Decluttering and Your Money

Connie writes in:

You write a lot about how there’s a deep connection between less clutter and financial success.  I don’t get it at all.  I think the opposite is true because when you clear out a bunch of stuff you would just have the space for a lot more.

This is an issue I’ve discussed to a certain extent in both of my books.  I think there’s a deep connection between personal finance success and clutter, and there’s no better time than now to break it down.

What Is Clutter?
You’ll see many definitions of clutter out there, but the one I typically use is pretty straightforward. Clutter is anything in your life that you have inadequate time to enjoy or inadequate space to store.

When you’re juggling so many relationships that the truly important ones are withering on the vine, you’re experiencing clutter.

When you jam all of your papers somewhere because you don’t have time or the space to store them, you have clutter.

When you’re embarrassed to let someone see some part of your home because of the piles of stuff you have jammed in there, that’s clutter.

When you burn fifteen minutes digging through junk drawers looking for the one thing in there you actually have any need for, that’s clutter.

When you have shelves jammed full of videos or DVDs or CDs or books or video games or old magazines that you’ve barely touched in months but you keep telling yourself you’ll get around to someday, that’s clutter.

What Clutter Eats
Clutter eats time.. The more things you have, the more time you spend maintaining them.  Stuff.  Commitments.  Relationships.  That means less time to enjoy the things that are genuinely important to you.

Clutter eats space.. The more stuff you have, the more space you need to store it.  That means a bigger apartment or a bigger home or a storage locker.  Those things mean more rent or a bigger mortgage and more time lost to cleaning and maintenance.

Clutter eats money.. Most stuff has a financial cost.  The more stuff you have, the more hard-earned money you’ve dumped into it (and the less time you have to enjoy each item).

The Solution
The solution, of course, is to pare down.  That’s harder than it sounds, because people often have a deep attachment to their stuff.  Here are five tactics that work.

Use rental services.  If you’re a film buff and accumulate DVDs, join Netflix.  If you do the same with books, join a library.  Video games?  Gamefly.  Music?  Napster.  This allows you to enjoy a library of what you most enjoy for about the cost of one purchase every two months without accumulating stuff.  

Empty your clutter attractors.. The junk drawers.  The closets.  The garage.  Pull out everything and keep only what you might actually use again.

Realize that you are not your stuff.. Many people self-define by the stuff they have.  You are not your car.  You are not your house.  You are not your gadgets.  Normal people who like you do so regardless of the stuff you’ve accumulated.

Move to a “one in, one out” philosophy.. Whenever you acquire a new item, an old one has to go.  This allows you to focus on quality upgrading than accumulating tons of mediocre stuff.

Date it.. If you don’t touch a non-decorative and non-sentimental item in a year, why are you keeping it?  Once, I started over with our DVD collection, putting them all in a box.  We dated the box one year in the future.  Whenever we wanted to watch a movie from that box, we pulled it out, watched it, and put it on our rack.  After a year, why not just sell the contents of the box?

The best part of decluttering is that you usually earn some money back from doing it via garage sales or secondhand shops.  Sometimes, decluttering can even open the door to less expensive housing.

There are many great decluttering tactics.  I highly recommend the Unclutterer blog for countless great ideas for decluttering.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.