The True Cost of Our Stuff

posted by Andrea | 02/29/2016
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cost of our stuff

Today’s post is an updated version of a post I shared a few years ago.

It is something I still think about every time we have the opportunity to bring anything into our home… and with “spring cleaning” season inching closer and closer, I figured it was a good time to re-share! 


I think many of you know that I’m generally quite frugal… AND that I love to keep things neat and organized. Both of these factors work in my favor when it comes to simplifying and organizing my home.

Whenever I’m confronted with something I think I might want, my process usually goes something like this:

That’s cute, and it’s on sale, I should buy it.

Well, I technically don’t need it and I’m not sure where I would put it.

I guess it’s not that great of a deal… I’m sure I could come up with a better use for my money.

OK, I won’t buy it!

Not that I think this is necessarily the right way to handle the situation, but I can pretty much talk myself out of buying ANYTHING — even if it’s a super good deal!

Unless it’s on my list as a specific need, I can almost guarantee that I won’t buy it. In fact, I probably won’t even accept it as a freebie!

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I’m sure some of you might be thinking how boring, or un-fun, or super cheap I sound right now — but the fact of the matter is that even inexpensive (or free) items usually come with hidden costs that might end up being a burden later on. (Like that “free dog” we almost got this past summer!)

For example, when you bring something into your home, you’ll eventually need to:

  • Find a spot to put it
  • Clean it (or around it)
  • Organize it (or around it)
  • Maintain it
  • Feed it
  • Water it (plants)
  • Put batteries in it or pay for electricity to run it
  • Buy accessories to go with it
  • Fix it if/when it breaks
  • Move it (if you move or change locations)

So even getting a fabulous deal or an awesome freebie almost always ends up using many MANY resources over it’s lifetime in your home.

Not only does it use physical resources like space and money, it also uses resources like time and energy — both of which I have a short supply of these days!

For these reasons, it’s very likely that I’ll pass by even the best deal unless it’s truly something I need AND something where the benefits of owning the item will outweigh the extra money, space, time, and energy it could potentially require.

I realize this might sound like I over-think simple purchases — but this thought process only takes a few seconds, and I’m sure those few seconds have saved me LOTS of time, money, space, and energy over my lifetime.

How do I decide to bring something into our home?

Obviously, there are plenty of items I DO bring into our home on a regular basis — but those are things I feel we actually do need.

For example, I’m a HUGE Craigslist shopper and usually have a running list of things I’d like to buy if the price is right. If there’s nothing on my list, I don’t even bother looking on Craigslist; however, if I have a few things on my list, I’ll log onto Craigslist for 5-10 minutes every night and do a quick search for the items I’m looking for.

Once I find a good deal (in a decently close location) I’ll jump on it — knowing it’s something I actually need and that it will be worth the extra resources it might require.

I use this same philosophy when shopping for new items. I keep a list of items we need and then order them on Amazon.com or go to a store I know will carry that item, buy that item, and then leave again. I’m not big on window shopping so I just get what I need and then leave again 🙂

What about the stuff my kids bring into our home?

My kids aren’t quite old enough to bring too much stuff into our home on their own, but with Nora being in school now, she does bring home a fair amount of papers, tchotchkes, and various other treasures… and of course, there are all the birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, and just-because gifts they get on a regular basis!

While I don’t stop them from bringing things into our home like I stop myself, I DO work with them to remove other items in order to make space for their new “treasures”.

If they get new clothing, it’s usually because other things are too small, so we’ll weed the too-small items out as the new items enter the closet.

If they get new toys, I will first ask if there are any toys they would like to give to someone else. Often times, they pick out a handful of items they no longer want and we donate them. If they are unwilling to pick out anything on their own, I will then remove a few of the toys I know they don’t play with. To this day, I have never been asked “where is ______” so they clearly haven’t missed the items too much!

When Nora brings home 18 papers from one day at preschool, we usually take a few moments to look through them all right when she gets home. Several of the papers are just for my information, so I can put the dates on my calendar and then toss the papers. If they are special papers she wants to keep, we put them in a little binder I have for her school stuff. We look through the binder periodically and it’s always amazing how much stuff she’s willing to get rid of after just being able to keep it for a few weeks.

I’ll certainly need to continue to adjust this system as our kids get older, but for now, the fact that we even have any type of working system makes me happy!

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In general, my goal is to only bring things we NEED into our home.

And if you think about it, I’m really not THAT crazy!

By taking a few seconds to question any purchase (or even freebie offers) I’m able to avoid wasting time, space, money, and energy — and that sounds pretty good to me!

Have you ever thought about the TRUE cost of your stuff?

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35 comments

  1. Chris

    02/29/2016

    I really don’t like freebies companies give out for being a customer. The free water bottles, note pads, magnet clips, pens, only become clutter in my house because I don’t need them.
    But like you Andrea, I ask myself, what purpose will ______ have if I bring it into my home. If I can’t find a use, I don’t need it.

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  2. Tracy R

    02/29/2016

    Wondering if you haggle over prices on craigslist? In general I don’t, but if I am not prepared to pay asking price I will usually mention what I’m willing to pay in the first correspondence email so the seller can yay or nay my request. I’ve found letting them know how close/far away they are from me can be a influencing factor, and some lovely sellers have even delivered items! Any tips?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Sometimes I do try to get the price down — and when I do, I follow the same steps you listed. I just ask up-front (usually in the first or 2nd email) if they would be willing to come down to $xx. If they say “yes” then I go look at the item. If not, then I pass.

    And yes, I have had some AMAZING sellers who have delivered items, met me in a convenient place for me, etc. It’s amazing what some people will do to sell things!

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  3. Kaitlin @ The Mom on Purpose

    02/29/2016

    I used to not follow this rule very well. I was the girl who picked things up because they were cute and then never actually used them. As I’ve gotten older and had children, I feel like it’s almost been a necessity to have this mindset while shopping. Not only does it save money, but it keeps clutter to a minimum.

    I love your idea of going back through the school papers after a few weeks. Caleb wants to keep almost everything. I always feel bad because I end up purging at least half of it without him even realizing. I should try to have him go back through his papers/artwork after a few weeks and have him just keep his favorites. We have a large stack from this year alone.! I don’t even want to know what Kindergarten is going to be like next year!

    Thanks for sharing! Loved it as always!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Kaitlin! I have a feeling the school papers will continue to be an evolving system that we tweak and change every year… but I’m sure we’ll figure things out 🙂

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  4. Amy

    02/29/2016

    Something similar to your thought process happened with my daughter and me last week. We were in Kohl’s because I got a 10.00 gift for having had a charge card (if I ever use it, I pay it right off!) for 10 years. We were there for a long time trying to find something to get with it, and since I refuse to buy anything over the 10.00 it was a bit difficult! Well, we finally did find these cute little wooden signs, one for “the house” and one for my daughters room. They were marked down on clearance for 4.98 each so the prices were perfect! About a minute after we chose them, we looked at each other, looked at the wooden signs, and both agreed these were just “clutter” and we were just getting them for the sake of using this 10.00 gift! We put them back on the shelf and left with our 10.00 gift still in hand. We have until March 10th, so we will go back before then to see if there is anything we could take home that will be of use to us!

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    Chris Reply:

    And if you don’t think of something you want, you could give it to a friend. 🙂

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    Chris Reply:

    I meant the gift card, not the clutter. lol

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes!! I actually will often give my $10 coupon to my mom because she really likes to shop at Kohl’s. Then, she will try to find a sleeper or something for the kids to wear. It’s a good system because she gets to shop and buy cute things for my kids, I can stay home but I don’t “waste” my coupon!

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  5. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    02/29/2016

    It’s not something I think about much, but unless you start to think about what you bring into your home, you’ll continuously have stuff that needs to be purged that ends up being a waste of money. One of the benefits of living in a small town is that there aren’t many opportunities to shop as a fun activity. If we need something, I either order it or make a special trip somewhere to get it. It certainly helps cut down on extra stuff coming home, but I’m still amazed how easily stuff accumulates.

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  6. a woman

    09/15/2015

    I have another role: first make space then buy something. So, I will buy another dress only if I throw away a old and ugly one. I don’t need 100 dresses, 2 are enough.

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  7. Debbie

    03/11/2014

    This is exactly what I needed to read this morning! Thanks!

    [Reply]

  8. Anita Treacy

    03/10/2014

    Andrea, love this one!!! I am working on taking control back from all the “stuff” I our home. This is great advice!

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  9. Ann

    03/10/2014

    I will book mark this page, as it’s something I need to read every once in a while!! I have been
    purging & I hope I “get rid of more” than I “carry IN” during 2014!!!
    SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY!! GREAT POST!

    [Reply]

  10. Teresa

    03/10/2014

    I love this post! Today I began binging and purging of “stuff”……oh happy day, what a sense of accomplishment!

    [Reply]

  11. Cori

    03/10/2014

    What are some “things” you have decided you don’t “need” lately…Would love examples to fuel my brain…

    [Reply]

  12. Kathy

    03/10/2014

    One of my “self talks” when I am shopping and there is a “bargain” to be had. I ask myself the question “If it was full price, would I want to buy it”. That usually answers the question. Often because it’s on sale or cheap we jump to the conclusion because it’s cheap we could find a place for it, or what does it matter it’s only $10 if I don’t like it later I can get rid of it. So a good question is “If this was full price would I still buy it and if it is, then it’s a good chance you like it for the product itself and don’t get caught up in the sale/cheapness of the product. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

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  13. Krysta

    03/10/2014

    Love this post! My husband thinks I’m crazy because I look at something that costs $3, and is totally cute, and say, “Nah, I don’t really NEED it…” and walk away. Thanks for showing me I’m not alone! 🙂

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  14. Sherry L

    03/10/2014

    This is such a great post. Often, the amount of time it takes to manage and maintain “stuff” isn’t worth it, even if it’s free. Stuff Management can be a full-time job!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I like that phrase… “Stuff Management can be a full-time job!” I definitely agree!

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  15. Gina, a book dragon

    03/10/2014

    Katherine: Could you just smile and say thank you then stop by the local thrift store and drop it off?

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  16. Gina, a book dragon

    03/10/2014

    We won a raffle at our county fair – cool a $1 bunny! Too bad the cage needed was $60. We did enjoy the bunny and the next three (one at a time) for years, but still.

    [Reply]

  17. Katherine

    03/10/2014

    Will someone please send this post to my mother-in-law??? 🙂

    This is why I don’t want the rubbermaid bin full of stuff that she brings every visit. It was free or next-to-free for her; mostly from yard sales or what she had tucked away in her closets. But it doesn’t feel free to me! Ugh.

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  18. CJ

    03/10/2014

    I love this post because I feel like I am always having the same conversation with my husband – “if you don’t really need it or are not really going to use it, even if it’s some really awesome sale, then it is not really a good deal”. I wish my husband would have a conversation with himself like you before making a random purchase (typically done online).

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  19. Rochelle

    03/10/2014

    I totally ask myself the same questions :). We have 7 (soon to be 8) people living in our house, so I have to keep the “stuff” to a minimum! The only thing I have a hard time with is gifts from others for my kids birthdays/Christmas. I can’t say no to that & the kids do love them, so I try to find toy ideas that don’t take up much space & that they really love.

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    Holly Reply:

    When my family asks for gift ideas for my daughter, I suggest experiences. For Christmas just been, my parents paid for a zoo pass for us. Was a fantastic day out.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Great idea Holly — this is exactly what we do too… and will continue to do as our kids get older and will appreciate experience gifts much more than another toy!

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  20. Vivian

    03/10/2014

    My thoughts exactly except when it comes to little vintage tables. I always find a use for them or resale. My husband is in the cabinet door business and he does a great job of refinishing and repair. I have enough storage containers to last a life time. However I am finding sheets and towels to be wearing out after 14 years together.

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  21. Maria

    03/10/2014

    Great ideas, Andrea. If I see something that I really like, but not actually need, I’ll wait for a couple of days, and if I feel that I still want to buy it, I will, but usually the novelty has worn off and I forget the reason I wanted the item in the first place. lt saves a lot of time in returning stuff I regret buying.

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    Vivian Reply:

    I too have done that lots. I keep a running list of the items I need clothing wise in my head too. If it’s not on the list I’m not buying for my son or husband. I still like second hand for that reason. It’s the thrill of the hunt getting what you need for a deal not what you want.

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  22. mary willis

    03/10/2014

    My husband entered some sweepstakes and he keeps getting free books he will never read and junk mail. ugh

    [Reply]

    Catherine Reply:

    Mary,
    You could try and sneak some of those books out to your local hospital… they usually have carts of books for patients to read.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Mary,
    You could also donate them to a Blue Star Mom’s location or any other location that sends boxes to soldiers. Our military personnel love getting ‘goody boxes’ with books, crosswords, snacks, toiletries, etc. Just an idea! 🙂

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  23. Michaela

    03/10/2014

    I so needed to read this, this morning! I have been getting rid of stuff but had decided to really start going through clothes today. By the time I got home this morning I had talked myself out of it because they’re so cute, they haven’t out grown them etc. but reading this I realized they take up space, time, money (doing laundry), and frustration for me when my kids leave them everywhere because they have too much, so it’s time to downsize. Thank you!

    [Reply]

  24. Patti

    03/10/2014

    Great post Andrea….thanks!

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