Friday, August 15, 2008

Overspending Creates Clutter

People with poor money habits complain about not having enough money. But they don’t want to stop spending the way they always have. They don’t want to modify their lifestyle. What they really want is for someone to show them a system that will allow them to keep on spending and somehow not end up in debt and out of money. Can’t be done.

I recently watched an episode of “Clean House,” a de-cluttering TV show. People whose homes are stuffed with clutter don’t think they have too much stuff. They think they need someone to help them get it all organized. They want someone to perform the miracle of shoving two homes’ worth of possessions into one. Also can’t be done.

Even though money is basically an intangible (dollar bills have no intrinsic value; we merely assign value to them), it is like clutter in that it is finite. Although credit gives us the opportunity to spend money we don’t have, we do eventually have to pay up. And we can’t re-use money to pay off two different bills. (Brinksmanship is merely a transfer of debt from one account to another.) But many people don’t want to accept that money or clutter is finite. They want what is impossible, for two objects to occupy the same space or one dollar to be several.

It’s a known fact that many people who overspend also clutter. Sadly, they often overbuy organizing containers. On this TV show, storage containers played a prominent role. They were everywhere, empty or full, tossed sideways or stacked precariously. They weren’t helping. And the sad reality was that despite the efforts of the four-person staff, the items that they were able to clear out of the house and sell at the yard sale—and these things were covering all surfaces in all rooms—only brought in a bit over $900. That’s right, all the supposedly valuable things with which these people had been choking their home were deemed by willing buyers to be worth under a thousand dollars. And you can be sure that those items cost considerably more to purchase. Most yard sale prices are 10% or less of the original purchase price. There’s a good chance that family spent $10,000 or more just on the items that sold. And then there was the rest of their junk, which nobody wanted to buy and had to be hauled away. I wonder how many thousands of dollars were wasted on that? It’s frightening to think that people are constantly throwing money away to buy possessions that quickly become useless junk.

Having money edges out having possessions, because money is fluid and can be used for many different kinds of needs. Money doesn’t get put in yard sales or hauled away to the dump. So think twice before spending money, that precious commodity, to purchase even one new possession. There’s a thin line between spending and overspending. You may discover that you already own something that can fulfill the desired item’s function. Or that you can live without it. In these tough times, if you have the choice to spend or not, choose not to spend. And especially, not to spend to create the clutter than turns into junk.

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