Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Knowing the Cost

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."

-Henry David Thoreau

Some years ago, before we knew one another my Spouse attended an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant.
Spouse likes to get money's worth, as I now do, and generally seeks out the meat and the seafood. There was a young boy passing nearby. He carefully balanced a piece of cheesecake on a plate.
"Mom, mom," the boy called out as he neared his table: "I think I must have already eaten at LEAST 15 dollars' worth of cheesecake!"
That is admirable in a peculiar way: at least, one might agree, he was distinctly aware of what he was getting for his (or his parents') money.

Right up until my Spouse and I began to clear out our home, we had no real concept of the amount of possessions we owned. As I have said before, in this apartment there are no corners for us to stash away bits and pieces: it will only disappear when we determine its value and choose to keep it or discard it.
It is so important to know what you have. That is obvious when considering how many times over you might buy a certain item you cannot find in your closet, but there is another, less obvious reason.
We have, in one corner of our most used room, a stack of old A4 sized notebooks from both our college days, my Spouse's note-taking on personal projects, and my own writing, including poetry, essays and such things. That stack is costing us precious money. We rent this apartment and that space, however small it may be, cannot be utilised fully while mostly redundant notebooks hinder our path.
It is easy to calculate just how costly that pile of papers can be:

Let us say that you spend 1200 dollars per month to live in your apartment, including rent and utilities.
That amounts to 14,400 dollars per year.
If your home is, say, 800 square feet in area, then the yearly sum of 14,400 divided by 800 comes to a cost of 18 dollars per square foot.
Now suppose that your little pile of books or magazines or whatever it may consist of, comes to about 2 feet by 2 feet, that is an area of 4 square feet.
18 x 4 is 72 dollars per year.
And how much money did the books/magazines/papers cost to obtain in the first place? Much less, no doubt.
We were horrified when we did our own calculation. I am not one for numerical figures but even I could see a discrepancy in our lives: we were literally saving pennies on grocery but shunning a larger, more expensive problem in our home.
Our personal papers are now being scanned at a very high rate per day and shredded quickly. Of course, one might argue, reasonably, that it isn't at all possible to use all space in a home. However, there is a vast difference between the area of your oven/fridge/bed and a random, jumbled pile of unknown items. We are paying for our space, and so we need to know exactly what our disorganisation is costing us in terms of money, before we can be compelled to systematically bring some order to our lives.

That being calculated and known, it is then much harder to ignore such expendable items. We have found it immeasurably helpful to list everything we own. At first it is uncomfortable to a great degree, for it pulls us right out of our sheltered nesting place and into a situation we long attempted to avoid.

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