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Friday, October 26, 2012

Use the Chore Quotient Before You Buy to Prevent Clutter

Pat Jeffries of the Oregonian has come up with a formula to keep us from buying items that will just sit on the shelf. It's called a Chore Quotient. Read on ...

"We all know that the best way to fight clutter is to bring fewer things into the house, but that's easier said than done. Still, there's one category of stuff that's especially crucial to keep out -- those things that from the start are doomed to end up gathering dust. 

'From the start,' of course, is with the benefit of hindsight, when we look back and realize we never should have bought that breadmaker or chain saw.  But it can often be hard, when we're caught up in buying mode, to see that the thing will never pan out for us.

So, the Chore Quotient is one way to identify at least a subgroup of  things that are best left on the store shelves. It's a measure of the item's potential for creating chores. Here's my formula:

Chore Quotient = Time required to maintain the item multiplied by degree of displeasure or difficulty (on a scale where 1 is pleasant and 10 is unbearable). The higher the CQ, the less likely you are to keep up with using it. 

That might mean clothing or linens that require ironing or dry cleaning; dishware that must be hand-washed; bird feeders that need regular cleaning to protect avian health; and so on.

For me, high-CQ items tend to be power tools, which I buy in an effort to make tasks easier. But if a tool isn't intuitive to use -- if I have to review the manual when I haven't used the tool for a while -- then, usually quite soon, it will fade into the background and never be used again. Result: money lost, clutter gained. Then there are the books I buy to learn something that I think I should know but that bores me; those books linger reproachfully on the shelf, unread. 

Your own high-CQ items may be quite different, but the general idea applies.  When you're about to buy something, in addition to the usual questions about the item's cost-benefit ratio and ecological footprint, ask whether it will be a chore to use or maintain, and if so, how annoying a chore. This judgment is, necessarily, subjective. Take, for example, adopting a pet: This may add a lot of chores, but since most of them are pleasant (brushing a cat, walking a dog), the CQ for many of us seems low. (OK, disposing of that dead mouse on your doorstep isn't fun, but nothing's perfect.)

So, next time you're tempted to buy, especially some big-ticket item, pause and take a mental peek at the future. You just might change your mind." 

More on preventing clutter:

Zero Trash in a Year - Could You Do It?

An Easy Way to Change Your Address or Eliminate Unwanted Paper Mail

6 Ways to Prevent Yourself from Bringing Clutter Home