The Six Costs of Clutter


St. Louis, MO, April 6 -- Piles here. Boxes there. Clothes you don't (or can't) wear. Books you've already read and won't read again. Broken toys. Unless you are vigilant, clutter will take over your house.

Heather Hemingway, editor of Simplify! newsletter, can relate, "Having too many things can get in the way of living a happy and satisfying life. We had a lot of really great stuff, but we couldn't enjoy any it. There was just too much." Stop and consider what all of that "good stuff" (i.e. clutter) is costing you and your family.

Cost #1: Hard-Earned Money

How many times have you come home from the store with more than you intended to buy? Did you really need those extra things? Often, those impulse buys get cast aside after only a couple of uses. In other words, you just spent money to clutter your home.

If you catch yourself wanting to buy something that isn't on your shopping list, walk away for awhile. If you still "need" it at the end of your shopping trip, then, and only then, go back and get it. Better yet, go home to think about it. If you still want the item the next time you go shopping, put it on that day's list of things to buy.

Cost #2: Cleaning Time

Once you bring something into your home, you will have to maintain it by dusting and cleaning. You're paying with your time. How long does it take you to clean the top of your refrigerator in its current condition? Don't remember because it's been so long since you've done it?

Imagine that nothing (absolutely nothing) is on top of the refrigerator. No cereal or potato chips. No unused small appliances. No knickknacks. It's completely empty.

Now how long will it take you to clean the top of the refrigerator? That theory holds true for all the horizontal surfaces in your house (tables, counter tops, dressers, televisions, entertainment centers­even floors!). Clear them off and you can cut your cleaning time down to almost nothing.

Cost #3: Happiness

If you don't like that bookshelf (dress, knickknack, etc.) anymore, get rid of it. It doesn't matter if that china clock was a gift from a special friend or if that huge desk has been in your family for five generations. If it doesn't make you happy, get rid of it. Trust me, you will feel lighter and liberated once you do.

Put something that pleases you in that new space. Or leave the space open and simply enjoy the empty clean space. "As I get better and better at de-cluttering my home, my favorite decorating style is 'clear and open spaces,'" said Heather. "Space makes the room look bigger and doesn't draw negative attention to itself. And, best of all, it makes vacuuming a breeze (hmm, never thought I'd say that)."

Cost #4: Higher House Payments

All those extra things (those unused items that you're saving for whatever purpose) are taking up valuable space in your home. Or worse, perhaps you're renting a storage locker/garage just so you can hang on to items you will never need or use?

Every inch of space used for storage is one less inch of space that you can use for living. It doesn't matter if your clutter is limited to one closet or if you have stuff strewn from one end of the house to the other. You're paying for that space. What percentage of your home is occupied by clutter?

Do the math: Let's say you have a 2000-square foot house with a monthly mortgage/rent payment of $700. Even if you've limited your stuff to a 10 x 10-foot area (100 square feet), that clutter is taking up 5% (area of clutter divided by area of house). And 5% of your house payment is $35 every month (or $420 every year)!

Get rid of the excess stuff and you might very well be comfortable in a smaller home (with smaller monthly payments, smaller utility bills, and a smaller space to clean and maintain). Or, getting rid of the stuff might save you from having to move to a bigger house (with bigger bills, etc.).

Cost #5: Time and Frustration

If you've got a lot of stuff, you're bound to lose track of at least some of it. How much time do you spend looking for everyday items like car keys or the "other shoe?" What about items that you know you have but just can't find? Wrapping paper for a wedding present (she's getting married in an hour). Glue for your daughter's school project (sure, she's known about it for weeks, but it's due tomorrow morning). Or worse, your son is bleeding and you've managed to locate the bandage­but where is the antibiotic cream?

Even if you do know where something is, how much extra time do you waste moving other stuff out of the way just to get to it? And then again, just to put it away? How many pots and pans do you own? How many do you use regularly? If you got rid of just a few of those unused pots, putting away the ones you do keep will take less time.

Cost #6: Self-Esteem

Did you break out into a cold sweat the last time somebody dropped by unexpectedly? Or have you simply informed everyone to stay away from your house unless they give you two-weeks' advance notice of their upcoming visit? When you do have guests, you can't relax and enjoy them if you're fretting about the dust bunnies lurking in the corner or trying to straighten the pile of mail on the coffee table. Imagine the freedom of saying, "Why don't you just drop by tonight?" without having to worry about all the things you have to do to make the house presentable.

Being ashamed of your home and frightened of anyone who might see it is a lousy way to live your life. Clear out the clutter and welcome your friends back into your life.

Make the Change

Start reducing the amount of stuff in your house. Throw it away. Give it away. Donate it to charity. It doesn't matter, just get rid of it. Keep only what is truly important to you and your family. With every box and bag that leaves your house, you will gain a new sense of confidence and delight.


If you're having trouble tackling the mess, send for a sample issue of Simplify! newsletter. Simplify! is written by, about, and for the organizationally challenged and the clutter encumbered. There is a way out of the mess and we will be there to see you to the other side. And, once you've reduced the clutter, we'll provide the support you need to keep the mess from sucking you back down. To receive a sample issue of Simplify!, send $1.00 (check or money order) to Simplify!; PO Box 260017; St. Louis, MO 63126.

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