Money Tip
Sweat the Big Stuff

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By Dayana Yochim
June 6, 2002

Adults spend an average of 16 times as many hours selecting clothes (145.6 hours a year) as they do on planning their retirement. And proportionally speaking, we spend more time deciding how to handle a single in-box document than we do on purchasing our dream domicile.

So says self-professed recovering clutterer and author Mike Nelson in his soon-to-be published book, Clutter-Proof Your Business: Turn Your Mess into Success. Cluttering (the stuff that piles up on our desks, in our email boxes, and on the foyer table at home), Nelson says, steals time and money -- neither of which many of us have in surplus. The same forces that drive us to sweat the small stuff also drive us to short-shrift the big stuff that can have a major impact on our finances.

The author mathematically breaks down tasks to determine what percentage of time people spend on everything from making airline reservations to buying a car. Based on his research, people spend on average 0.32% of their time making a decision about buying a car, and just 0.10% of effort buying a home. That's how much of the lifetime of an object we put into making a decision about it.

Compare that to 2.5% of our time -- proportionally -- that we spend dealing with a single piece of paper at the office, and you can see that our priorities are a bit out of whack.

Considering a car will be with you for about 1,670 days, and a house will haunt you for 10,950 more, it seems silly to spend an hour dealing with an office memo that has just a 20% chance of ever being referred to again.

If you spend more than 0.3% of the lifetime of the object obsessing over it, Nelson says, it'd better be really, really important. So stop sweating the small stuff and spend some time on the big stuff -- like your home, car, retirement, and kids. We Fools consider that time well-spent.

Speaking of sweating... since the introduction of the Fool's extensive disclosure policy, Fool lawyers have noted a major decrease in the amount of perspiration in their department. Dayana Yochim's glistening profile can be read by clicking here.