The Efficacy of Downsizing

Posted on August 26, 2017 by Robert Ringer Comments (40)

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With the United States on the verge of civil war, all half-way informed people realize that there are bad times on the horizon.  I was writing about the probability of a runaway inflation and subsequent collapse of the foundations of Western civilization clear back in the late seventies, and I was far from alone in my views.  Harry Browne, Jim Blanchard, Richard Russell, and many other “hard-money” newsletter writers shared similar views.

At the time, of course, establishment political types and the mainstream media dismissed all of us as doomsayers.  When I did television shows, I always got the feeling that producers and hosts saw me as nothing more than an entertaining novelty — sort of like a Richard Simmons in a suit and tie.

They must have been thinking, “Isn’t he hysterical?  The collapse of Western civilization?  Puhleez.  The next thing you know, he’ll be telling us that someday a Marxist will be elected president and try to fundamentally transform the United States of America.  Har!  Har!  Now that would be a real knee-slapper, wouldn’t it.”

Which brings me to preparation for what’s coming.  You already know about all the obvious things to do to prepare for the difficult times ahead, but an important one that you’ve probably never given much thought is downsizing.  When it all hits the fan, the one thing you don’t need is to be weighted down by mountains of unnecessary “stuff.”

In business, I’ve thrown out tens of thousands of letters, contracts, and other documents over the years.  And in my personal life, I’ve gotten rid of countless possessions, including, all too often, items I never even got around to using or looking at.

Nevertheless, I didn’t get really serious about downsizing and simplifying my life until Barack Obama was elected in 2008.  That was a real wakeup call for me and millions of other Americans, and it’s when I knew I had to get really serious about downsizing.

When I say serious, I’m talking about “untouchables” — the yearbook from my senior year in high school … the very heavy printing plates from the first print run of my first book … hundreds of videotapes of programs I had taped ten, twenty, even thirty years earlier … suits I hadn’t worn in fifteen years, but always thought I would someday be able to fit into … scores of hardcover copies of my books … and much, much more.

As I threw out many items that I once considered to be sacred, it reminded me of a line from my favorite movie (actually, a miniseries), The Thorn Birds.  The film centers around Drogheda, a large sheep station in the Australian outback, beginning in the 1920s.  Drogheda is owned by an elderly and very wealthy widow, Mary Carson (played by Barbara Stanwyck).

In one dramatic scene, Mary is standing on the front porch of the main house at Drogheda with Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain).  She is hopelessly in love with the much younger priest, and, at one point, philosophically says to him, “You know, a hundred years from now, no one will even remember that any of us lived here at Drogheda.”

The reason it was such a poignant statement is because the Clearys (Cleary being Mary’s maiden name) were an important family in Australia, and the soap-opera-like, incestuous entanglements of the various family members at Drogheda were so alive and real to life that it was hard to imagine all of them not only being gone, but forgotten.  It was a somber reminder to me of just how ephemeral life is.

I thought about Mary Carson’s comment as I was going through hundreds of souvenirs recently, many from as far back as when I was in elementary school.  One example that really struck me was a large metal spike that I had shown my children many times over the years.  At the age of ten, while playing football with the neighborhood kids, I was on the receiving end of a vicious tackle that totally severed my right femur.

As part of the ensuing surgical procedure, the doctor drilled a hole through my ankle and inserted a gigantic metal pin — in one side and out the other.  I was laid up in the hospital for five weeks, with weighted pulleys attached to both sides of the pin holding my leg up in the air.  For a young kid like me, it was pretty traumatic.

Along with tons of other junk souvenirs, I had kept that pin in one of my souvenir boxes for decades, because I still thought of it as a very big deal.  But when Barbara Stanwyck made that famous statement in The Thorn Birds, it hit me that, in the overall scheme of things, it was not such a big deal after all.

I thought to myself, “Do you really believe that someday your children or grandchildren will look at that pin and say, ‘Wow!  Just think, dad (or grandpa) once had that pin sticking out of both sides of his ankle?’”

Honesty compelled me to admit that I didn’t believe they would ever say or think any such thing, because it wasn’t a part of their lives.  Life is like a cosmic blink of an eye, which is why, hard as it may be for us to accept, most of what we experience is not that important to anyone else.  Even the most famous among us end up having much of their belongings auctioned off after they die.

Unless someone can come up with a viable solution for handling $200 trillion dollars in debt and unfunded liabilities, a soft landing for the U.S. economy is a fantasy.  Runaway inflation?  Possibly.  A deflationary collapse?  Possibly.  Both?  Possibly.  The truth is, no one knows.

The only thing all honest, rational people (which eliminates most politicians, FNM folks, and progressives) can agree on is that $200 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities is guaranteed to end badly.  And when it does, you don’t want to be weighted down by yearbooks and surgical mementos.

That said, if you haven’t already done so, today is the best day to start seriously downsizing.  There’s a good chance you’ll thank me for the nudge down the road.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

40 responses to “The Efficacy of Downsizing”

  1. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    Your theme reminds me of my father and how he decided to get rid of his "stuff" before he died. In his case, he didn't want anyone to know him through his things. I looked for his old scrapebook of "bare naked women" from the 1920s and 30s. I thought it would be a salable item. But, every trace of him was gone. And then, oddly, my mother cleared out her "stuff" before she died. I am 81 but still pilin' up the stuff in the storeroom. And yet I LOVE THE SAYING, "Freedom inheres in SIMPLICITY!" Kind of a contradiction.

  2. Rick Harmon says:

    Well, mow an opportunity to share some 'unsolicited' advice:

    'Don't spent a moment of time examining the place that you fell'
    That includes plaster casts, crutches, scans, preserved organs. Etc. it won't energize you, only take you back to a time that was painful.

    That you for all the inspirations you've provided me over the years.

  3. Jon says:

    Excellent advice, Robert. I'd call it "Getting your priorities in order."

  4. Paul says:

    One of the hardest things I've done is going through my mothers "things" and deciding what to toss & what to keep, knowing that the things tat I did keep will be tossed when I go. As for the coming crash, I'm trying to protect myself as much as possible. I agree with you, it is coming, only gimmicks from our elected officials will delay it. Only time will tell how creative they are at how long they can keep it at bay.

  5. Gary Waltrip says:

    I'll never throw away my high school yearbooks, childhood diaries or first run Robert Ringer books! However, Robert, you have given me some worthwhile food for thought. I can clean out my closets of clothes I will never wear again and discard dozens of books I will never read again. Old letters that I value can be scanned and saved on CDs. And, there's that cheap Chinese acoustic bass that is gathering dust and taking up room. And then I can take a tax deduction for all the items I give to charity.

  6. Jim Hallett says:

    De-cluttering and discarding even the sentimental stuff can be a huge lift to one's mental outlook as well. It is literally like taking huge weights off of one's back or mind to do so. I often think about the late George Carlin's beautiful piece on "Stuff" and how Americans are obsessed with more and more of it, and then have to add more and more storage for the stuff to make room for acquiring even more stuff. Since I plan to spend part of the year at least outside the USA, I am in the process of eliminating all the excess, things I thought I could never part with. The important things are captured in my mind for recall, and I can always access the inspirational books, writings, etc. since I always want to keep positive feedback entering my mind. Thanks for another good reminder, Robert.

    • Richard Lee Van Der says:

      Yes, George Carlin! I sometimes have occasion to refer to his routine on "our stuff" also. His performances were hilarious!

    • RealitySeeker says:

      "De-cluttering"

      Yes, agreed.

      I don't like keeping items which have no utilitarian value…

      RJR wrote a book titled, "How You Can Find Happiness During the Collapse of Western Civilization". His advise to stockpile was premature at the time, although it seemed like a good idea to me… It wasn't bad advice, just a few decades too early…

      Some of the advice found in that book shortly will become very timely. The day China can't or won't trade real goods for dollars (which actually have zero utilitarian value) is the day Robert's book becomes validated….

      The dollar shall indeed become like the "Old Maid" and that's when the SHTF….

      • Rick G says:

        RJR's book, How You Can Find Happiness During the Collapse of Western Civilization is a masterpiece indeed, a prophetic book before its time. I surely had wished it would have been also issued in paperback, but as far as I know, only hardcover. I just saw that book advertised again on Amazon. Anyway, that was way back when people like Robert Ringer, Douglas Casey, Harry Browne, et al. were ridiculed for being "doom and gloomers". Huh, huh, the joke is on the ridiculers! I'm glad you took the opportunity to read such a great book.

  7. Scott theczech says:

    I hope to, want to, need to…do you think a near future article could deal with procrastination?

  8. RealitySeeker says:

    I wouldn't call what I do in preparation for SHTF "downsizing" as much as I'd call it "updating". Perhaps I'd call it "sorting" and "prioritizing". The reason why I can't call what I do "downsizing" is mostly because I'm actually "stockpiling". Building a survival cache for a Dark Age is nothing new… The Romans, for example, are famous for their hoardings. And every year I read about some new discovery of buried silver and gold coins…

    Nope, I'm not downsizing but, rather, accumulating guns, gold and other goods. RJR might be like a Tortoise, but I believe in being more like a pack rat… Just call me "Templeton" right out of Charlotte's Web — still one of my favorite kiddy movies…

  9. Marlena Bennett says:

    After reading this I hope there is hope for me. I have enough clothing for 4 women and tend to wear a select few things. It will make me feel so much better if I help dress 3 women that need help. Thank you Mr. Ringer!

  10. Rick D'Amico says:

    I retired about a year ago from a 50 year broadcasting career. I had a closet of over 20 suits, shirts, ties etc, and just the other day I realized not only do I not wear suits any longer, I very seldom go in my closet! After a year, it's time to get rid of them all. Not to mention all the other "junk." Thanks for the motivation, Robert!

  11. Rick G says:

    I am already in the process of "decluttering".

    I'm sure in the year 2525 if man is still alive, as the Zager and Evans song went, after the sh** wagon goes down and the whole economic system tanks and a former President Trump is long gone and forgotten about, he will be blamed for all this.

    Gee whiz, I can't believe you would throw out your own books, Robert! No pun intended, but that is heavy!

  12. Mic says:

    When my in-laws passed away my wife and I went through and cleaned the whole house out to sell it. They both lived into their 80s and had a whole lifetime of stuff in that house. By the time we sorted it, sold the stuff we didn't have room for and gave the rest to charity we were left with a few boxes of stuff. It made me sad to think that a whole lifetime was ultimately reduced to a few boxes of stuff; most of which we don't even use, but store…until someone comes to clean our house out someday.

    • Jim D says:

      My dad passed away @ 14 years ago, and we kids helped my mom clean out the house so she could sell it and downsize.

      My father was the ultimate pack rat, so I found the exercise interesting from several perspectives:
      1. It was a trip down memory lane (and served as the trigger for MANY stories for my kids) to be reminded of a number of things from my childhood by all this stuff.
      2. It was fascinating to see what he kept; what was important enough to him not to throw out at the time. One very sad & humbling item: A letter I wrote him while I was at college, where I "set him straight" on some things. … cause I was SO smart at the time…
      3. There were things that I, as a kid, just wasn't aware of – like a cancelled check from a psychologist that my dad saw. I had no idea, and why only ONE check? Did he only see him once? Again good trigger for a discussion with my mom.
      4. It put MY life in perspective. What was MY life about? What little artifacts did I have and what stories would they tell?

      Mic, I have to disagree with you on one thing (though I don't know that this is your point). The results and the value of a person's life isn't summed up in a few boxes of stuff. My father meant much more to me (and my sisters & our spouses and kids, etc.) than the physical stuff he left behind.

  13. A Hungarian says:

    My Mother used to say : "the only thing you own is what's in your head "so I live by her wisdom !

    • Dick Caruthers says:

      The really important thing in life is to leave memories
      ( positive ones ) with family & friends , not stuff. We
      do not do enough of that.

  14. Avery Horton says:

    "How You Can Find Happiness During the Collapse of Western Civilization" what a great book! I made a Xerox copy of the EYE OF THE TIGER and it was hung by my bedroom light switch so I read it at least twice a day. _

  15. Steven Lidkea says:

    Hope he didn't really throw out "scores of hardcover copies" of his books. There's a market for them.

    • Richard Lee Van Der says:

      Where I'm from in Michigan, Yard Sales are VERY BIG, as in Popular. That's one good Market for our "stuff".

  16. Bob says:

    Normally I like your articles but predicting the downfall of western civilization and runaway inflation 40 years ago is hardly prescient As my small town father used to say "if everyone guesses someone will be right. "

  17. Heidi McCauley says:

    I see so many "how to declutter" articles, but yours Mr. Ringer is the most interesting, intelligent, absolute best and I can say the only one that has spurred me to action. Already on my way. Had a grandson over yesterday and have already gifted him with many items that he will love from his beloved Grandfather (who also had a spike in his broken femur– but didn't keep). Thank you.

  18. Charles N. Steele says:

    I largely agree. But if Mr. Ringer has copies of his books he doesn't want, *I'll take them!*

  19. Ken Overcast says:

    Unfortunately, I heeded the advice of the "doom & gloomers" in the 70's and 80's and totally missed out on the biggest stock market run in history. Big mistake. (Last time I checked it's still smokin' along.) Viewing the money supply charts from that period, (although pretty puny compared to today) really looked scary at the time, and I bit into it hook line and sinker. "This just can't continue," I said to myself … well, I guess that's still true, but it sure has for forty years or so. I know a few "hard money" folks that would sure be glad to get back what they've invested in gold and silver. Does $1900 gold and $50 silver bring back any memories?

    Here's a quote (to the best of my recollection) from Doug Casey … one of the guys I listened too way back when. I THINK this is what he said … "Just because something is inevitable, doesn't necessarily mean it's emanate." My apologies to Mr. Casey if that's an inaccurate quote, but I certainly agree with it. Whoever said it is a wise man.

    Personally, I can't see the practical advantage of the downsizing type you've mentioned, Robert. If all of this does come crashing down (and I've agreed with that philosophy for 40 years or so), the fact of whether or not you've still got your high school yearbook, or a dozen suits that are too small, really won't make much difference. Getting rid of extra junk is probably a good idea, but I really doubt it will matter all that much when the inevitable "stuff hits the fan." Downsizing debt … now THAT'S another practical issue altogether that I wish you'd have touched upon. I think that action would do a whole lot more to help you ride out the storm.

    A couple of years ago, I was the executor of the estate of a friend that had an absolutely opposite point of view from yours. His idea was that if the crash happened he wanted something he could sell or trade for something he really needed. His being a born salesman might have had something to do with his thinking. (He once sold two vacuum cleaners to a lady with no electricity.)

    We had an auction sale to sell his vast collection of "stuff", and it took several auctioneers with two rings going continuously to get it done in one day. They finished after dark. Although he was counting on all that huge collection of his to be his retirement, he didn't live long enough to see that come to fruition … but the auction DID bring a big fat check that set his widow up for the rest of her life.

    As my old Granny used to say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."

    • DOL says:

      Two comments: First, as for the lady who bought 2 vacuums w/no electricity: Hope springs eternal.
      Second: A pox on that expression about the cats. That is the most offensive thing I heard today.

  20. DOL says:

    I lost my son so it's been made crystal clear to me what's important and what's not. I would give everything I own and every cent I have for just one more hour with my child, to kiss his dear face and tell him one more time how much he is loved. "Stuff" means nothing to me that I thought did – exception his "toys", papers, letters. I can't turn them loose yet but they, too, will go. I have him in my heart for eternity.

    • Ken Overcast says:

      I'm so sorry. To lose a child has to be one of the most tragic of losses. I can say I empathize, but unless someone has gone through the very same thing, we really have no idea of the pain that brings. We can only imagine.

      I lost both of my parents within six months a few years ago, and when my siblings and I got together to divvy up their "stuff", I brought about a pickup load of it home and put it in my basement. Our house burned to the ground a couple of months later … before I even had a chance to see what kind of goodies I had. You're so right … it's just stuff.

      May God bless your memories of your son. That's the "stuff" that really means something.

      • DOL says:

        Thank you for understanding my pain. And about the cats. You know they say to get a dog if you need a friend, and if you need another friend, get another dog. Well, my comforting friend was my cat, and I lost him too, not long after, so I am still smarting. I look forward to the time when life looks good again and I am not so sensitive about – everything. May God bless you and yours.

  21. Paul says:

    I read "How to find happiness during the collapse of Western Civilization" in the 80s and found it interesting and timely. Unfortunately, it was disastrous as investment advice. All of us who bought gold at $400-800 an ounce during that time saw gold collapse to $200 before
    eventually going above that buying price after 25 years. Anyone who put their money in stocks, which Ringer and others decry as worthless paper in their books,
    saw huge gains during that time.
    Buying real estate of course was a no-brainer but takes time and significant effort for this. Ringer's advice to get a mortgage for the longest term possible was good advice. This is not a criticism of Robert Ringer in general, but I am pointing out the risk of using philosophy books as investment advice.

    I see that Robert lives in Annapolis, MD now, merely an hour from the evil empire Washington DC. Remember all that advice in the Western Civilization book to move
    away from cities where nuclear bombs and riots were supposed to make cities uninhabitable? Why did he move a mere hour away from a nuclear ground zero (let's
    face it, terrorists are going to attack NYC or Washington DC, not South Dakota).

    Obviously I'm on this site so I still find his advise valuable but I'm interested to his responses to the above questions.

    I think the "Technical Paradise" scenario from his book is what's happening right now, where the most incompetent and lazy citizens will be able to afford a minimal lifestyle with the rest of us paying for it. We're experiencing a technology boom greater than any in history, which is creating huge dislocations in the job markets but creating opportunities as well. Ringer briefly mentioned this as a possibility when he discussed Ray Kurzweil/the Singularity scenario earlier this year.

    Unfortunately, for most of us over 50, this will not end well unless you have LOTS of accumulated wealth in tangible assets.
    Stuff just changes too fast for most older people to keep up, technology or otherwise. I can tell you right now that no one will hire me as a computer
    worker at my age. Some of us are not cut out to start our own businesses…

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