That Clutter In Your Home Used To Be Money

Useless clutter around the house irritates me every day. Not because it’s in the way… though, that sucks too. But because when I see useless stuff around the house I see things that used to be money.

And I wish I had the money, not the item.

Most items aren’t worth money anymore. Even if they are, they probably aren’t worth the time needed to convert them back to cash via Craig’s List or eBay.

When I see useless clutter in my house, I see a missed opportunity to save and invest. Wasted money.

These things are a constant reminder to make better purchase decisions every day.

What to do about all that stuff?

At one stage of my life, I lived out of a 40-pound backpack for 14 months. I’ve never felt freer than when I was roaming the world with all my possessions on my back.

Since then, I’ve accumulated quite a few things. Most notably, four family members. And they accumulate things.

Admittedly, I don’t prioritize much of my time for eliminating household clutter. I’d rather spend it with my wife and kids and on my side businesses.

When I do, I’m not shy about tossing shit in the garbage.

Part of why I aim to achieve my targeted 2022 goal of quitting full-time work is to free up time to optimize our household. That includes DIY projects, de-cluttering, and selling stuff worth anything. Time is required to minimize.

Material objects become a lifelong burden. Once you own an object, it owns you until you release it from your life.

The more you own, the more it weighs you down.

Some items come with an emotional attachment. It’s hard to let go, but minimalism teaches us that letting go is what frees us. I’m still trying to put that into full effect, but it’s tough with young kids. And I don’t intend to be extreme about it. Just sensible.

Depreciation Worse than Cars

New cars depreciate a few thousand dollars the moment you drive them off the lot. That doesn’t prevent me from buying brand new cars. I tend to keep them for 10 years and it balances out.

Depreciation on household items is much worse on a percentage basis.

For example, a few years ago I bought a drain auger for $25 to unclog my kitchen sink drain when I dumped the remnants of a soup stock into the disposal. The 25-foot snake couldn’t break the clog that was 30 feet into the pipe. I had to call a plumber which cost me an extra $250.

The auger is still in my basement taking up space until the next clog I fail to break. The moment I used it, the value dropped to a $5 yard sale item. On a good day. Immediate 80% depreciation. At least.

The better fix was to not use the disposal in the first place and buy this thingamajig to prevent the clog. Much cheaper.

But here’s what gets me. This stuff we buy depreciates to just about nothing right when we buy it. But we hold on to so many items thinking either we’ll use it again soon, or that it’s worth something and that we’ll sell it eventually. I rarely get around to selling anything because of the time commitment.

Two t-shirts sat in my drawer for two decades for this reason.

I had an original Late Night with David Letterman (not the more common Late Show) t-shirt that my Mom bought me in New York. Since the original show was off the air for so long, I thought I could get some money for it. Maybe I could have, but not more than $20 or so if I was lucky. Wasn’t worth the time and effort to convert it to cash. So it sat in my drawer for years along side a pre-Dookie Greenday t-shirt.

I should add, both were two sizes too big for me. Because 1993. So they were worthless to me otherwise.

I haven’t had a 25-ft drain clog since the soup stock incident. I finally donated the shirts to Goodwill last year.

Not my Money

Much of the clutter in our house is toys. Most of those were gifts. Cash burned by someone else, usually grandparents. I’d rather they had saved the money too. One-quarter of the presents would bring an equal amount of joy to our kids.

But grandparents find great joy in cluttering our house with crap showering our very fortunate and ungrateful children with cheap plastic molded junk lovely educational tools that foster creativity, intellectual development, and sharing independent play.

We’re obviously grateful for the outpouring of love for our kids. But it’s overboard (and we communicate this to the givers who are also reading this today).

Spending a week at the beach together? Now that’s time and money well spent.

When I look around my house at all the random stuff, I’m always surprised at how much of it was free or gifted. Or really cheap from an estate sale or flea market back before kids made shopping so miserable.

So much we don’t use, don’t plan to use, but still keep. Some things are waiting for the next neighborhood yard sale like the stacks of baby clothes. But most are just sitting around without a plan.

Porno for Parents

Our son loved this big toy doorway (below) because he loves doors so much. But it’s only for 0-2 year-olds. He’s five now. The girls sort of liked it. But not for long. So it just took up space.

The day we unloaded the doorway onto our neighbor, Mrs. RBD and I celebrated with a romantic dinner. Finally, the damn thing was out of the family room and we could vacuum.

Of course, it was replaced by 40 new toys at Christmas time, each with 20-50 separate pieces that scatter around the room in chaos. But getting rid of the door was a small win.

A neighbor once dumped a bulky plastic race car track on our front porch. I’m sure she skipped home gleefully.

Receiving that race track was short-term high for my son. Loved it for a day. He plays with it very little now. It’s a fixture in our playroom taking up space.

Hurts like hell when you step on it. It’s too big to discard without anyone noticing.

But I sometimes secretly throw out or donate toys. Talk about excitement. Try this:

  • Choose a toy in your house. An ignored toy.
  • Throw it in the garbage without anyone seeing you.
  • Adrenaline rush.

Here’s another favorite. When the kids fight over a crappy toy, I punish them for fighting by making them throw out the disputed toy. My daughter always wants the toys someone else is playing with.

Can’t share? Goes in the garbage.

These probably aren’t the best ideas. There’s a book for dealing with clutter and kids called Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home by Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist.

I just bought it myself… the Kindle version.

Avoid Putting Clutter in your home in the First Place

The best way to avoid clutter is to not buy stuff in the first place. Make purchases on purpose. I’m not going to lecture you on this. Save your money.

Frugality, minimalism, and personal finance are so often intertwined. Earn more, spend less, and keep the rest to invest. Don’t spend it on crap that takes up space so you don’t need extra space to store it all.

Spend money on experiences that bring you happiness, not things that give you short term excitement and end up collecting dust. Borrow or rent tools like drain augers.

Accumulating less stuff to become wealthy is common sense, but against the traditional American dream, where you get the house, then the bigger house, and all the stuff to fill it. Then all the cool gadgets like the fancy grill, the smoker (because a grill isn’t enough anymore), the bigger TV with the higher resolution, and the second TV for the room that needs a 60-incher too.

As for the free stuff, donate, sell, or trash it if you don’t need it around. Teach your kids to do the same, even for gifts from the grandparents. We encouraged this at our annual neighborhood yard sale this year. Kids kept all profits from the toys they sold. Can’t say they were eager to sell their toys, but a few items moved and they received the money. It’s a start.

Photo credit: MrsBrown via Pixabay

44 Responses to That Clutter In Your Home Used To Be Money

  1. Lindsay @ Notorious D.E.B.T. August 17, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    Yes! While I’m not a minimalist (some seemingly stupid possessions do make me happy, like my dead doctor grandfather’s WWII microscope I just received), I’ve been on a mission against clutter for the past several years.

    Most notably, this has been a crusade against our DVD collection. When I first met my husband ten years ago he did little else but watch TV. I was super impressed with his collection at the time, which surely numbers into the hundreds if not thousands. Now, all I do is look at all those useless piles of plastic packed away in boxes and see $25 chunks of money that would surely be worth tens of thousands of dollars by now had we invested it instead. My secret goal is to sell them and get rid of them, even though we won’t make but a fraction of what we bought them for. We’d at least get some money, and clear up seemingly 85% of our living space in our tiny apartment.

    My plan is to subtly plant the seed in my husband’s mind that life would be so much better without the DVDs. We don’t even watch the damn things anymore! I think it’s working though. He’s gone from being totally against it (sunk costs and all) to saying to me the other day, “I think I’m on the fence about selling them. But NOT my video game collection!” Bah…..men. 😉

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

      Video games off limits! Sounds like his super impressive DVD collection may have been part of the attraction:) Always plant the idea and let them think it was their idea. We do this regularly with my Dad and middle child. Both like to come up with the idea themselves, even if they didn’t.

      Some stuff probably is worth keeping. Just not a lot of it. That microscope could be a cool display piece, even though there’s no use for it.
      -RBD

    • Nicky August 21, 2017 at 10:13 pm #

      We condensed shelves of DVDs by getting a zipper cd case/wallet for them (holds up to 300 of them) and recycling the DVD boxes. It saved so much space and condensed all those items onto one, which fits neatly under our TV.

      • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

        I did that with CDs. Ditched the jewel cases. But haven’t listened to the discs in years. Not sure why I still hold onto them, but I’m not eager to toss them even though they are on the computer. Difficult letting go.

        • Daniel August 23, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

          I did the same, except I ripped them as I went. One purchase of a Plex Server license (and server *cough**cough*, still smaller than all those DVD’s) and they are all there. If I can ever get the kids to stop watching the same shows over and over again (I am looking at you Paw Patrol).

    • mikmeh August 22, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

      If it helps, I got rid of my DVD collection now that streaming is easier and usually cheaper. Especially if you wait on new releases or just rent. I was a PC gamer so I just got rid of my nice video card and I stopped playing and buying more video games. It’s a running joke online about massive unplayed Steam libraries. The only way to do that with consoles is just get rid of them. My wife and I limited ourselves to 1 hour of TV a night, if we watch it.

  2. Retiring On My Terms August 17, 2017 at 8:51 am #

    Some great thoughts here! The addition of children definitely can push the clutter factor up exponentially if you aren’t careful. I don’t have the heart or devotion to minimalism to secretly throw out any of the kid’s toys. But I am pretty sure Mrs. ROMT has done that several times in the past!

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

      Good for her. Our house has been taken over. However, I do see some toys becoming obsolete. We can give them away and hopefully acquire less in the future. I did just buy that ClutterFree with Kids book. Long overdue.

    • laura ann August 19, 2017 at 6:22 pm #

      I am oldest of four, and decades ago kids didn’t have the stuff as today. We are child free by choice, as both of us worked and were minimalists long ago when no one called it minimalist, traveled much thru the years, and getting rid of the house soon to move in a two bedroom apt. in retirement complex. Tired of the upkeep of a house and yard. Hard decision to make. We will have more time to enjoy other things. Had to downsize, much donated and none of it missed.

  3. sharon August 17, 2017 at 9:16 am #

    My daughter is expecting for the first time, and I’m going to keep gift buying low key, as I’m more about minimalism and her inlaws are big time shoppers and I know they will be buying the baby too many things to fit in their condo. I’m actually going to give them the gift of a cleaning service for the first month or two after the baby is born, as I know it will be difficult for them to keep up on household stuff in the beginning. Also when the child is older, I want my place to be more about coming over and making cookies & doing crafts instead of taking them to stores to buy them things. I have a feeling I’m not going to be the favourite grandparent. They are going to prefer the other one buying them stuff haha

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

      The kids love the toys, no doubt about it. But they are starting to expect toys every time they see Granny. That was upsetting to see last time the grandparents visited. So hopefully they’ll cut back. Little things here and there are fine. Its the junky stuff that takes up space and gets little play time that bothers me.
      -RBD

    • Shores Gal (@shoresgal40) August 20, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      Kids enjoy the time spent with grandparents, not the “stuff”! Baking cookies, taking a walk, the park, enjoying an ice cream cone. It’s the memories they’ll remember. 🙂

  4. brian503 August 17, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    It starts with not buying it, because once it’s in the home it tough to part with. I have purchases fewer things over the last five years, but still have to purge much from the previous thirty. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

      So much stuff I have is over 30 years old. I have this collection of fishing patches from my youth I still hold onto. Taking up drawer space. Need to go!

  5. Dividend Growth Investor August 17, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    Thanks for writing this post. I am really hopeful I won’t end up in your situation a few years from now. Now excuse me, but I have a bunch of boxes to find a place for in my basement 😉

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      You’re just getting started. I’m sure you received tons a gifts recently. They keep coming, and take up more and more space. Amazes me how much we’ve accumulated in 5 years of having kids.

  6. Oldster August 17, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    One of the unavoidable laws of the universe is the proliferation of toys and bits of toys into inappropriate places (I once found marbles in the cat box – still can’t explain that). Entropy explains the tendency, but children accelerate the process. They are the very engines of entropy. The best one can hope for is a house fire every few years to reset the system 🙂 Seriously, very good post on a vexing problem.

    • Retire Before Dad August 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      I write about this stuff, but really need to take some action because it bothers me so much. I am conflicted as someone who grew up with parents who value certain possessions, and as a backpacker. Those days traveling with so little were the best. Need to go back to that mentality with the whole family. But it’s hard to convince everyone to partake.

  7. Turning Point Money August 18, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    We just had a birthday party for my 4 year old. 20 new “gifts” in the house.

    I secretly throw away unused toys too. I always think I will be caught but nobody notices.

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 8:00 am #

      Yeah, they never miss those junky toys. Party favors drive me crazy.

  8. Jim August 18, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    And before if was your money, it was your time. Powerful yet so simple a message – love it.

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 8:01 am #

      Ouch. Spot on with that. Wasted time and money 🙁

  9. This article misses the mark August 19, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    Throwing things in the garbage that could be donated doesn’t seem right, I think kids are small for such a short time, the author doesn’t get that everyone has a different sense of what is important. I didn’t have a finished basement and I live in a small house and had lots of kids. My kids are grown up now and most of the toys are gone. I only bought my kids one thing on Christmas and one for their Birthday but because they had a lot of siblings they got a lot of stuff. Today I definitely have the house Marie Kondo’d, having perspective with kids helps you enjoy them. My husband doesn’t like to throw things away and I am not trying to change him. I keep the house beautiful and he keeps his stuff in the closets and basement, when company comes over I close his desk which is in our TV/living/den. I am a lot happier not wanting everyone to get rid of their stuff. My girls were visiting the other day and they went down in the basement and went through their boxes. They were delighted with their treasures and got rid of quite a bit of it. Yes my daughter could have sold her books and gotten some money but that was her choice. I think shared living spaces are nicer when they are neater and everyone has a comfort level of neatness, there is a lot of joy this author is missing out on. It’s not a competition to have the least amount of things. PS pouring boiling hot water down a drain sometimes uncloggs it.

    • Retire Before Dad August 19, 2017 at 9:24 am #

      Thanks for your comments. I’ll stress that the toys that go in the garbage are not worth donating. We have plenty in that category. Birthday party favors often fit into this mold. We also receive free toys from neighbors that don’t have all the parts. Construction toy parts, in particular, are often misplaced. Combine that with it being a low-quality toy to begin with, that’s the kind of stuff I toss, and had my kids throw away when they were fighting over it. If it can be donated, we definitely have a pile for that. So much is junk though.

      I tried everything with that clog. Hot water, Draino, and a 15-ft auger first. Then I bought the bigger one which didn’t work either! The plumber told me he’s unclogged so many drains that he almost never uses his disposal. So I bought that thingamajig and we haven’t had a problem since!

  10. JA August 19, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Sharon – in the long run, visits to your house will be a treat. We are the grandparents who cook, bake, play games and put gift money into an account for experiences or the future. If we take anything to our granddaughter’s house, it is a used book in very good condition. She looks forward to this. She reads them so quickly that used is the only option. Once she is finished with it, she donates it to her classroom. We used to buy so much and we are now constantly purging. I swear the Salvation Army salivates when we make our monthly call for a pick-up. Well, at least I’d like to think so. Thanks for the good read! Love the humor. ????

  11. Kim August 19, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    An excellent idea for children is to have them request a donation for an animal shelter or sanctuary rather than a gift for themselves. They get to take it to the shelter where they experience the joy of helping another. Best present ever!

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

      This is an excellent idea. Ours are perhaps a bit too young for this yet. If the 2-year-old gets presents, the 5-year-old won’t ask for a donation to a cause. But it’s a good one to keep in mind for later.

  12. Maciek August 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    oh man. I understand you so much 🙂

  13. MT - empty August 19, 2017 at 5:59 pm #

    I certainly enjoy the secret side of repurposing to the bin or to charities. My old house had a garage out the back where I was obliged to store things for later use. Somehow, some part of that garage was somewhat of a black-hole. Where did that candle-making kit from 1991 go? It is 2017 and no-one has asked or missed it.
    Having just moved from the old place so as to rebuild on the block, packing up after 15 years (the life of our eldest child) is difficult. We unearth some beautiful memories connected to the now useless objects from their childhood. How to save/savour memories without the associated clutter is challenging

  14. Jennifer Mary Wallington August 20, 2017 at 8:30 am #

    Ha ha I love the humour of your writing! I’m quite firm about the no gifts, we had 50 children to a party once (the whole class and other friends etc) there was no way anyone could deal with or appreciate 50 gifts! I requested play dates instead!

    • Joyce M August 21, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

      Great idea on the playdates. I think about the kids in the class who you invite, but their parents may not have a lot of money. You don’t want them putting themselves into a bad financial situation so they don’t show up to a party empty-handed.

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:05 pm #

      Thanks! 50 kids, that’s a major party. And a lot of stickers and tattoos that probably went into the garbage!

  15. AngeliaSparrow August 20, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    I cleaned out the garage and threw away 75% of the stuff. Most of it had been useful in its time, but was no longer and had been damaged by 16 years of damp climate. Lots of childrens’s clothes from the 90s. I look at my clutter and see mostly trash: mail, advertising circulars, soda cans because my husband prefers to drink in his recliner. I just need to clean.

    I freed up 5 shelves by ruthlessly weeding my DVD collection, throwing away the cases and storing the remaining disks in a binder made just for that. 1 binder vs five shelves.

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

      Congratulations on making progress. I try to throw stuff like junk mail out as soon as I get it. But things pile up. Hard to keep up with it all. I still own quite a few CDs from the 1990s. All the jewel cases are gone, but the discs remain in binders. Spent a lot of money on those and now their not worth the time to sell them.

  16. treadlightlyretireearly August 20, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

    We’re definitely in the same boat with the toy clutter. SO much of it is from his two grandmothers, two grandfathers, great grandmother, aunt, uncles, friends… though at least most of the toys came from the thrift store to begin with, and back they go. Though it seems like for every one item out, there are two items that come in. Why I’ve taken to gifting money for college instead of toys (though we’ll see how well that works as the kids get older).

  17. Chris August 20, 2017 at 6:56 pm #

    I wish extended family would believe me when we ask for just a small gift or two for the kids, and the rest as a deposit into their 529 (college savings) accounts! Instead… more plastic junk for me to donate / sell cheap 🙁

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:04 pm #

      I don’t get it. I’m thinking interviewing my Mom about why she insists on buying so much stuff.

  18. mrspickypincher August 21, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    Yeeeees. This is what I try to think about each time I drop a load of stuff at Goodwill. There was a time where we wanted these objects enough to spend money on them–and now we’re giving them away for free, just to say we have more space for more crap! It’s not really decluttering if something else fills up your space.

    • Retire Before Dad August 21, 2017 at 10:06 pm #

      Oh man, I took a huge load to Goodwill last year. Barely made a dent in our house. Didn’t take enough toys though. Save those for another day.

  19. Happy Healthy and Wealthy Girl August 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    Great post! I am not buying much new stuff for a while but still decluttering from previous years and my other family members stuff. I wish other family members would cooperate better though!

  20. Nevada Smith August 21, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    The Best Gift to Give a Kid for Christmas. …a cardboard box. Really! I bought my kids a swingset for XMAS. Took us 8 hours to set up. When they woke, they did play on the swing for a little while. When I turned my head, they were actually playing with the gigantic cardboard box that “Santa” forgot to throw away and it was sitting right in-the-middle of the backyard.

  21. Mike - Wealthy Turtle August 22, 2017 at 8:06 am #

    I too have been known to toss out small toys when no one is looking. Nothing they actually care about but if I find a random arm, broken piece, or low quality dollar store toy someone gave them…they’re gone.

  22. Stephanie August 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    Great article! Maybe next time instead of buying the book, borrow it from your library. Less clutter;)

    • Retire Before Dad August 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

      I checked! Wasn’t available. I do use our library a lot these days. Can ride my bike there 🙂

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