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The Simple Dollar

A bigger house isn't an excuse for more junk

There are plenty of good reasons to move. But if one of them is having more space for your stuff, maybe you should reconsider.

By Guest blogger / April 27, 2012

In this March file photo, old houses, some dating from the 1800s, are seen in Stanley, Falkland Islands. Hamm argues that you shouldn't move into a bigger house just because you have too much stuff.

Michael Warre/AP/File

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When we were first married, Sarah and I lived in an extremely small apartment. It was (very) cozy for just the two of us, but it worked.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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When we had our first child, we converted a small area into a spot for the bed and the crib for our baby. We literally did not have room for even a small desk in our apartment at this point.

When our second child was on the way, we finally realized that we had to move. Our older child was simply not old enough for being on top of a bunk bed and we couldn’t come up with another way to give everyone adequate space to sleep.

So we moved into a larger home, one that works great for us now. We have plenty of space for our family of five and more than enough space for every possession we have.

Now, let’s say we kept accumulating stuff. It fills every excess space in our home. Everywhere you look, you see clutter.

Eventually, our home would start to feel a bit cramped. We might eventually find ourselves considering a new, larger home simply for the stuff we had accumulated, at a tremendous cost.

The problem with that scenario is if we have so much stuff that it fills up our home, we can’t possibly have time to use or enjoy all that stuff. That’s why we employ the “one in, one out” rule most of the time. Too much stuff means not enough time to enjoy it.

Let’s say, for example, that you collect movie props. For a while, you’ll have plenty of space for them, but at some point, they’ll begin to crowd your living quarters. At that point, you will have a lot of movie props, but if you have a lot of movie props, you have less and less time available to enjoy and care for each one of them. If one movie prop takes five minutes a month to dust and clean, a hundred movie props take eight hours a month to dust and clean. If you can spend fifteen minutes a month enjoying and showing off one movie prop, you’re suddenly dumping 25 hours per month into enjoying and showing off the props you have.

Now, if movie props are your primary hobby, that might still be okay, but you wouldn’t want your collection to grow too much larger than that or else you will have little time or space for anything else.

In other words, if you don’t have time to enjoy an item, why do you have it at all?

If you find yourself in a situation where you have so much stuff that you can’t even recall the last time you looked at most of it, it’s not time to move or get a bigger house. It’s time to go through a lot of clutter and have a giant selloff.

There are situations where moving makes sense, like when you are having difficulty finding adequate sleeping space for your family. When you’re moving just to house your stuff, you might want to rethink your choice.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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