We’re not at all like those “crazy” people on TV, right? I mean, it’s not like we keep a collection of 25,000 popsicle sticks, or retain the box for every single light bulb we ever buy. Of course, we do keep that leftover piece of scrap wood. And metal. Hey — that stuff is expensive! We’ll use it eventually. And don’t forget the specialty blade set for the table saw. And that awesome (rarely-used) power tool we scored at the flea market.
Actually, more than a few of the people I know through the tool world would easily qualify as hoarders, at least by the definition of “norms” not initiated to our world. In fact, I’ll admit it: I am (well, was) a Toolmonger hoarder. I fixed that this weekend. Read on to find out why — and how.
At Toolmonger, we’re notorious cheap-asses. We write about cheap-ass tools, and we’re always on the prowl for a way to get the job done cheaper and easier. As such, we try very hard not to be wasteful. Sometimes, this really pays off, like when we pull the perfect piece of scrap from the bin to complete a project. But sometimes — actually, often — it goes wrong. I suspect the process goes something like this:
We need to be frugal, so we’re spring-loaded to make decisions that sate that need. We take a look at, for example, the old cordless drill with the mostly-dead cells (which we recently replaced with a brand new model) and think, “You know, it’d cost me a fortune to buy another one of these. I know. I just did. There might come a time when I need two, or when I want to give one to someone to help me complete a job. If that happened, I’d either be screwed, or I’d have to spend a lot of cash. So I’ll hang on to this one just in case.” Then we put it on a shelf and walk away happy, mentally tallying up the savings.
Over time, we end up with so much scrap and spare stuff that the shop actually gets smaller. We have to move the stuff around in order to make work space. Sometimes we throw it in a storage unit to make space, either because we don’t have the time to sort it all or because we can’t bring ourselves to get rid of it.
I’m guilty as hell. I have a storage unit full of tools and scrap, and my garage was pretty well stuffed, too. Over the holidays I sat down and actually thought about how much money I’ve spent over the last decade storing that stuff, both in the unit and around the house. The number was frankly staggering. For what I’ve paid out of pocket I could have bought all new stuff. Or better yet, I could have bought better stuff.
That happy feeling you get when you throw something in the “keep” bin? Most of the time it’s not frugality. It’s artificial frugality. It feels right, but it’s dead wrong.
I’m starting by modifying my sense of frugality to look at the longer-term picture. In short, I’m going to calculate my break-even point. Assuming I lose, say, 30-50% of the value, how long would it take before I pay more to store it than to sell and re-buy it? If I don’t have a known need before that break-even point, I’ll sell the tool. If selling it won’t make enough of a difference to the break-even point to be worth the effort, I’ll give it away or throw it away. Period.
Corollary: I’ll take into account the “cost” of storing it in my own garage or house, too. Even though that might not represent out-of-pocket expense, it still represents opportunity cost as I could use that space for other purposes. It also represent mental anguish at being smothered in crap.
Next, I’ve already rented (and filled) a 20-yard dumpster with all the crap from the garage that I needed to get rid of. I carried the idea into the house as well, emptying tech items and other things I’ve kept around for years. I’ll write up a post on the dumpster rental experience separately, but it’s easy and simple.
Finally, I’m going to work hard going forward to embrace a lower-profile way of Toolmongering. Can I borrow a tool? Can I rent it? If not, can I plan the buy and sell up front around the project? Sure, it’s nice to know that you have everything you need to do anything ready at hand. But that expense is something that I just don’t need.
How About You?
What’s your experience with collecting (and over-collecting) tools and materials? Any specific experiences you’d like to share we’d love to see in comments. I know some will likely give me crap for this as some local friends already have. Sure, it’s funny that I have crap in my house and shop that I moved in with eight and a half years ago. But I know for a fact others do, too. Hell, some of the crap I threw out was leftover junk from other projects some of my local compadres left behind.
Here’s to a cleaner, leaner future.