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.


Leave a comment

Also in Shop Good Blog

A Wonderful Story

February 05, 2021 3 min read 3 Comments

Somehow, impossibly, I travelled around the world one year ago!

I am deeply grateful to have taken a trip to Bangladesh when I did. I was at a stage of my life & business when the adrenaline had long worn off, and I was a getting a bit stuck in a cultural mindset trap: "I don't feel like doing this every day."

More details on that, I'll save for another day (or perhaps for a more intimate conversation!). But, let it suffice to say that my colleagues in Bangladesh do NOT operate from that mindset... it doesn't even factor into the conversation.

Being reminded of this, as well as seeing — in person — the inner workings and impact of the blanket biz on the production side... well, it was deeply regenerative for me.

If I had not visited in January 2020, I don't know when that trip would have taken place! Soooo thankful.


Here is one story of a woman artisan I met: Poli.

Read More
Waiting... & The Dignity of the Present

January 23, 2021 2 min read 1 Comment

This season for dignify has challenged us with waiting. Blankets have been leaving our hands at the fastest pace ever (yay!) and we are trying to simply keep up. Add extra inconveniences & delays (from COVID, from customs checks, and more), and we have been really exercising our muscles in patience, trust, and gratitude.

Culturally, we are in a stage of waiting, as well. Waiting for vaccine rollout. Waiting for "normal" opportunities to return, for "normal" life to resume in our cities, our nations. 

Read More
Has 2020 Been the Worst Year?

December 16, 2020 3 min read 2 Comments

Looking back at some photos from last Christmas, I came across this screenshot from my phone that really made me laugh:

Read More