, I doubt I’ll ever understand society’s aversion to used things. Most people really like new stuff. If they have the money, they would never consider buying used.
To give you an idea of the prevailing attitudes around this, here’s a sample of kind of comments that arrive in my inbox when I post about used stuff:
“Eww, I’d never wear someone else’s clothes. Think of where those have been!”
“You bought a used car? You’ve got tons of money. Why would you ever buy used if you have the resources to buy new?”
“Used kitchen appliances? Aren’t they covered in grime and dirt? That’s gross! Won’t you make your family sick?”
Frankly, it’s an attitude I find truly hard to understand.
In most cases, I believe it to be simply an aversion to dirt. Used things are dirty. No bones about it. Dirt and grime can be a little gross, and that really puts people off. They would rather work a few extra decades than deal with cleaning a little dirt.
To be fair, cleaning does take work. Lots of physical work. Most people would prefer to buy a new product, rather than put in the necessary work to clean-up something old. Laziness wins every time.
Used Car Shopping
Don’t believe me?
Try shopping for a used car sometime. Truly, the grime and slime of humanity builds-up in cars over the years. When the dirt finally builds to a crescendo of disgusting levels, the owner simply buys a new car. Then he or she looks to offload this concerto of dirt onto the used market.
As I was shopping for a new car this summer, I got to see this little song-and-dance in incredible (gross) detail. Human grime was frequently on display. In most cases, the owners couldn’t even be bothered to clean their old car… they’d already purchased a shiny new automobile to replace it.
Laziness wins, and used cars are frequently sold with most of that grime intact.
Perhaps this is why “for-sale-by-owner” cars frequently go for so much less than what dealers sell them for. Cleaning takes work! Or money. Frequently both.
Used car dealers of course will pay someone to do all the cleaning. They hire professional detailers to clean and repair cars back into good condition. Dealers then sell those cars at very large premium to book value. All because of a little cleaning.
Armed with this knowledge about how the used car market works, I set out to sell my old 2006 Honda Civic this January. To maximize my return, I cleaned the car to absurd neat-freak levels. I also put in considerable effort fixing issues with the paint (covered in this post).
It took a ton of work to get those little paint issues fixed. Most people would have told me it wasn’t worth the effort… indeed a few did!
I spent hours and hours of cleaning, fixing, painting, and repairing. But by the end of it all, my 14 year-old Civic was basically perfect. Not a spec or blemish remained.
Did it sell for a good price? Oh absolutely it did! A premium price! Was it worth the effort? Indeed it was! I sold the car for $6500, in one week.
That’s $1500 above Blue Book value, and there are countless Civics for sale on the used market.
This is normally price territory only dealers manage to sell cars for! I wasn’t trying to trick anyone or put lipstick on a pig either. I simply cleaned and made the car as appealing to a buyer as I could. As a result, I managed to sell at a premium price.
Claim Your Prize
Cars and kitchen appliances are just a couple examples of household goods that can be had for the want of a little cleaning. I think it’s fair to say that almost anything a household might need can be found, cleaned-up, and set-right with just a little effort.
You just have to claim the prize in plain site.
Not everyone is going to be willing to put in that effort, of course. I get that. But for those willing to roll-up their sleeves and do a little cleaning, we truly live in an age of abundance.
A dirty abundance, but an abundance none the less.