How Much Is Clutter Costing You?

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The Cost Of Clutter

Living with clutter can have serious financial and emotional costs many of us might not have considered. Here are some thoughts about the cost of clutter and ideas about how to get it under control.

How Much Is Clutter Costing You?

We live in a society of extremes. People seem to be extremely in debt, extremely overweight and extremely disorganized. People everywhere are trying to come up with newer and better solutions to solve these problems but not many of their ideas are working.

The solutions aren’t working because they are focusing on the wrong problem. For example, if your child comes to you and says “I have a drug problem.” You don’t sit them down and say, “Well let’s work on a way to get your grades up and then we’ll work on your drug problem.” How foolish that would be. The real problem is not the grades but the drugs. You take care of the drugs and the chances are pretty good that the grades will come up.

For some of us, instead of focusing on getting out of debt or losing weight, we need to first give more serious thought to becoming organized. Does that sound crazy, almost laughable? Before you start laughing too hard, look at these examples and see if you can relate.

How often do you go out to eat because your kitchen is a mess? If your kitchen is clean, chances are you would not only be more willing to fix dinner at home but in the morning you would fix breakfast and pack yourself a lunch, too.


Here are some benefits of getting your kitchen organized:


Organizing can reduce your wardrobe and laundry costs.

  • Do you keep buying more clothes because you are gaining weight from fast food or from the stress of your clutter?
  • How big is your wardrobe? Do you or your children own 30 pairs of jeans at $60 a pop because you don’t keep up with the laundry or because your closet is so stuffed you can’t find anything? That adds up to $1,800 worth of jeans. If you cut it down to even 10 pairs you would save $1,200. How many tops do you own? How about those shoes? Before you say, “There is no way I have that many jeans, shoes, or tops!” go count you clothes. You may be surprised…
  • How often do you toss a suit jacket on the floor or on the furniture and then later have to have it dry cleaned because it’s wrinkled? Just think what you could save on your dry cleaning bill if you kept a little more organized.


Organizing can save you money in every aspect of your life.

  • Do you buy new items because you can’t find something? The cost of things like tools, glue, tape, ropes, garden tools, kitchen items, light bulbs, batteries, office supplies and other things really adds up.
  • How much do you pay each month in late fees on your bills because you can’t find them, your checkbook or even a stamp to mail them?


Try something different!

So often we think that the solution to our debt problem is for both spouses to work outside the home. At times we even compound the problem when one or both spouses takes a second job.

When both spouses work out of the home, who takes care of the house? Frequently, there is a constant battle between them about whose job it is to take care of some element of the housework. After all, the husband has been out working all day, so he doesn’t feel like it. Oh, but the wife has been working, too, so why can’t she take a break?

Imagine if your boss at work decided to work a second full time job. How would this impact your workplace? Who would you ask if you couldn’t find products for your customers? What if there was no change because your boss was at his other job until after the bank closed? What if you needed help or advice from your boss, but he said, “Not now… I’m too tired from my other job?” How long would that company last? The same thing happens in many homes every day.

Would your family be better served if one spouse stayed home? Someone needs to be responsible for the bulk of the care and maintenance of the home and family. Ideally, everyone will share the work, but like in any other business there has to be one person in charge. Otherwise, everyone will avoid the work and everything will descend into chaos.

If this sounds like your home, you might sit down with your spouse and seriously consider whether one of you might take off of work to try to get your home in order. Instead of thinking of staying at home as a prison sentence, think of it as another job to help save you money, reduce family stress and add more family comfort.

If you’re considering staying home, get rid of the emotions and, with pen and paper (hopefully you can find one) in hand, write down the ways that being disorganized is costing you money. Be honest and try to cover even the small things. You might find that the money you are spending dealing with disorganization is equal to or more than one spouse’s take home pay.

Organization has nothing to do with what is politically correct or what the media or other people tell you you need to do. It is a practical choice that you can make. I am NOT saying that you can’t work doing something that you love. I am saying that regardless of how your family handles it, the work of keeping the home has to get done.

If you feel that you and your spouse have to or both want to work, then try to come up with other ideas.

  • Would spending your vacation organizing things and deep cleaning give you enough of a jump start to help keep things organized? Maybe once you organized everything you could consider hiring someone to clean your house once a week. Before you say you can’t afford it, think about this: Which would cost less? Paying someone $50 a week to clean your house or paying for all the things that cost you money because you are not organized?
  • Consider whether it would be worth one spouse working part time instead of full time.
  • Try one simple thing like hanging up your clothes so you don’t have cleaners expense or getting the whole family to pitch in with cleaning the kitchen at the end of each meal.

Maybe you do have the time, but you just don’t know how to get organized. If that is the case, then learn. Check out books at the library or search for help on the Internet. Better yet, find someone you know who is organized and ask them to teach you. Don’t be embarrassed to do this. Most people are more than willing to show you how to do things. Remember, those older women (and men) that seem to have it all together now didn’t start out that way. They’ve had 20 years or more practice and they remember what it was like to not have a clue where to start. Just ask.

Instead of wasting your time and energy on trying to bail the water out of your sinking boat by bailing faster or using a bigger bucket, fix the hole. CLEAN UP THE CLUTTER AND SAVE.


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  1. says

    One thing more….look at the “storage unit” businesses that have popped up all over our communities. This is another example of people having too much stuff! Why are people paying monthly rent to store stuff they never use? I can understand it if you are in the process of a major move, but this is a joke and people are making a living off of other people’s disorganized lives.

    We moved to our home from another state 3 years ago…I have been de-cluttering and paring down ever since that time. I just keep a few bags in a guest room out of sight and every time I come across something I don’t think I need I just toss it into these bags….when they are full they go to the thrift shops. It is the only way I found that keeps things moving along.

  2. Jan says

    We just recently moved from a home we lived in for 10 years, the only home our children have lived in. Our eldest is 9. Well, you can just imagine what a daunting task that was. It was absolutely horrifying trying to move all this “stuff”, all this “clutter”. We downsized and though we left a lot of stuff, 2 months later, I’m still purging out stuff. It just seems endless! Moving is truly a wake up call. You don’t realize how much clutter you have until you have to move it. I would recommend people pretend they have to move and evaluate what they would really want to take with them. A lot of what we have requires not only more money to maintain, but more work, more energy, and more stress. I am so done with clutter! When I see “things”, I think “work”.

  3. Esther says

    WE moved from a 3000 square foot home with a pool that we had lived in for over twenty years to a tiny 1200 square foot home. We gave away alot of furniture and things but still had to rent two large storage units. We decided to sell the tiny house after only four months there and moved to a nice manageable 2200 square foot house after purging items I thought we couldn’t live without. We are a family of three adults and four pets. Guess what? I still have boxes of “project” items, scrapbooking items and jewelry making stuff that is housed in two large chest of drawers in the garage. Help! How do I toss this stuff out without feeling guilty after spending money to buy this stuff in the first place?!

    • says

      Esther keep reading more of our articles on the web site and we have some really good e books like our Keepin’ It Clean series which I go into lots of deal on this very subject and I try to give practical tips on what to do but also deal with the emotional side of how to deal with clutter. If you don’t take care of that part all the tips and ideas will be of no value what so ever.

      But to help get you started two things you might think about is first except maybe you made a mistake in buying too much or things you can’t use or projects you can’t get done. We have all done it at some time or another but don’t make it worse by spending more money, time or energy storing the things. You are throwing good money after bad. A wise person excepts the fact I made a mistake so now how do I fix it and move on.

      Emotionally we do a number on ourselves by keeping these things because they become a milestone around our neck reminding us daily of “what a fool I was for buying that!” and that can mental wear a person down without you realizing that is happening.

      Second, one day I was looking at a stack of material I had and I knew I would never get around to using it but I just couldn’t let go of it but God always has a way of hitting me gently over the head with a padded hammer sometimes and He sure did this day.

      He reminded me of when I was a single mom and my kids were younger. I barely had the money to put food on the table let alone indulge myself in buying material or craft things for me to do but He still provided for me because I had different sweet ladies in my life who would bring me sacks of material, clothes and different things (nice things) which gave me so much pleasure and joy I wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been willing to give up some of their “treasured” things.

      So now when I hesitate in whether I should get rid of something it is so much easier for me to do it because I imagine some one else lovingly looking at and enjoying my material, clothes, craft things or what have you and it makes it easier to give up.

      Of course I don’t have room to write all here but like I said check the things I mentioned above out for more practical ideas. Hope this helps.

      • Tadlem says

        I think that ‘making a mistake’ is a bit harsh. Sometimes we buy for other reasons, and that isn’t a ‘mistake’. That is trying to fill a void. Maybe a better comment/question would be ‘has this served it’s purpose in my life? Where can I get rid of it (sell, donate) so that it will serve a purpose in someone else’s life?
        Inheriting things isn’t a ‘mistake’ either, though those can be the hardest items to release. Another family member may be interested, an antique shop where they focus on partnering items with others who will cherish/respect them,or donating to a shelter that helps families start over are all good options for these items. Sometimes we DO need to just hang onto them until they serve their purpose. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they don’t rule your life. To dismiss sentiment is the mistake. It isn’t always as easy as it seems.

        • says

          Making a mistake is not harsh at all. It explains exactly what I talk about in that sometimes we buy things like a vegetable slicer that doesn’t work or I don’t use it like I thought I would. I made a mistake in buying that because it is not working for me. We are so afraid to call things like they are now a day. I call a spade a spade. I goofed, made a mistake and shouldn’t have wasted my money on the silly thing. It was a mistake. As far a dismissing sentiment that is not what I was doing at all. If you had really listened to what I was saying you would have seen I was talking about misplaced sentiment and sentiment for sentiments sake. Kind of like thinking you are deeply in love with someone when really it is infatuation or being in love with the idea of love.
          It is just plain foolishness and irresponsibility on a persons part to allow their home to become cluttered to the discomfort of themselves and their families because the think that they need to save U. Henry’s drift wood and they have no clue who U. Henry is or can’t find him on the family tree any place. That is totally different from keeping my family Bible or my grandmother’s, that I loved so much, wedding dress. Saving U. Henry’s stuff is wrong and foolish. Plus if you have read my posts at all when I say toss it that means give it away if it is nice, toss it if it is trash. I always push giving to others the things you can’t use and I consider it wrong to cling to things you aren’t using when someone else can get some use out of it.

    • cindy says

      We raised our two boys in a 960 sq. ft. house and didn’t have the space to acquire a lot of stuff. We still live in our “tiny” house that has been paid for years ago.

  4. Shirley Beesmer says

    We recently moved from a whole 6 bedroom home, after my Mom passed away, to a 2 bedroom apartment in a Senior Housing Unit. Talk about downsizing. We had to seriously look at each item that we were intending to take with us. We got everything into the two bedrooms and the living and kitchen area. The moral of the story is that we are still collecting things that we do not need to live. These things will go to someone who can use them.

  5. says

    I moved from a 2000+ sq ft 3 bdrm home to a 900 sq ft 2 bdrm apt when I separated from my now ex. Talk about major down size. I had to bring all my stuff plus most of the stuff I had for my 2 young sons. For the 1st 2 months the boys’ room was a storage room and all 3 of us slept in my bed while I purged and organized. Over a year later the boys’ room is tidy as a pin, the livingroom & kitchen are almost there and my bedroom has a small stack of boxes left to sort through. I have re-homed much of my stuff, as much of it was given to me & I didn’t feel guilty giving it away, and I have seasonal items in storage in my mom’s storage unit (xmas decorations mostly). I just need to learn I don’t NEED small appliances, as I seem to collect them… and yarn, so I am starting to make scrap afghans for donation at my church, that way I am using it and getting enjoyment from crocheting, but giving them a purpose that I couldn’t provide otherwise. Also I feel good giving them to those who need them (elderly or low income individuals/families).

  6. Heidi M says

    Sometimes we feel guilty getting rid of something we don’t need or have room for, that someone gave us. I had to realize that my love for that person was not determined by keeping everything ever given to me by her. I have one teacup and saucer from my grandmother. Keeping a dozen of them would not have helped me remember her any better :)

    • says

      This is so true Heidi. I just got through sorting another drawer of “memories” the thing is I can’t remember now who gave them to me and why I was keeping them. There were some things that my kids had made in school that they don’t even remember and really could care less about – they are more excited over the things their kids are now making- so I tossed them. Looking at a blob of painted clay they made when they were 7 really doesn’t give me a whole lot of warm fuzzy feelings so out it went. I’m sure that will horrify many but like you say that clay does not represent my love for my kids. What does help my kids is that because I have less stuff to mess with in my own home I now have time to help my kids out more and I have a clean, neat, soothing place for them to come to when they want.

  7. Gayla T says

    I learned the hard way that you don’t own things, things own you. The boat, the camper, and all that went with them took up so much time. We lived on the lake but still it took most of Monday to clean up and put away all that was drug out and dirtied up over the weekend when we had a houseful of friends and relatives come and stay. We enjoyed them but it sure was a lot of work and it finally became too much as my health failed. I had to change occupations and got my real estate license so I was busy on the weekends and didn’t have the energy because of my health or the time because of my work so the toys went and it was amazing at how much time and money had been put into that lifestyle. We then began to look at other things that owned us. A big house on several acres that needed mowed all summer went and that made another huge difference. Now, I’m alone, living in town and find I have more money than I did when I was working. My car is lasting forever compared to what it was when we drove into the city to work. I seldom need to shop for clothes. I did gather a lot of craft supplies with my retirement in mind so I play with them now and make things for gifts that I would have bought when I was working. It’s pretty sad to think back how hard I pushed my sick body to work when I would have had just as much and felt better by not working. So many of my friends are just now reaching the retirement I was forced into and they are so afraid their retirement investments won’t go far enough. I don’t think they quite believe me when I tell them how different it will be. I’ve even been able to save enough to take a couple of trips when I wanted to go. God has provided for me in so many ways that I didn’t need him for when all the money was there. This is a lot more rewarding and I find I like living on a dime.

  8. Belle says

    Very interesting replies…I can surely relate. I had a very large home with a sewing room and office wich were planned just for me.after Katrina we had to revise our plans so many had no homes at all. My daughter and her son were in that group.of course I no longer have the luxury of s sewing room or an office,but all of mt things were placed in an outdoor shed. Know have no idea where my things are,but I am gradually opening boxes and finding things. My goal is to find a place for whatever I can inside or in that building which was build to be a studio

  9. Terrie says

    Great article! I think it’s great when people really look at what they are spending and what a 2nd job in a family is really making or costing. We are working on the clutter here. Being able to find things is definitely a time and money-saver!

  10. says

    one way to get rid of clutter is to go through your food storage and use what is there.
    I have been emptying my freezer so I can get rid of the big one and downsize to a more energy efficient and better size for us.
    I have 3 weeks to do it and you would be amazed at how many complete meals I have come up with using things that have been in the fridge and in the back of my pantries. I am about halfway through the freezer and it is great fun to mix and match things into a meal.
    Last night it was fried chicken done in 1/2 an hour using my new pressure canner/cooker. with all the leftover pickle jars and fresh vegetables in the fridge. Along with the pears I canned yesterday but were not enough for a new jar and too many for the jars already filled. whipped up some whipped cream added a spoon of the pear crabapple sauce and my husband said it was wonderful.
    quick easy and tasted great on a busy day.
    Got rid of things cluttering up the fridge and the freezer so I was happy.

  11. grizzly bear mom says

    I think that your GET RID OF CLUTTER advice is best. YOu can’t clear clutter or around it. You must get rid of it. Own a minimum of clothes, books, craft project etc.
    Less clothes mean that you will treat them better and can put sheets directly back on the bed reducing the need to store and move, fit all clothing in drawers, keep it nice in case you need to wear it again before you wash it. Create a master menu and have roast chicken every sunday, meatloaf every Monday, chicken stir fry Tuesday, chili every Wednesday, etc. And stop doing so much, both you and your child. You are supposed ot have a home and family life, not be out all the time including at church.

  12. says

    Hi! I just wanted to say I enjoy your newsletter and the information you provide. I totally agree w you that eating in has plenty of benefits; financially as well as on your health. Eating in allows you to balance your meals w a variety of food groups as well as manage the sodium and caloric content. Yesterday, they announced over the news, a big mac has over 1000mg of sodium. We need to start looking at our intake of food and what we’re putting into our bodies. the alternative is just not that fun!its costly and filled w suffering :(

  13. Amy says

    Clutter and being disorganized has cost me plenty. Too many trips thru the drive-thru because the kitchen is a mess or I haven’t planned anything for dinner.
    Right before school started I gathered up all the pens, pencils, notebooks, loose paper, folders, crayons, markers and glue sticks from every nook and crannie I had them. Over 100 pencils, 50 pens, 15 notebooks, 23 folders, 8 new boxes of crayons and a big bucket of used ones, 6 unopened packs of loose paper, 5 glue sticks and 2 bottles of glue. Won’t have to buy much, if anything, for a few years. Next up is the boxes and cans of food in 4 or 5 different cabinets.
    I’m taking babysteps to get more organized, get rid of clutter and stay on top of the housework. Somedays I feel like I’m walking uphill against the wind. I went from 2 kids to 5 in 6 months, we are foster parents :) But I’m getting there. The hardest part by far is convincing my husband to let things go….. “Honey, that has been sitting in the same spot collecting dust for 2 years. You don’t want it, need it or use it. You tried to sell it and it’s still here. Let it go to someone who wants it. Bless someone else with it.”

  14. Mary Jane says

    When it is time to put up Christmas decorations, I take down other decorating items from my home and store them until after the holidays. A few years ago, I took the opportunity after Christmas to decide if I really loved the previous décor enough to put it back out…I didn’t. So, I have started keeping a few small boxes over the holidays to store items that I had to move, and have then decided to give to local charity when the holidays are over. A natural extension of that came when I found myself adding old Christmas decorations that are no longer loved or worth the trouble. Every year now, this becomes an exciting time for me as I weed out a few non-essentials. I often get a few new Christmas decorations as gifts, so there is necessity to my plan. The trick is to not go out of your way to replace the clutter that you have disposed of. I have often felt guilty for giving away items that were gifts (even if I didn’t like them, or was unable to use them), but now with the yearly holiday purge, I keep an unwanted item for a year, then give it away the next Christmas. I also do a once yearly clean out of my staples in the food pantry, and clean out and inventory my freezers. I always feel so much more capable for what is ahead, as I evaluate and sort my groceries. Also, when my kids were little, we would have the discussion in the beginning of December, that since Christmas was coming, they would have a week or so to fill up a donation box of toys to take to the local charity. We discussed that they could give whatever they wanted, but that it had to be clean and in good shape. They knew they would be getting other gifts at Christmas, and this was a way for them to help other families who couldn’t afford much. Each child was around 5 or 6 when they started participating in this. They actually got excited about the project. It was a good way to clear out a lot of toys that were not being played with anymore. Only one time did I have 1 child give away 1 item that he later regretted. That child is now 30 years old and regularly teases me about being duped into giving away a favourite stuffed toy.

  15. Peter says

    Thank you very much. I just went through a lot of your decluttering articles and have learned a lot already. I am a “Reformed” toy collector in the process of thinning out things. When an unexpected expense came up, I started selling off toys and realized that many so called collectibles only sell for 1/4 of the purchase price on Ebay. WOW! Quite the eye-opener! I have a long way to go but I am already seeing the difference in space and freedom from boxes and totes. I will keep a few unique and non Mass Produced items but not much else. I have 2 quick questions for you. I saw a book called ” Decluttering Bible ” by Jill Cooper, is that you?. My second question is whether you might consider in the future offering your E-Books in a Print to Order format? Sometimes I just like to pick up a book or give a book as a gift. Thank You again…Peter

    • says

      Wow sounds like you are really on a roll and doing a great job getting things under control. I always say you are 50% there once you make up your mind you are going to do something. I know what you mean about things not being worth as much. I have a collection of some antique things and they are not going for anything.
      I know what you mean about wanting a print book. I prefer them myself but by doing the e books it keeps the costs way down. With print books we have to do quite a bit more work packing them up and taking them to be shipped plus pay quite a bit for things like storage of them and that type of thing. There are many other hidden costs that people don’t always know about and this way we can keep the cost down quite a bit for the moment. That doesn’t mean we aren’t trying to figure out some way to get more print books at a reasonable price. I know you don’t really want an e book here is our set of cleaning e books for maybe anyone else who might need them. They have even more ideas on how to do things then on the web site. Keeping it Clean

    • says

      I have been called a lot of things before Mary Ellen but never that. : ) : ) Oh my husband did say I always treated him like a Greek god when we were first married because I served him burnt offerings every night. : ) : ) So maybe that makes me a goddess then. : )

    • says

      I would stop worrying about whether I should stay home or get a job and start trying to figure out what is wrong in my marriage. If you and your husband can’t talk and work out the different issues in your family’s lives together in a caring and loving manner then you have more problems then just money problems. This doesn’t mean couples won’t fight about things and have misunderstandings but there is a difference between that and having no respect or love for each other. You should never fight with each other and do what I call hitting below the belt. No calling each other stupid, crazy, foul names or even using disrespectful and degrading tones of voices let alone words or actions.
      And never never never threaten divorce with each other. That goes against all the vows you made to each other and isn’t just an emotion slap but a hard hateful punch.
      First make sure how you deal with your part of what is going wrong in the marriage. Are you treating your husband with respect and love and not being manipulative or critical with him? Get your ducks in a row. That’s not to say he doesn’t need to work on his things too but usually it is a two way street and we often concentrate so much on what the other person is doing wrong we don’t look at our own part in the problem. Sometimes it is all the other person but we can’t fix them only ourselves. Bottom line is threats are abuse whether physical or verbal and you need to get help for the real underlying problem in your marriage.

  16. says

    I considere myself somewhat Frugal, but would definitly be more of a Frugal person if it weren’t for my husband and daughter. I use coupons, save leftover food and freeze it (for another meal a week or two later). I know exactly what you mean when you don’t want to cook if your kitchen is a mess. I cannot seem to function or get started cooking unless every piece of dish is in the dishwasher, counter tops cleaned, etc.

    And when it comes to clothing..I hardly will buy anything new for myself..instead, I hit up the consignment shops!

    There are some excellent tips in your blog that I will definitly try out.

  17. Jenny says

    I love this advice Jill and it’s spot on. It’s a refreshing and different look at the cause of debt and one that is overlooked by many other money advisors. It’s just so simple and obvious!

  18. Ketutar says

    “For example, if your child comes to you and says “I have a drug problem.” You don’t sit them down and say, “Well let’s work on a way to get your grades up and then we’ll work on your drug problem.” How foolish that would be. The real problem is not the grades but the drugs. You take care of the drugs and the chances are pretty good that the grades will come up.”
    But when [x] comes to you and says “I have a weight/economy problem”, you sit them down and say “well, let’s work on a way to clear your clutter and then we’ll work on your weight/economy problem”.
    And that’s supposed to not be foolish?
    You need to remove that example from this otherwise excellent post, because it’s a really stupid example that doesn’t work.

    • says

      You misunderstood the example. I didn’t say the grades were a problem just that if your child has perfect grades but a drug problem you don’t discuss the grade problem. In other words the whole post is about making sure you are dealing with the right problem not burying your head in the sand and dealing with something that isn’t related.


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