The High Cost of Clutter by Mary Hunt

The High Cost of Clutter

Okay, I’ll confess right up front. I’m a clutterbug. However, unlike others in my category, I don’t hang onto junk. No way. My stuff is all highly desirable and very useful. And I plan to use all of it. Someday. Soon.

I was born with a propensity to be a pack rat. I don’t know where that came from and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. I have the problem, and I’m learning to deal with it. And I’m happy to say I’ve made excellent progress. But this did not happen until I was willing to admit to the high cost of clutter in my life.

Disorder creates distractions and confusion. Clutter costs us time, money, and, for some, jobs.

Cost: Money. Let’s get this one out of the way first. Case in point: Three bottles of seasoned rice vinegar sitting in my pantry, two of them
hopelessly past their “best if used by” date. Why? Because one was in the big pantry, the other in a smaller cupboard and the third in the refrigerator—a discovery I made when I determined to get organized.

I can only assume that I kept buying because I didn’t recall having this product already. Apply such a careless attitude to everything from batteries and light bulbs to tape, glue, tools, clothes, shoes, food, produce and every other kind of household item, and it’s easy to see that disorganization is the breeding ground for clutter. Disorganization creates a horrible financial drain.

Comedian George Carlin quipped in his now-famous monologue, A Place for My Stuff, “A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it—a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff!”

But clutter is not only a household problem. National studies have shown that the typical executive spends four and one-half hours a week looking for lost papers. At a salary of $30,000, the cost of searching for important papers, measured in lost time, is $3,376 per year. At $60,000, the cost is $6,752 per year.

Cost: Efficiency. Clutter makes every job much harder, longer and far more frustrating.

Don Aslett, author of Clutter’s Last Stand (2nd Edition, Marsh Creek Press, 2005) and cleaning expert, says that 80 percent of the space in our homes is occupied by stuff we never use, indicating, of course, that these are items we do not need.

Eighty percent of our beauty and hygiene routine makes use of only 20 percent of the cosmetics and potions we have stored in cabinets, cupboards and drawers.

Eighty percent of our family fun comes from 20 percent of the games, equipment and puzzles we’ve got jammed into our closets.

Eighty percent of our home maintenance and upkeep is done with 20 percent of the accumulated paraphernalia. And on it goes.

Cost: Time. Clutter makes every job more difficult. Chores take longer because the average person spends more time getting ready—finding a clear spot, hunting for the tools—than actually doing the job.

Clutter makes cleaning take longer because you are constantly moving piles around. That’s time you could have been using to do something you really enjoy.

Take the stuffed shelves of the average kitchen pantry. By the time you find the items you need, you’ve spent an extra half hour shuffling clutter around. No wonder you hit the fast food joints so often. It’s easier than taking time and effort to cook at home.

Cost: Stress. There is no doubt that a cluttered space creates chaos. A highly cluttered home is the playground for fighting and bickering.

I am fully aware that clutter makes my heart race and my head swim. Clutter messes with my ability to concentrate, which, if you talk with my staff and family members, is already at risk. Clutter seizes my brain, resulting in procrastination and a strong desire to escape.

One day recently I walked into my office, sat down and felt like I could not breathe. The piles and stacks of papers and books were like a giant vacuum sucking the life out of me. I could feel my blood pressure rise as the stress of the situation took its toll.

For the next couple of hours I set myself on purge mode and tore through that place. One pile at a time the stress lessened. As the top of my desk and bookshelves gradually reappeared, my joy surfaced as well.

It is amazing to me how the condition of our environments affect our physical and emotional well-being.

Cost: Health. Everything stored away or hidden discreetly or indiscreetly is also stored in your mind and is subconsciously draining your mental energy.

Peter Walsh, the author of Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? (Free Press, 2005), presents a credible argument that the secret to successfully losing weight is to forget about calorie counting and weekly weigh-ins. Instead he says we need to focus on how, why and where we eat.

The clutter in our kitchens, pantries and homes is directly related to the clutter on our bodies, contends Walsh, It negatively affects our ability to lead a full and healthy life.

Cost: Peace and quiet. It has been said that clutter is mental noise. What a perfect description. For me that’s a near audible noise, too. The greater the mess the louder the noise. And it’s not harmonious. I would characterize the noise of clutter to be a cacophony, a dissonance more annoying than fingernails on a chalkboard.

And, once discarded, that clutter is also discarded from your mind, and you are free from keeping mental tabs on it.

For me there’s nothing like the peace and quiet of a well-organized, streamlined, simply elegant space. When my kitchen is sparkling clean with everything in its place and out sight, it’s spring no matter what the calendar says. When my kitchen is well organized, I prefer cooking to going out. I’m more creative, more relaxed. And the food tastes better, too.

Cost: Wastefulness. Clutter, disorganization, domestic chaos—these are conditions that foster wastefulness. I’m talking about food that spoiled because the refrigerator was in such turmoil no one knew the pricey fruits and vegetables were stuck way in the back. And that’s just the tip of the waste iceberg.

How about all the sidetracked craft projects, the plans to make awesome scrapbooks or goodness knows what else? The more stuff that fills our closets and drawers, the more wasteful we become. It’s like some kind of horrid virus.

Organization takes time. Remember, disorder did not happen overnight, and neither will organization.

Getting organized is an investment of time, effort and money, but it yields very high returns!


Solutions for your big seven (on your own)

I have a theory that most of us would be more than willing to let go of the stuff that’s cluttering our homes if we knew these things would serve a worthwhile cause or help someone else.

Here are those worthwhile causes for your seven biggest clutter problems:

1. Vases, baskets, containers and anything else that held flowers you have received. If they’re cracked or broken, no one wants them. Take those in like-new condition to the closest flower shop to be recycled.

2. Excess dishes. If you do not use them at least once each year, sell them to an antique dealer or give them to a local thrift shop or the church’s annual rummage sale.

3. Pots and pans. Offer them to family members, take them to the thrift shop or see if your church kitchen or camp could use some decent cookware.

4. Clothing. Can’t bring yourself to dump your good clothes into a collection bin? Find an organization with specific needs. Crisis pregnancy homes, battered women’s shelters and drug rehab centers are just a few of the places that will be so grateful to get gently-used clothing that their clients can wear to job interviews. Beyond gently worn? Then toss them. Now.

5. Books. If you’re keeping them for show, give it up. No one is impressed. Go straight to If they’ll buy any, print out the prepaid mailing label and get those books into the mail. If not, donate books to your local library. What they cannot put on the shelves will help raise funds at the next library book sale.

6. Bibles and church literature. Call a local church or two and ask if they want them. If not, send them to the thrift shop.

7. Furniture. Place an ad in your local paper or post your items on to sell them. If you want to give the stuff away, post on the website Or call up the next fundraiser auction that comes along and ask if they will pick up your items. If your furniture is really as great as you think, it’ll be gone before you know it.


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