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.
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
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