Popcorn Makers, Investment, and Questions for Life

Yesterday afternoon, I threw away a popcorn machine… not one of those household table-top, stir-crazy popcorn makers like my grandpa used every Sunday night growing up. This was one of those commercial popcorn makers like they use at the movie theater. You know, the ones that make the good popcorn perfect for melted butter. The heating element burnt out so we decided to throw it into the dumpster.

Physically, it was an easy process. I put it into the trunk of my car. Drove 1/8 of a mile round back to our company’s dumpster. Opened the gate. Threw it in. And drove away.

Emotionally, it was also an easy decision. Sure, the machine likely cost hundreds of dollars when it was first purchased (and who doesn’t love popcorn)? But there was no long, drawn-out decision process and no second-guessing. I should have been sad to see it break, but I wasn’t. Probably because it had been donated to our company a number of months ago and didn’t cost us anything. And you know what they say, “Easy come, easy go.”

As I drove away from the dumpster, I couldn’t help but think of the decision, the process, and the relative ease of removing this piece of metal and plastic from our lives. This was a possession that I had nothing invested into – absolutely nothing. It was given to us freely. And as a result, it took no effort (other than a few heavy lifts) to immediately remove it from our lives… even though it makes something that tastes so good.

I couldn’t shake the cycle of reflection that had started in my mind and I ended up asking myself two questions about the lives we choose to live…

1) Is one of the reasons we have such a hard time parting with our possessions because we have so much invested into them? We’ve worked hard to get to where we are. We studied hard in school – sometimes for 16+ years. We searched for a career that would pay the bills and buy nice things. Once we found it, we committed 40+ hours/week to our craft – learning our field, taking risks, and becoming good at it. To show for our effort, we buy food and things and cars and houses. We have our entire lives invested into the things we own. So much so, in fact, that removing them almost seems laughable. Why would anyone purposefully live with less after spending so much of their lives getting to a point where they can own so much? The significance of our investment begins to cloud our thinking about what actually adds value to our lives… and what subtracts from it.

 2) Am I then investing my life into things that really last? Lasting fulfillment can never be found in things that are temporal by nature. It is foolish to invest the bulk of our finite energy, time, and resources into things that can not bring significant meaning to our lives. The value of faith, love, hope, and relationships will far outlast metal, plastic, and glass. These are things that I long for – these are the things that deserve my resources. May I always pursue them with greater intensity than the items destined to be thrown into a dumpster.

And to think I was only intending to throw away a popcorn-maker…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Kate says

    Whenever I have to buy something for my boys, I now buy secondhand, so instead of paying $30 for a spring jacket, I get one for $2. This makes it so much easier to part with things when they are no longer needed because there is no financial investment. It creates a cycle, almost as if we’re just borrowing things as we need them. Last year’s jacket is back at the resale shop for someone else’s child, and I’ll get a new one to fit my growing boy. I look at it as a $2 rental fee to have a well-fitting jacket for the year.

    • Elizabeth says

      My housemates think I’m nuts, but I feel the same way about “renting” stuff from thrifts. I buy almost all of my clothing from thrift stores and once I’m tired of the items, and if they are still in good shape, I donate them back. I spend far less than other people do on brand-new items they only wear a few times and then let sit in a closet somewhere for years.

      I also donate items that I buy new or which are given to me, which I no longer need or want, so in the end I’m not just re-donating clothes that are more worn than when I bought ’em. Things that are too worn out to be donated get used for rags, crafts, lining pet carriers, or for those really messy jobs like shoveling manure in the barn, where I won’t feel bad about tossing the clothes out afterward.

    • says

      Neither do I, I live in Buenos Aires, but when you throw something like a pop corn maker theres always something that pick that up from the streets.

    • Becky King says

      I gota agree … someone might be able to fix it and reuse and bring joy to another family with a ton of HAPPY kids…

    • Marzena says

      Luckily few months ago in my country, Poland, new regulations came in (EU driven) that allows you to bring the damaged electrical equipment to any store that sales one – they are obliged to utilize it using company specializing in electrics recycling.
      It’s just a pity so little people care…

  2. kamisaki says

    In my journey to minimalize, it just clicked in my brain one day that, although something may have cost a lot of money, although I bought the best toy on the shelf, although that kids’ bike that I bought for my son still looks brand new, and cost a decent amount of money, I didn’t buy those things with the idea of selling them in the future. I bought a bike because he needed a bike. I bought a car track because I knew he would love it for a few years, and I bought a table because we needed one. When those things had served their purpose, my old reaction would have been to get back as much money as possible, and craigslist them, put them on Ebay, or have a garage sale. However, now I see them for what they are, things that made our lives better for a time, and now might make someone else’s life better for a time, and……I can let go. I don’t think about the $20 I could make on the table, or the $15 I could recoup on the bike. I find joy in simplifying my possessions, and knowing that in doing so, I have the opportunity to benefit someone else. I find joy in not having a “to list” pile in the garage, or a garage sale pile collecting in the corner. I also find joy in not having to actually oversee a garage sale, which I find to be one of life’s more stressful events :)

    • says

      You’re right. Give to charity is the best you can do. There are a lot of people that dont have nothing and they really need those stuff, at least for some time.

  3. says

    This makes our current lifestyle clearer. I’m trying desperately to consume in a way that doesn’t create refuse (i.e. more stuff thrown away).

    Resources of planet Earth are only finite (most of them anyway). If we keep living the way we live, we’ll consume ourselves into oblivion.

    • says

      Totally agree.
      We can’t continue buying things like we were used to.
      Thorwing away my TV helped me to realize this.

  4. says

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but when I get something for little money or for free (like your popcorn maker), I tend to have a harder time getting rid of it than I do something I spent more money on. Why? Not because I am protecting my investment, but because I’m protecting my savings on that item. For example, I purchased a gently used juicer for $40, that would have cost me $100 if I had bought it new. I am just as likely to want to take care of it and protect my $60 savings as I am my $40 investment.

    I would not have thrown away the popcorn maker. I would have tried to fix it if it’s something I enjoyed using, I would have donated to someone who could fix it, or I would have recycled it.

    No significant statement here, just a different way of looking at things.

    • says

      I used to buy things at garages sales, I undestand what you are saying. But if you think about the others need, and donate what you no longer need, it give you a heart-filling sensation.

  5. Tamara says

    I wonder if you considered donating the popcorn maker. Perhaps a repair shop would have been able to fix the heating element and resold it? This post makes me sad; I’m all devoted minimalist but I am definitely against unnecessary waste.

    • says

      Appreciate the comment Tamara (and the similar commenters as well). Sorry this post made you sad. This is, of course, not the first time I’ve taken some heat in a comment section due to using the trash can rather than the recycling bin.

      We are certainly not against recycling and use it whenever possible at home… this was not always the case but matured a lot in this area while living in Vermont. Unfortunately, in this case, convenience and both transportation/time constraints made recycling not as viable an option.

      • Elizabeth says

        There’s always the possibility that someone will come trashpick the item, and be able to fix it or sell it for parts/scrap, themselves.

        • Matt says

          Even if someone will come pickup the item, it still requires a lot more effort to get rid of it this way (you’d have to find someone and arrange for them to get it). Also, sometimes you just want to be rid of something. Take it to the dumpster and it’s instantly gone…waiting on someone to pick it up can mean it will be sitting around awhile.

          I think it’s good to recycle and reuse where you can, but there are certain times when just getting rid of the item overrides the hopes of someone doing something useful with the item.

  6. says

    Now you can just make pop corn in a kettle, the old fashioned way :)
    I think it’s either time, money or emotions that we have invested in the things we can’t part with.

  7. kamisaki says

    yes, recycling would have been better, but I do agree with the thought process you are trying to highlight in this story. It’s baby steps for all of us, and sometimes just getting thoughts in order is the first major hurdle.

  8. Mark says

    I’m with some of the others here… while I appreciate what your thought process was, it would have been nice to see if it were possible to recycle it in any way. If it was just the heating element then that should have been easily fixable.

  9. Mike says

    I’m with Tamara – this post makes me sad. The thought of minimalism being driven purely by a selfish want makes it all seem a bit empty. I would have much rather read that you donated it, or even just given it to a scrap metal yard.

  10. kara baker says

    As a cynical, judgmental elitist-minimalist, I would have to agree with all the negative comments. Also, as a recovering-alchoholic, I should have sold my booze on ebay instead of pouring it down the drain. Baby steps are simply un-acceptable. Please everyone, or keep your mouth quiet, you horrible blogger. Don’t you know you are not allowed to post unless it is picture-perfect, organic and 100% agreeable with every person on the net? Golly.

  11. says

    My H and I tend to be the handy types that fix things and repurpose them and this can easily eat up a lot of our time messing around with possessions. We both make a conscious effort to know when to quit- when to let something go or when to let someone else worry about fixing it. In this case, I would have listed the popcorn maker on Freecycle.

    I find that I just can’t connect with the idea that throwing things away is a simple answer. Maybe this is why I haven’t achieved a great level of minimalism, but I personally feel too unsettled if I don’t properly address where the things I’m getting rid of are going to go. My only solution? Don’t aquire it in the first place. I also try to avoid buying new, but could do better.

  12. Tiffany says

    I love popcorn! I use a plain pot with a lid to make mine, and I have to confess…it’s nowhere near as good as movie popcorn, or even popcorn in a bag!

    Once again, I love the point of your post. Yesterday I looked at new spring shoes in the store. They were VERY cute. Today I sent $50 spending money to my little brother for his first away trip with his youth group. I’m really glad I didn’t buy the shoes :)

  13. kara baker says

    That’s beautiful, Tiffany. I considered buying a gorgeous peacockesque dress yesterdat, but instead put together a care package for my family in Haiti. I’m really glad I didn’t buy the dress. :)

  14. Andrew C says

    the person collecting at dumpster will recycle it-no worries and possibly Joshua had delegated this task…and dumpster guy will be listing it on Freecycle,craiglist or even ebaying it.
    So minimalising need not be always you be the one carrying out the task–delegate it also,then you have more free time for the bigger rocks in your life- spending time with friends and family. If you list it or eBay, you could be spending time responding to queries, allocating waiting time for that person to come by to collect it or just inspecting it. Not worth it–this is another thought process of mine.
    Also Joshua ‘s vehicle had to use more fuel on that day,carrying the weight of popcorn maker.
    Maybe not garage /yard sale–just garage/yard free for all- take what you see.

    So, in the home, have boxes- for kids toys, kids books, kitchen gadgets, clothes(adult(men/women with sizes), kids- label them, and just put in garage/yard,and tell everyone–categorised boxes in yard/garage-free for the taking.

  15. kamisaki says

    having lived in Vermont, I can completely understand your sentiment, Joshua. I hope the main point of this article isn’t lost to those who got hung up on the recycling, or the fact that it may have been fixable, or there may have been someone to donate it to, etc….Of course, in a perfect world, the best possible outcome would always be reached. However, here, with this example, I can completely appreciate the realization you made, the freedom you must have felt, and the progress you obtained. The next time will be built upon this experience, and maybe then you will have the luxury of spending more time and thought on where the item goes afterward. As it reads now, your post has much to offer to all of us, or at least me, in how to mentally approach parting with things that might have otherwise been difficult to part with…..for whatever reason that may be. Thanks for your insight!

    • Lynne says

      Amen !
      Criticising a decision made when you weren’t there to experience what went into the decision at that moment is nonsense and detracts from the intended message of the post – which is actually very good.
      I have been consciously de-cluttering for over a year now. I can’t do it all at once, as some things need a lot of thought and I am taking my time – but it is a happening thing little by little.
      One thing I have consciously done with all those items I have decided I can live without is to donate them rather than sell them. Yes, some were expensive. But I consider myself very blessed in life. We don’t have a lot of money, but many of the things we have and take for granted are luxury items for many people. Therefore I like to think that by donating them to a good charity I am passing on a blessing.
      As a result I can’t think of a single item I have regretted giving away.

  16. says

    Loved this! My new year’s resolution for this year was to either throw out or donate one item a day for the 365 days of 2012…and to write each one of them down day by day. I’ve donated a lot of clothes and books and tossed out everything from a bunch of dried out old tubes of Chapstick to a huge, dusty dried flower arrangement that I had stuck on the top of a cabinet years ago. But my favorite was giving two little girls this contraption I had that made doughnuts. They were completely thrilled with it, to the extent that they made me a homemade card with pictures of their homemade doughnuts and a long note about how much fun they had with it. And by the way, the best and easiest way to make popcorn is to put about 1/8 cup into a brown lunch bag, roll the bag closed and put it in your microwave for about 2 minutes. Perfect popcorn, no nasty chemicals from the supermarket bag variety, and it comes in its own bag to eat it out of. :)

  17. Kristin says

    I have a house full of stuff that I need to get rid of, and what constantly stops me is I that several things quickly go through my brain. It goes something like this ” I could sell this”, ” I should take this to goodwill.”, “____ could use this.”, ” I should recycle this.” Oh and believe me there are plenty more reasons I come up with as I try to clear away some of the crap that my home is filled with. So when I read all of these comments about what he should have done instead of throwing it away, I am surprised. My house is full of stuff I should throw away and I haven’t been able to choose that.

    I am at the very beginning of this journey and I am amazed when I can see that it becomes simpler to let go. I am looking forward to it. I am not there yet.

    • says

      We are mid-way into our journey, and I completely understand what you’re saying. We do throw a lot away. We also have a charity called The Military Order of Purple Heart Veterans that comes through our neighborhood once a month collecting donations to sell to support wounded veterans. What we’ve done is to either throw it away in a garbage bag (or directly to the curb if it’s big) or put it in a large garbage bag in the garage to be put out for the Purple Heart truck. That system has worked really well for us.

      We’ve been working for most of a year, and we’re starting to see some progress. It’s hard work, though. The more you shed, the easier shedding becomes. Way to go!

    • Caz says

      I understand completely as I am in the same predicament. If only it was as easy as just throwing things out!
      Good luck and every journey begins with a single step.
      Hopefully we can take a few more steps …out to the bin with some of our stuff!
      Cheers Caz

  18. Christina says

    Maybe I am more concerned with our environment than becoming minimalist. I pare down always, buy very little and reuse when possible. We have Freecycle here and I use it when giving away items which have served their purpose. If you don’t have that in your area maybe you could start one. You don’t have to do a garage sale or give to a donation center. A few emails and your item is picked up by your curb or front door. I have met so many people who build or repair items and use what we consider to be scrap. Seems like a win-win to me and much better than adding to the landfill.

  19. says

    Great post! One of the bonuses of embracing and pursuing a minimal life is that when I start to spend more than 5 minutes picking up toys for my daughter, I know it’s time to reduce. When I can’t seem to get all of our clean laundry put away before the next batch is finished, I know it’s time to sort through and donate. When I see a stack of “stuff” and think…ugh I don’t want to go through this I remember – just recycle/throw/donate! If I dread sorting through that much, then I don’t need to waste time!

    Minimalism has helped me to detach because we have more time to invest in God, one another and our hobbies! It is SO freeing!

  20. kamisaki says

    I thought about this post again today, as I went to the garage and found our old carseat. I have tried giving it away (no one in their right mind wants a second hand carseat over 7 years old), taking it to goodwill (they no longer accept any baby equipment for safety reasons), Freecycle (3 times with no response, probably due to reason #1 above), “free” on Craigslist, again with no response. I even put it by the curb with a “free” sign. I also tried taking it to the recycling center down the street, and they wouldn’t accept it. Any of these options would just throw it in the trash, so guess what? Today I took that carseat to the Dumpster, and threw it in, and now, I am enjoying the feeling of being less burdened by one more unwanted “sticky decision” item in my life.

    • Carol says

      I have had the same experience on many occasions in my efforts to declutter. I will make a minimal effort to sell an item locally online. If that doesn’t work, I’ll donate it, if possible, or finally decide to throw it away. This all happens over the course of a couple weeks–no more than that. I find that once the item is gone from my life, no matter how I disposed of it, I feel more content and free, and simply resolve not to bring more stuff into my life in the future, unless I absolutely need it. After all, if I don’t buy something in the first place, then I won’t ever have to feeling guilty about how I’m going to get rid of it.

  21. Kirsten says

    P.S. I agree with Christina. We have a “Free Store” here. You take what you need, leave what you don’t want. I know a homeless person here who would probably try to do something with that popcorn machine. Maybe he would not succeed, but at least the life cycle of the product in use (not in a dumpster or in a trash heap) would be extended for awhile.

  22. kamisaki says

    lol. Maybe you should amend the original post with a recycling disclaimer so the focus here will stay on the principle of what you were saying, instead of the environmental misstep :) It seems no one can let that one go.

  23. says

    I think one point you’re missing as to why many people hold a lot of value in objects is that although relationships can be more meaningful, they are in truth, much more work. They can let you down, hurt you, leave you. A porcelain doll or antique table rarely does that. In looking into the psychology of why people choose objects over relationships, it’s easy to see that they are avoiding the pain. Just watch an episode of hoarders to see how the death of a family member or divorce can lead one to becoming a hoarder. Despite my personal belief that relationships are more important than objects, I think it’s daft to assume everyone should hold the same values. It’s reasonable to understand how someone could feel differently, especially when there is so much mental trauma associated.

    As a side note, the Craig’s List out here is wonderful! In my experience, just post where the item is at, and there will be a sea of people. People here are vultures for free items!!

  24. NanSea says

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. As I have been clearing out and shedding possessions, I have encountered many mixed emotions. I look around and think, “What if I had not spent money on this and invested in my retirement fund instead?” I might already be retired instead of working hard to get there. But, then I remind myself, “It is what is is! No shame, no blame. Learn from it and move on.” My college-age son recently posted a picture of some of the “good stuff” he left on the shelves of his bedroom. Soccer trophies, tae kwon do belts, a remote control car, etc. His comment was, “I loved my childhood.” I looked at the items in the photo and realized what they represented. Mostly the memories of good times. Soccer games with kids that were good friends, the belts that represented his discipline and accomplishments in martial arts, the car that zipped around through the neighborhoods we lived in. While there was some financial investment involved in these things, what I think they represented was the investment made into his life and the memories we made. As a single mom, when he was younger, I spent way too many hours wishing I could give him more “stuff.” His comment made me realize that the investment of my time in his life was what his memories are made of, not the investment in just more “stuff,” most of which is now long gone and forgotten. As I move ahead in my journey, I want to remember that I can keep the memories without keeping all the junk. And I want to be more conscious about making my investments in relationships and the things that really matter. Thanks again for the reminder about doing that.

    • says

      NanSea: This comment made me think a lot. Im 20 and I embraced minimalism 6 months ago. My father and my mother always gave me a lot of things, they just wanted me to be happy. Now that im getting rid of most of things they were surprised, luckily the undestood that I value most experiences than things and they are happy with it.

  25. Shrody says

    What no facebook ‘like’ button? Add one and I would like it. I mean I do like it, I find these words well, but I would like it the way of button clicking.

  26. says

    “The value of faith, love, hope, and relationships will far outlast metal, plastic, and glass. These are things that I long for – these are the things that deserve my resources. May I always pursue them with greater intensity than the items destined to be thrown into a dumpster.”

    Beautifully put.

  27. jasi says

    conversely, i just bought a popcorn machine. a small air pop one but still it was a process just as difficult. i did not want to clutter my house with that unitasker but my children enjoy popcorn very often and i won’t use the microwave that much. just a quick reheat. not for constant nasty fake buttered popcorn.

  28. says

    Thought-provoking! I feel the same way about homes–I’ve seen so many people of my parents’ generation who buy a house and slave over it, remodeling it, landscaping the yard, etc., only to have to sell the house as it becomes a burden (too much work as they age), and then seeing the new buyers…..you guessed it, remodel it, repaint it, redecorate, landscape…..It seems like a temporal thing, and the hard work that you do isn’t lasting in any sense of the word. I haven’t ever owned a home, and I wonder if I will or not. I know that financially it can be a good move, if you’re savvy. But I also wonder about quantifying the time and resources spent doing all of the above work on the house, and that if we aren’t “money ahead” in the long run by choosing something that doesn’t require all of that input of labor, time, and money.

    Of course, I’ve tried expressing those views to my parents, when discussing my own future plans, and they think I’m crazy.

    minima/maxima, a blog about minimalist style

  29. says

    Oh, also to chime in with a great popcorn recipe that doesn’t require a microwave or popcorn maker:
    1/2 cup popcorn kernels
    2-3 TB of oil (something like canola, which can take a higher heat)

    Heat the oil in a frying pan with a lid over medium high heat. Place three kernels of popcorn in the pan with the lid on. Once all the kernels pop, take the pan off of the heat, add the popcorn and replace the lid, and then count to 30 (30 seconds). This evenly heats the kernels.

    Replace the pan on the heat at medium high, and the popcorn will pop. When you hear approximately one pop per second, it’s time to take it off the heat, empty it into a bowl, and eat!

    Salt, parmesan cheese, butter, and nutritional yeast all are great additions once the popcorn is popped.

  30. Melissa says

    Oh my. Ever seen hoarders on tv? They agonize over getting rid of anything. It might have value to someone somewhere on earth. How to find that person?
    People are valuable. They are eternal. Why must we make moral judgements about trash?

  31. says

    Add me to the others who are disappointed that you didn’t repair, gift, donate, or recycle. A good commercial popcorn maker is definitely a repairable item. It may have been as simple as a bad connection, thermostat, or fuse. Even if the heating element itself had actually failed, it is almost certainly replaceable in such machines. Hopefully a dumpster diver found it before it went to the landfill.

    That said, it’s nice to hear you were able to dispach it so easily without any emotional attachment or other misgivings. That’s the way it should be, but often isn’t, when eliminating excess posessions from our lives.

  32. AmyJ says

    Oh my, I would never have thought a post would produce such a response. I am saddened by many of the negative responses. While, I am all about recycling the “what if” or “rainy day” train of though is often what gets people baried under a sea of stuff. Take a good look someday at what happens to your objects when donated to AMVets or Goodwill. Watch how often they glimps in a box and then decide if they are going to throw it in a trash dumpster or not. I’ve seen it happen several times. Sad but true. They often have to much “stuff”and are forced to make these choices. Freecycle while again lovely idea but items often never get claimed or do and get resold (against the rules by the way).
    I believe you made the right the choice for you. And frankly only you know what’s best for your situation. So good for you!
    PS – from a safety aspect what if you donated it and later something else went wrong with it and it harmed someone. The thought of that I couldn’t live with.

  33. says

    Thank you for your post. I just found your site this morning and will be following it. My family is at the very beginning of our journey. As in, we decided in the last few days that we are suffocating from the STUFF and want to purge it from our lives. I’m overwhelmed by the volume and can’t imagine: (i) cataloging what we have decided to give away; and (ii) trying to sell it all. It would take months to sell all of this crap and, honestly, we don’t want to have a garage sale. The big items we will try to sell on Craig’s List (refrigerator, furniture, etc.) and I’ve found a resale shop for the kids’ clothes. But the other stuff? All of the CRAP? How do I get rid of it without the actual getting rid of it becoming a full time job? Shouldn’t the decision to get rid of it be the hardest part? I will investigate freecycle. Otherwise, I just want it OUT OF MY HOUSE.

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