Updated on 09.01.10

Frugality and Accumulation

Trent Hamm

The other night, I watched a couple episodes of the A&E documentary series Hoarders. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Hoarders is a documentary series that focuses on the struggles of people who suffer from compulsive hoarding.

One thing that struck me over and over again was that people were saying things along the lines of, “I can’t get rid of this stuff because I might have a use for it some day.” Of course, they were making this statement in a home that was so full of stuff that they had difficulty even walking through their home.

Frugal people live on an interesting spectrum between minimalism and hoarding. While on the one hand frugal people often move towards minimalism, with fewer possessions and the like, at the same time, two of the most powerful tools for saving money are reusing things and buying in bulk. Both of those tactics result in the pure accumulation of stuff.

Nearly everything we throw away has some sort of value to it. I could save old newspapers for campfire starters. I could save old magazines for children’s art projects and collages. I could save worn-out clothes for our rag bag. A broken piece of furniture could provide pieces of wood and cloth for other projects. Old electronics can often be refurbished and repurposed.

Given that a frugal person often focuses on the maximization of value, sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of keeping more stuff than we actually need. We do this all the time – you wouldn’t want to look at our garage, for example. I have a really bad penchant for saving cables and electronic components because I’m so sure that someday, this adapter will have a valuable use or someday, I’ll need this cable.

Add on top of that the value that can be found in bulk buying and you soon see the problem: frugality can easily lead to the accumulation of excess stuff.

Where’s the line between frugality and hoarding? My feeling is this: once you have a small reserve of any one item, it crosses the line into hoarding if you continue to accumulate more of that type of item at a faster rate than you’re using it.

So, for example, after I go camping, it might be a good idea to save a few newspapers for the next camping trip. However, once I reach that point, it crosses the line into hoarding to continue to accumulate. The only purpose I have for saving old papers is for campfire starters. Saving beyond that, just because the papers have the potential to be useful someday, is hoarding.

You can take a similar approach to anything. If I have plenty of shower soap in the closet, why am I buying more of it? If I have plenty of toothpaste, why am I acquiring more of it? Even if it’s free.

The real story to all of this is that every possession you have has a cost. To own all of these possessions, you have to live in a larger home than you otherwise would. You also have to deal with the cleaning and organizing of all of your possessions. If you’re saving hundreds of newspapers, you’re going to either have to have a lot of room or a lot of organization.

Lately, my wife and I have started to adopt a completely different approach than we used to have towards the accumulation of possessions. In short, if we can’t say that this item won’t have a use in the next two months, we won’t bring it into our home. Even if it’s free.

Why? Even free stuff has a cost, and it’s a cost that we don’t feel the need to pay.

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  1. Katherine says:

    I would have to disagree about the free stuff, kind of. If we have enough of an item, but I am able to get it for free, I will do so. We have a box in our dining room for such items. When the box is full, it gets donated to our local seminary, where the food/household items are distributed among the students. It’s an easy way for us to give back.

  2. Hannah says:

    I get the point you are trying to make, but the line between accumulating stuff and actual hoarding is that one is just a habit and one is a disease. Hoarders have a lot more going on than just buying more TP than they immediately need because it’s on sale at Sam’s club and they can’t resist the good deal.

    I think what you’re really talking about is balancing minimalism with the frugality of buying in bulk and recycling. Hoarding isn’t really on the same spectrum in my opinion.

  3. clevelis says:

    @Hannah: I agree. Hoarding is a whole other level of accumulation. Bulk buyers and such may just have a bunch of junk.

    At any rate, I like the idea of keeping a small stash of useful items. Even in my clothes closet, if I don’t wear something within 6-12 months (depending on how much I like it and climiates that I have been in), it’s time to donate it. That gives time for a full cycle of seasons. And besides, it’s a great way to give myself a reason to shop later if I need a similar item at another time.

  4. Love this post, as this is a conundrum many of us have faced for years. In my life, I admit I tend to err on the side of minimalism rather than frugality when it comes right down to accumulating too much stuff (although it wasn’t always this way). Nothing is truly free and most of the time, I find that the physical and emotional clutter isn’t worth saving a few pennies.

  5. alilz says:

    There is a huge differecne between accumulating and hoarding.

    Hoarding is a psychological disorder linked to OCD and there is some research pointing to genetic markers that may cause it.

    Also hoarding is also seen as comorbidity with other disorders like OCD, depression, anxiety disorders, compulsive behaviors (like shopping), addiction and also has been linked to childhood tramua(s) including physical and sexual abuse.

  6. owluca says:

    Do you know why I read your blog ?

    Well because only Yesterday I was thinking about about this “dilemma” and believe it or not: because of an excellent discount on toothpaste ! :-)

    Since it has almost “no” expiry date and it does not waste much space I finally decided to buy it:
    my general approach is to create a good stock that will allow me to sit and wait even for a “long time” till the next EXCELLENT discount, not simply replacing the item in a couple of months after it has been used.

  7. Greg says:

    I am not so sure every possession always has a cost. We would not move to a smaller house if we had less stuff because we love our house and the neighbourhood. Moreover, moving costs a lot of time and money, and we would have to pay a lot of taxes on the sale and purchase of a house. So I really see no problem with keeping a few boxes full of useless junk in a room in the cellar for which we currently have no other use in mind. Separating the junk from the useful stuff also costs time, which I prefer to spend on more interesting projects. So for the time being, I just leave the junk where it is until we eventually move house, or come up with a better use for the space.

  8. Rachel says:

    I saw the hoaders show and couldn’t believe how those people were living, but as a frugal person I have been known to buy things that I really don’t need especially at yard sales because of the price and then when I get home there is the problem of what to do with it. I have found that my things(even the free ones) cost something. They cost space, time to dust, organization time and even family frustration at times. What we have done is to say that a clean house is worth something to us and sometimes that means paying more for something or buying it again. We also recycle.

  9. Kim says:

    Outside of the issue of hoarding as an actual disorder, I think that what matters is not how much you keep, buy in advance, or whatever. What matters is what you have room to store–meaning you actually have space for it, and it’s well organized so you can find it. For example, my father lives out in the country and doesn’t get to the store often. They have a large basement and also a barn, so they can buy in bulk and store items on a shelving system where they can easily be found. We live in a small home with little storage, so we can’t buy as far in advance, and we most get things as we use them. What really matters is if your possessions have a place and accessible, and that varies based on your living situation.

  10. Mary says:

    I think some of the previous posters are missing what Trent is saying. While I do agree hoarding can be part of a chemical imbalance or a result of earlier trauma, I don’t think every hoarder fits into one of those two categories.

    I think he’s saying that we need to be balanced, not that keeping any and every item that isn’t crucial for survival is wasteful.

    I think he makes a really good point about everything having a cost. If he’s got 5 tubes of toothpaste saved up, getting more, even if it’s free, truly is wasteful. He would be cluttering up his home, even though he already has a plentiful supply. Not to mention, some things lose their usefulness over time–like food or medicine that expires, electronics that become outdated and obsolete. I live in a small one bedroom apartment and I can definitely tell you, keeping things–even useful things–has a cost!

    Whether it’s the time it takes to maintain it, the stress of having to care for it, or the frustration that comes from having to sort through it to find the “needle in the haystack,” (the one item you need) having too much stuff can be unhealthy.

    Sorry for the long post, my 2 cents.

  11. SEC Lawyer says:

    You might want to rethink your “two-month” rule. In 1981, I moved into an apartment and thereby acquired an artificial Christmas tree that had been left behind by the prior tenant. I’ve kept it for thirty years and moved it with my other possessions into several new homes. I don’t use the tree every two months, but I do use it every twelve months (more or less). My annual Christmas Tree cost is zero. And I’m not a hoarder.

  12. Dane says:

    As far as hoarding stuff goes, I’ve definitely got my own Jekyll/Hyde thing going on. I get some serious packrat tendencies from my family (especially my Dad), but I also just recently finished my degree in Industrial and Systems Engineerng, so I view systemic waste as borderline evil.

    It’s bad enough that I’ve offered floor layout tips to fast food restaurants… like spending about 2 minutes explaining to a shift manager at Subway why the toaster/bread ovens/other stuff should be rearranged. Nerd, I know.

    I can be pretty accumulative with stuff I already own, like old video game systems, books, etc. However, when it comes to buying new things, I run a pretty harsh cost-benefit analysis on it. People tend to associate the sticker price of things with the total cost, when they really never consider the lifecycle costs of purchases.

    How much time are you going to spend researching/buying this product? How much use will you actually get out of it? What about holding costs – how much space is it going to take up (free space is valuable, life is so much better when you have an uncluttered home)? Will you be salvaging any value from this purchase – and will there be a negative value when you are done using it (like getting rid of heavy, old furniture that nobody wants)? What about other costs associated with it (like the TV I wanted – I basically only watch football and nothing else – how much are HD subscriptions for ESPNU, etc. going to cost me)? What about depreciation expenses – how soon will this new stuff be out of date? How much will this gym membership cost me not just in $ per month, but in minutes/miles traveled per month?

    I know, it’s borderline obsession, but hey, that’s what IEs do. You can only imagine what it’s like when I finally do break down and throw my old crap away. I’m like the consultants from Office Space, I turn into a hatchet man. It’s amazingly satisfying.

  13. Sharon says:

    Twelve months is my rule. Born out of buying shampoo at home rather than the college bookstore.
    But free does get a bit of leeway.

  14. WendyH says:

    I agree with the other posters, there is a BIG difference between a true hoarder and someone who likes to stock up. It’s when your possessions take control of your life, and prevent you from functioning (daily tasks like laundry and cooking), that, in my opinion, you’ve crossed the line.

    I helped out a friend who is a fairly mild hoarder compared to the TV shows, but is still far beyond an “accumulator”. With her there is more of an ADHD/ADD issue, she just can’t complete tasks that she starts. One example: rather than keep up with laundry and keep closets organized, she has about 4x the clothes a typical person has, spread out in multiple closets. Her large laundry room was stacked 4 feet high with laundry, to the point where items on the floor were too moldy to use, and items on the counter included children’s clothes (her children are adults now).

    In 4 days, two people working with her, we touched the laundry, kitchen and part of the office area and filled a 10 yard dumpster of trash. Unfortunately she is also neglecting any maintenance on her house to the point where it can’t be fixed by a little caulk and paint.

  15. Scotty says:

    People could take a few cues from big manufacturing companies when it comes to inventory management of household items. Think in terms of a manufacturing company (say, a car company) that needs to stock literally thousands of parts to produce a product. How do they manage not buying too much? Storing too much? Running out of something important, halting production?

    I work for a very modern-thinking manufacturing company that uses many ingenious methods of inventory management, borrowed from Japanese companies that pioneered the concept, notably Toyota. We rely heavily on what’s referred to as a “Kanban” system (google/wikipedia the term). I use the very same system in my own home for common household items. We basically have a main supply, and a reserve supply of something (say, toilet paper). When the main supply (in the bathroom storage closet) runs low, we replenish it from the reserve (from the basement). When the supply in the basement then runs out, we know to order more. We do the same basic system at our company with the thousands of parts we need to stock, so we effectively never run out. When it comes time to do groceries/shopping, one look at our reserves in our basement, and we know exactly what we need for everything. You can decide how much you need in your reserved, base on your usage.

    Another principle at our company is the idea that just because you ‘can’ buy something in bulk, doesn’t always mean you should. You have the balance out the costs of storage, inventory, finance, etc, with what you buy in bulk. My company used to order certain things in huge bulk quantities because they were “saving money”, but after detailed analysis, you often found out that wasn’t always the case.

    I could go on at length, but if you want a very simple, ingenious, and effective way to manage household items, google “Kanban” related “3 bin system”.

  16. reulte says:

    Most behaviors taken to extremes are considered psychological problems (i.e. dieting, sex ‘addicts’, hand-washing) so I won’t go into whether hoarding is or is not the same as accumulating lots of stuff.

    These days I try to adhere to the one in/one out rule but for things I already have (1) I try not to have duplicates and (2) if it gets in my way out it goes. The problem is, I move about every 2-3 years due to my job. The good part about moving is that when packing and when unpacking it is very easy to clear out and dispose of items that are no longer necessary.

  17. I’m going to fourth or fifth that hoarding is a disease. Lots of people have a fair amount of stuff, and thats not hoarding. Whats important is that you have the ability to store said items and can find them in a timely fashion, imo. This is especially true now that we can only expec the costs of things to go up. I do have to say I wouldn ever make it with your two month rule-im buying clothing at eighty percent off now for next summer, and Christmas items on sale after christmas for the following holiday. Buying things that you know you will need in the future at the lowest price often means ignoring that rule.

  18. partgypsy says:

    I’m a minimalist by nature, but what is a good rule to keep or give away/sell? After my second one grows up, should I get rid of all her clothes or keep some for memories/ potential grandkids? In the same way my husband still has all his toy soldiers and a castle from when he was a kid and now our kids can play with them, just as my sister in law’s daughter plays with the barbies her mom had as a kid. It’s actually been pretty neat. But that means holding onto them for 40 years! We also have a full size iron/brass bed we inherited, but can’t use it (we have a queen, and the kids use a bunk bed). We keep hanging onto it thinking one of our kids might use it when they have their own place, but again that’s 30 years from now. Likewise there is some jewelry I’d like to sell, but my oldest daughter protests and says she loves it and wants to have that stuff. So I can’t tell if I’m being too harsh or I’m surrounded by packrats.

  19. Sandy L says:

    I tended to let go of stuff easier now that I have 2 kids and I’d be buried with stuff if we didn’t purge regularly.

    What’s helped me the most is admitting I made a mistake with a purchase and reselling as quickly as possible while it still has a pretty high resale value.

  20. Kathryn says:

    I prefer the program Clean House to keep me motivated not to let stuff get out of control. Some of the folks on that program are true hoarders but others have just let their lives get out of control & are too overwhelmed to handle it themselves. People who are true hoarders will have a mess of a house again in short order, but folks who got overwhelmed will usually work not to have that happen again.

    I fell into the latter category. After my first marriage ended, i “inherited” all the debris from our marriage & a lot of junk from my ex’s grandmother as well. I was totally overwhelmed by the mess & the boxes sat around & it was just horrible. My sister organized a bunch of folks to come in & help me manage all that mess. I still had more clutter than i wanted but i wasn’t embarrassed to have friends come visit any more.

    One of my ways of handling it so that it didn’t get overwhelming again was to have a “Goodwill box” in my closet. Every time i came across something i knew i wouldn’t use again, it went into the box. I made a point of making a trip to donate these items monthly. I know that Trent often advocates having garage sales, but my items generally were not of much value & not worth saving for a garage sale, at least not to me. It was more important to me to have the junk out of the house.

    I remarried, & in time we moved & i got rid more stuff, & my question to myself at the time was, “Why did i keep this all this time?” It wasn’t bad stuff, but it was cluttering my life & i felt so much more free getting rid of it. The house we moved to was considerably smaller than the condo i’d been renting, & we HAD to get rid of so much. Even then, the small house was very crowded. We were there for a year, saving, until we bought our current house that is twice the size of the rented one. Our house feels so roomy now! And i’m working against the tendency to accumulate more stuff. I’d rather have the free feeling of less.

    Don’t disagree with the folks who differentiate between hoarders & massive clutters, just sharing the perspective of a non-hoarder but a messy clutterer who got overwhelmed by it.

    I like Don Aslett’s books on de-cluttering & living a simpler, clutter-free life.

  21. I definitely lean towards minimalism but of course whenever I start throwing/giving away things I have that thought (I might use this someday). I recently went through my house with renewed sense of minimalism and got rid of clothes, and all sorts of things I don’t wear. It was so relieving! My mind is way more at ease.

    Another thing I noticed as I paired down my house belongings were expired things. You really can’t use it if it expired a year ago! I threw out a lot of meds and food in my pantry that I didn’t even know I had because it was hidden by other things and they expired.

  22. Maureen says:

    I agree with the previous posters. Hoarding is a psychological disorder.

    I also agree that the 2 month rule won’t work for seasonal items such as decorations and seasonal clothes or sports equipment, yard maintenance tools…

  23. Rebecca says:

    To #9 partygypsy, I would suggest a med size rubber tote with lid to keep a few childhood keepsakes, and maybe a shoe box for very small items. I kept the outfit each of mine wore home from the hospital, their special baby blanket, One knit cap for each of them, for sentimental reasons. But most were donated. I also recommend writing a note or letter to go with each item, it is nice to have for later. Or a pic of the newborn in that item. I also have the blanket made for my grandmother as a baby, and another crocheted by her for my mom to pass down. A few classic toys can be kept, but I wouldn’t go crazy. A lot of older toys my mom saved weren’t safe to play with anymore. Even plastic breaks down over years. My husb had some blocks his grandfather had made for him as a kid, but they are painted with very old and probably lead based paint.

    I say sell or donate the bed, your kids can easily find one on craigslist or good will when they will need one. If your daughter wants they jewelry, give it to her now and be rid of it. Or let her pick a few pieces and sell the rest.

    I also keep all my kids artwork for the year. When it comes home I put their name, age, date on it and display it in the playroom. When it comes down, I have a box for each child, and the items go in there. At the end of the school year we go through each box and pick a “best of” maybe 10 items to keep, the rest get tossed. Those 10 items go into a scrapbook for them. I usually take the christmas ornaments they make and add them to the box for holidays. My mom has one I made when I was in 1st grade, I love to see that on the tree. But just keep the best stuff.

    One note: I don’t think it is wrong if you do want to give everything away. It is a very personal choice. But I do know that my aunt did what I described above for her only child, Jacob. When he was tragically killed in a car crash 3 weeks before his high school graduation, all those saved items came out of storage and became displayed in the house. My aunt has had some of his art work framed. It keeps his memory with them in their home.

  24. Rebecca says:

    In regards to food, I think it is OK to have a stock of items if you will use them up. I stock up on peanut butter when it hits rock bottom prices, and get enough for about 6 months. We eat a lot of PB, so I may have 40 jars under my bed. But we use it up. But I don’t think anyone needs 1000 boxes of jello or hamburger helper. 20 maybe, if you know you will use them. But the food pantry is desperate for foodstuffs. So buy that free with coupon item, or 5 cent box of pasta, and donate it. At the end of the year, if you have 20 tubes of toothpaste, and you only use 4 a year, keep 4 and donate the rest to a shelter for the homeless.

  25. Jennifer says:

    @#9 I can speak to personal experience on that one — my in laws are mild hoarders, (I don’t think that there is a disease present in either of them, they are just pack rats) and my MIL, a lovely lady, kept a TON of children’s things from her four boys. However, when she finally dragged it out of her attic, most of it wasn’t in very good condition and not useable. Further, I wasn’t particurly interested in putting bell bottoms on my boys. So, if you keep an item that long, I think you need to be prepared to put the time in to care for it. If not, all it does it take up space, and if she passed it on at the time, someone might have had more use for it. How in the heck are you going to know in 40 years if you grandchildren can use that baby mattress that your kids used?

    On the other hand, all the matchbox cars are fun things my boys DO like to go through. But what if I had girls? I agree with Trent, there is a cost associated with hanging onto things, and I let most stuff go.

  26. Debra Stang says:

    This is a great article, and made me look at a couple of things in my life in a whole new way. While I’m not a hoarder to the extent of the people featured on television, I tend to hoard a few objects that I use for my writing–paper, pens, and books. Maybe it’s time for me to do some fall cleaning.

  27. ABQBrent says:

    I’m an accumulator, but I don’t accumulate quickly. I also don’t follow any month rule because it fails to take into account the nature of the item. Do I use my multimeter once every 2 months? no, but its really nice to have for the weekend I do. My Christmas lights are only used once a year. I have some unfilled jars in the pantry. My rule? If the burden of keeping is larger than the burden of replacing, get rid of it. That means that many things I have are a small burden, but of small value. I’ll keep my roast lifters for my next turkey and toss my receipts.

  28. Rachel says:

    @Rebecca: 40 jars of peanut butter under your bed (of all places!)? Oh, my…I think that’s going overboard just a bit.

  29. Beth says:

    I’m glad to see the mental health aspect of hoarding in previous comments, but I’d like to add that previous trauma is also a catalyst. Many people like my grandmother who lived through the Great Depression carried on their pack rat habits even though their financial situation greatly improved. Their children are also raised with their way of life, so hoarding sometimes runs in families.

    I’m determined I won’t be that way. I’ve learned that it’s okay to do without things sometimes rather than trying to hold on to everything “just in case.”

  30. Rebecca says:

    I know I have some large collections of items I don’t use very often, but when I do they save me hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I have 2 canners and hundreds of jars. In spring most are empty, but right now I am canning almost every day food that was almost if not completely free for my family to eat for the next year. I have 20 pie plates. But I make all those pies every fall and freeze them for later. Yes we eat them all. I have large rubbermaid totes full of kids clothes for my 3 as they grow. most of the items are new or near new, bought for pennies on clearance and at goodwill. My daughter may not wear them for 4 years, but those brand new dress shoes found at goodwill for a buck will definitely get used.

  31. Wink says:

    I have always thought of frugalism requiring some form of accumulation. All of the people I know with the lowest cost of living have lots of “junk”. They have lots of canning jars or lots of left over bolts and car parts that they may or may not use but if they need it they don’t need to spend money on it. They also tend to be handy and can repurpose the items to fit a need. Minimalism seems to me to be the opposite. I love minimalism but psychologically it is hard for me not to perceive waste when I purge. I think of the recycle triangle. Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. Minimalists reduce and frugals reuse. It is a constant internal struggle between the 2 forces so for now I live with a minimal home and a frugal garage.

  32. almost there says:

    This topic has come up before. I recommend reading the book “Stuff” to see the difference from a pack rat to a hoarder.

  33. Debbie M says:

    I’m enjoying reading everyone’s rules for when to get rid of things and when to stop accumulating certain things for a while.

    I don’t even know how long certain things last me like tubes of toothpaste (3 months? 2 years?) or big packages of toilet paper (each brand is probably different, too).

    I have learned that my rules for acquiring new things are better than my rules for keeping old things and I’ve decided that I need to bring the two closer together.

    For example, I don’t buy books or movies unless I think I’ll read/view them repeatedly or lend them out to all my friends. But I’m still keeping books and movies that I have read 0 – 1 times and have never lent. It occurred to me that if my house burned down, there are quite a few things I would re-buy, but nowhere near everything that is possible to re-buy.

    With clothing, just being able to think of a situation where I would use it is good enough, even if that situation hasn’t happened in a long time (such as interviews, funerals). Of course if that situation has happened, and I’ve continuously been choosing something else for those occasions, that’s a sign!

  34. Andrea says:

    @Jennifer #15: “On the other hand, all the matchbox cars are fun things my boys DO like to go through. But what if I had girls?”

    Okay, what if? I’m female, and my brothers’ Matchbox cars were handed down to me and I got tons of use out of them; my sister’s Barbies were handed down to me and I got tons of use out of them; I also got tons of use out of my Lincoln Logs and massive Lego collection. I’ve turned out just fine. The packaging on the Matchbox cars does not say “boys only,” and it’s up to a child to decide whether they want to play with a particular toy that their family made available to them.

  35. anonymous says:

    #13Rebecca brings up an important point about the safety (or not) of saving old toys for a number of years. My mother had saved some of my old toys to be used by her grandchildren. Then I read that even items that appear to be safe can be dangerous over time because of the gradual breakdown of the plastic used to make them (such as dolls) or because of the paint used in the designs. You may not be able to see the danger, because it may be caused by the materials rubbing off onto the child’s hands. It makes me think twice about whether or not to hold onto my own children’s outgrown items, and will probably help with my plan of cleaning out the basement over the next few months.

  36. cv says:

    I think there’s an important distinction between the kind of “just in case” saving that Trent mentions with electronics cables and and the kind of saving that #18 Rebecca describes with clothes for her kids. Rebecca has a clear idea of the situation in which the item will be useful, and a very high likelihood of that situation taking place (kids needing dress shoes of a certain size). There’s also a timeline associated with Rebecca’s saving, so if it’s not used by the time her kids have outgrown the item, it could be passed along.

    Electronic cables and adapters don’t have a timeline for future disposal, and there’s no clear idea of when that extra cable might be used. It’s just a vague sense that there are some, mostly unlikely, scenarios might occur where that item would be useful.

    Saving things with a definite plan makes a lot of sense and can be quite frugal. Saving things just in case seems like a waste of space, time and money.

  37. Kathy says:

    I agree with everyone else who says that hoarding is a psychological disorder.

    My husband was sort of a hoarder, perhaps borderline? He was beyond a pack rat, but he was nothing near the level of hoarding that we see on TV. I think his hoarding was based upon a very unstable childhood and being raised by a very mentally unstable single parent. He told me that for one year of his life, he went to three different schools and he graduated high school 2 years later than he should because he was constantly being uprooted (because of his mentally unstable parent) and he fell behind because of changing schools so much. He held on to his things as security more than anything else because his possessions were the only stable thing he had going in his life. It wasn’t until he met me and after we were married for a few years that he was finally able to let go of the “things” as he finally had a stable living situation for the first time in his life.

    Our rule is that if we don’t use it after six months or it has sit for six months where it was originally put, it goes. Our other rule is that our stuff has to work within the confines of our living space. If we open closet doors and things spill out, it’s time to do a purge. We try to do a “purge” at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. We can’t bring in new things unless we make room for them.

  38. getagrip says:

    My problem is that it seems every time I throw the last of something out, within a month after tossing it I come across a situation where I could have used the item.

    So I’ve come to try to keep one of various things (and if I’ve got more than one, I pick the best one and get rid of the others). For example, the front door handle to my home failed. Those suckers are expensive, and we didn’t find a replacement we liked in any local hardware store. So for the moment I’m using a doorknob taken off another door some years ago to keep the door functional. I used to have three similar doorknobs, but got rid of two and kept one about a year and half ago.

    So now I’ve got a couple of tubs in the basement with things I might use down the road, and I can check them before I run to the store to buy anything in a rush.

  39. Diane says:

    Whenever I go to an antique store and see the prices people can get for the everyday stuff we had when I was a kid–not to mention the collector value of things like old Barbies–I wish I had saved EVERYTHING!

  40. Travis says:

    I just went to the grocery store – the kitchen was bare. It was an amazing experience almost all of my staples were 2 for 1. My loaf of bread, oatmeal, crackers, juice, etc… it was like the planets aligned. Anyhow, I normally do not buy these 2 for 1 deals because I don’t have a lot of space and usually its on items I don’t use frequently.

    However, these were my food staples – so I got essentially 2weeks of food for the cost of 1. I don’t consider this hoarding – but it was difficult to mentally agree to bring the extra food in the house :-) I try to limit my intake be gadgets or food.

  41. Harm says:

    I wonder how much programs like “Antiques
    Roadshow”, and even more, “American Pickers”,
    contribute to some peoples’ hoarding

  42. Leah W. says:

    @ #9, partgypsy: KEEP THE BED! PLEASE KEEP THE BED! I have my great grandmother’s (or maybe my great great grandmother’s) iron bed in my guest room right now, passed down for generations. I love it, and you can’t buy one like it.

    Things like that are worth the cost of keeping it, in my opinion. It’s more than just a piece of furniture — it’s a connection to a family member I never met.

  43. Daniel says:

    Some interesting thoughts in this post. We’ve always had borderline-hoarding symptoms with books, until recently we changed our philosophy on book ownership.

    We realized that a book–even a favorite book–is pretty much useless collecting dust on our shelves. Better it be in the hands of someone else who might benenfit from it. That mindset enabled us to give away the majority of our books.

    I think you could apply this thought process to almost all possessions. If you think an item might be more valuable in someone else’s hands, give it away and enable someone else to be frugal.

    Casual Kitchen

  44. Caroline says:

    My apt doesn’t allow that kind of accumulation. I won’t buy in bulk, and that’s ok because I’m saving money by living in a small space.

    Btw, that show depresses me. These people have big problems, and they’re rarely resolved. Too sad for me to enjoy watching. I like How Clean Is Your House (Brit, not commercialized American version) and Clean Sweep :P But I don’t have cable anymore – another savings choice I live well with :D

  45. Kate says:

    to partgypsy: if you are ready to part with the jewelry and your daughter is not…could you just give it to her? If her response is that she doesn’t have room for it, my automatic thought would be that if it really means so much to her then she would make room for it (how much room does jewelry take anyway?). If you are hesitant to give it to her because you are worried that she might eventually dispose of it then I would think you really aren’t ready to get rid of it.
    I know how hard it is to get rid of our grown children’s things. I have boxed up everything of my childrens’ and have a closet stacked top to bottom.

  46. EvSav says:

    Thanks Rebecca#14 for mentioning ‘donating’ the free or surplus items to a shelter, etal. Many local churches sponsor organizations for collection of
    clothing, toys, electronics, books, CDs, videos and
    food. Just call your neighborhood church to ask. You don’t have to attend services, they usually have
    collection places or boxes.

  47. SLCCOM says:

    Those bellbottoms and other seriously out-of-date clothes should go to a theater group, who will greatly appreciate it. Toothpaste keeps for years and years. I haven’t bought any for I don’t know how long because I found a super deal. So does deodorant. I found a bunch of my brand and of my husband’s for $.50 each over 10 years ago. He is still working on his stock.

    You could get the free toothpaste and donate it to a food pantry or some other cause.

  48. Roberta says:

    Both the post and all of the comments are thought-provoking. Everyone’s approach to keeping and not keeping stuff differs so much. I simply cannot stockpile large quantities of food, or store food in bedrooms and such (I don’t have a basement; if I did, I could see having a pantry there), which is not to say I disapprove of it or anything–it just seems that a lot of this stuff is highly personal. That said, Americans in general, I believe, even those who are not hoarders have too much stuff, myself included. Have you read that book, “Life Could be Sweeter” about living practices from other countries that could enhance our lives here? Well, there’s one tip from the author who visits his friend in Denmark, I think it is, and the friend has a total of 4 plates, and 4 cups and so on. When the author comments on this, his friend tells him that most people’s homes are similarly stocked, and the author visits other homes and says that they are. Well, I’m not willing to live with only 4 plates, but it definitely made me think about categories of things that I could get rid of or cut back on the amount of.

  49. SLCCOM says:

    Oh, and I agree. Keep the bed!

  50. Deb says:

    Whenever I get to the point where I have too much of toothpaste, deordorant, razors, etc. (since I am a big couponer I get these items for free), I donate them. So I still get the items even if I have too much since I am getting them for free and then I’ll donate them. I often see a greater need around the holidays where some families need those everyday items.

  51. Cat says:

    I would love to see a documentary come out on stockpiling.

  52. erzebet says:

    #31 Roberta, I have just 1 plate:) , 1 bowl, 1 spoon, 1 fork, 1 knife and 1 pan and I cook all my meals. I can use the same tiny pan on the stove or in the oven and it works as charm. Apart from these, I have 3 gadgets and a bag of clothes – if I want to, I can move in this moment without needing a taxi:) And I do not miss having 4 plates:)

  53. I just did a piece about decluttering. Turns out that you can save a lot if you let it accumulate,then donate the excess. You can deduct up to 30% of your income in charitable donations of property. You just have to itemize everything carefully….

  54. mary Scott, RPh,CGP says:

    Glad you mentioned the “Hoarders”. Am I the only one who is fascinated by this show?? As a pharmacist,though, it really bugs me that they don’t mention use of medications for this disorder. Seems like a lot of the people involved are suffering needlessly. Some forms of hoarding is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder which is treatable with medication.
    As far as what is hoarding and what isn’t, I answer pharmacy-related questions on Ask AnExpert.com and had a question recently about expired meds. He asked if 12 yr old bupropion was all right to take!! Needless to say, I would consider him a hoarder!

  55. STL Mom says:

    erzebet –
    Wow, I thought I was a minimalist because I have just one set of china, instead of an everyday and a special occasion set. A set of 12 place settings!
    I have to balance my desire to keep things “just in case” with my lack of organization. Frankly, even if I need something, I may not be able to find it, so I need to pare down.

  56. Steve in W MA says:

    Keep the bed. Get rid of the kids’ clothes.

    My general rule is that if stuff impedes my life by creating clutter, either organize it, or if that’s not possible, get rid of it. Also, if it can’t be used, get rid of it. (for example, clothes that are too small. But even some of those can be used for patching clothes that DO fit, so that can get tricky.).

    I keep a full wardrobe of clothes for the season at the ready. I have more clothes than that, though, but instead of purging them I keep them all in boxes to replace current items as they wear out. I also have more kitchen stuff and dishes than I need, but many are family heirlooms and even the workaday stuff dates from when my parents were first married, so they are kind of heirlooms, too. Since I have enough space, i keep them all. Eventually everything will break and new stuff will have to be bought, I estimate in about 60 to 100 years for the dishes and 10 years for the clothes.

    How I manage all these possession is basically I buy next to nothing Even my cellphone is like 8 years old, the front of it is fallling apart, but this month I’m going to glue/reseal the faceplate back on with silicone adhesive and it should last another good 8 years.

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