Ask Jes: Time lost true price of clutter

This column first appeared in the Albany Times Union on Sunday, November 3, 2019. To see the original column please click here.

Dear Jes: My home is full of stuff, and I know I need to declutter. My problem is that I know exactly how much money I spent on everything I own, and this makes it difficult to get rid of anything. I literally feel like I am throwing away money. It's hard to part with expensive items, but also hard to part with things that were a great deal. For example, I have a cashmere sweater that I own but rarely wear because it doesn't fit me quite right. When I consider donating it, I get stuck because it was such an expensive item, and I got such a great deal on it. Do you have any suggestions to help me?

—Totally Stuck in Schodack

Dear Totally Stuck: Clutter, in all its forms, is a problem because it steals time from our lives. Yet, when we declutter, we tend to value what we own in financial terms, and not consider our time at all.

Money is a renewable resource. We will always have the ability to earn and save more of it in the future. Time, on the other hand, is a non-renewable resource. We have a finite amount of time in our lives. It becomes significantly easier to determine what is worthy of staying in our life if we can quantify it in terms of our time.

Let's use your cashmere sweater as an example. You can ask yourself the following types of questions to help you figure out how much time it costs to keep the sweater:

  • Do I need to move the sweater out of the way to get to other clothing I want to wear? How much time does this take?

  • Do I feel guilty when I see the sweater because I don't wear it? How long does this feeling stick with me?

  • Do I take the sweater on and off multiple times a year to see if I will wear it? How much time does this take? Does this leave me with a positive or a negative feeling, and for how long?

  • Is the closet where the sweater is stored packed tightly with clothing? How much extra time do I spend putting clothing away because the closet is so full?

  • Does clothing get wrinkled in my closet because of how tightly everything is stored in there? Do I spend extra time ironing because of this?

It is obvious that the clutter we live with takes our time by making it more difficult to find or access things when we need them, and it adds extra time to routine household tasks. But clutter can also be emotional and frustrating, and this is an insidious way clutter steals more time from our life. A few seconds here and there might not seem like a big deal, but the accumulation of wasted seconds can be tremendous. Just five seconds a day searching for something adds up to thirty minutes a year or forty hours throughout an average lifetime.

In the future, make sure that your time is a consideration as you make new purchases. Here are some example questions you can ask yourself the next time you see a good deal on a cashmere sweater:

  • Most people wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time. Is this sweater more likely to be in the 20 percent or the 80 percent?

  • Does this sweater have special storage requirements (for example, inside a garment bag) that will require extra time putting it away?

  • Cashmere requires hand-washing and laying flat to dry, and it is not recommended to dry-clean cashmere. How much extra time will I need to spend to launder the sweater properly? Is this how I want to spend my time?

  • If I purchase this, and I don't wear it, how much time will I spend debating if I should donate it?

To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, the true cost of anything is the amount of your life you exchange for it. As you move forward with your decluttering, remember that freeing up space in your home will free up your precious time in life. The real question is: How much of my life am I willing to continue to exchange for this item?

Jes Marcy, of Poestenkill, is a professional organizer, clutter coach and space consultant. Send her your home organization questions to PrioritizeYourSanity@gmail.com.

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