In the average American home, there are over 300,000 items. That’s true even though 1 in 10 Americans (and rising) rent offsite storage and even though the size of the American house has tripled in the past 50 years. Do some math too: the average American home ownership tenure is about 9-10 years, meaning people are accruing 30,000+ items each year to reach the 300,000 total above.
What is all this stuff, though? It can take many forms: loose change we’ve been hoarding, kids’ old toys, outfits that don’t fit or went out of style, screws and nails, stationery, or items that we have an emotional attachment to, like an old a concert program or record player.
People tend to keep more things because they believe that some day in the future, these things will be useful or gain value. This is right to an extent. These items, especially ones with emotional memories, are not trash, but whether or not these things are useful for their owners is a question.
It’s not easy to kickstart decluttering and deal with all the 300,000+ items, most people run into these three problems when they are trying to determine usefulness of an item:
- Exaggerating or over-emphasizing its need in the future.
- Underestimating the cost and space it takes up.
- Ignoring the storage cost.
But here’s a way out.
The Declutter Formula
The best acronym to move past this is using the framework RFASR:
- Recency — “When was the last time I used this?”
- Frequency — “How often do I use this?”
- Acquisition Cost — “How difficult/expensive is it to get this?”
- Storage Cost — “How much space and maintenance cost is it tied to?”
- Retrieve Cost — “What costs are associated with retrieving it or it becoming outdated?”
As you ask yourself these questions, plug in this equation:
R (Low) + F (Low) + AC (Low) +SC (High) + RC (High) = Not Worth It
For example, a typical declutter scenario for many families is clothes, which often flows like this:
- Recency: “I last wore this over two years ago.”
- Frequency: “Even back then, I didn’t wear it a lot.”
- Acquisition Cost: “I could order something similar online in the next five minutes.”
- Storage Cost: “This and similar items are taking up 3/4 of my closet.”
- Retrieve Cost: “It’s so two years ago, too…”
In such a situation, you get rid of the clothing. It’s not going to add value or usefulness in the future.
If there’s an emotional attachment (e.g. a gift from someone you care about) try to remember this: when it was presented as a gift, it already achieved its primary goal. Two or more years later, it’s just clothing taking up space. That doesn’t change the connection to the gift or the person who gifted it.
While the declutter formula can help you get rid of the stuff you have already collected and help you decide whether you should collect or buy things, there’s always a dilemma when you want something more than you need it.
To combat it, consider waiting a week to make the purchase. In the week, think about that equation and think about the relative degree of want and need. If you decide to purchase the new item, get rid of one item at your house. One in and one out is a relatively simple rule here.
The Hidden Perk of Decluttering
The real value of the declutter formula is more than saving money and space. It is also saving you mental energy.
There’s a massive amount of mental energy involved in organizing and cleaning old clothes and items, or even preparing yourself to do it. There’s also a large amount of mental energy involved in ignoring what you need to do, which is a common tactic of those with clutter. Think about this: if I hand you a white piece of paper with a large black dot and say “Don’t think about the dot,” you will have to try hard not to think of that black dot. That’s plenty of energy spent on trying not to think of the dot.
It’s the same with getting your house in shape. You know all that clutter is there. You know you need to declutter. But you keep finding ways to ignore or procrastinate on it, and that’s actually reducing your attention and priority away from where it should be.
The best way to re-focus on what matters to you and reduce distractions is by repeatedly applying the formula, you’ll have a house full of (a) things you like and (b) things that are valuable to you. That’s a huge win in the decluttering game.
|||^||Los Angeles Times: For many people, gathering possessions is just the stuff of life|
|||^||NPR: Behind the Ever-Expanding American Dream House|
|||^||The New York Times Magazine: The Self-Storage Self|
|||^||Credit Sesame: How Long Are Americans Staying in Their Homes?|