Is Your Purchase an Asset or a Drain?

Want to avoid bringing clutter into your home in the first place?  Start thinking differently about your purchases.  

Here's a question I ask:  Is the item I want to purchase going to be an asset, or is it going to be a drain?

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What is an asset?

An asset enhances your life and is more than worth the cost and effort of acquisition, storage, and upkeep.

A purchase that becomes an asset allows you to have more time and energy for the important things in your life.  It provides efficiency, or a measurable return on your investment.  An asset provides more time, money, happiness, or energy than was taken to obtain it.

Ask these questions about items you want to acquire:
  • Does it help create more time?
  • Does it help generate income or help save money?
  • Does it align with your values and what you want out of life?
  • Does it bring joy, happiness, and fulfillment into your life?

Examples of asset purchases:

  • Better cookware, knives, or an appliance you will regularly use to more easily create healthy, home cooked meals, saving tons of money over restaurant meals.
  • A high quality suit that fits, flatters, and gives you confidence for a job interview, and that you will regularly wear on the job.  A new hair style or a professional manicure might accomplish the same thing.
  • Hobby tools or equipment that you will use to spend more time doing something you enjoy while creating beautiful and useful items for yourself, as gifts, or even for sale.
  • A bicycle that allows you to get back and forth to work and run errands, thus saving the cost of buying and maintaining a car while allowing you to get regular exercise.
  • A car that's well within your budget, is reliable and gets great gas mileage, is inexpensive to insure, and that you plan to drive for many years.
  • A book that inspires and motivates you to take positive steps in your life, or that helps you relax, laugh, imagine, or learn.

What is a drain?

In contrast to an asset, a drain becomes clutter; it won't enhance your life.

A purchase that becomes a drain requires more time, money, or energy than it returns.  A drain requires the energy it took to earn the money to purchase it in the first place, and it continues to take energy to maintain or organize, or to earn more money to purchase upgrades or replacement parts.  An item is also a drain if it winds up gathering dust or sitting unused in the back of a closet or other storage area.

Ask these questions about items you want to acquire:
  • Does it require spending more money or time to maintain?
  • Does it take up space that you need to pay money for (such as a larger house or a storage unit)?
  • Does it help you get closer or further away from your life goals?
  • Does it have a future as a well-used, valuable possession?
  • Does it create freedom and flexibility or a burden in your life?

Examples of drain purchases:

  • A house that you buy because you're sick of renting, in an area you don't plan to live in for more than a couple of years, and that you are going to want to immediately begin to remodel and upgrade.
  • Fancy china or glassware that you think will impress your in-laws when they come for the holidays, that can't go in the dishwasher and so will never be used except for "special occasions."
  • A china hutch in which to store the fancy dinnerware so that it's on display, impressive but not useful.  Now you have an unnecessary piece of furniture to dust, with glass doors to clean, that will be a pain to move.
  • A d├ęcor item that follows the latest trend but doesn't reflect your personal style.  It caught your eye in the big box store, but is destined to become something to ignore unless you dust it or move it out of the way to use the table it's sitting on.
  • Fast fashion that may be in style but doesn't flatter your coloring and body type, that is a pain to wash or that requires dry cleaning, and that will be shoved to the back of your closet within a few weeks or months.
  • Hobby tools or equipment that you think will inspire you or make you look like an "expert" at the hobby, but that will sit unused because you only have a fantasy about being good at that activity; for example, an expensive new sewing machine when you're only just learning, or a new set of pro-endorsed golf clubs when you only play once a month.
  • A car that you have to lease because it's really more than you can afford, that doesn't get good gas mileage even though you have a 50-mile commute, and that is expensive to insure and maintain.
  • A book that is going to sit in a pile or help fill a shelf, instead of being read.

A clear choice

Asking these questions will help you distinguish the assets from the drains, and will help keep clutter from entering your life.  One bad or excessive purchase might not undermine your values and goals, but a habit of bad purchases will trap you in clutter and debt.  Consistent good choices will support the life you want.

Updated March 2023


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