“But I paid good money for that!” (The Sunk Cost of Clutter – part 1)

2015-05-21 14.34.06When I help a client sort through their things, there are any number of reasons why they have difficulty letting them go.

This, despite the fact that they don’t love or use them. “But it was a gift! But I might need it someday! But I paid good money for that!”

Wait! WHAT? (Cue screeching phonograph needle on vinyl.)

You spent good money for that? Oh…well…that’s too bad. But so what?

This is what we called a sunk cost in the corporate world. It means you spent the money in the past and it has no bearing on the decision at hand. Don’t clutter your present with past mistakes! Forgive yourself and move on.

Don’t clutter your present with past mistakes! Click To Tweet

Here’s an example from when I was writing multi-million dollar business cases for the telephone company (as described in my post Born to Organize):

If you need more space than you have for new telephone equipment you compare the cost of alternative solutions:

A) Construct a building addition to provide more space.

B) Remove old, antiquated equipment in order to free up space.

C) Install new, smaller equipment that takes up less space.

D) Some combination of the other alternatives.

In all alternatives, the original cost of the old, antiquated equipment is irrelevant (assuming it’s fully depreciated). Moot point. Sunk cost. Technically speaking, a sunk cost is one that cannot be recovered. And, indeed, some items are still worth something. But that would only be an incentive to sell them, not to keep them.

You don’t say, “Let’s spend millions of dollars on a building addition because I can’t bear to let go of the old equipment that we spent good money on!” You just don’t. It doesn’t make any sense.

So if you are worried about the amount of money you paid for all those craft supplies you realize now you are never going to use, or that piece of furniture you now hate because it no longer fits your decor and reminds you of your ex, don’t be.

The amount of money you paid is the same regardless of which alternative you choose now:

A) Keep it and let it continue making you feel sad, or guilty, and occupying space that you could be using for something else. (Not to mention all of the other costs of clutter.)

B) Let it go and reclaim the space, time, money, energy, and mental freedom for yourself!

That is not to say you have to throw whatever it is in the trash. As with everything you let go of, you can donate, sell, gift, or recycle it. But please be realistic about how much it’s worth if you are thinking of selling it. And don’t hang on to it forever just because you haven’t found the perfect home for it, or gotten around to learning eBay …or because you paid good money for it.

Are are you hanging onto something that you paid good money for but don’t use or love?

What is it? Is it time to let it go?

Share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Moreen Torpy on May 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Very good points Hazel! A friend reported to me that she’s let go of some living room furniture that was purchased with her ex when he was new in her life. Not until after it was gone did she realize how it dragged her down. Good lesson for anyone holding onto items that hold unpleasant memories, regardless of the original cost.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 22, 2015 at 7:06 am

      Seriously, if it makes you feel bad, why are you keeping it? (Not you. You know what I mean!)

  2. Elissa on May 22, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Wow! I have struggled with some version of this excuse my whole life. Hazel just helped me see, in a totally different way, how holding on to clutter affects my life. I understand that clutter requires energy from me and that energy will no longer be available to allocate to living. The ideas in this blog have helped to tip the scales. I’m off to do some recycling. Thanks, Hazel!!!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 22, 2015 at 7:05 am

      I appreciate your comment, Elissa! I’m glad you got something out of my post. Less clutter. More life.

  3. Janet Barclay on May 23, 2015 at 5:40 am

    When my son got married in 2011, I searched high and low for shoes that I liked, would go with my outfit, and would be comfortable, and I didn’t mind paying a pretty price for them. Trouble was, my sister-in-law (who has arthritis) had to go out to my car fairly early in the evening to get me a change of shoes – they were that bad. Nevertheless, it took me until a few weeks ago to finally pass those shoes on to somebody else. She was thrilled to have them, and I will never miss them.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 23, 2015 at 7:19 am

      Funny you should mention shoes. I have a pair right now that I only wore once. It was recently, so I haven’t been hanging on to them for years, and there’s no question that I am not keeping them. But I have the unusual-for-me urge to try to sell them. Not quite ready to donate!

      • Janet Barclay on May 23, 2015 at 8:26 am

        I guess I went through the same thing. I called a consignment shop to inquire about selling them, but it was the wrong time of year, and by the time spring rolled around, I didn’t get around to it and I wasn’t sure it was worth the trouble of getting signed up with them for just one pair of shoes (since I rarely want to get rid of clothes when they’re still new enough that a consignment shop would take them). And then when the other son got engaged, I thought I’d hold onto them in case they went with my dress for this wedding, even just to wear for the photos, but as soon as I figured out they wouldn’t, it was finally bye-bye to my pretty pastel pink shoes.

  4. Seana Turner on May 23, 2015 at 7:06 am

    You are “right on!” with this one, Hazel. It seems to be a common struggle that so many people have. I think we feel guilty, and that somehow keeping an item alleviates the guilt. Except it doesn’t!!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

      I know, huh? Guilt is for people who have actually done something wrong. Buying something you’ve changed your mind about, or inheriting something you don’t like, isn’t wrong. It’s just clutter!

  5. Andi Willis on May 23, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Great points, Hazel! I think many people think it is a poor reflection on themselves and their judgement to get rid of something they spent “good” money on. But times changes, our preferences change and yes, sometimes we make a bad choice (Janet, I commiserate with you about the shoes. Been there, done that!). I am fortunate that this not not one of my main hang ups (I have many) but I have clients who struggle with this. I try to encourage them to let the past be in the past and focus on the future.

  6. Sarah Soboleski on May 23, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Your points are spot on, Hazel! I had a personalized Pottery Barn stamp set for years that I held on to. I never found a reason to use it after our wedding, yet it still hung around because of the PB price tag. It made its way out a few years ago and I haven’t missed it or the guilt!

  7. Sabrina Q. on May 23, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I really don’t have that issue but after 20 years of organizing clients, I have heard this statement many times. I suggest to put it in a box and leave it for at least 6 months, if they don’t use it or find it, they can let go of it. It seems to work. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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