Look at Your Clutter, See Your Money

Recently I was trapped in a hotel on a rainy weekend and I got sucked into a marathon of Clean House. (This is why I don’t keep cable at home. If stuff is on, I just fall into it.) I was mesmerized by the amount of stuff that some of these people had. Stuff was piled to the ceilings, bursting out of the garages, and filling every closet. As a neat freak, it was disturbing to say the least.

But as I watched, what really got my attention was the amount of money that was invested in this clutter. In some of these houses, thousands of dollars had been spent on stuff that wasn’t being used (heck, some of the participants didn’t even know what they had). Hundreds of dollars of holiday decorations, perfumes, clothes, shoes, toys, bath products, hobby supplies, car parts, and electronics. All of it just piled to the rafters, unused (some still in the original packages, unopened). Not to mention the stuff that was broken and useless and needed a new home in the landfill or recycling bin. Even the woman who said she never bought anything at retail price had hundreds of dollars of “bargains” overflowing out of every closet in the house.

I found myself wondering if there was a relationship in these homes between the amount of clutter and the amount of debt. I bet there is. I have no scientific proof, but logic says that with that much stuff there is likely debt that goes with it, unless the person makes or has a lot of money to begin with. Clutter doesn’t come cheap, even if all you ever buy is stuff on sale. In order to fill a house to the rafters with stuff you’ve got to be spending some serious money. If these people have money troubles, the first place they should look is at their mountains of clutter. Where did the money go? It went to all those clothes that have never been worn, all those kitchen gadgets that have never been used, and all those knick knacks that are filling the shelves.

If you have money troubles, look at your clutter. Do you have a lot of stuff you bought that you never use? Is there stuff you bought with the intention of starting a new hobby or business but then never got around to doing it? Do you have a lot of clothes with the tags still on? Are there bags and bags of “bargains” in your home that you’ll never find a use for? Are your kids drowning in toys they never play with? Sure, maybe you spent too much on eating out or other areas of your life, but I bet if you look at your clutter you’ll get a pretty good idea of where your money has gone.

The good news is that your clutter can be turned into money again. You won’t be able to recoup all that you paid, of course, but you can get some money back. On Clean House they have the mother of all yard sales to get rid of the junk and they seem to rake in a decent sum. You can have your own yard sale. Or you can sell on eBay or Craigslist or to another resale shop. Or you can donate your stuff to a charity and get a tax deduction. If you’ve got a lot of recyclable material, you can get money for that, too, at the scrap yard.

Once you’ve got it cleaned out, try this visualization when you’re tempted to clutter up again. Look at the thing you’re about to buy. If it costs $50, picture a fifty dollar bill in its place. (Or a stack of fifty ones if you like larger piles of money.) Then mentally lower that $50 to about $5, because that’s what you might get for it someday if you sell it. Then ask yourself which is more valuable to you: The thing, or the $50? Because that’s really the trade off you’re making. Your clutter is your money. Every item in your house represents money spent. When you’ve got stuff overflowing your home, that’s a lot of money you could have saved or used elsewhere. If you’d rather keep your money, leave the clutter item in the store.

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10 Responses to Look at Your Clutter, See Your Money

  1. ceejay74 says:

    It’s something I think about when I watch those shows too. (Although I can attest that you don’t have to be spending money to accumulate clutter; my parents’ house is half as bad as the ones on those shows, but they wouldn’t be able to scrape $300 out of all the clutter; it’s mostly papers, very old well-worn clothes and toys and books, etc.)

    I saw an episode of “How Clean Is Your House?” (with the British ladies) where money was part of the girl’s clutter. The ladies found over $1000 throughout the house! Another time I saw an episode of “Big Spender” where the shopaholic mom would buy things and leave them in the bag, with the receipt–and the change from the transaction, sometimes several dollars! They found a couple hundred in cash there, if I recall.

    There are so many ways clutter can relate to poorly organized finances, like when people have to buy another of something because they can’t find the original.

  2. Junebaby says:

    My Sister has a LOT of clutter, but it’s not from spending! She had her Husband have little money. Her clutter comes from not throwing stuff away. They don’t clean and tidy, and she has a sentimental attachment to almost everything except papers.

  3. Diane says:

    Everything you own not only costs money, but takes up space & time & creates more work (cleaning it, moving it, looking for it). I agree there’s likely a correlation between more stuff and more debt.

    To put it simply, in my view more stuff equals less money, less space, and more work. Not a good trade-off in my opinion.

  4. sewingirl says:

    My MIL was a hoarder. She never threw much of anything away. It drove my Hubby, and his siblings, crazy. Hoarding is now recognized to be a form of obsessive/compulsive disorder. Anyway, it took the family 3+ years to clean out the house after she passed away, she was just positive that she might need all of that stuff someday! and no one could convince her otherwise.

  5. sewingirl says:

    My MIL was a hoarder. She never threw much of anything away. It drove my Hubby, and his siblings, crazy. Hoarding is now recognized to be a form of obsessive/compulsive disorder. Anyway, it took the family 3+ years to clean out the house after she passed away, she was just positive that she might need all of that stuff someday! and no one could convince her otherwise.

  6. I’m not a Suze Orman fan….but I do like one thing she says: to value money more than things.

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  8. gaelicwench says:

    There are some who go shopping for “bargains” who truly believe they are accomplishing a money-saving feat, simply because they got it on sale and with a rebate/coupon. What they fail to realize is that, unless the item is used regularly, their so-called savings become moot if the item remains unopened and tossed into the garage and/or basement. It totally defeats the purpose and turns into nothing more than clutter.

  9. Gloria says:

    We just began to do this about a month ago. We took our stuff to resale shops and we hope to get back some money from it. Our house looks cleaner too. We still have more stuff to consign but so far so good.

  10. Ellen Scott Grable says:

    I figured out after years of buying and dusting collectibles that I would rather travel. I needed more time to travel and money. Voila! Ebay and Craigslist and I love my new space. I relish the space and am very cautious about bringing in new stuff.

    I see these programs about clutter and hoarding and it makes me want to downscale further. What so many people who overshop and over store possessions are missing is that there is a great freedom in traveling lightly through this life. Spending good money on rent or a mortgage to house extra stuff is rediculous. I believe this is a side effect of the western lifestyle of consume to be rather than do to be.

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