Things I Wish I Had Kept

I live in Florida. Until recently, I would have said that I live in “sunny” Florida to distinguish my state from the cold places to the north. This year, however, cold weather came south for the winter along with all of the snowbirds who flock to Florida just after Christmas. Indeed, from about December 26, 2009 until early the first week in march when I wrote this, it was miserably cold in much of Florida, with temperatures regularly dropping into the 30’s on the Fahrenheit scale at night and often lingering in the low 50’s at the peak of the day’s heat.

I moved to Florida for a lot of reasons but the exhilaration of cold New England winters was not among them. No, I moved here in part to avoid the cold and I was so confident that I would not be cold during the winters that I donated all of my winter coats to charity. I kept a few sweaters, my winter cap festooned with embroidered whales and an over sized pom-pom, my balaclava and a few other things, but not my coats. I figured, why keep a bunch of overcoats that I would never be likely to use again and which were too bulky for travel and I was happy to donate them to charities that could put them to better use.

That was ten years ago. Oh, how I wish I had kept those coats, or at least one of those coats in my closet for the past ten years. Maybe then I would not have frozen each night when I took my dog out for his evening walk, and later, when seemingly every night at 1am he told me that he needed to go out again. Maybe then, I would not have had to wear sometimes three sweaters over my tee-shirt and shirt. Maybe then, I would not have gone numb from the waist down every night when I stepped out of my house.

Of course, I am pleased that for the past decade, there are four or five needier people who might have gotten use out of my overcoats. Nevertheless, I know now that I was foolish to have assumed that I would never need cold weather gear again. I should have kept at least one of those coats. Even if I never used it again, I would always have had it just in case I needed it. In reality, it is rare to be able to predict when we will never be in need of something again, just as it is difficult to predict sometimes whether we will need something we contemplate purchasing. That uncertainty makes it worth the effort and the storage space to try to keep at least one of everything even if we are getting rid of the rest.

I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things over the years and I regret a lot of those dispositions. I would love to have been able to give all of my concert tee-shirts and sweatshirts to my own children, but I turned those into rags for washing my car about 15 years ago. I sold my baseball cards to a guy who never paid me for a lot of them. I got rid of my 78 and 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records and a lot of CDS. I donated a lot of my books. I gave away my coats.

It’s true that sometimes we can replace the things that we have cast aside, but that is always frustrating for a person who tries to be cost conscious. I never bought a coat this winter because I always convinced myself that the cold weather could not last. Part of my reluctance, however, I know was because I hated the thought of buying a new coat when I knew that I could have had my choice of several if I had just been patient and left my old coats in my closet.
I did take heart today when I told my wife about this column. She was quick to offer comfort and reminded me that she thought that all of my coats had been really, really ugly and that her only regret was that I also did not donate my whale cap with the giant pom-pom…

What have you given up that you wish you had retained? Are you sometimes too quick to donate or to sell or to throw away?

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14 Responses to Things I Wish I Had Kept

  1. Annie Jones says:

    For sentimental reasons, I wish I still had my first car. But in terms of the the things you wrote about (the records, the t-shirts, the coats), I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I regret losing.

    I often hold on to things for too long, thinking I will regret giving them up, but once I do dispose of them, I never think of them again.

    BTW, weather is such a relative thing. We’re in the 30s at night and 50s during the day and are overjoyed that Spring has finally arrived!

  2. Julie says:

    I still have all of my old 45 records that I started collecting at age 12. I am using them all on display in my Elvis Presley bedroom.

  3. I’ve regretted giving away none of the little things including most of my kid’s clothing, toys and books. In fact, each of the two have an under-the-bed storage box filled with mementos. When the box got full, that was the end of saving stuff.

    Only one thing comes to mind, and that is the violin I used as a child when taking lessons. It was not even a full size instrument, it was a 3/4 size (for kids). I am pretty sure my parents let me have it when I became an adult. But I am not sure what happened to it. The desire to take up playing again has passed my mind many many times and if it were easily available, I certainly would have given it a few minutes here and there. Such a display would likely inspire my kids now even though we have had a year or two of piano and guitar lessons.

  4. Joan says:

    Hey, how much will you take for that whale cap with the giant pom-poms? I’ll give you $1.50.

  5. Ann says:


    My mom gave away or threw out the few comic books I had as a child and some of those were originals worth a mint now. :-)

    Hmmm. Can’t really think of anything else.

    FYI. I’m surprised you never invested in a light weight coat that cuts the wind. That and your t-shirt, shirt and sweatshirt would have kept you warm! 😉

  6. Ann – I had all the light weight stuff but with a biting wind, it did not do me much good. I spent most of the past 2 months wearing three sweaters and a heavy raincoat each time I went out. Now that I know how long a winter can last here in the South, I am investing in a very heavy coat for next year . . . but I hope I never need to wear it.

  7. Honestly, I have let go of many many things and have never had a regret. Ever. Even in your situation, I wouldn’t regret giving away the coats. That was a logical decision based on the circumstances. The only regret I think you should have is not getting a warmer coat sooner! Although I can see why you delayed that too since you are in Florida. :)

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  9. Jackie says:

    You were freezing this year, but I think it was a good decision to donate your coats if you’ve only needed them once in ten years. 😉

    I find that if I donate 10 tshirts to charity, then 30 days later I will find a use for one of them. It’s so true that it’s become funny, but it’s only 1 use and not a need so I still donate. I’ve moved pretty often over the last ten years, so I tend to clean out the detritus on a regular basis. Sometimes I regret it, but mostly I wonder how I managed to accumulate so many things I don’t need over the past year or two. Now that I’ve bought my first home, I’m trying to keep that at the forefront of my mind so I don’t start accumulating or stop editing now that I won’t be moving for awhile.

  10. David's Fan says:

    David, come move to beautiful sunny AZ. where it is a perfect 75

  11. Natalie says:

    I know your story too well, David. I live in southern Louisiana where (usually) winters are mild. But this winter has been really really cold. Jackets and not coats are the norm here. So I’ve been freezing outside lately. Thankfully it’s warming up a little.

  12. teresa says:

    Well my new saying is that you might be from South Dakota if you think 30 degrees is a heat wave! And since I’m from SD and it has been a long cold winter I say just buy a coat already!! But for the question you asked, I can’t think of any particular item that I regret getting rid of and I am a recovering “collector”. Now I don’t want anything hanging aound!!

  13. Larabelle says:

    We had a record snow fall this year 11.5 inches and I wish I had kept some of my heavy sweaters as well as my extra pair of boots.

  14. shopmeister says:

    Not too much I regret giving away. I wish I had taken pictures of the stuff though. Just for memories sake and showing the photos to my kids. I find taking pictures of items allows me to “let go” of more stuff. It’s really the memories not the “stuff” that I want to hold on to.

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