The Economics of Clutter

by Lynn B. Johnson on October 24, 2009

ClutterMy clutter is costing me money. I figured this out a few days ago when, struck by the mad desire to clean my apartment, I found not one, not two, but three unopened packages of swim diapers. At about $8 apiece, that’s $24 wasted dollars.

Enough was enough. So far I’ve decluttered my office, the nursery, and half of my bedroom, and as a result I’ve taken 11 tall kitchen garbage bags worth of stuff to my local Goodwill. (Yes, I could have had a garage sale, but I wanted this stuff out of my place pronto.)

Peter Walsh begins his book “It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff” with the “Fight Club” quote “The things you own end up owning you” and I could not agree more.

We cling to our possessions. Some are sentimental, some represent future wishes (I will fit into those pants someday. I will. I will! Sound familiar?), some were too expensive to part with, while other items we’ve just had for so long we can’t imagine being without them.

For whatever reason, we feel compelled to keep things around the house long past their usefulness. This wasted space costs us money. If you calculate your rent or mortgage payment by dividing your monthly bill by the square footage of your domicile, you’ll see that there is indeed a price to pay. The items I’ve taken to Goodwill probably added up to 15 cubic feet. That’s a lot of bedroom, office, and nursery space!

Also, these extraneous items keep us from being able to find the items we either need or could currently be utilizing. See above re: swim diapers.

Walsh has some great ideas in his book. When you’re about to start your decluttering process, write down the current use of each room as well as the desired use of each room. For instance, the nursery had devolved into an outgrown/out-of-season clothes storage space, while I’d like it to be a restful place where my kids can play and sleep. This focus helped me go through all of their clothes and also take down a bunch of deflated mylar balloons from their walls — leftover from birthday deliveries — that actually just made the room look junky.

My efforts paid off in spades. The morning after I decluttered, my toddler woke up at 6:00 and then played quietly in the nursery until eight, giving me two bonus hours of sleep. Well worth the hour I’d spent going through things the day before. Plus, I feel a terrific sense of accomplishment now whenever I enter that room.

When I started the process in my bedroom, it was too much to do in one go, so I started with the clothes on my closet rod. I left the really tough decisions in the closet, but even with a quick going-through of my closet, I filled up four bags with clothes that I’ll never wear again.  I also found some clothes in my closet that I hadn’t worn for years, but will be perfect for my upcoming vacation, so I won’t have to buy anything new. More saved money.

Once I got to my dresser, I told myself I could only return three items to each drawer (the drawers are small, but jam-packed). Turns out, this was a very easy goal. I also found that once I started decluttering, it became contagious – I actually WANTED to put more things in the Goodwill pile, or the garbage pile. (“The trash can is your friend,” Walsh writes. “It is your very hungry friend. Feed it. Keep it full and happy.”)

It’s important to tie up the going-to-Goodwill bags once they’re full, and put them in your car immediately, so you don’t start to backslide. I also found that it was handy to keep a package of baby wipes nearby while decluttering items from under my bed and the dresser — the wipes got the lint and dust off of my books and my hands, too.

I’m not done with decluttering the bedroom yet, but I’m feeling good about the work I’ve already done, and I’m reasonably certain I’ve found all the swim diapers I’m going to find. Can’t wait until the next time I go to Goodwill and see some of my old things going to someone else’s house! I feel calmer just thinking about it.


Remember to separate your clothes from other items that you take to goodwill. It is very annoying to find knives and other dangerous items in the "clothing bags." Basically, you should call the goodwill before taking items that you aren't sure of to see if they are accepted!!!
November 11 at 12:36 pm
Lynn B. Johnson
Thanks, Carol!
October 31 at 08:43 am
This is right!
October 26 at 16:59 pm

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