2000 pounds of waste

My grandmother died just before Christmas. She lived in Switzerland.

My mom went and helped her two sister organize the apartment, and empty it out.

The three sisters realized two very important things:

  1. It is incredibly helpful that one has their financial life in order.
  2. It is incredibly helpful that one does not accumulate a lot of useless crap.

The first point probably makes sense to most of us. Although many people have some sort of filing system in place, these days keeping pertinent information organized requires extra diligence since many of us handle our financial life electronically.

My grandmother was 92 when she died. She did not own a computer. She also did not own a filing system, but instead had an envelope for each business matter into which she put important papers. On the outside of the envelope she attached the business card of the person whom she dealt with.

For my mom and her sisters, it was a simple matter of picking up the phone and contacting that person, and in some cases taking the contents of the envelope out and dealing with what was outstanding.

It was incredibly easy and painless.

The second point is more complicated. People of that generation, particularly in places like central Europe, and particularly people who have lived through the Second World War, have not really caught on to this “shopping as a hobby” idea. My grandmother shopped with a list and only got what she needed. She didn’t shop “for fun”. This wasn’t done. It was considered a waste of time and a waste of money.

How many people do we each know who, when they feel bored, say to someone “let’s go shopping”, just for something to do? In most cases, they have no specific need to buy anything. Almost always, they do come home with stuff though. And not only that, they will also have spent money on snacks, or lunch, or dinner. It’s what one does when one goes out shopping.

My grandmother did have some stuff in the house she probably received as gifts. Or simply didn’t part with when she downsized from the house to the apartment. Things like dishes* she obtained as a wedding gift, or Christmas decorations that were unusual and beautiful (and unique instead of mass-produced). Things that she cherished, but which remained in cupboards or boxes for the bulk of the last 20 years or so.

Despite the fact that she was mostly clutter-less, there was still stuff there that my mom and her sisters had to deal with. Some of it was sent on to me and my siblings, some of it went to remaining family in Switzerland, but almost all the rest of it, well, it was either donated (which is more difficult to do in Switzerland because charities there are much more selective in what they accept than most of the North American charities that I’m aware of), or it was thrown out. No Goodwills there where you can simply drop your garbage bags off at the front door. Oh, no, in Switzerland, things are much more organized than that!

To draw you a picture, the remaining stuff that was carted off to the landfill weighed 1000 kg. (or something like that).

1000 kg = approximately 2200 pounds

Think about this. One person who is cremated and now occupies a tiny square in a cemetery left behind 2200 pounds of garbage that ended up in the landfill.**

And that is from an organized woman who did not shop, accumulate useless stuff, or hoarded endless teapots and knickknacks.

It is astonishing the amount of potential garbage each person accumulates over their lifetime simply by means of instant-gratification at the local shopping mall.

*I am now the proud owner of her beautiful dishes, which will replace my older, mostly chipped ones.

**To illustrate another very good point against accumulating too much crap, in Switzerland you have to pay to get rid of your stuff.