Selling off Your Furniture (and Other Unexpected Thoughts)

Marty writes in:

Read an article recently about a guy who sold off his furniture to start a coffee business. Seemed weird at first but then I got to thinking, why is it weird? Why did he need furniture or anything more than dirt cheap stuff?

I tried to find this article that Marty referenced without luck, but this comment really stuck with me anyway.

So much of what we consider “normal” in terms of the things we buy and own is influenced by how we were raised, what people in our lives do, and what we see in the media. We buy products, arrange our homes, eat foods, and do so many other little things in accordance with the many, many cues in our lives, starting from when we’re very young. It’s what feels normal to us.

This isn’t a bad thing. The sheer number of choices and decisions that life throws at a modern adult is overwhelming, and in order to not completely fall apart in decision fatigue, we use a lot of shortcuts to get through life. We rely on those cues to build up an instinct for many of the decisions we make in life and simply abide by them, saving our mental energy for the multitude of other choices we constantly face.

I’ve written about decision fatigue before, along with good strategies for not letting it impact your financial choices, but let’s look at the decisions we don’t make. What about all of the decisions we just take for granted in our lives, overlooking them because they’re normal? Things like, well, having furniture and not just selling it off.

Our natural instinct is to not even bother with such thought processes. For most people, when the question of selling off all of our furniture and replacing it with absolute minimalist stuff comes to mind, we shrug it off as not even something we’ll consider.

But why? Why not sell off the furniture? Why not replace it with low-end bare-bones stuff, or with nothing at all?

With questions like this, many people struggle for clear answers. It just feels wrong, so they haven’t ever really thought about the situation and when it pops into their mind, they stick with the “it just feels wrong” idea and simply discard it. Again, as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s very useful for guiding us through a life full of decision points.

The only problem is that such reflex thinking often leads us to poor uses of our money, our time, and our energy. We don’t even go down certain avenues of thought, closing them off without even really thinking about them, and staying on our current path because of the strong nudgings of how we were raised, what we envision other people might think (in truth, they won’t even think about it much at all; we overestimate because of the spotlight effect), and what is presented as “normal” in the media we consume.

A much better approach is to consistently put time aside and think about those avenues of thought we don’t normally go down.

For example, let’s address the furniture question. Why not sell off your furniture, replace it with bare-bones stuff, and use the proceeds to improve your financial state?

Sit down for a moment and try to think of the real, tangible reasons you don’t do so. Your current furniture looks good? Look for lower-end items that look good. Your current furniture is comfortable? You can make almost any furniture super-comfortable by shopping around and choosing the right thing.

On the other hand, consider what you could do with the proceeds, especially if you don’t replace it with anything. You could use it to pay down a debt. Better yet, if you sell off enough stuff, suddenly moving becomes a lot easier and more realistic, which can add up to a ton more savings.

You’ll find, as you’re thinking about this, that you naturally feel inclined to keep your furniture, even if you don’t clearly have reasons for doing so. This is the inertia of that default instinct you have, and it’s difficult to overcome. It shades the direction of thinking even when there’s no clear reason for it.

That’s why it’s important to channel that instinctive but reasonless thought into actual reasons. Why do you want to do things this way instead of that way? It’s often hard to dig into that, but it’s incredibly worthwhile.

It may be that you still decide that keeping your furniture is the better choice, and that’s a completely reasonable conclusion, but make sure that it is a reasonable conclusion for you, that the pros truly outweigh the cons. Or, you might decide that some of your furniture can go, or can be replaced with low-end stuff. In either case, you’ve actually thought about it and tried to resist the impulse to just go with that instinct, and that in itself is a big win.

Put aside time regularly to think about these kinds of things.

Think about why you live where you do and whether a smaller home or a home in a different area might make sense. Do you need that many rooms?

Think about having a roommate, or adding another roommate.

Think about going without a car, or going with one less car.

Think about switching to a vegetarian or a vegan diet.

Think about selling off some or most of or all of the things you’ve collected, the things that fill up shelves but are barely touched. Do you really value the things, or are they just mementos of experiences?

Think about why you own every single thing that you own. Do you really need it? What real purpose does it serve? Is it worth the space it takes up? Could someone else put it to better use?

Think about your yard. Why not just let it go to permaculture?

I try to go down one of these thinking rabbit holes once a week, during my weekly review. I try to come up with all of the reasons to do things the way that doesn’t seem natural, and when that argument seems really strong, I try to break it down. Along the way, I’m just trying to figure out the right way to do things for me.

The more you think about selling the furniture, the easier it is to visualize it and the less strange it seems, and when that happens, you’ve drastically expanded your financial and life possibilities.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.