Making a tidy profit from clutter

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter, BBC News

image captionSome people try to sell belongings if they cannot transport them

One of Albert Einstein's rules of work was to find simplicity out of clutter.

Suggest that to someone surrounded by their belongings when they move home, and they will probably throw something at you.

There seems to be nothing simple about clearing a house and deciding what to throw out.

As a result, this means extra business for self-storage companies in the UK, with their warehouses now a common sight on the outskirts of towns and cities.

One group - Safestore - recently reported a 26% rise in space let in the three months to July compared with the same quarter the previous year. Revenue was up 9% in the same period to £22.9m.

Moving market

So why do people hire a storage space in an out-of-town warehouse rather than simply throwing things out?

Part of the answer lies in the state of the housing market.

Safestore suggests that a rise in the number of homeowners selling up before buying a new property has led to a record rise in self-storage spaces being let.

While many may use friends or relations' homes and garages to store bulky furniture, others will use costlier storage companies while stuck between properties.

Jonathan Moore, director of flat-finding website Easyroommate, says that hiring a room in a flat or house share can actually be a cheaper way of storing excess possessions - even if the owners of these items do not live there themselves.

Another clue to our overwhelming amount of possessions can be found in the make-up of society today.

Many adults buy a home, or rent an unfurnished flat, long before they get married. When they tie the knot, or cohabit, couples find they have got two televisions, two washing machines and so on.

Those trends are reflected in the number of one-person households in the UK. This has risen from 18% of all households in 1971 to 29% now, according to the Social Trends survey from the Office for National Statistics.

Making space

People in the UK also tend to be more mobile than in years gone by, both with their choice of jobs and their choice of homes.

image captionMoving home can be among the most stressful experiences in life

Young, single professionals tend to look for flatshares to spread the cost of rent and bills. Mr Moore, of Easyroommate, says that anyone looking to escape a hoarding habit should look to these people for inspiration.

"The average flatsharer moves six times in their renting career, staying at each new home for just over a year and a quarter," he says.

"Most, until they rent their own property, simply do not have the space to build up large heaps of possessions."

When they move home, many give away their possessions on websites such as Freecycle, he says, or sell them for knock-down prices on internet auction sites. This is to avoid the costs of transporting these items to their new home.

"For many, there is no substitute for ruthless Spring-clean tactics before moving - where renters consign as many non-valuable, bulky and often forgotten possessions to the skip as possible before moving," Mr Moore says.

Yet, this is not easy for hoarders who have persistent difficulty in throwing things away.

"This difficulty is not necessarily related to the value of the possessions," says Dr Lovemore Nyatanga, a psychology lecturer at the University of Derby.

"Most hoarders are not pathological. They just cannot make a firm decision to throw away things.

"Sometimes there is the sense that these things may be needed later or that a more appropriate time for discarding things will arrive, somewhat magically. It is just indecision.

"For some people there may also be the actual distress associated with discarding things, so that keeping them seems strangely reassuring."


Earlier this year, a 59-year-old man from Surrey won the right to continue hoarding tonnes of rubbish in his garden.

image captionThis painting was discovered in an elderly woman's attic and sold for thousands

This is one of a number of cases in which people have stored so much in their homes that it has spilled outside.

Researchers have linked such extreme hoarding to obsessive compulsive disorder and a team at the University of Iowa pinpointed a region in the frontal lobe of the brain that could be responsible.

For those with a less extreme problem, life coach Julie Crowley, from Oldham, offers some tips on throwing things out:

  • Make a list. Set a clear goal of what to clear out
  • Work out if children or friends can help out
  • Do it in easy chunks so it does not seem so daunting
  • Be realistic and set a time to start and finish, so you can buy rubber gloves and the like in advance

She adds that people should reward themselves when they complete each room and they should enjoy themselves in the process.

"Make it fun. It is your choice to do it," she says.

"Enjoy music while you work; dance around the house - whatever it takes to make it work for you."

Yet there is one story that acts as a warning for those getting too enthusiastic about throwing things out.

A 75-year-old Surrey woman was clearing out her attic when she found two oil paintings earlier this year.

She wanted to throw the two works by Australian artist William Blamire Young into the bin but was stopped by a neighbour.

They had been bought by the woman's father 60 years ago, but were kept in the attic because her mother did not like them.

In September, they sold at auction for £49,250.

Sometimes, it seems, an untidy mind could bring a tidy profit.

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