Green Living Tip – Don’t Store It, Sell It
I’ve learned a lot from 30+ years of being a waste stream management consultant.
We all have stuff, most of us have clutter. Whether it is in our home or at work, things slowly appear around us, filling the open spaces. It’s a mysterious wind that blows chaos into our lives, like snow drifting in around our feet. It leaves us wondering, Where did all this crap come from?
At work, we create a thing I call “cold clutter.” Our clean, organized, work surfaces, like our desks or workbenches, become covered by the day’s business. Then, because time is short, we create another archaeological layer of the next day’s work on top of the previous one. And so on, and so on. It’s like this paper creature multiplies by itself, asexually. At some point, we open our eyes and realize we have lost control of our desks. Like a scene from cheap monster movie, “It’s alive!”
We do the same thing at home. But here, we keep the “warm clutter,” the things we’re emotionally attached to. If we tend to be insecure, we keep everything. We love stuff. In return, it accepts us, unconditionally. It doesn’t talk back. It’s non-confrontational. It’s dependable, always there when we need it. Our clutter becomes an extension of ourselves.
We Help You Clean Up Your Act
As an energy and waste stream consultant, I enter homes, businesses, and factories that are stifled almost to a halt by stuff. I see the investment that has been made to buy it, and the lack of investment in controlling it. Storerooms and closets are so full, no one knows what’s in there. No one can find it. No one can get to it.
So, we invest in buying more. We over-buy. We waste more energy. We waste more space. We waste more resources. The equipment in our storerooms has to be heated and cooled. We move a hundred things to get one thing out. We buy containers to put stuff in. We move stuff from one container or shelf to another, handling each piece over and over again. Every time something is moved, it risks getting damaged. We inventory it. We keep it on the books, filling computer space and ledger entries. We hire more people to manage the tonnage, or the data, or we rent more space to store more stuff. We spend money to waste money.
So, what do you do when you have to walk sideways down corridors of stuff packed to the ceiling in your home or business? (If you haven’t seen it, trust me; it happens.) That’s when families and CEOs call me. By the time I get involved, things are usually out of control. It’s time for an intervention. When you wait this long, it costs a lot more than if you had just controlled everything from the start. By this time, most of what you have stored is no longer an asset, it’s a liability. Adding up all the costs through the life of a single stored item, you easily may have spent ten times your original investment.
A common practice of old school management was to just “dump it all,” and start over. Managers who practice this autocratic “flushing the toilet” mentality should be flushed as well. Nothing should be thrown away. Dumping does not correct the problem, it makes the problem worse. Every item I pull out of storage needs to be evaluated to see if it is recyclable, reusable, or resalable. Every electronic item needs to have its memory erased, and every item needs to be evaluated for toxicity. “Dumping” places your company at a huge liability risk.
Avoid the Landfill Like the Plague
The key term here is “Landfill Avoidance.” Someday, it will be the responsibility of every manufacturer to take back everything it produces once the buyer is done with it. This will force designers to create simple, cost effective ways to separate materials for recycling. If a manufacturer is forced to handle everything they build from “cradle to cradle,” less oil will be needed, less ore will be mined. And we’ll be that much closer to achieving sustainability.
Until then, it is our responsibility. We buyers have to make sure items get to licensed de-manufacturers, that everything gets reused, and nothing, or very little, goes to the landfill. It’s not just because the landfills are filing up; it’s not just because using raw materials produces much more carbon dioxide; it is simply because our planet is running out of resources.
At home, it’s the responsibility of every shopper to evaluate the full life of what you buy. How am I going to recycle this when I am done with it? How many years will I be able to use this? Should I buy cheap or spend more and have it last longer? Or better yet, can I do without this item all together? Essentially, stop buying so much crap. One good thing about this new failing economy is that it is making us all live more simply. You can stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Jones are unemployed too. The old adage, “Shop till you drop” is reserved for executives at AIG.
Imagine what it takes in energy and materials to produce something. I apologize that I cannot find the reference source of something I recently read. It stated that it takes 2,000 times the volume, in weight and mass, in resources, to make a single car. And that over the life of that car, it will take 4,000 times its volume in weight and mass to operate it. Remember, everything you buy exponentially takes away from the earth.
This is most true of businesses. The purchasing agent for your business should begin requesting “End Cycle” terms in the purchase contracts for everything you buy. More and more producers are going in that direction. Dell, Apple and IBM will all be offering return programs for their computers next year. When I approach a business, I suggest that the Inventory Specialist keep a running tally of the resale values of every item their company is depreciating on its books. This can be done in a few seconds by going to eBay.
Most accounting formulas do not take into account that electronic, medical and research equipment is outdated almost the day you buy it. If your business is, say a hospital, and you are required to use only the most up-to-date medical and research equipment, you need to have a full-time staff person checking the daily resale values of that equipment. Three of my rules are: “Buy Quality,” “Sell before it costs,” and “Never store electronic equipment.”
The only products that an average business office should store are toilet paper and typing paper (and maybe some janitorial equipment). Space is too expensive to waste on anything else. “People space” is more valuable than storage space. And data should not be stored on paper, it should be stored digitally.
This also means businesses should look seriously at what they are storing. Today, “Out of Sight, Out of mind,” means “Money Out of Pocket.” I inevitably run into managers who say, “Don’t sell that, I might need it.” I ask them how many dollars could be made from that same square footage if it were put into production.
A few years ago, the rule of thumb in storage was, “If you haven’t used it for a year, get rid of it.” Today, if you wait a year before you sell it, it may not have any value at all and may even cost you to get rid of it. I’ve recently consulted with manufacturers who were still storing equipment from the 1980s. Because they didn’t sell valuable equipment while it still had value, and because they kept equipment “they might need someday,” some of that equipment became too costly to get rid of. They stored their businesses almost into bankruptcy.
Evaluate Your Options
With the economy the way it is, no home, business, or factory can afford to waste a thing, especially space. At your home, sell or recycle what you have not used or worn for a year. Yes, you have to pull everything out of your closets and separate the things you know you can live without. But nothing gets dumped. Take good clothing to resellers. Have a yard sale. What you can’t sell, give away on Freecycle or the charity of your choice. If nobody wants it, put it on the curb with a $100.00 sign on it; odds are, it will disappear. If you haven’t waited too long, the ratio of what’s resaleable-to-reusable-to-trash should be 50-45-5%.
At your business, evaluate the resale value of electronic equipment every six months. Evaluate desks and furniture every year, and manufacturing equipment every two years. Go to e-Bay and see how much those things are selling for. Check out LabX for scientific equipment. If the cash gained from selling your stored inventory will help you buy something you actually need, you’ve gained twofold.
If you’re storing enough to fill a room, check the cost per square foot for the space you are using against the cost of a storage facility. If you really need to keep that stuff, a storage facility is likely to be less expensive than the prime business space the stuff occupies now. But don’t forget to add the cost of moving and retrieval. In general, storage facilities are a money drain. It’s almost always more cost effective to sell what you are storing. Capitalize your unused equipment; don’t store it.
During hard times, people tend to hoard. It’s a security thing. But, this is also the time when people are looking for bargains. New stuff isn’t selling. Used stuff is. This is the time to stay very aware of what you have, what you need to keep, and what you can liquidate. Every dollar counts. Live lighter. Clean out your your closets and your storerooms. Shop conservatively, and sell wisely.
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