On a recent walk around my neighborhood I was astounded at the number of houses with garages full of junk. One house really stood out because of the piles of clothes heaped on top of the piles of junk. It’s not just that a better use for a garage is for storing automobiles; there are huge costs associated with acquiring, maintaining, storing, and removing possessions.
Look around any room in your house and take a close look at what you have. How many cookbooks are on a bookshelf that you’ve never made a single recipe from? How many outfits haven’t been worn for years? How long has that dresser been in the basement that you just need to refinish?
If you can’t answer these questions, but think I’ll use it some day, try this exercise. Go around and write today’s date on a piece of paper, and put in in the front cover of a book or in a front pocket. Come back a year or two later, is the paper still where you left it? What benefit is it to collect things?
People often hold on to things for a couple of reasons. One reason is they think something has more value than others are willing to pay. Have you ever seen a house sit on the market for years because a seller prices it for more than anyone thinks is reasonable? Instead of selling a house for $275,000, it sits for 2 years with a $300,000 asking price. Meanwhile the owner has paid $25,000 in taxes and interest, and would pay another $1,500 in agent fees if the house did sell for the higher amount. This often happens with old cars and trucks too.
A car is in perfect condition, it just needs a new transmission and brakes, but otherwise it’s in excellent shape. You might be able to sell it for $500 today, but if you replace the transmission with one you get for $300 at a junk yard, you know you’ll be able to sell it for $1,200. So you buy the transmission, and it, together with the car, sit in your yard for 5 years, until you sell both for scrap and get $200. Instead of getting a quick $500 and a clean yard, you’ve spent $300 to make $200. You lost $100.
People do this all of the time when they buy things on sale that they don’t need and won’t use – at any price. A gym membership that’s 50% off isn’t a great deal if you don’t regularly go to the gym. How often does a bread maker get used? A fruit juicer? Apps on your phone?
Then how often do we hold onto stuff because we paid good money for it? If you don’t make bread anymore, put the bread maker on Craigslist. It’s better to get $25 for a year old appliance you don’t use as much as you thought you would, than to get nothing for a 10 year old appliance. How many cellphones, tablets, and computers are sitting in drawers and closets, as if a five year old device will suddenly be in demand? And we don’t just hoard physical things. If you don’t use the applications you installed on your phone or computer, remove them to free up space and potentially speed up your device.
Another danger is buying for the future. As technology marches forward, a bulk pack of incandescent light bulbs will cost you more money to use than equivalent CFL bulbs. But even buying CFLs in bulk is a bad idea as LED bulbs become more affordable. It’s more prudent to buy what you need today, and see what for tomorrow to see what your requirements are.
People who clip coupons can sometimes get into this habit of looking at the amount the price is reduced from a coupon as the amount saved. If you have a $5 coupon and buy something that costs $10 and never use it, you didn’t save $5, you lost $5. How much mustard do you need anyway?
It’s great to go through a room and do some spring or fall cleaning, but the next time you’re about to make a purchase, really think about how much you’ll actually use the item. And maybe you should check out Craigslist before buying your next bread maker, you might just find one at a discount. But beware, one man’s trash can be another man’s trash. If buy something and it doesn’t get used, get rid of it.