"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." - Henry Thoreau

Clutter: How It Can Save, Cost or Make You Money

By , August 22nd, 2007 | 4 Comments »


Clutter is not evil, though many of the articles, books, television shows, and services that teach you how to organize suggest otherwise. Clutter can be good or bad, depending on how you use it and respond to it.

Some people think more clearly and produce better work when they are in clear, open spaces without many distractions, but others thrive on clutter. I am one of the latter; my surroundings look a wreck to other people, but I generally find things more quickly and work more effectively and creatively when the things I use are spread out around me. I was thrilled when a neat friend gave me a book review on A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, which argues that clutter can enhance creativity and productivity. I was glad to know I’m not the only person who works better in disorderly surroundings. And cluttered doesn’t mean disorganized: I consider myself more organized than many neat people I know. My house may look like a mess to visitors, but I can usually find exactly what I need; I lose things most often after I have attempted to straighten up.

But I digress. How can clutter affect your finances? First, it can save you money. A large part of the reason my house is full of clutter is my frugal nature. I absolutely hate to get rid of anything that might be useful later. I have been called a pack rat, but packing things away has a benefit – rather than having to go out to buy something new to suit every new need I have, I can find things in my storage that will do the job just as well (or better). The things I might have sent to the landfill become useful again, and I have saved the cost of a new purchase.

At the same time, clutter can cost money. I admit that I have occasionally stashed something away and have been unable to find it when I needed it because it was buried in a pile or drawer with too many other things. Once, when I needed a glue gun for a Christmas gift I was making, I ran out to buy a second one, even though I knew I had one somewhere. (I have since found the original glue gun, and both are now stored together.)

In addition to having to replace lost items, clutter can decrease productivity and earning potential for those who think better in neat surroundings. It can also, in some circumstances, cost you storage fees if you have so much clutter that you start to run out of living space.

When handled well, however, a house overflowing with clutter can produce some extra income. Rather than paying to put your excess stuff in storage, sell it at a yard sale or auction. This option requires more time, of course, because you have to sort through the piles and decide what you really need or want. As you sort, however, you may find some useful things you have forgotten you own in addition to many things that are of more value to someone else than to you.

Clutter can also fuel creativity. Some of the most cluttered places I’ve seen are the homes of some of the most creative people I know. Maybe the clutter is a reflection of their creative minds, but maybe seeing unrelated things placed together in their surroundings helps them make fresh mental connections. Either way, creativity can become a financial asset for entrepreneurs, artists, performers, and others, so why battle the clutter around you if it stimulates your creativity?

If you feel comfortable in clutter, you may benefit more from enjoying it than trying to fight it, despite what all the world’s neat people tell you. Before you spend any money on organizing tools to reduce (or rearrange) the clutter in your house, think about whether you really will be more productive or content (or better off financially) without the clutter. You may be surprised to find that you aren’t.

Image courtesy of glynnish

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  • Mike D. says:

    “Clutter can also fuel creativity. Some of the most cluttered places I’ve seen are the homes of some of the most creative people I know.” You may have that backwards,I think clutter is a byproduct of their creative minds…..too busy being creative to clean up the mess. I sell everything I don’t need on ebay or craigslist. If I haven’t used or worn something in 2 yrs it is “very unlikely” I need it. Paying to store clutter is a billion dollar business and most of what people store is less valuable than a years storage fees. I am the extreme side as I do not save ANYTHING…but there is some middle ground. People who say “I may need this someday” are the ones with scary attics and basements.

  • A Marino says:

    Some clutter is useful to have around. I always keep mileage diaries and older hand-made calendars from days gone by when I had an extremely hectic schedule.

    A month ago, I was working on a project of putting photos of many years ago into albums according to dates. If it had not been for the information that I meticulously kept, I would not have been able to finish the project.

    This article reminds me of how important it is to know who you are and what you are about.

    I get caught between wanting to get rid of as much as possible to knowing that there is a certain amount that we should keep even for sentimental reasons.

    I have come to the conclusion that that is what boxes and folders are for. You can put away todays papers that you can ‘t deal with just as long as you have an area that is good for only a week and then you have to decide what to do with them.

    Good article.

  • Debbie says:

    I can’t helping thinking you might want to store your glue guns in two different places. That way if you can’t find one, you might still be able to find the other one. Or perhaps this incident scarred you for life and you will never forget where your glue guns are again!

    I like the definition of clutter as stuff you aren’t using that’s lying around rather than anything at all that’s lying around. Taking things out and putting them away repeatedly can be very time consuming. For example, it’s such a relief to have a corner dedicated to sewing, where you can leave a project out until it’s finished, after years of using the dining room table and having to clean it up every night. And as a kid I was glad when Mom let us leave the Monopoly game out until we had finished it, even if we had to leave it for a while.

    The problem is when you have a lot of unfinished projects around that you’re not going to get back to any time soon. This happens to me especially at work. I’ll have a long-term project interrupted by a big project which is in turn interrupted by a short project, which is in turn interrupted by an urgent project, during which I have to stop and answer the phone. After a while, I should realize the sad truth that I am not getting back to my long-term project any time soon, and I should put those things away so I can get through my other things more quickly.

    I like your point that cluttered doesn’t necessarily mean disorganized.

    And I like your point that different people work better in different environments. I once noticed that having a lot of moving boxes in my living room made me feel anxious and stressed. I like to have a pretty empty floor and mostly empty surfaces, to feel like I have space and like I don’t have to be careful all the time. On the other hand, I also like to have walls and bulletin boards and shelves covered in things that I love. So I have some of each tendency.

  • Jewelline Peoples says:

    Great, if you want to live alone. But what happens if you get married? Or do you find a clutter person life youself?


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