Editorial Policy

7 ways clutter costs you money

Allie Johnson

July 20, 2015

You've got clothes spilling out of your closet, garbage bags crammed full of papers and a garage too full to hold your car. If you've got clutter, you probably know it costs you time and aggravation — but it's also probably hitting you in the wallet.

Organizers and personal finance experts agree that being disorganized and having too much stuff can cost you financially in many ways — from late fees to lost money to monthly storage bills.

Here are seven ways your cluttered life might be costing you – and how much:

  1. Late fees and bad credit. If you're very disorganized, it's easy to be late or miss payments on credit cards and other bills, says Katie Brewer, a certified financial planner and owner of Your Richest Life. You also can get socked with late fees and fines for overdue library books, driver's license and car title registrations and even utility bills. So, figure out which way of paying bills works best for you – whether it's setting up automatic payments from your bank account or using snail mail – and pay all of your bills that way, Brewer recommends. “Make sure you don't have a hodgepodge of stuff being paid in different ways,” she says.
    The cost: A credit card late fee can run you $25 the first time and as much as $35 or more if you're late again. And late payments can nix any 0 percent introductory rate on a credit card, Brewer points out. Payments late by 30 days or more also can drag down your credit score, which can result in higher interest rates, costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars more over the life of a car loan or mortgage, Brewer says.
  2. Storing stuff for years. Self-storage can be a lifesaver if you're moving and need a place to stash stuff for a month or two. But many consumers keep units far longer than they intended and many store junk, says Walt Cade, an auctioneer who has been featured on A&E's “Storage Wars: Texas.” He adds: “It never ceases to amaze me what people pay to store.” Auctioneers like Cade auction off storage units after tenants stop paying their bills. Items Cade has found in storage: boxes marked “free” that are left over from garages sales, worn out furniture and broken lawn equipment.
    The cost: The average U.S. rent for a 10-by-10-foot, climate-controlled unit is $151 a month, according to the Self Storage Association. That adds up to over $1,800 a year.
  3. Buying duplicates. It's inevitable: if you live in a cluttered home, you're going to end up re-buying stuff you already own, says Hazel Thornton, a professional organizer who has blogged about the cost of clutter at her site, Org4Life.com. “If your pantry isn't organized, you forget you have the spices for the dish you're making and you go buy them again,” she says. “If your closet isn't organized, you forget you have10 tank tops and go out and buy a new one. There's no end to it.”
    The cost: You might pay a few bucks for a bottle of oregano or $25 or more for a clothing item, and your total can reach $100-plus a year – or more if you lose, say, your cellphone. “It really adds up,” Thornton says.
  4. Lost checks and cash. People often find money while going through their stuff, says professional organizer Stacey Agin Murray, owner of Organized Artistry. “There's always $20 in the pants pocket or loose change in the Rubbermaid tub,” she says. But her clients have found bigger money too – such as the small business owner who unearthed a four-figure check she hadn't even known was missing, or the clients who found $800 while cleaning out their parents' house, Agin Murray says. And the money might not be in your house: some consumers are owed money from, say, old cell phone or utility accounts. To hunt down money that's due to you, start with this guide to finding missing money, from USA.gov.
    The cost: Anywhere from a few dollars you could get by cashing in that bowl of pennies to $50 to $1,000 or more if you lost a check or you're owed money from an old account.
  5. Lost retirement accounts. It sounds far-fetched, but Brewer has had clients who have left jobs and lost track of old 401(k) accounts for years – including one man whose money had inadvertently been stuck into an account that barely earned anything. Using an online dashboard to keep track of all your accounts in one place is a good way to keep this from happening, Brewer says.
    The cost: If you let $50,000 sit stagnant for five years, it could lose out on earning thousands in dividends and interest, Brewer says.
  6. Inability to file warranty claims. If you bought a new fridge and lost the warranty card in a stack of junk, don't worry. You don't need to fill out and send in the warranty cards, according to Consumer Reports. But you should stick the original sales receipt and paperwork that came with the product in a file folder where you can easily find it, or you might not be able to file a warranty claim. That's important for purchase protection or extended warranties offered by credit cards, too.
    The cost: If you're unable to file a warranty claim through the manufacturer or your credit card, you could be on the hook for the repair costs or the price of a new item.
  7. Hiring a pro to help tame your mess. Professional organizers aren't cheap to hire – and the more clutter you have, the more help you might need. Most organizers have a variety of levels of service, which can start with a phone call or Skype session all the way to packages of multiple in-person visits.
    The cost: Fees can range from under $100 for a call to thousands of dollars for a package of in-person visits to organize your whole home, Thornton says.

But, if you have a major clutter problem, it might be worth seeking help. You can find an organizer through the organizer directory offered by the National Association of Professional Organizers.

“Money is only one cost,” Thornton says, adding that clutter also costs you space and time. “There are a lot of things you miss out on by being disorganized.”