A Wealth Of Dirt

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.

see dirt different

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.


Resisting Entropy

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.

The latest (free) edition to the Tako household — a toaster oven. It only needed a good scrub!

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.

The end result
Even our TV was a freebie!

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).

car scatches
My old car needed some fixing and a good scrub.

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.

After a little fixing and a good cleaning, the car was in perfect condition and literally spotless.

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.


[Image Credit: Flickr1, Flickr2]

24 thoughts on “A Wealth Of Dirt

  • January 29, 2020 at 11:49 AM

    I grew up in one of the few truly uncivilized regions of the world (which shall remain nameless).

    Me too, in my case it was Baltimore. Ha, kidding, only slightly. But I’m not trying to diminish the place you grew up, which does indeed sound worse.

    We’re soul brothers Tako. I didn’t have to buy a television until I was like 43 because my buddy Bob loves TV and would keep upgrading every few years. He would just give me his old ones. And my brother gave me one as well. Those old ones were plenty good for me.

    I got my current microwave free, as well as a nice dehumidifier for my basement. The latter I had to clean up but it now looks fine and works like a charm. Here’s to less waste!

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:43 PM

      Well, I’ve never been to Baltimore, but you don’t make it sound like a good tourist spot. 😉

      Totally agree, less waste is a very good thing!

  • January 29, 2020 at 2:08 PM

    Now you’ve got me more curious than ever about your past! 🙂

    Very honest post, Mr. Tako – I think you’re actually right, too. Most people are crazy about new, new new. I don’t know if I fall into that or not. I’m weird about some things being new but for most things, I don’t really care as long as it serves its purpose.

    And with the furnished apartment we got here in Panama, there’s not really anything new here. For example, the couches have a couple of holes in ’em with some small stains on them and the TV’s older (with horrible sound).

    Even funnier is that my brother freaked out when he found out that we were just using the sheets and pillowcases that came with the place – “that’s disgusting” he said. But when I told him that, of course, we washed everything and reminded him that the hotels he stays in don’t use new sheets with each guest, he didn’t know what to say. 🙂

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:39 PM

      All atoms on this planet are recycled. Many probably went through the digestive tract of a dinosaur too! 😉

  • January 29, 2020 at 4:49 PM

    I’m a big thrifter, but need to get better at sourcing free stuff. You’ve provided inspiration to do so. My 15-year-old daughter recently started getting into thrifting, too. Warmed my heart.

  • January 29, 2020 at 10:11 PM

    Ok in the spirit of this post I will admit that as a freshman in college I dumpster dove with room mates behind the Olympia salvation army because the store would trash things that didn’t sell. We got our tv, vacuum, and a bunch of other things for free. A little cleaning was all it took haha

  • January 30, 2020 at 5:27 AM

    Did your whole family move when you left your previous country? I’m considering a move too but have lots of social connections. Why did you leave and why wouldn’t you go back?

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:37 PM

      I left because it was a hellhole. Moving away from hell is not a problem even if you have social ties.

      Would you ever go back to hell if you had a choice?

      • January 31, 2020 at 8:17 AM

        Interesting question. I’m struggling to leave hell because of the social ties… The problem is that its better to be in hell with ypur mates than in paradise alone. Also I dont want to leave my family members behind, but I dont want to leave once its full out war since once you reach the state of Syria its too late to leave alive…

  • January 30, 2020 at 9:18 AM

    Congratulations on selling your car at a good price. All I have to say is you must be much better at cleaning than me. I always end up with a stain or three somewhere in the back seats where the kids sit that will not come out and the harder I try to clean it the more it seams like it may damage the material.

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:35 PM

      I didn’t have any problems damaging the material. In one case a little stain remover was required, but that cleaned up with no problem.

  • January 30, 2020 at 9:40 AM

    Wow, you need to have a guess where you grew up contest. That’d be super interesting.
    I lived in rural Thailand for a few years. My dad had a chicken farm, then a hog farm. So I spent plenty of time around dirt when I was very young.
    Great job fixing and picking up used stuff. We do that often when we lived in our old building. People throw out perfectly good stuff. It’s harder now that we live in a house. I don’t see stuff lying out in the open anymore. I did pick up a free wok and saved $50 last year. It was rusty, but I cleaned and seasoned it. Now I can use it in my cooking videos. 🙂

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:34 PM

      You need to join your local free groups Joe! I’m sure there’s several in your area.

    • February 4, 2020 at 3:27 AM

      Yo, Alaska is pretty nice R40!…sure beats feces on the streets of downtown Portland.

  • January 30, 2020 at 9:46 AM

    Just curious, how did you sell your car? Been contemplating selling ours online.

  • January 30, 2020 at 11:47 AM

    I’m interested in your go-to cleaning products for kitchen, bath, and garage.

    • January 30, 2020 at 3:33 PM

      Soap and water? It really depends upon the kind of ‘dirt’! There’s all kinds of things I might use — Vinegar, alcohol, various stain removers, razor blades, scrub brushes, scouring pads, etc. It just depends!

  • January 31, 2020 at 9:55 AM

    Ha! I am guilty as charged! I like new things. I keep them for a long time but I do like them new.
    For example I just bought a new car (nothing fancy) and keep going wow at the things it can do that my previous 15 year old car could not.

    Really good to read and understand your point of view. Thanks. I just have to try and work out why I am like I am now – I really have no idea as from a material standpoint I had a pretty bog standard upbringing for my generation – certainly not given new stuff as a matter of course.

  • January 31, 2020 at 9:43 PM

    That’s one nice looking Civic there Mr. Tako. Nicely done on cleaning it up and make it look nice and shiny. 🙂

    I’m a bit like you, entropy drives me nuts that’s why I have a tendency to clean stuff up every other day. It’s in my blood!

  • February 1, 2020 at 5:04 AM

    I had a co-worker whose side hustle was essentially cleaning cars. His father had a garage and using his father license he bought cheap second hand cars and then sold them at a profit. The only things he did was a basic check-up and cleaning up the car. He usally made 200 – 400 euro on a car which came down to a very high hourly rate for just cleaning a car .. He loved finding really dirty cars. Because that just meant his buying price went lower and his profit up!

  • February 1, 2020 at 1:49 PM

    We’re all about the curb finds – most of our furniture in our house was free. Part of the fun of living in a college town is move-out weekend, aka “Hippie Christmas”. So much good stuff waiting to be picked up if you’re willing to look through it all!

  • February 3, 2020 at 7:46 AM

    I have to say I am a bit disappointed by the outcome of cleaning your car. As I was reading I was thinking, o plot twist. He got this thing perfect looking and decided to keep it saving thousands!

    I think a major aspect of buying used isn’t just the dirt but the cost of finding what you want, negotiating with an individual, and actually going to pick it up. This as opposed to either ordering online or going to a store where you know they have a vast selection of what you are looking for. Right or wrong, people simply cannot be bothered to put in the effort.

    I definitely feel some conviction on this front. I recently pitched a toaster because one of the sides stopped working. I even googled it, found it was typically a specific part that melts in that model of a toaster and they had instructions for fixing it. I just felt like I couldn’t be bothered to fix it and am now the owner of a brand new toaster. Just kidding I got a return from a fast track auction for like $10.


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