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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.

Artificial Frugality

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.

The Solution

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.


27 Responses to A Treatise on Toolmonger Hoarding and Artificial Frugality

  1. Kurt says:

    Another alternative is to donate that extra stuff to Habitat for Humanity or some other worthy charity. I have one of their ReStores nearby, so the somewhat useable scraps and redundant tools can find a new home, and the good feeling of giving offsets the agony of getting rid of something that might just, someday, be useful.

    • Chuck Cage says:

      Awesome thought, Kurt. FWIW, I’ve been putting together a donate pile, too, but I’m trying to be careful not to donate junk or stuff that they’ll just have to get rid of for me. 🙂

  2. Fong says:

    For material, I provide a fixed amount of space; one bin, one shelf. All scraps and cutoffs must fit in those 2 areas; exception panel products.

    For tools, my space is also limited. My rule (or more an association rule) is 2 cars must fit in the garage at all times. This significantly limits large tools and also limits how many cabinets/shelves I can have for smaller ones.

    Space is a great limiter. It provides an easy visual indicator so long as you don’t violate it by taking space elsewhere (as a real hoarder would do).

  3. Brian says:

    I am in the same boat. We have a two car garage in Fort Worth. I make myself keep both cars in it. Limits the amount of space for hoarding. I just cut all my scrap plywood and mdf into either 2’x4′ or 4’x’4 sections. Easier to use and fine. Also, came up with some projects for the scrap.

    As for tools, I try to give away old tools for people starting out when I replace them with better ones, or sell them on craigslist. With that being said, I do have a black and decker 18volt I never use anymore, but can’t throw it away because I have 4 batteries for it… none which hold a charge.

  4. gary z says:

    I moved from a real three stall garage shop to a “modern” two stall garage which should not be called a two stall at all unless you’re parking a couple of Yugos. Another story.
    I keep a lot of hardwoods, and when my wife announced the wood shed had to go to make room for a new garden house I was pretty much screwed on space and had to make a ton of room. I pared down the hardwoods, I only keep a hundred or so BF now, and store it in racks up high. I also cut back on tools, (do you really need 6 PC 690’s?) and donated them to a local school. I also got rid of bushel baskets of hardware. Again donated to a school. I do keep my miter saw and planer (mounted on Home Depot MSUV units) in a shed next to the driveway. All other machines are mobile and have a place on the perimeter of the shop. I now only buy what I need for the project and NO more. If a new tool is purchased the old one goes.
    One thing I do that is very critical, I clean up each day when I leave the shop. It’s swept and ALL scrap goes out in a bin to be used for the Weber. Keeping the shop clean will eliminate piles of stuff, make it safer, and make it more fun to start the day.

  5. Brice says:

    I just took over management of a maintenance department for an bank with eight branches. I’ve got three full time employees that have been there for over 5 years. Most of them can’t tell me where to find a tape measure, let alone spare parts for the teller drive up equipment. I spent half a day cleaning out my back office and low and behold I found a conference table, side table with coffee maker, a safe, and four working printers plus two desks nobody knew we had. I’ve spent the last three months throwing away/recycling things like contactors with burned up points, copper fittings greener than the Statue of Liberty, and wood with so much oil soaked into it that I’d be afraid to cut it for fear of setting it on fire. I had one guy with 200+(!) spare outlets from a remodel the company did six years ago. Don’t you think 10-15 used outlets would cover your occasional need to replace a broken one? For a country with a disposable everything culture, we sure do save a lot of junk!

    • gary z says:

      Feel your pain Brice. I ran maintenance shops for a major retailer for 20 years. I had five shops in 6 states. All but one had to be cleaned out when I started managing them, and probably filled up a minimum of 10 40 yard dumpsters between them. Each tech also had their own van…That was another hurdle keeping them cleaned out.

  6. jesse says:

    Chuck, next time you are getting rid of stuff, give me e call and I’ll be right over. I can still see some floor in my workroom.

  7. Kevin says:

    just filled a 1 ton dumpster this past fall.Lot of stuff left over from years of projects. Cleaned out the basement/shop, garage, attic. Now I keep all spare building supplies for repairs, sheathing, lumber, pipes, gutters, etc all hanging in rafters out of sight in the garage.

  8. Anton says:

    Can I have all the stuff you guys are throwing away?

    Just kidding, but I definitely have a problem too but it hasn’t gotten too bad yet so we’ll see. My biggest one is Harbor Freight and buying stuff I could use one day because its %90 off today.

  9. Toolfreak says:

    Guilty as hell. I save a lot of junk just in case, and buy tools I don’t need just because they’re super cheap. The tools usually come in handy, the junk sometimes does too.

    I’ve never, ever gotten into the storage problem though. If I have so much stuff I’d need to rent a storage unit, I’d throw away junk and donate the good stuff I don’t need. Rarely is storage ever economical. It makes sense even less often, unless maybe you’re moving and need a place to put stuff in the meantime.

    I’ll probably always have more tools than I need or use, but it seems to work out, sometimes I sell off the ones I haven’t used for years and they turn out to be worth a lot more than I originally paid (this is especially true of all the USA-made stuff I’ve bought over the past decade or so) so I turn a big profit at the same time I clear space.

    Generally though I’d agree, it’s better to stick to the tools and materials you can use, rent or borrow the stuff you only need for one job, and don’t save too much stuff ‘just in case’.

    The savings not just in money, but in safety and stress relief is worth it.

  10. Dr. Bob says:

    Periodically, I do a purge of wood scraps, and the last year, we collected scrap metal, glass and old electronic gear and took it to a recycler. I keep buckets to collect scrap metal, glass, rubber/plastics and electronic stuff and when they’re full we take it for recycling/disposal.

    Back in June, our property was hit by a small tornado and is in the process of being repaired. While the mess was tied up for months with a stubborn insurance carrier, we cleaned up 28 trees that were destroyed and as part of the cleanup we gathered scrap metal, shingles, plastic from a garden shed, glass from broken windows, etc. We also had to get rid of lots of stuff after losing two sheds – had to make room somewhere.

    The repairs to the house are continuing and we are making significant improvements too. We’re replacing nearly all of the windows so we have many surplus double-pane sashes and around 20 Cole-Sewell aluminum storm windows. Plus we replaced an wood entry door.

    We’ll try to find a used building supply store in Rochester or the Twin Cities and see if we can given them away. If not, we’ll separate the glass out and recycle the aluminum.

    In the attic and in the granary, there are vintage trim boards, doors, light fixtures, stair railings and mop boards, which may or may not be usable for restoration. For now, we’re keeping everything that can’t be easily replaced, the rest goes to our burn pit.

    Last, I have acquired a lot of duplicate tools. I had my own, then my dad died and I got a lot of his, then my wife’s dad died and we got some of his tools. Plus, like most people, I’ve bought some el cheapo tools. Someday, an inventory and reorganization is needed. The duplicates go on sale on eBay, the junk tools go in the recycle bin.

    Oddly enough, I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a needle-nose pliers that I remember buying in 1973. In a cabinet, behind me is a set of Xcelite screwdrivers and a set of Xcelite nutdrivers purchase back in 1971. Amazing how long good tools will last.

  11. ToolCollector says:

    How about joining or starting a community workshop (makerspace/hackerspace/fablab) this way you can scale back on your own workshop, get access to bigger machines and meet with likeminded people in your neighborhood.

    Any surplus tools and materials are likely to come good use in such a place.

  12. paul says:

    Donations are certialy a good idea. Another more profitable one is to keep a scrap bin for metal items and just take them to a scrap buyer when you have more than you’ll use. If you are taking the ‘junk’ to a scap buyer you can even store it outside, who care of its gets wet… I know some places piles of scap in the yard is not acceptable but it works for me. If something isnt valuable enough to take up garage space but is too valuable to throw away it can be covered with a $2 tarp and left in the yard.

    • browndog77 says:

      Most any volunteer fire co. would be happy to take scrap metal off your hands, and if you have tools that are still viable, they, too, are welcome additions to the engine room.

  13. Jerry says:

    I think this article points out that as folks that use tools, we really hate to get rid of anything. As was said, “I may need this someday. I have to admit that I still have my first cordless DeWalt drill/driver. Metal case! 2 batteries, etc. I think I used it about 3 or 4 years ago. However, that was just to see if it still worked. It did! I don’t know today if the batteries will hold a charge or not.
    Then I have all those tools I bought to use just one time because it was better than renting. Great example is my drywall screwdriver – takes coils of screws. I bought it when I was finishing my shop/garage. $100 tool and it saved me hours of driving screws. Used it once and parked it on a shelf. Maybe I’ll use it someday.

  14. Captured Shadow says:

    It is time to clear out my basement. Mostly because I want to add a second washer so laundry will go faster. But there are some things (pneumatic flooring nailer,-etc) that I should donate to my local tool library. If I ever do more flooring, I can check it out from them.

  15. Mike Lee says:

    I have been collecting tools for over 30 years. Now I buy and sell them still adding to my personal collection.Since I buy and sell, my tools are free or cost very little. However, my garage is full to the max. I have little space to do any thing. I have so many tool boxes and bags in my garage, I can’t count them. I didn’t mention the tools I store in my house. Good thing I have a good wife. I can’t part with the old tools made in America, because it’s history. What I plan or need to do is buy one very large tool box, fill it up and sell the remaining. If I buy a tool, I must sell one. This is a good subject, becaue I know have a problem.

  16. joe homeowner says:

    I happened to love all my tools, lumber scraps, and all my other stuff. My entire home is neat and well organised. My mom and dad all always taught me to never buy what I couldn’t afford or need. Sometimes my heart pulls me to buy something I don’t need. We have so much thrown at us all the time. “GET THIS WHILE YOU CAN AT THIS PRICE” Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  17. Ironherder says:

    Well, late to the party, again. Which is normal. But I intend to stay on topic, which isn’t.

    I completely agree with the rational arguments presented by Mr. Cage, although he didn’t mention hoarding a few pieces of dimensional lumber and keeping a basic set of hand tools. Also, I would assume that tools that couldn’t be replaced on short notice, that is, no longer manufactured, would be exempt.

    But I shall not follow Mr. Cage on his path of rationality, for these reasons:

    Most importantly, I enjoy collecting & hoarding, and planning & organizing. That I have the required tools and supplies at the ready for any number of projects is largely irrelevant to me. Nor do I worry that my collecting & hoarding has outstripped planning & organizing. It is usually sufficient to find just one of my eight or so power drills.

    Second, based on sad personal experience, any financial savings would be long gone when I finally had the time and inclination for the next project. So having a scrap pile enables me to actually start & complete projects within the stretched family budget.

    Finally, I am making preparations to have working tool sets ready for each of my five children, which explains the large number of sockets, but not much else.


  18. Brad Justinen says:

    I keep everything scrapped out and organized. an old drill will be scrapped for the bearings, switches, and chuck if its still good.

  19. El Jefe says:

    You guys are killing me sending this stuff to the landfill.
    Keeping stuff and reusing it (sometimes a couple of times) is what recycling really is all about.
    Definition of junk: Stuff you hang onto for years then throw out only to discover you need it a couple weeks later!
    Organize your junk and be savvy with what you save, for one day you might need it. If you don’t need it then donate to someone who does. Post it on Craigslist and it’ll be gone quickly for free.

  20. Josh says:

    Join a tool library.
    I love the one near me (http://wstoollibrary.org/).

    Don’t have one locally? Start one!

    All that said, I still have way to much crap…

  21. Shopmonger says:

    I have the rule of 3….
    1. if I touch an Item more than 3 times to move it out of the way to get to another item, I toss it….
    2. If I have an item over 3/4 of a year, it gets tossed in the 4th quarter….
    3. I dedicate space to these items, If that space needs to increase, I refer to the previously rules, before even considering making more space for these items.

  22. Charlie says:

    Great article Chuck! I like the way you applied the concept of opportunity cost to tool hoarding. Every time we choose to do one thing, we are (by default) choosing not to do another. Couldn’t be more true than in the case of old power tools. I think I’m inspired to go sell or donate a couple of those extra drills I’ve been hanging on to…

  23. Raul says:

    I love seeing frugality rule in the world of tools. It’s easy to hoard tools and not bat at eye at it, but when people make every effort to rehab a tool or use it’s features to the fullest, that’s really what is special.

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