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The Cost of Clutter

Sure, clutter can be unsightly and inconvenient, but can it actually cost you? I would argue that clutter can cost you, in time, energy, and yes, money. I am going to offer some examples of the cost of clutter, but first let’s clarify the definition.

What exactly is clutter?

If you think that clutter is just junk, guess again. If it was just junk, it wouldn’t such a problem. The solution for junk is easy. Just discard it. Clutter is much more than junk. The best definition I have heard comes from professional organizing pioneer, Barbara Hemphill. Hemphill says that all clutter is “postponed decisions.When you think about it, that’s true. Ever hear yourself saying “leave it hear for now orI’ll get to it later”? How about “Just stick it in the garage”?  All of those postponed decisions manifest in clutter.

I would add that clutter is always a barrier.  Minimalist guru, Joshua Becker provides a very useful definition of minimalism.  “The intentional promotion of everything we most value and removal of anything that distracts us from it.” Those items that distract you from what’s most important are clutter. Here are some examples of how it can cost you.

Cost of Self Storage

I’m going to start with one of the most obvious costs of clutter, self storage. The self storage industry began in Fort Lauderdale in 1958, but it exploded around the turn of the last century. “From 2000 to 2005, over 3,000 new facilities were built every year.” According to a Cube Smart study, for every McDonalds that you see, there are THREE storage facilities. People are moving more, as economic turnover and divorce rates soar.

The more people move, the more their excess stuff has to be stored in transition. Storage units have their place in transition, but too often things that go into storage tend to stay there. These units can cost hundreds of dollars a month, which adds up quickly. So you really have to look at the value of the items you are storing. Does hanging on to them year after year justify the cost of storage? Self storage is a monument to postponed decisions.

Cost of Time to Find

Does it feel like you spend a lot of time looking for things, you know you have?  The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that supports this. The average executive loses two weeks a year searching for things that he/she has but can’t find. It must be worse for those of us without offices systems and a support staff. Just imagine what you could do with an extra 2 or 3 weeks a year.

Cost of Multiple Purchases

Related to the cost of time to find is the cost of multiple purchases. If you can’t find an item that you own, what must you do?  That’s right. You have to go out and buy a replacement. This is particularly a problem with perishable items like food and batteries. With the other multiple purchases you can add the time to return, (if you can find the receipts.)

Cost of false “tenants”

Many homes have a “junk room.” My teams see these a lot. These are rooms filled with postponed decisions taking up residence. Let’s say one of these rooms is a tenth of your living space. Doing some quick math, what would one tenth of your rent or mortgage payment come to? Are these “tenants” (the comfortable clutter) actually contributing to these payments? No, they’re costing you. The odds are good, that there is greater value in the space left behind, than in the stuff itself.

Cost of C.H.A.O.S

Do you know what the acronym C.H.A.O.S stands for in the organizing world? Can’t. Have. Anyone. Over. Syndrome. Too much clutter in your home can make it uncomfortable to invite friends or family over. I think most of us would probably identify friends and family as what we value most. Perhaps you can make your home more welcoming if the junk room was converted to a guest room. Maybe you can create a playroom for the grandkids.

Cost of “shoulds”

Ever hear the expression “don’t should on yourself”?  It’s a good expression. It means that if you constantly find yourself saying I “should” do this or I “should” do that, stop. Ask yourself why you should, who should you do something for.  Also, how does this “should” compare to your other “shoulds.” I’m not the first to say it, but if everything is important, nothing is important.

Shoulds” may manifest themselves in clutter. For example, I should finish knitting that scarf. Or I should finish making that scrapbook project from the trip we took 5 years ago. Or simply, I should finish reading that book. When all these old initiatives lie around, it becomes that much easier to say “no” to everything. It weighs on your mind and that can be the heaviest weight of all. So that may not be a quantifiable cost, but is still a cost.

Cost of time to clean, maintain, insure

The more stuff you have, the more time and money you have to spend cleaning, maintaining, and insuring it. The cost of an item does not end after you have made a purchase. The fewer the items, the fewer the costs.

Cost of lost experiences

Joshua Becker became a minimalist shortly after an experience he described, cleaning out his garage. It was a project that he had put off for some time. He finally had a beautiful day to do it. The family was around and he gave his son some simple tasks. His son didn’t do a very complete job. He then asked his dad if he could play baseball with him. There was still a lot of work to do, so Joshua got frustrated with his son, for his sloppy work and for distracting him from his. So he told him no and continued with his work. Later the son asked again and Joshua got angrier. At one point he stopped and watched his son playing alone and then it hit him. What was he (Joshua) doing? Where were his priorities?

There was no question that he had a lot of stuff to clean out and that this work had to get done. But why did he need to have so much stuff? The consequence was that he missed the experience of playing baseball with his son on a beautiful day. And for what?  Could cleaning out a garage really compare? That was the moment he stopped and looked intentionally at what mattered most in his life. He also started removing anything that distracted him from it.

It’s all too easy to accumulate stuff without stopping to think of the consequences. But there are consequences and these consequences can cost you.

Can you think of an example of where clutter has cost you? Have you come up with some strategies for preventing these costs?

Comments 2

  1. So glad you wrote up this summary from our last Minimal Quest meeting! I found some of these findings incredible, and I work in this profession. Simplify, simplify… and save!

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