Beating the Hidden Costs of Excess "Stuff"
by Holly Ordway
Clearning Out Clutter
There's no getting around it. If you buy something, you have to have a place to put it. And that means that everything you own has a hidden cost. First, there's the "clutter cost." If you have so much stuff that you can't find what you need when you need it, chances are you'll end up wasting money, often on buying something that you already have (but can't find). Second, excess "stuff" also shrinks the livable space in your home, making you feel like it's too small, which may lead you to consider moving to a larger place. And, of course, with a bigger house or apartment comes a bigger mortgage or rent payment and bigger utility bills. Hold on! Don't let the casual accumulation of "stuff" make you waste money or dictate your housing budget.
The first step to beating the cost of excess "stuff" is to get rid of anything around your house that you don't need, use, or want. How to decide what to keep and what not to keep is a full topic in itself, but everyone has at least some stuff that's clearly just taking up space. So have a yard sale, list it on eBay, give it away, or toss it.
Getting rid of your excess stuff is only the beginning, though. You need to make sure that you stop accumulating more excess stuff. Otherwise, in a few years, you'll be back where you started (and have wasted money in the meantime). To do that, we'll apply the "no excess stuff" rule to everyday purchases.
The first line of defense against excess "stuff" is to be tough on new purchases. Make sure there's a genuine and lasting need for it. Ask yourself the following questions. Where will I put it? Will it get used every day, or only sometimes? Will I be using this six months from now? Remember, even if the price is low, it might not be a bargain once you consider the hidden costs of having it in your house!
It's also important to resist replacing things that don't really need to be replaced. Being bored with something's color or style is a lousy reason for replacing it. The key to avoiding this kind of replacement mania is to adjust your expectations. Don't expect your house or yourself to be a fashion plate. Rather, choose classic, sensible styles when you do make a purchase.
Assuming that you've decided that it's a good idea to make a purchase, consider whether this object will replace an existing item in your house, or whether it will be a new addition. This is especially important for large, space-hogging purchases like furniture.
Let's say that your purchase is going to replace another item in the house. Now, will you be getting rid of the older item, or using it in a different place in the house? This is a tricky question. If the older item is good enough to use somewhere else, ask yourself whether it's still good enough for its original use. Maybe you should reconsider the new purchase after all! OK, let's say it's definitely not good enough for its original use. Is there something else you can use it for? Worn or slightly damaged items can be put to a different use "in disguise" (like using a nightstand as a side table with plants on it), or they can get "retired" to places where the appearance doesn't matter, like children's play areas, work areas in the garage, outdoors, and so on.
It's definitely a wise move to use the old item for something else, if it will be genuinely useful. For example, when I got a new dining room table to replace a too-small table that had only two functional chairs remaining, the old table was perfect to use as additional workspace in the kitchen. This saved me from having to buy a new table or countertop to provide that much-needed work surface, and the fact that the table is kind of beat up means that I don't mind if I spill something on it. I even still keep one of the old chairs next to the table, so I can sit down while I look at a recipe or prepare something for the stove. However, don't keep something around just "because." If you don't have a use for it, and don't foresee one in the immediate future, don't keep it. It will cost you more than it is worth in the long run by taking up valuable space in your home.
With an item that is going to be a new addition to your home, consider these questions. Do I already have something that will do the job? How often will I use this? How much space will it take up? Even for small items, like a kitchen appliance or a new sweater, these are relevant questions. In fact, small items can have a bigger impact than larger purchases, because they can slip "under the radar" of clutter detection more easily! If you don't use something regularly, it's not worth the hidden costs of keeping it around.
Be vigilant, and be jealous of your storage space. Storage, whether in closets and cupboards or on counters and against walls, should be used for items that see regular use in your household, whether that use is evenly spread throughout the year or concentrated in one season every year (like winter clothing and shoes). You pay a cost for storing your "stuff" in the form of paying for housing space sufficient to fit both your possessions and yourself and family. If you can control the amount of stuff you have to find space for in your home, you can reduce the pressures to "move up" into more expensive housing. You will also have a tidier, roomier, and more enjoyable home!
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