The Cost of Clutter on Your Finances and Life

We are a nation of junk collectors.  Look around your house.  Do you see any clutter?  Are there things you own that you know you shouldn’t have purchased?  Are there items you purchased but have never used?  Look in the closet.  Are there any clothes with the price tag still on them?  Any non-perishable food you bought that you decided you just don’t want to eat?  Any expired food?

I thought so.

The Cost of Clutter

The United States is the land of plenty, and unfortunately, many of us can’t get enough.  We are routinely buying more than we need, until we are buried in useless “stuff.”  Take a look at the television show Storage Wars.  People go in and bid on abandoned storage lockers.  The owners of these lockers had too much stuff, put it in storage, and along the way did not keep up with their payments.  Often the locker contains valuables, but my guess is that most people forgot about these valuables (probably because they have more than enough “stuff” at home), or they ran into hard times and could no longer pay the storage fee.

Perhaps as a result of the American obsession with obtaining more and more stuff, in the last few years, there has been a movement to simplify.  There are blogs dedicated to organizing and de-cluttering.   There are other blogs where owners challenge themselves to live with just 100 items.  One blogger even wrote a book about the experience.  The cost of clutter is expensive emotionally.  You may not even realize that it weighs you down until you begin to purge it.  That’s what these bloggers seek to teach.

Cost of clutterHowever, the cost is not only emotional. All of that stuff costs money, often quite a bit of money.  Once you buy an item, just like buying a brand new car, you can almost never recoup your cost.  Have you held a garage sale before?  Look at your items filling your garage.  At the end of the day, if you have had a good sale, you could earn $300 to $500.  Yet how much did all of that stuff cost? How much more money would you have accruing interest in investments if you hadn’t had to purchase the latest and greatest?  If a marketer had not convinced you that your life will be happier, more complete, fill in the blank if you bought the item they were selling?

While there has been an upswing in the number of blogs touting simplifying your life, there is also an ever growing population of personal finance blogs.  Many are created because the owners are shoveling their way out of debt.  Some of that debt may because of student loans, health care costs, etc., but a large portion is also from acquiring too much “stuff” that has now become clutter.  Worthless clutter is so easy to obtain with one swipe of the card, but so hard to get rid of.

How to Combat Clutter

Don’t let the advertisers win.  First, take back your space and emotional well being by purging your home of stuff.  While you might not want to go down to 100 items, letting go of many will certainly make you feel better.  I have had my own decluttering challenge, and in 20+ weeks have gotten rid of nearly 2,000 items in our home!  Unfortunately, there is still a lot to go.

Once you have de-cluttered, use these strategies to avoid bringing clutter back into your life:

Always wait 24 to 48 hours before making a purchase.

Maybe you are at the grocery store and see the neatest sandwich cutter that would make the morning routine so much smoother.  Don’t just mindlessly throw it in your cart:  leave the store and wait 24 to 48 hours.  Do you still want the sandwich cutter two days later?  Probably not.

Ask and give gifts of experiences, not things.

Holidays and birthdays should be called clutter season.  You often get items you don’t really need and yet feel bad getting rid of.  Instead, ask for and give gifts of experience.  Instead of giving your son a new video game, why not get him a 3 month class to the karate school he wants to attend.  Instead of giving your mom some item she doesn’t need, how about three home cleaning appointments through a local house cleaning service?

Follow the one item in, one item out rule.

For every new item that you bring in to your home, take out an item.  This is easier said than done, but it will prevent items in your home from piling up again.

Clutter can be a heavy burden financially and emotionally. Carefully think about all impulse buys to avoid spending time and energy on “stuff” you don’t need and in the long run will be much happier without.

What items have you regretted purchasing that are now cluttering your home?  Do you have any other tips for avoiding clutter?

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Published or updated December 6, 2012.


  1. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Not right now. However, I have stuff I want to sell but have to wait for the right season to do something with it. So it’s just sitting around annoying me.

  2. I have problems with clutter, I admit it!

    I have magazine subscriptions that I hold on to forever. The articles are obsolete and should be trashed, but I can’t find the willpower to do so. Needless to say, my basement has a few boxes of these magazines that I treasure, but I don’t know why I do… Half of them I didn’t even read because I was so (and still am) too busy to do so (lol)…

  3. I really like the idea of giving experiences instead of hands-on gifts. Not only will that help reduce the clutter in my home, I think it will enrich my relationships with my family members, especially my kids. It will be nice to take a class that interests all of us instead of just sitting around watching a movie or playing a game. We’ll be able to relate on a more meaningful level.

  4. The Money Mail says:

    I like the recommendation of waiting a day or two before buying something. I wish I had done that before I bought a a home gym that’s nothing but a clothes rack. That was money not well-spent…

    We like your aticle and will share a summary with our readers at

  5. I recommend following the one item in, one out rule that you mentioned – but taking it another step. If you want to purchase something, decide beforehand what it is that you will be replacing. Waiting until you are home and have made the purchase can sometimes result in both objects remaining. I know that after I’ve made the purchase, sticking with the plan to get rid of something can be difficult, even more so when I haven’t even thought about what to get rid of.

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