A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. -- George Carlin

The year 2017 is around the corner. Even though it hasn't started yet, I have an idea of what my biggest money regret of 2017 will be -- and it may be surprising, as it doesn't sound that financial. My biggest money regret of 2017 is likely to be... having too much stuff.

Image source: Getty Images.

I recently bought a house and am starting the process of organizing my belongings and paring them down so that they fit into the house. This is making me realize more than ever how having too many possessions is a poor financial practice -- in many ways. Here are some of the ways that having too much stuff costs me money, and how it can cost you more than you realized, too.

Purchase prices

The most obvious way that having too much stuff can be a financial regret is simply because just about all our stuff has cost us something. I have way more books than I'm ever likely to read, and though I've cut back on my purchases, I still buy another book or two now and then. Over the years I bought lots of DVDs of movies and TV series that I wanted to see or have seen, loved, and may want to see again. Of course, I'm now living in the era of streaming, and much of that content is now available to stream whenever I want. I have plenty of clothes to wear, and plenty of clothes that I rarely seem to wear, and yet I still occasionally buy a new item of clothing. If I survey the mass of possessions in my house, I see many items that I really don't need -- and most of them cost me money.

Storage costs

Before I moved into this new home, I spent a few years in a home that couldn't accommodate all my stuff. So I did what many people in such a situation do: I rented a storage unit. That cost me more than $100 per month -- more than $1,200 per year -- just to contain belongings that I rarely visited or used. That $1,200-plus could easily have been spent in more productive ways, such as on travel, education, or supporting charities that are fighting poverty around the world.

Home size

Knowing that I have so much stuff -- so many books, DVDs, CDs, clothes, files of papers, souvenirs, and so on -- influenced the houses I considered buying and the house I bought. If I'd had fewer possessions, I would likely have looked at somewhat smaller homes that cost somewhat less. I would have ended up with a smaller down payment and smaller mortgage payments. Heck, I might even have opted for the charming house by the water that had no basement!

Image source: Getty Images.

Moving costs

Another cost of having too much stuff only rears its ugly head when it's time to change where you live: moving costs. Since I had so much stuff, it cost a lot more than it had to to move. More than one truckload was needed, the workers had to work longer, and the bill was steeper than I had hoped it would be.

Savings lost

It can often seem like all the stuff sitting around in basements and attics and garages has little value and isn't worth selling at a yard sale. That might be true, but you have more options than that. Some items can be sold on Craigslist, and even though you might only fetch, say, $25 to $50 for some bookcases or chairs or rugs or desks, if you sell enough of them, you might net $1,000 or more. Many items can also be donated, and if you donate them to a qualifying organization, such as your local Goodwill or Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, you can deduct their fair market value on your tax return. Sample values are available online. For example, here are some fair market values for some items, per Goodwill:

Item category

Value range,

depending on condition

2-piece suit

$5 to $96

Women's dress

$6 to $26

Men's pants

$4 to $23

Children's shoes

$3 to $10


$3 to $14


$40 to $395

Vacuum cleaner

$5 to $70


$1 to $10

Data source: goodwillnne.org.

Those seemingly small values can add up. If you donate 20 shirts, 10 pairs of pants, 10 sweaters, 10 pairs of shoes, 4 suits, and a few pieces of furniture, you can easily end up with tax deductions worth $1,000 or more. If you're in the 25% tax bracket, you're looking at $250 in reduced taxes. Many of us can probably come up with far more clothes and other items to donate than that. I have started making trips to a local drop-off center and have several receipts worth hundreds of dollars.

Investments lost

Finally, consider what might have been. If I hadn't spent so much on stuff, I'd have had more money in my accounts and more money would likely have gone into my investments. If I'd donated many items sooner, I'd have paid less in taxes and would have been able to invest more money. If I'd not spent several thousand dollars on a storage unit... again, more could have gone to my retirement savings. Here's how much you might accumulate over certain periods if you can free up certain sums each year and invest them, earning an average annual return of 8%:

Saved and invested annually

Over 10 years at 8% grows to:

Over 20 years at 8% grows to:

Over 30 years at 8% grows to:













Calculations by author.

Clearly, my habit of collecting books and movies and clothes and other items has cost me -- a lot. As I pare down my belongings in 2017, I hope that having too much stuff won't be a regret in 2018. If you're saddled with lots of stuff, too, think about whether you want to do something about it.