The Hidden Costs of Our Stuff

May 27, 2016 3 min read

A Garage Sale Parable

It’s late May, so in addition to graduation ceremonies and teacher countdowns, we are dead in the middle of spring cleaning season. There is the usual clutter sweep and deep cleaning, and everyone who has discovered the KonMari method is turfing all their ironing boards that don’t “spark joy”…

A natural result of all of this purging is a loved-or-loathed summertime trope: Garage Sales!

Last weekend, our next door neighbours had a garage sale. They are retired and have some health limitations that are leading them to relocate to a single-story home, so have begun the long process of downsizing/moving.

Now, I adore these people. And, the reason for their need to purge (moving away from us) is, for our family, tragic!

But, watching them manage their garage sale was painful.

Like many people who have spent a lifetime collecting bits & bites & memories & stuff, they were letting go only with reluctance. Almost everything was overpriced and under-valuable to outsiders. And when a browser tried to negotiate a lower price, our neighbour’s go-to response was,

“Nope. It doesn’t cost me anything to keep it!”

But, is this true?

Sure, they aren’t paying a fee for extra storage. But, what are the hidden costs of keeping stuff that we don’t need, use, or even enjoy anymore?



What is the time cost of managing our stuff? Joshua Becker writes of his turning point: cleaning the garage on a Saturday afternoon while his son played alone in the backyard. A neighbour commented, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.” He realized that his time spent managing his things was taking away from time he would rather spend otherwise.

It didn’t cost my neighbour any money to keep his trinkets rather than sell them. But, the latter part of the day was spent bringing items back in, returning them to places around their home, deciding what next steps each should take, etc. Not to mention, more time will be spent in the future when they once again have to manage these items (moving them to a new house, bringing them out for another garage sale, or whatever happens to them).



Letting go of an un-utilized item means you never have to think about it again. Now, maybe if I was retired, I would feel like I had more mental margin than I do as a working parent of three little kids. But, somehow I doubt it. Regardless of age, we all have so many great things to use our brains for!

The mental energy cost may be low (like that which goes into choosing our daily clothes), but it still exists. What creative, caring, or otherwise impactful good could come out of our brains in place of managing garage sale leftovers (or my own life equivalent)?



At one point in the garage sale, when my neighbour pulled out the “it doesn’t cost me anything to keep it” line, his grown son, standing behind him, quipped to my husband: “It costs me something! I’m the one who is going to be moving this stuff!”

What cost do our choices have on other people? What seems like a nothing to us, but amounts to a burden on another?


I adore my neighbours, and I don't want to be too hard on them. But, the whole thing was a powerful reminder for me. To guard fiercely against what “stuff” comes into my home. And to hold loosely to what is already here.

Money aside, what other hidden costs are in my closet, draining my time, energy, and maybe even straining others? What about in yours?  Share with the rest of us by commenting below.


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