January 21st, 2011

self portrait

Projects, Clutter, and thoughts thereon

Last week, I started a project to clear up the usefulness of our dining room. It had been slowly transformed into a space where various things sat on horizontal surfaces and collected disgusting amounts of dust. So Saturday was the day of getting all the stuff contained in boxes, moved out of the room, and getting the room cleaned.

With that out of the way, I was able to assess the space and what it might be useful for. We don't have a use for a true dining room as we don't have regular sit-down meals very often. So this space is really a bit of an extension of the kitchen hybridized with some home office functions. It was where a computer sat, where the dogs are fed, and where mail was sorted.

The initial impact of moving all the stuff out of the room was that the cabinets below the kitchen's peninsula counter were made accessible. Taking a cue from that, I decided that putting some cabinets on the opposite wall would give some storage space for all the stuff while keeping it from collecting nearly as much dust. A trip to IKEA later, and I've picked out cabinets to hang on the wall for a fairly reasonable price. This weekend's project will be to give the room a much-needed coat of paint, and to purchase, assemble, and install those cabinets.

Today, I read an interesting article about estimating the cost of clutter. It starts with a formulaic calculation of the value of each square foot of your house and then applying that to the room that the clutter prevents you from using. If your house is worth $100 per square foot, a 10-foot square room half-full of clutter is costing you $5000! I think a better way to go about this would be to make that cost-per-square-foot figure be the amount of your monthly rent or mortgage payment divided by the square footage. So if you pay $1 per square foot, that 10-foot square room half full of stuff is the equivalent of renting storage for $50/month!

It's a bit simplistic, to be sure, but another interesting way of looking at the costs of stuff vs. their value.

Another thought I had was on purchasing or keeping things for "someday" or "just in case." In the case of purchases, it seems a better idea to take the amount of money that would be spent on those just-in-case items and set it aside for just such emergencies. That is, that the cash is a much more flexible instrument for dealing with future needs and desires than whatever might be purchased. Yes, you might end up needing whatever it is you're keeping. But you might end up needing something different. So if you have the money saved and ear-marked for such things, you'd be in a better position when the need actually arises. (Assuming that your money holds its value over inflation, etc.) So applying the same logic to things that are kept "just in case" leads me to think of "buying" those future needs.

That is, that I may end up needing something that currently sits neglected in my house. If I can figure out what it would cost to purchase that item new today, I can put that amount of money into savings and safely dispose of the thing. If I do end up needing it in the future, I'll have the money on hand to purchase a new one. If I end up needing something different, I won't be tied to keeping this thing and will have the money to get the thing I need. It would also be a good policy to view purchases made from the "just in case" fund to be loans, so that getting one thing that's needed doesn't prevent another thing from being purchased when it's needed.

Edited to add: If the above gives you the impression that I did all this thinking and all the work of going through the upgrade for the dining room on my own, you should know that I had help. Very capable help.