Sunday, 3 January 2010

The hidden cost of clutter

Once up on a time,we lived in a bigger house and paid a mortgage. We had been working hard to pay off that mortgage for 4 years when we downshifted from the countryside to the lovely bungalow we now live in, which is in a village with shops and buses and friends.

Then my sister, who ironically still had two of everything at the time, lent me a book called 'Clutter's Last Stand' by Don Aslett.

Not that we had an unreasonable amount of stuff - at least I tell myself that. The cupboards were getting fuller all the time and we had bought more cupboards. There were five of us and you know how kids accumulate stuff...We had come to accept that really the house was just too small. It was smaller than those of many of our friends after all.

Don's book is very funny, not at all preachy and is the 'original' clutter book, having been re-printed many times since it was first published 1984 by a guy who is actually a professional cleaner.
I laughed until I cried when I read that book, which is full of witty clutter cartoons and amusing stories, then lent it to a friend who did the same. Actually I left it in her front porch to see if she would guess who it was from. She did, of course.

Clutter is of course anything that you no longer need, even if it is not broken and is still useful.
So here is a wee clutter quiz - how many of these do you have?*those nifty little film cannisters
*empty margerine tubs
*used jiffy bags (unless you have a mail order business like me - when you find them you can send me yours.)
*spare parts for a car you no longer own
*paint in a colour you don't have on the walls any more
*old plant pots or margerine tubs that you don't use
*Oh - and what exactly is in your loft?

Well we had fun getting stuck in to what I now call Stage One Clutter.
Stage One is getting rid of rubbish such as old paperwork, cuddly toys, old jam jars and those margerine tubs. We still had every bank statement and pay slip we had ever got and lots more besides. it was all filed neatly, but lots of things got filed in that filing cabinet and not much ever made its way back out again. I got rid of 3 bin bags full of paperwork and had a bonfire. We were then also able to get rid of one of our 3 filing cabinets and put an easy chair in the office instead.

Stage two is stuff that still has some life in it but is not worth much, such as clothes past their best, plastic containers surplus to requirements, ornaments and old holiday souvenirs that are no longer fashionable and crockery that doesn't match. I see people down the car boot sale with this and it doesn't sell. Picture yourself looking at your junk as if it was someone else's and you will soon know.
I know it cost a lot in the first place, but face it - the money's gone and you are better spending the time on something else than trying to sell this stuff. donate it to charity and move on. A big clue here: if you are selling stuff down the boot sale and go home with most of your junk again and not much money you are at Stage One or Two.

Stage Three
Stage three is awesome! Finally this is where we realise that although the various types of coffee makers (etc) are all still perfectly good, we just don't need more than one and the space in the cupboards will make it a lot easier to get things in and out. It is stuff that is still good and worth some money. If you struggle to part with it, picture paying that money off the credit card debt or mortgage, using it to go on holiday or to help your daughter pay for college.

And - remember - almost evcerything you bought new can be got down the car boot sale. So if you do regret getting rid of anything, you can buy another for just what you sold yours for or even less. Here is a story to illustrate that point. Some years ago, I bought a £70 mini trampoline bouncer to keep fit. Once we had the kids there was no room for it any more so I sold it to a neighbour for £25.
The kids grew up and left home and I bought another one, new, for £25 because by then they had gone down in price. Net profit £45 and I had the space I needed in between times. Then I developed a minor medical condition that means I am not supposed to bounce. I sold that second trampoline and bought a step machine, reduced in price, for the same amount. This all took place over a period of some years but mini trampolines are still cheap should I ever want another.

So with all that in mind, we made over £1,000 selling stuff we no longer needed. We used some of it to buy new things we all really wanted, and made a point of getting the children something new with some of the money to encourage their efforts. Then went out for dinner as a family and paid the rest of it towards the mortgage.
These days stuff still accumulates and we still make buying mistakes. We try to just say 'the money's gone and sell it for what we can instead of having it clutter up our lives. I would be lying if I said we always managed it.
So once a year we try to have a clear out, as I swear the stuff comes in during the night of its own accord. Even with a 'one in one out' policy the stuff still accumulates, and we find reasons not to let something go.

We do keep a box in the porch for unwanted things though and that definitely helps. Anything one of us no longer wants can be put in the box. Having somwhere to instantly put the unwanted stuff makes a big difference, and visitors often have a rummage when they come to see us and make off with something. When those charity bags come round the doors all we have to do is take the stuff out of our box, dump it in the bag and its gone.

Anyway, the net result of our early dejunking efforts was that we realised that we didn't need a bigger house after all. In fact, we moved to a slightly smaller one.
We paid a chunk off the mortgage by doing it and although we had been paying extra off the mortgage for a while, getting rid of clutter actually helped us to pay the whole thing off significantly sooner than would otherwise have been possible.

Clutter tips:
1. Clothes don't seem to sell well at car boot sales, but good quality ones - eg Marks & Spencer, Next or other names often do sell well on Ebay.

2. Start with one drawer and dont try to do it all at once.

3. Think of the benefits when it is hard to let go of something - more space in cupboards, it is easier to find things when there is less stuff, you can do something else with any money raised...

4. How often do you use it? We got rid of unread books if the library had them. We never did get them out of the library to read and it was a relief not to feel guilt everytime we looked at the bookshelves. We bought some other books that we wanted to read instead.

5. If you only use something occasionally, such as extra glasses for parties, can you borrow or hire instead of owning?

6. Cleaning is much easier when you have less stuff.

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