Some years ago I divorced and moved into a smaller house. At the time I remember feeling a sense of relief at the lack of stuff in the place. Oh, I certainly had plenty. But because I was starting, at least somewhat, from scratch. I didn’t have the clutter that you tend to have in a longtime residence.
Well, it’s been a while. And while I don’t feel overrun by stuff, I am starting to feel like I have more than my share. Attempts to clean out always result in a hefty bag (or two) packed to bursting. Yet there is still more to go. Which is why I think I was struck by a recent column by Carl Richards, a financial planner and author of The Behavior Gap. He wrote about his most recent adventure in purging – which he seemed to find as satisfying as I always find mine.
But then he asked a question I haven’t thought about, at least recently: What’s the cost of keeping stuff you don’t really need, don’t really use, maybe even don’t really want? “When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them.”
It made me think about the stack of t-shirts in my closet. I have about 20. Some I wear. Some I don’t. But I fold them all – repeatedly. Because pulling one out of the bottom of the stack always messes the stack up enough to require folding them all. Would I be better off just getting rid of the ones I don’t wear? Probably. And can I apply the same methodology to other things in my life?
Richards suggests asking a series of questions to help decide what to keep and what to toss. They are:
- Why exactly do you own what you own?
- What could you get rid of and not miss?
- Do I really still need that?
- What is it costing me to own that?
They’re very similar to the questions I tell people to ask when they’re contemplating making a particular purchase:
- Why do I need that?
- Where would I put it?
- What happens to me (and my finances) if I do buy it?
- What happens to me (and my finances) if I don’t.
The point, of both exercises is not to put the kibosh on something you really want to acquire – or something you value having around – but to become more conscious about the fact that both are choices that you make.