The High Cost of Clutter

By Mary Hunt

June 8, 2016 5 min read

OK, I'll confess right upfront. I'm a clutterbug. However, unlike other clutterbugs, 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 a problem, and I'm learning to deal with it. And I'm happy to say I've made excellent progress. But no progress was made 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, even jobs.

COST: MONEY. Let's get this one out of the way. Case in point: There were 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 pantry, the other was in a cupboard, and the third was in the refrigerator — a discovery I made when I determined it was time to get organized.

I can only assume that I kept buying bottles because I didn't recall having one already. If you have such a careless attitude about everything — batteries, lightbulbs, tape, glue, tools, clothes, shoes, food or any other kind of household item — it's easy to see that disorganization breeds clutter. And, disorganization creates a horrible financial drain.

COST: EFFICIENCY. Clutter makes every job much harder, it makes every job take much longer, and it makes every job far more frustrating. Don Aslett, cleaning expert and author of "Clutter's Last Stand: It's Time to De-Junk Your Life!" says that 80 percent of the space in our homes is occupied by stuff we never use, which indicates, of course, that these are items we do not need.

COST: TIME. Clutter makes every job more difficult. You spend more time on chores because it takes longer to prepare to do them — finding a clear spot, hunting for the tools, etc. — than it takes to actually do the job. Cleaning takes longer because you have to constantly move piles of stuff around to reach surfaces. Clutter takes up time you could have used to do something you really enjoy.

COST: STRESS. There is no doubt that a cluttered space creates chaos. A very cluttered home is a trigger for fighting and bickering among residents. I am fully aware that clutter makes my heart race and my head swim. It messes with my ability to concentrate, which, if you talk to my staff and family members, is already at risk. Clutter captures my brain, causing me to procrastinate and giving me a strong desire to escape. It's amazing to me how the condition of our living environment affects our physical and emotional well-being.

COST: HEALTH. Everything stored in your home, everything hidden in your home, and everything displayed indiscreetly in home, is also stored in your mind. It all subconsciously drains your mental energy.

Peter Walsh, author of "Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?", 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 where, why and how we eat. In other words, we need to focus on where, why and how clutter builds in our home. Clutter 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, clutter is a near-audible noise, too. The greater the mess, the louder the noise. And the noise is not harmonious. I would characterize the noise of clutter as a cacophony, a dissonance more annoying than fingernails on a chalkboard.

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

Disorder isn't created overnight, and neither is order. Organization takes time, so start now.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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