How much is your junk costing you?


I grew up in a small house. It always felt crowded even though there were only four of us. It didn’t help that we had way too much stuff and no place to put it.

As you’ve probably noticed, possessions have a magical way of simply accumulating, almost of their own accord. And when you don’t have places for those things, they end up going anywhere and everywhere.

Our cabinets were full to capacity. The closets were packed so tightly you’d have to think long and hard about how much you really wanted to wear a shirt before you committed to the process of yanking it free. We had a “junk drawer” in the kitchen, which was filled with exactly that – junk. But, junk we couldn’t bring ourselves to ever throw away.

The basement, however, was the worst.

At one point we had an actual mountain of stuff down there (with occasional landslides and everything). Things kept coming into the house, but never going out. So it literally piled up…and up and up. (Seriously, you could have ridden a toboggan down the side of that thing.)

Eventually we got our collective act together and organized the basement back to decency. (I think we’re all a bit clutter-averse now as a result of the ordeal.) The thing is, you shouldn’t need a big, scary (and hazardous) pile of junk in your basement to realize that you have too much stuff. In fact, I’m willing to bet almost every single person reading this has too much stuff…and already knows it.

Why is it so easy to have too much?

Setting aside the issue of buying things we don’t really need, one of the biggest reasons why we end up with SO MUCH STUFF is that we think saving everything is more financially responsible than saving hardly anything. It’s the “I might need that someday” defense and it sounds reasonable…but that’s only because you don’t realize how much that extra stuff is costing you.

What does it cost to keep?

The first thing you need to accept is that unless it’s paying rent, anything taking up space in your apartment or house is freeloading. came up with a handy little formula. First, you take your monthly rent or mortgage payment and divide it by the square footage of your home or apartment. This tells you what the value is for every square foot. Now, survey your home and estimate how many square feet are occupied by items that you hardly (or never) use, but “might need someday.” Multiply that number by your cost per square foot and voila! That’s how much money you spend every month just to house your junk.

Is it really worth it?

And while you’re at it, make sure to consider your garage as part of that equation. Generally a garage increases the value (and cost) of a home between 13 and 14 percent. If you’re looking into buying a house and contemplating a garage for added storage space (rather than as a nice little house for your car), consider ditching some of your things instead and skipping the garage.

But what if your stuff has spilled out of your home?

According to 1 in 10 American families currently use a self-storage facility. Depending on the location and the size of the unit, renting a storage unit can cost anywhere from $50 to $250 a month (or $600 to $3,000 a year).

Self-storage can certainly be a good short-term solution, but if you’re going to be renting a unit for more than a couple months do a sincere appraisal of the items you’re thinking about storing. If they aren’t worth the hundreds (or potentially thousands) of dollars you’ll end up spending to store them, then consider donating them to charity and saving the money.

How much do you really need?

The cost of having too much isn’t necessarily just monetary. Overstuffed houses are significantly harder to keep clean, which means more germs, more bugs and more sickness. Additionally, clutter causes a great deal of stress, anxiety and frustration (not to mention guilt and embarrassment).

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times this past weekend entitled “Living With Less. A Lot Less.” The author, Graham Hill, is a successful entrepreneur who has pared his life down to the bare minimum…and is much happier for it.

You don’t need to change your life quite as drastically as Graham, of course. The point is more to consider what you really need and then begin to simplify, bit by bit. Here’s a few (relatively) easy places to begin:

  • Clothing – We’re coming to the end of another long winter. Take a look in your closet and dresser. Do you see any sweaters you didn’t wear all season long? Get rid of them. At the end of the summer take a look at your warm weather clothes and repeat.
  • Seasonal items – Do you have boxes and totes full of Halloween decorations? Novelty pilgrim hats for Thanksgiving? A whole crate full of tangled strings of tinsel? Did you use it last year? How about the year before? No? Gone!
  • Plates, glasses, utensils – Do you have a solid supply of ceramics and glassware in your kitchen? Is that supply so solid that you have cups in the back of the cupboard you haven’t seen for the better part of a decade? Plates you would only use in the case of an extreme emergency (and even then you’d probably go buy a bunch of paper plates instead)? Anything you aren’t using you don’t need.

So where will you start? Do you have any great suggestions for reducing your possessions, simplifying your life and saving yourself money?

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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