Over time, most of us slowly accumulate increasing piles of stuff (and increasingly larger homes to put it in). Author and organisation expert Peter Walsh explains how to determine the cost of your clutter.
Peter Walsh’s new book Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less is focused on helping you deal with physical and emotional clutter to save money and enjoy your space and the time spent in it more. Today we’re taking a look at Chapter 7 – The Home Audit: Your Stuff to see how to assess the value of our stuff and purge the things that are getting in the way our of financial security and happiness. The following passage is an excerpt for Chapter 7; to read the chapter in its entirety download it in PDF form here.
Note: We have formatted the text here with headers and images not found in the actual chapter in order to break up the text and make it easier to read.
Why Take Stock?
It’s easy to put a dollar figure on the cost of professionally stored clutter, but what about the clutter you keep at home? How much is that costing you? I’m not just referring to the financial cost. I’m also talking about what it’s costing you emotionally. The emotional cost may exceed the dollar cost. Photo by doctor-a.
Try going through one room and make a quick estimate of the cost of what you’re not using. For example, look in your bedroom and consider the cost of unworn clothes and shoes, unread books, unworn jewellery, or unused makeup. Consider the unused toys in your child’s bedroom. If any particular item you come across tugs at your heart or makes you emotional, then consider that an added cost. Add up the cost of the items — I’m guessing that some of those clothes still have the tags on them so it won’t be that hard — and write down the amount. Is it big? How much of that are you still paying off? This simple exercise should give you a rough estimate of the cost of the clutter in your home.
I once worked with a woman named Laura who had inherited her late mother’s upright piano, which stood awkwardly in the corner of her living room where it looked out of place and was never used. Laura couldn’t fathom getting rid of this family heirloom, though it brought back mixed feelings of her strained relationship with her mother (and of her years hopelessly struggling to learn how to play the piano). She wasn’t quite sure if the piano was a symbol of joy or sorrow, but she wouldn’t let it go. Whether it brought back good memories or bad, she felt it was her duty to keep it.
I asked Laura if she had any particularly fond memory relating to the piano and her mother and she instantly looked at ease. She said there were photos of her mother during her mother’s prime years as a pianist that she cherished, and one photo in particular taken of the two of them at the piano when Laura was just a toddler admiring her mom’s playing. Where were these photos? Why weren’t they on display? Laura admitted that she kept them in a box in the basement, and never found the time to do anything appropriate with them. I told her that the piano was a poor substitute for the photos that captured the real memory and joy. It was time to do away with the piano, which was just clouding the good memories and blocking Laura from celebrating her mother in a way that highlighted the good times and honoured their relationship. The cost of that piano in Laura’s house was huge. It took up physical space, but even more it took up emotional space. It was impossible for Laura to put a dollar figure on the cost of keeping that piano but she paid the emotional cost again and again every time she saw the piano.
Assessing the Value of Your Stuff and Space
Another assessment you can do is to work out how much each square foot of your home is worth and then see how much of that space is unused due to clutter. Simply take the current value of your home (make a rough estimate; you’re not trying to come up with the exact selling figure for real estate purposes so just obtain the general ballpark figure), and determine how much each square foot is worth. Photo by neerrijus.
Value of your home ÷ Square metres of your home = Value of each square metre
_______________ ÷_______________ = _______________
So, if you live in a $500,000 home and it’s 230sqm, then each square metre is $2174.
The value of each square metre of my home is: _______________
Now let’s calculate how much of your home’s space is occupied by things you don’t use. Walk around your home and make a rough calculation of how many square feet are unusable because of the clutter. Don’t forget the basement, closets, and garage!
The number of square feet in my home that are occupied by things I don’t use: _______________
Now let’s find out how much that wasted square metres are worth:
Value of square metres × Square metres occupied by things you don’t use = Value of unusable space
_______________ x_______________ = _______________
Are you surprised at the value of the space you’re giving up to things you don’t use? Is it a big waste of space? A colossal waste of money for space that is lost to you and your family? Every month when you pay your mortgage company, a decent chunk of that money is paying for storage in your own home.
Now let’s do this once more but this time go through and write down what everything in each room is worth. […]Mark which items have been totally paid for. And then write down how much you still owe on the other items. For example, let’s say you have a big-screen TV that you bought for $3000 when it first came out because you had to have it for the rugby three years ago. Did you put it on your credit card? Have you paid the card off or are you carrying a balance every month?
Think about it: if you are carrying a balance, some part of the balance you pay every month is that TV you bought three years ago. If that TV breaks, you are still paying it off even if you replace it. And then you’ll be paying for both the broken TV and its replacement! Really look around your house and figure out exactly what you own and what you still owe money on. Was anything worth the worry and stress of those monthly bills?
To read the entire excerpted chapter download this PDF. Excerpted from Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less by Peter Walsh. Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc. Excerpted with permission by Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. For more information on Peter Walsh’s other books visit his website here.