Smart SpendingSmart Spending

De-clutter and save money

Do you really need all that junk?

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 12:18AM

A little cleaning can save dollars along with your sanity. That's what Smart Spending message board reader "Lynn D" says, anyway.

In a thread called "Making home a haven," the grad student notes that her formerly crowded condo made her feel "stressed and boxed in," which led to her wanting to go out, which led to her spending money.

At first, she tried to combat the tendency by spending more money -- on storage bins, hooks, an entertainment center and other things allegedly designed to help. Finally, Lynn D figured out the real problem: "I needed to get rid of (junk)!"

Now she finds herself staying at home more, whether it's to do her nails or watch a movie on a couch no longer littered with papers and books. Lynn D admits to another savings, too: She no longer has to buy things she already owns but couldn't find in all the clutter.

Couch potato wannabe
My own sofa is also covered with school-related detritus. Notebooks, textbooks, folders, flashcards, and piles and piles of paper are stacked in slidy piles. I've got probably a ream's worth of printouts of required reading with titles like "Sexual difference as a nomadic political project" and "The disability rights critique of prenatal genetic testing." Some of them might be useful for future classes. Some of them have a future only as scrap paper.

I want to sell some of the books, like "The Joys of Motherhood" and "Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World." I probably want to keep the three Spanish textbooks. The flashcards I'm definitely going to keep, lest I forget that "the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo expresses action completed prior to the point in the past that is indicated by the main verb."

I should probably recycle most of my own writings: tests, short commentaries, weekly response papers. But first I want to reread them, to remind myself that I not only wrote pieces like "Llévame al partido: el béisbol en Cuba" and "A womb with a view: Artificial procreation and male control," but got decent grades for doing it. Seeing a "96" or "100" on a paper makes me feel that all those late nights weren't in vain.

But until I get a handle on what to do with this stuff, I can't sit on my couch. That didn't matter as much during the quarter, when I was too busy to lounge. But it's spring break, and it would be nice to kick back at least once on the sofa with a library book.

Crowded house
Partner blogger Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar writes that "once you reach a certain level of luxury in your life, anything beyond that level is merely diminishing returns." In the essay, he admits that it's better to buy one game instead of several for his Nintendo Wii, because he'll really use it and really enjoy it. But lots of people believe that nothing succeeds like excess.

"They would rather have more stuff that, per item, they have less time to enjoy than less stuff that, per item, they have more time to enjoy," Trent writes.

He went on to note that "clutter" can also mean "anything simply wasted in your life," from time spent in unproductive or unsatisfying ways to time spent numbly in front of the television watching stuff that doesn't really interest you.

Sound familiar?

Whatcha gonna do with all that junk?
How to de-clutter? We could start by figuring out the difference between needs and wants. Then we could go on to figure out how much of what we already have is both needed and wanted.

Whatever doesn't make the cut could be sold on eBay or craigslist, if you need the money to pay off consumer debt incurred by buying too much stuff. If you don't need the money, try Freecycle or donate it to local rummage sales or thrift shops.

I'm not suggesting you get rid of things that have personal significance to you. For example, I'll never part with a garish vase that my daughter gave me when she was 8 or 9 years old, or with the slumped-glass bowl my friend Linda brought me from Australia.

But while "The Joys of Motherhood" was a good read, the class for which I bought it is over and my bookcases are already crowded. I don't love it enough to keep it. Somebody else might.

As I noted in a previous essay, "Living 'poor' and loving it," there's real joy in knowing that you have everything you need and some of what you want. Having fewer things actually makes you that much more grateful for the things that matter. It also means you can sit on your own couch.

Published March 21, 2008



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