If everything in your house cost one dollar, how much did you spend on it?
How many individual items do you own? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?
The premise here is that for many of us, our "net worth" consists of our personal belongings plus debt. This is a classic symptom of scarcity mindset that often leads to broke people having far more possessions than wealthy people do. Examining how much hidden abundance we actually have in our lives is the first step toward feeling our way into actual abundance.
Now, let's start looking around. Those of us deep in scarcity mindset are going to be pretty well convinced that we don't spend money on anything. Our focus will immediately turn to those things we received as gifts, salvaged, bought at a thrift store or yard sale, built ourselves, or that we have had so long they have fully depreciated. There may well be someone reading this who has transitioned to full money-free living, and if so, by all means please send me a note! I'd love to hear from you! The rest of us, well, we probably do have at least a trickle of money coming into our lives, and it's likely trickling right back out in one form or another. Rent, utilities, food, debt payments, and other expenses do occur that we feel are locked in to our scarcity lifestyle.
It also tends to go to items we feel like we can afford. Snacks and sodas. Discount and sale items. Used books. Inexpensive holiday decorations. We're more likely to feel we can "afford" items that cost under a certain dollar amount than we are to consider our expenses as a total annual cost. I realized at one point that I was spending $300 a year on vending machine snacks, when I never would have dreamed of spending that identical $300 in a lump sum on something like a dining table, a vacuum cleaner, or a fridge.
Another hallmark of scarcity mindset is never feeling like we have ENOUGH of something. When everything we own is sub-optimal in some way, we're always questing for something better. That tends to result in, say, five pairs of $10 shoes that fit poorly rather than one pair of $50 better-quality shoes. Same fifty bucks! The difference is that the scarcity purchasing leads to constant discomfort and a bulging closet, while the abundance purchase of the single, actually-good-enough pair leads to satisfaction. Multiply by every category of possession and a scarcity house will have 5x more stuff than an abundance house for the same number of total dollars.
The attention, focus, and awareness we place on bargaining and negotiating to get our material needs met can also be applied to finding ways to increase our earning power. The better we are at functioning on an extremely low income, the better use we would make of a higher income. We can only cut our expenses down to zero, but there IS NO UPPER LIMIT to how much we can earn. There is a finite lower limit but an infinite ceiling. Can I say that in other ways that make more sense so it will sink in? It is much easier to think of many ways to bring in more money than it is to think of even one more way to save money.
Cash flow is very abstract, while our possessions are very concrete. I can hold this stuffed animal in my hand, while I can't guarantee that this supposed earning power really exists, or will continue to exist next year. I'm already doing everything I know how to do - I simply can't imagine myself in a position that could bring in a higher income. I have no idea what would be different about my life if my income were that much higher. I don't know what I would buy or not buy. What I do know right now is that this is my life, this is my home, these are my things, and this is all I have. I have enough problems without foolish fantasies and woo-woo thinking exercises.
My clutter clients have an astonishing amount of stuff. Even for single people who live alone, each room can easily have double to 5x more items than most homes would have. There are sometimes entire closets or rooms that are packed solid. A closet will have stuff poking out the bottom of the door, or a room cannot be entered because even the doorframe is full from top to bottom and from side to side. Even discounting the paper clutter, gifts, and hand-me-downs, there is plenty of stuff that cost the owner money at some point. Sometimes it's duplicate items that arose from chronic disorganization, like pens, shopping bags, or an extra case of paper towels. Sometimes it's the result of compulsive accumulation, like magazines, cosmetics, holiday decorations, or shoes. It almost always includes books, clothes, and stockpiles of extra food. I NEED THIS BECAUSE I HAVE NOTHING.
Thrift stores can be an irresistible attraction when we're poor, or when we feel like we are poor, which is more important than actual cash flow in terms of mindset. Surely nothing I bought in the $1-$5 range actually counts, does it? Well, yes. When there's so much stuff in a house that it has to be piled, when there are so many clothes that they can cover the floor in even one room, it adds up. The cost adds up. A hundred $1 items, fifty $1.99 items, twenty $5 items, perhaps some of each, represent not just clutter but the absence of $100 or $200 or $300 of emergency savings. It isn't much, but often even that $100 can make the literal difference between a bill getting sent to collections or not. An envelope with even the smallest amount of emergency savings can represent peace of mind in a way that no physical possessions can.
The question is, what do we have to show for all our hard work and all the bitter tears we've wept over our financial desperation? How much is in our various bank accounts (and envelopes) as opposed to spread out on every flat surface, including the floor? If we could wave a wand and have a dollar bill instead of any and every possession of our choice, how quickly would we be out of debt? How many lifestyle upgrades could we suddenly afford? We want to look at our financial outlay as buying the best quality of life we can get for our hard-earned money. There are very few material possessions that can contribute as much as savings, investments, and confidence can.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.