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How to De-clutter Physically and Financially

Throughout our lives we acquire things. This can start at an early age when we were given things as gifts and of course, the childhood tendency to collect and save many of the items that we came across.

As we mature into adults, the desire or habit to continue to hold onto things may still linger. This leads to garages, basements, closets, bedrooms, and even storage facilities full of stuff. It can also creep into our financial lives – as we acquire different savings accounts, retirement accounts, or purchase things that continue to be automatically deducted from our bank account (a monthly subscription to a gym, perhaps).

Decluttering can have a profound effect on our behavior. It can help lower the stress of trying to keep track of so many things. It can also free up time to enjoy the things in life that are important to us. Finally, it can make a big difference financially when we focus on things we need, and allocate our money to priorities that will benefit ourselves and others.

Here are some ideas that may help should you decide that decluttering may be beneficial.

  1. Ask yourself, how often do you use/enjoy your stuff. A good rule of thumb is that if it hasn’t been used in 6 months to a year – get rid of it. This includes items such as clothing, kitchenware, clothes, toys, etc. Of course, there will be some exceptions such as holidays decorations, etc., but those items can add up as well.
  2. Ask yourself if it’s a need or a want. Asking this question can help you focus on whether it’s necessary, or if you could realistically do without. This may help when contemplating getting rid of monthly subscriptions or infrequently used items such as cable TV, gym memberships, magazine/newspaper subscriptions, etc.
  3. Could someone else benefit more from the items? This past winter I looked in my closet and saw that I had five different jackets, of which I only wore two. Talk about a first world problem! Some jackets, along with other items not needed anymore, were donated to charity.
  4. Consolidate accounts. During our lives we have different jobs, get married, divorced, etc. This can lead to having multiple retirement, savings, credit cards, and other accounts. If possible, consolidate those accounts into as few as possible. This will allow you to focus on fewer accounts, and more easily manage your money since it’s in fewer places.
  5. Go paperless. This eliminates the clutter of paper statements filling up your file cabinets and attics. If you can, try to get online billing for bills and make your savings and investing automatic – through bank draft or paycheck deductions to your retirement. Think of this rhetorical question: How many people would save for Social Security if they had to physically write a check?
  6. Donate your items, don’t try to sell them. Except in very rare cases, trying to sell your stuff will only lead to hanging onto it longer – and creating more of a mess and clutter. And while you’re at it, skip the garage sale (both having and going to). From an economic standpoint, you’re much more financially better off if you donate your stuff and take the tax deduction. I’ve seen individuals put in over 30 hours of time setting up, monitoring, and working a garage sale to make only $100 or so. And in most cases, most stuff doesn’t sell and it’s donated anyway or worse, goes back into storage. What’s your time worth?
  7. Delay gratification. Much clutter and build-up of items we don’t use can be attributed to impulse buying. Avoid the temptation to buy on impulse. Infomercials, advertisements, and our peers are constantly bombarding us with the urge to buy more stuff. Take a few moments to gather your thoughts and ask if you really need the item you’re about to purchase. Is your money best utilized elsewhere (saving for retirement, college, emergencies, charity)? Paying yourself first helps delay gratification. By paying yourself first and making your retirement and other financial goals priorities, it leaves less money (and temptation) to spend on clutter.

2 Comments

  1. Master_DukeNo Gravatar says:

    Delay gratification – one of the biggest challenges for the millennial just graduating college and getting their financial ducks in a row!

    One of the biggest ways to declutter clothes are turning all of them one way, then once you wear it, place them in your closet the opposite. This can allow you to either make sure you wear all your clothes, and/or find the ones you never wear.

    Great post !

    1. sraskieNo Gravatar says:

      Great idea! Thank you!

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