The Cost of Clutter – Death, Peace, and Money

a clean space1

Almost imperceptibly, we slowly accumulate increasing piles of…stuff. Like cholesterol blockages in arteries, clutter doesn’t happen overnight but its effects can be just as deadly. It’s true, people have died from extreme clutter, or hoarding, in their own homes – by fire from which they couldn’t escape or crushed and hidden beneath their stuff. It’s estimated that up to five percent of the U.S. population has a problem with hoarding and a CBS News poll found that 1/3 of Americans say they have too much clutter in their homes.

About 10% of American families rent storage space for belongings which don’t fit in their homes or items they aren’t ready to part with. That money serves your stuff, instead of your life and growth. Then there are some people who will forgo renting space but choose larger homes to contain their clutter.

It’s simple to put a dollar figure on the cost of rented storage spaces, but what about the clutter in your home? The first step is to assess and take stock of your possessions and the space they own in your home. In a single room, take a look and estimate the cost of what you’re not using and what you don’t love. Unworn clothing, make-up purchased years ago, jewelry, knick-knacks, spider-webbed sports equipment, and paper all have a financial cost. If you find that a certain item tugs at your heart or causes an emotional response, that’s an added cost (which can be greater than the financial one!).  Add up the cost of the items – what you remember spending or the item’s price tag. If you’re still paying it off, record that too. A perusal through one’s closet may show hundreds of dollars of unused, cluttering clothing, shoes, and accessories. Are you still paying on the $2000 television purchased 3 years ago? Guess what, even if it breaks (and if the term ‘planned obsolescence‘ means anything to you, it will), you’ll still pay for it AND the new television. Is anything worth the stress of those monthly bills?

Another tactic is to figure out how much each square footage of your home is worth and then discern how much of the space is ‘owned’ by clutter. If you own your home, take the current, roughly estimated value of the home and divide it by the square footage (i.e. $75 per square foot). If you rent, we find it’s easier for clients to add up the total rent for the year and divide by the square footage of the home. Once you have this number, multiply it by the square footage of space stuff is taking up in your garage, bedrooms, living room, and basement. You may find a surprising estimated cost for the clutter in your space. Whether you’re paying a mortgage or a landlord, are you writing that check mainly on behalf of clutter storage?

How about money spent for replacement items? Have you purchased a new pair of sneakers only to find some in your closet from last summer? Clutter costs us money and time when we buy duplicates of stuff we already own but can’t find. 

Part of this equation should be a discussion on safety and health. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, most accidents occur in the home. Clutter can pose risks for falls and accidents. Slipping on laundry thrown down the wooden basement stairs? Kids toys? Feeding what could have been a small house fire with paper clutter? Also the growth of allergens like dust and mold can be expensive to treat.

When you are disorganized, you can’t function effectively, much less optimally. Much like a small business, you need to have an organizational structure for your home life. Misplacing checks in piles of paper, late fees, tax penalties, and library fines are all extra dollars out your door. At a very basic level, time spent looking for car keys is time that could have been spent relaxing, working, or socializing.

Clutter also costs us time by demanding our attention. We have to work around it to get groceries in the car, pay our bills, find a useful item, and make a meal. What could normally be accomplished in 15 minutes can take 3x as long! The extra hours of housework are a time and energy drain that could be used for creative endeavors, education, hobbies, or any number of productive projects.

Clutter can also affect your mental health. You know the feeling when you enter a dwelling and the space is bright, clean and welcoming versus one where shoes are strewn all over the dirty floor. One client felt her life was becoming unmanageable and she was dealing with increasing amounts of anxiety and depression. It turns out that she didn’t need pharmaceutical pills, she needed a clean and welcoming sanctuary to call home. We made a few recommendations and she flew with it, hiring an organizer to help her declutter and a housekeeper for occasional, detailed visits. As of this writing, she reports feeling calmer and more emotionally stable.

What about the sheer joy and lightness of being that comes with having space to twirl around your room without running into piles of stuff? A place for you and your family to grow, expand, and learn in a clean and orderly environment? The contented sigh as you look over and see flat surfaces without piles on top?  Living in peace is priceless.

Perhaps the biggest cost is an intangible one: clutter impedes and causes procrastination for personal growth. It’s just one giant, clutter-y obstacle to overcome on living a life you desire.

We can become prisoners and Stuff is our warden. We tie up our money in rarely used sports equipment, shirts that don’t fit quite right, gadgets, and various entertainment. Some people develop Stockholm syndrome with their clutter, relating positive feelings for their stuff and imbuing it with sense of human comfort to counter-act their loneliness. Liberate your stuff, liberate yourself. tweet this

When there is too much stuff around you, it’s like being a plant in a tiny pot. It’s overly challenging to thrive and grow when you are tucked into a bunch of clutter. The answer, of course, isn’t moving to a larger space. The solution is to put your space on a diet. Once you get rid of stuff and get organized, that’s when you begin to expand your wings and take off!

Ready to take charge and get support? Come to our Declutter your Home, Clear your Mind class this Thursday!

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