It's a little ironic that right after I published my last post, I found out I would be leaving my hectic job for a different position within my company. I thought for sure that a less stressful job, closer to home would mean more time to write. After 5 months at my new job though, I'm just now writing again.
I have however, been spending more time with my family. I actually get to see my wife and most of my kids in the morning before leaving for work. I also haven't been taking out my laptop in the evenings and weekends to get prepared for the next meeting. It's been nice. The busy times help you appreciate the less busy periods of life even more.
One thing I've found regardless of where I go, I end up having a conversation with someone who is struggling with the same clutter problems that I am. Right after coming to my new job, I had nearly the same conversation I've had many times with other people. We usually agree on a few things that happen at home.
I wish I had the ultimate solution to all of it, but I don't. We can read another book on decluttering or watch another episode of Marie Kondo, but unless we act on the lessons from those resources, we're just wasting time. So I want you to know two important things. First, you're not alone. Second, it's only going to get worse if we just keep buying things we don't need.
You aren't the only with too much clutter
Like I said earlier, I've had the same conversation over and over. People everywhere are struggling with the amount of clutter in their homes. Have you ever had someone over who saw your basement for the first time. I always apologize to people for the way mine looks. The usual response I get is something like "this is nothing, mine is a lot worse".
Here's an idea. The next time you're thinking of taking some items to donate somewhere, you call up a friend and see if they have some stuff to get rid of too. In my case, there's a brewery near the local Salvation Army store. I like to drop off a car load at the Salvation Army and then celebrate with a pint.
Stop buying things you don't need
Clutter is like calories when you're trying to lose weight. If you burn 500 calories by working out but then eat 1000 calories at the pizza buffet every day for lunch, you're not going to make any progress. We have to resist the bargains at our favorite discount store and we have to resist the mindset that because we got rid of something in our home that we just made space for something else. Fight that urge and enjoy the extra breathing room instead.
I'll leave it at that and keep this post short. I've been neglecting my website and my Facebook page lately but I'm going to change that. Expect to see more posts but probably short ones and more content being shared on Facebook even if it's not my own. Thanks for reading.
I hate to admit this but here it is. I was (am) a compulsive Facebook window shopper. I think I spent more time looking at stuff I could buy on Facebook than scrolling through my friends’ posts. It’s been such a good medium for selling and giving away our unwanted things that I realized some bargains could be found nearby.
Like all shopping, I try to stick to things I actually need but it’s not easy. Facebook, like any online marketing giant has algorithms to keep showing you things you might be interested in. Let’s face it companies like Google and Facebook are just marketing wolves in sheep’s clothing. For example, I recently decided that I really wanted, no needed, my own desk at home. As soon as you search for “desk” in the Facebook marketplace or even view a couple of postings, it will suddenly seem like that’s the only thing anyone is selling. Then, the algorithm says “hey, people who have searched for desks have also looked at these things” so it starts showing you some other stuff mixed in with the desks.
Facebook Marketplace: come for the cheap desks; stay for the dining room sets and pool tables.
I browse Facebook Marketplace the way people used to browse through shopping malls. I went in thinking I could use a small desk but then think maybe we should replace our kitchen table too. It’s easy to get out of control and start thinking you NEED all kinds of things.
I had to get a grip and here’s how I did it. One, I tried to visualize where another desk would go and the effort it would require to make it happen. Two, I looked around the house to see if there was a way to use something I already have.
It turns out that we actually have 6 desks in our house. That’s one for everyone including the baby. The problem is that most of them are not being used because either their tops are covered or they are just in a bad spot. Once I realized that, I decided we just need to clean and rearrange the ones not being used.
I’ve mostly stopped looking but since I still haven’t cleaned off any of the desks and rearranged I still catch myself looking through the marketplace occasionally. Every time I do I just ask myself again where it will go and remind myself that we have enough stuff.
So the next time you see a bargain or think you really need a new something-or-other, first take a look around at what you already have. You just may realize you can easily make do with what you have.
Are you paying a monthly bill to store your belongings that you don’t have room for?
How long have you been doing so?
I recently talked to a friend who first rented a storage unit a few years ago when she moved back in with her parents. She was proud of how much she has eliminated from the storage unit lately but wasn’t sure about getting rid of some of the larger furniture. She feared how much it would cost to buy a new living room set if she moved into her own place. That’s understandable at first. However, when we added up the $100 per month she’s been paying for over four years, she realized she’s spent around $5000 on storage.
Therein lies one of the major pitfalls of renting a storage unit. Their purpose is supposed to be for short-term usage, like during a move for example. Unfortunately, about 9% of American families rent storage space and more than half of them have been renting for over a year.(1) Keep in mind that the $100 per month my friend was paying is hardly the upper limit for storage costs. Depending on the size, monthly rent can reach as high as $150 or more.
The self-storage industry has a history going back to England when banks began storing valuables for customers going on long voyages. The trend grew until vaults were overflowing and banks began using storage space at moving companies. By the 1850’s, warehouses were being built just for storage of personal items.(2)
The first modern self-storage units in the United States were built in Texas in the 1960’s and the concept spread.(2) Now, there are about 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S. and the industry generates around $38 Billion in annual revenue.(1) Clearly, we have a lot of important things that we need to keep even though we can’t make room for them in our homes.
When Paying for Storage Makes Sense
I don’t want to bankrupt the self-storage industry. I do think they serve an important purpose in some cases. However, I want everyone who is spending their hard-earned money on storage to weigh the cost against the value of the items being stored.
With that in mind, here are a couple cases where it might make sense to rent storage.
1. In between moves, especially when buying or selling a home.
Changing apartments can sometimes be a problem if your lease is up at one and the other won’t be ready for a few weeks. Store everything you don’t need in the short term until the new place is ready. The same situation can arise when buying and selling your home.
If you’re trying to sell your home and you have a lot, I would first advise you to purge, and then purge some more so you don’t have to rent storage. However, if you want to stage your house for sale you may still need to remove some things temporarily to make it look better. First, see if you can store a couple things in a friend’s or relative’s basement though. Just don’t overstay your welcome.
2. Storing something valuable that you can only use periodically
There are limited cases where this will make sense. Say you have a valuable motorcycle or something larger that you can only use seasonally. It might make sense to protect it from the elements during the winter if you can’t make room for it in your garage, assuming you have one. This is also common for boats, RVs, etc.
3. For business purposes
If you own a business and need space, a storage unit can be much cheaper than renting a larger office to store records or equipment for your business. This makes sense especially for contractors and lawn care companies.
That’s about all I can think of. There may be other specific situations where it makes sense but remember, every payment you make for storage can make the contents less valuable.
The bottom line is if you have no other choice but to rent storage, you want to rent the smallest one possible. Purge as much as possible first and then empty out your storage as quickly as possible.
Vintage or Garbage
This is me on my Wonder Horse when I was a kid. It was one of my favorite toys of all time. With my horse and a lasso, I thought I was going to be the next rodeo star. One of my favorite rodeo events to emulate though was steer wrestling. I would ride as hard as I could, then leap off and tackle something - pillows, cushions, whatever.
After I outgrew my Wonder Horse, my little sister played with it and so did many of my nephews. At some point I brought it to my own home for my kids to play with.
Nothing lasts forever though
Before I knew it, I had to put tape over a crack in the saddle to prevent pinched rear ends. The kids kept playing with it and it only got worse. Last month, when I had a wet basement to deal with I moved several things, including the horse, to the garage.
I kept looking at it knowing that I should get rid of it. No one had been playing with it for a while. It was fairly dangerous with the broken seat, the handle that wouldn’t stay on anymore, and the sharp metal stand that was missing a rubber cap.
But how could I possibly part with my horse?
I had spent countless hours playing with it as a kid and enjoyed watching my own kids play with it. After all, this is vintage 1979 and people collect these things. It’s worth money right? What about all the great memories? In other words, all the usual excuses went through my mind about why you can’t part with a sentimental item.
When I mentioned it to one of my sisters I heard, “You can’t get rid of your horse!” I started thinking that maybe I could repair it. Then I thought of all the other projects I have laying around the house I already don’t have time for. Since I have six sisters, advice is never more than a phone call away. I asked another and found out she still has hers. She plans to make a carousel horse out of it. “Then what?” I asked. “It’ll just sit around in a corner I guess. I should probably get rid of it”.
I broke down and decided to sell
I put it for sale on a local Facebook group for the bargain price of $15. After a week, I lowered it to $10. Here’s an interesting thing about selling on Facebook. If you didn’t know, you can check the statistics of your item to see how many people have looked at it, saved it, etc. The stats on my horse were poor. Even at $10.
I finally worked up the courage to put it on the curb
I deleted the posting on Facebook and set it on the curb in front of our house. Normally, you can put anything out here and it will disappear in a matter of hours. Late that night, it was still there and the forecast was for rain. I brought it back into the garage. The next day I did the same thing. An excited grandparent stopped and rang the doorbell to make sure I was giving it away. When I showed him the broken seat, he changed his mind and drove away.
Someone finally took it. I keep telling myself it went to someone who will repair it and not to a scrap dealer. I’m sure my beloved Wonder Horse is being repaired right now so a kid can pretend to be the next rodeo star.
What did I learn from throwing my childhood on the curb?
First, I learned I don’t miss the horse, but I love the extra space I gained in my basement. Second, I learned that while my sisters sometimes have good advice, they are not the ones to ask if I should get rid of something. Third, when you detach yourself from a sentimental item and look at it objectively, it will be lot easier to see why you should let it go. In this case, I zeroed in on the broken seat and sharp metal and realized it was unsafe. I knew I would never get around to repairing it, assuming that was even possible. Finally, you can convince yourself that the sentimental item you were attached to is still out there making someone else happy. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
I realized I have a weakness for thrift stores. It's more of a love/hate relationship. I love that I can take almost anything that I want to get rid of to a thrift store and donate it. They resell it and make money. I get clutter out of my house and someone else gets cheap stuff. Win-win-win. High-fives all around.
Yet, I hate the temptation of buying the cheap stuff. I can rationalize it by telling myself that's how the thrift store makes money. I prefer thrift stores for local non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Kiwanis. I know (or at least hope) that if I buy something, they will use the money to help someone local who is in need.
With the baby on the way, we are moving our youngest son into his older brother's bedroom. This presents a lot of challenges. One of them is that they need at least one dresser for their room, so we headed to the two thrift stores mentioned above. At the first, we found a couple of dressers that were possibilities but nothing jumped out at us. But, I can never stay on track when I go in those stores. I had to wander around until I saw the whole place. I checked out the sports equipment, the kitchen supplies, furniture, and everything else. We finally decided to check the other thrift store and then decide.
The second store was much bigger but the dressers were terrible. They were beat up and in some cases outright damaged but still priced at $40 to $50. We knew none of them would do. Again though, I had to wander through the whole place but this one had more variety. I almost bought a Foosball table and saw a pile of used speakers that I'm sure I could use somewhere. I managed to hold back. In hindsight, I think the only reason I didn't buy anything was because my wife was with me and I expected she would give me a hard time. "Mr. declutter can't resist a bargain at a thrift store" I kept hearing in my head.
In the end, we managed to walk out of both thrift stores that day without buying anything. Instead we purchased two of those two-drawer organizers that you have to assemble. The fun part of that was that the boys put them together without any help. I answered a couple questions but that was it.
I'm not saying you should stay out of thrift stores, but the way to declutter your house is to gather up what you want to donate, take it to a thrift store and then leave. Don't go inside unless you have a very specific thing you are looking for. If you have trouble resisting the bargains and keep wandering off course, then bring moral support with you. My wife probably wouldn't have said anything to me if I bought something at the thrift stores. Thinking she might, though, helped keep me from buying things I don't need.
My family uses Cozi for our calendar, shopping, and to-do lists. The best part is that it's free.
Copyright Dave Lubke and www.davelubke.com, 2020
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