Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's the little things: 5 ways to spend less and reduce clutter

I was at Target the other day, and standing in front of me in line was a gentleman buying a plunger. That's it. A plunger. While I really should have been feeling bad for him, because after all, the poor guy was out on a plunger run, I found myself staring at him in wonder, dazzled by his ability to get out of Target with only one darn thing.
You see, had I been on a plunger run, I would have somehow managed to also scoop up some ballet flats, random office supplies, a soy candle or two, a hand towel, a tank top, some Play Doh for the kids, an impractical scarf… aaaand my bill would have been $100 of weird little items + a plunger. It never fails. But the buck stops here. Literally. I'm kicking off 2013 with the goal of getting back to my minimalist roots. I used to be quite frugal, but over the last few years I've lost my way. So, my goal is to greatly reduce the amount of new items I bring into my home and hopefully save money, because as much as I enjoy donating things, I feel wasteful constantly cleaning out and sorting through stuff, much of which I never needed in the first place.
Since my shopping tends to be rather unfocused, a lot like mindless snacking, I realized I first needed a clear plan to tackle my goal. My plan is to follow the 5 steps listed below as a way to develop more mindful spending habits. I'd like to think that one day I too will join the ranks of those wise individuals who can leave Target with only a plunger, ignoring the siren song of colorful office supplies and laughing in the face of impractical scarves.
Check out the following 5 steps and feel free to offer any additional suggestions.
1. Control "clutter cravings". According to The Clutter Diet, we all have areas of weakness when it comes to spending. It could be a collectible, housewares, shoes, magazines, beauty products, and so on. After a quick run through of my home, I pinpointed three key areas where I do too much impulse buying, which in turn leads to clutter. My weaknesses are books, small toys for my kids, and clothes for the whole family. It seems so obvious, but writing down exactly what I buy too much of makes me feel more accountable. I now clearly see that these are areas where I need to exert more control, and I can be mindful of this moving forward.
2. Follow the time rule. Meg Favreau from Wisebread (via MSN Money) notes that one of the most effective ways to control impulse buying is to make yourself wait before buying something. So, rather than tossing something into the basket, tell yourself you'll come back to it in 20 minutes, or tomorrow, or next week. I like this approach because it calls for some reflection before buying and a chance to cool down from the initial excitement of spotting a shiny new thing. Plus, I'm sure the satisfaction of not coming back to an item far outweighs the instant gratification of impulse buying.
3. Shop with a list. This seems like a no-brainer, but so often I run to the store with a mental list, not a written list. Funny thing about mental lists, they're very easy to add to, aren't they? As the Everyday Minimalist points out, "One of the best things you can do to stay on your spending diet is to shop with a list… if it isn't on the list, don't get it". Amen.
4. Reward yourself with experiences instead of things. Upon reflection, I realize I do buy things as a pick-me-up. I'll buy a new sweater as a treat after finishing a tough assignment for work, or purchase a book on a whim after a stressful day (when I have countless books sitting around that I haven't yet read), and I'm routinely tossing little things for my kids into the shopping cart, with the thought, 'oh, it's only $5', or 'it's on sale.' But I do these things far too frequently, which = clutter and mindless consumerism. I really don't want to continue down this path. The article 21 Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself Right Now lists some nice ways to relax and reward yourself through experiences, like savoring a glass of wine, visiting someplace new, exercise or a walk, or reading a new book (from the library!). In the words of Thoreau,"Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit..."
5. Think before you buy. This tip is also from The Clutter Diet, and I like the approach of framing each purchase with a few relevant questions:
• Who can I borrow this from or share this with?
• What do I already have that is like this item?
• Where will I store this item?
• When will I have time to use it and maintain it?
• Why do I need this item?
Hopefully these steps will help get me back on track with my spending and help keep out needless clutter. Have you ever changed your spending/shopping habits? Please share any tips below.
A Message from Me -
      So that anyone who reads this isn't misled, I, Donna of My Life. One Story at a Time. did not write this article. I could have, but I didn't. I was actually thinking of writing a similar post for my blog when I came across this article. I am glad that so many people are commenting and feel that it is just as important to them as it is to me. 
       I regularly purge and clean out and one of my goals (after looking at my bulging closet) in 2013, was not to buy unnecessary items - clothes or otherwise. It's actually been fun so far (I know - it's still January!) but I've been busy mixing and matching the items in my closet to make new outfits. The same holds true for the pantry - I'm making up all sorts of new dishes with ingredients that are just hanging around. I can say that it does stretch the imagination at times!
       Michelle brought up some good points in her response and I wanted to address them. "How do you stick to your plan?"  Well - I always go with a list and if I see something I want, I think about and walk around a bit and ask myself a few questions - why do I want it?, where will I store it?, will it be something I'll get tired of quickly? and do I already have something similar? That normally does the trick. You can also shoot a pic of it and although you didn't "buy" it, you have it (surprisingly enough, it works). Then, if you find you just cannot live without it, you can always go back to the store.
      So, keep the comments coming - we can all learn from each other.
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  1. Oh I am so with you on this. I have forever been a minimalist and only because early on I was educated about land fills and something stuck in my pre-teen brain. Lately though I feel like a borderline hoarder, especially with fabric and books! It's crazy and like you, I cannot go into to Target and get just one thing.. Or Kohls.. Or Michaels.. Anymore it's anywhere I go! I'm not sure when the cog slipped and I found myself in the greedy spot but I'm with you on this. I'm def pulling myself out of it. Rewarding yourself with something other than "stuff" is a great idea. Thanks for this post. I needed it!

    1. I am so with you on this. When I read this article, I knew it was something I had to post. I've been on a cleaning frenzy (when am I not?) and I decided 2013 would be a different year - one of no impulse buying (except maybe that occasional Hershey bar!) and I would pour that money into our vacation fund. I am so glad it resonated with some one else! Thanks for stopping by. Donna

  2. Great list Donna!
    Prudence is very important and this list is very informative. Thanks for sharing.
    Have a super blessed day and Happy New Year!

  3. Excellent advice! I am impressed that he left with only what he went to Target for, too! You made many good points and I am going to survey my own house. Also, I like the idea of going back to get something. Thanks for sharing!

  4. such a great post as always be well.

  5. I once went to Ikea for a screw that was not contained in the pack. That told me it would take a while to find one, but I was 'welcome to pop back in half an hour'. It was just a ploy to get me back in that shop and I left with a new rug, another cupboard, at least ten other things that I could have done without, and £250 less in my bank that I could most have definitely done with. I no longer fall for their ploys!!! Excellent advice, but please tell me how I am supposed to stick with it :-)

    1. I think you have to be ready to make the change Michelle. I always go with a list and if I see something I want, I think about and walk around a bit and ask myself a few questions - why do I want it?, where will I store it?, will it be something I'll get tired of quickly? and do I already have something similar? That normally does the trick. You can also shoot a pic of it and although you didn't "buy" it, you have it. Then, if you find you just cannot live without it, you can always go back to the store. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I'm ready to declutter. I've retired and DH is retiring in a few weeks, so less income. Also, I'm ready to have less things just hanging around. Thanks for a great blog.

  7. To ignore the sirens song? truly a brave and noble quest, good luck with that. be well .Agman


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