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Stop Clutter Before it Starts

Stop Clutter | Become Clutter Free | Clean and Organize | Declutter

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? We wake up one morning to find our homes stuffed to the brim with items we clearly spent money on at some point.  I often joke that my kids have a superpower–that they are able to somehow generate STUFF out of nothing.  Seriously–where does this stuff come from?

We keep gifts and sentimental items because we feel too guilty to part with them, even though we don’t really even like them that much. What’s worse, we often give gifts to others out of obligation, not out of true thought or emotion—filling their lives with clutter and chaos as well.

The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle and get Unstuffed for good is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in. Yes, it can be tough. It means letting go of the impulse to buy when those sale tactics are working their magic, telling you the item is “limited,” on sale, or an unmissable bargain. When we say no to clutter, we must really, truly examine how we’re going to use an item, then carefully decide if it’s worth the purchase.

There are a few solutions to avoid this endless cycle of accumulation. First and foremost, we have to reset some of our bad habits and turn them into good ones. This involves planning and setting limits. It might even include jumpstarting your positive change by trying a month of zero spending—it’s a great way to examine your habits and get yourself back on track.

But beyond that, there are a few other tactics we can put into practice–both before we even set foot in the store and once we get there–that can help us stop clutter before before it starts.

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? Seriously--where does this stuff come from? The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in, but that can be easier said than done. If you are struggling to clear the clutter in your home, don't miss these easy-to-implement tips for how to stop clutter before it starts!

5 Before-You-Buy Tips

Tip #1: When you run out of an item or a need arises, first examine whether it’s something you truly need or if there’s something on hand you can stretch or modify to fill the need without making a purchase.

Tip #2: Sometimes we buy new things because we can’t find items we already have on hand. Thank you, clutter and chaos! Get organized and be sure you can first find what you have on hand when you need it.

Tip #3: If you ARE organized and a need arises, go in with a plan of attack. Write it down and make a list before you get to the store. Traditionally, grocery lists are just that: a grocery list we take to the grocery store. But a grocery list is more than that. Writing down our needs before we purchase gives us a chance to pause and reflect on each item and why really we need it. If you don’t even want to take the time to write down the item, then should you really be purchasing it in the first place?

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? Seriously--where does this stuff come from? The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in, but that can be easier said than done. If you are struggling to clear the clutter in your home, don't miss these easy-to-implement tips for how to stop clutter before it starts!

Tip #4: If your list doesn’t keep you from straying, try bringing only a set amount of cash to the store. Don’t even take your debit or credit card. Walk in knowing you can only spend what you have in your pocket.

Tip #5: When all else fails, you may need to take a break from stores for a while. (I’m not kidding!) You know what you can handle and what stores trigger your itch to spend. Instead of putting yourself in a position to fail, put yourself in a position to succeed. It’s not about price, either. If you can’t go into Target or Goodwill without bringing something home, or if you have to stop at every garage sale—give yourself a break until you can take back control.

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? Seriously--where does this stuff come from? The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in, but that can be easier said than done. If you are struggling to clear the clutter in your home, don't miss these easy-to-implement tips for how to stop clutter before it starts!

The Moment of Truth: A Trip to the Store

When you’re out shopping, stick to your plan. It’s challenging, I know! Retailers work very hard to suck you in. They create a feeling of scarcity and urgency with sales “ending today,” limited-time offers, and “deals” like buy-one-get-one free. Stay steadfast and stick to your list. You can do it!

I love a good deal just as much as the next gal (probably more so). When you’re trying to save, couponing, combining offers, and all those BOGOs can be really appealing and hard to avoid.

In the past, I’d leave the store with a whole carload of stuff I didn’t need, patting myself on the back for how little I spent. Then, I’d arrive home and realize I had nowhere to put any of it. Truth be told, I had “saved” money on stuff I didn’t need. Is that really saving money?

In truth: we are all buying things we don’t need. If you don’t have room to store it, if you don’t need it right now, or if it’s adding to the clutter and chaos of your life, is it really serving you?

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? Seriously--where does this stuff come from? The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in, but that can be easier said than done. If you are struggling to clear the clutter in your home, don't miss these easy-to-implement tips for how to stop clutter before it starts!

The Solution: Avoiding Impulses & Setting Limits

It is SO challenging to say no to a good deal. Always give yourself some time to think it over. Implement a strict 24-hour impulse policy. If you’re worried you’ll miss out, I can promise you, there’s almost nothing in life you NEED on an impulse that you’ll also be devastated about when it’s gone 24 hours later. Honestly? It’ll probably still be there, but you might find going back to the store for just for one “deal” isn’t worth it. Most of the time, you’ll change your mind about the item before you even reach your driveway. Avoid the impulse buy!

Impose some strict limits on yourself as well. For example, when I purchased beautiful hangers to clean my closet, I decided I was only willing to pay for 40 of them. This forced me to limit my closet to 40 pieces. While maybe that sounds extreme, I can tell you, I love everything in my closet now. I don’t have room for anything I feel ambivalent toward or anything that doesn’t make me feel my best. When I purchase an item of clothing, I’m very selective because I know if something comes in, something must also go out.

You can set these limits with everything: socks, makeup, toys, even pantry items. Keep in mind, anything you end up throwing out because you haven’t used in six months to a year, you probably shouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If you know you can only use up one eyeliner or tube of mascara in a six-month period and the shelf life of mascara is six months, then why have multiples?

I’ve taught my girls this same principle and it’s really changed trips to the store. We all think about buying stuff differently than we used to. If you only have room on the shelf for a few toys or books, then you might find you’re much more selective about swapping them out. Now my daughters make careful choices, knowing one item in means another item out.

Have you ever noticed how clutter just seems to creep into our lives and take over, before we even really know what is happening? Seriously--where does this stuff come from? The reality is that the only way to truly break the cycle is to learn to say no to clutter before it even comes in, but that can be easier said than done. If you are struggling to clear the clutter in your home, don't miss these easy-to-implement tips for how to stop clutter before it starts!

Choose Quality (Usually Over Quantity)

Over the years, we’ve surrounded ourselves with cheaper items, which offer less longevity and durability. We see things as disposable and of little value. We have to continuously repurchase items because they literally “don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Items can now be imported cheaply from overseas. For example, the quality of clothing has steadily declined along with prices. Why pay $100 for a quality shirt that will last a year, when you could buy ten $10 shirts that will last a month each?

In reality, we’re only creating more waste and more clutter—and all the while we’re not even saving as much money as we think we are. All these low-quality cheap items just add to all that “stuff” in our lives.

Instead, investing in quality items over cheap fixes will give us a much greater return in the long run. Not only are you creating less need and less waste, but you’re also saving money and really, truly being mindful about each of your purchases.

Before you buy, ask yourself if the item will enrich your life over the next year, next five years or next ten years. This can seem a little silly when we’re talking about say, cereal or nail polish, but how many times have we thrown out a half-eaten box of cereal or a half bottle of polish because it’s dried up or we just don’t like it?

Instead, consider the life of the product: will you use the product in its entirety? Is it worth the purchase price? Is the value and quality worth the cost? Is this a quality item?

DIG DEEPER


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Uncluttering our lives can be a challenge, but we can all take the first steps to stop the flow of clutter before it becomes even more of a problem. Make wise purchases. Really think about the things you bring into your life before you seal the deal and bring home more STUFF.

Share Your Thoughts:  How do YOU stop clutter before it starts?

Stop Clutter | Become Clutter Free | Clean and Organize | Declutter

20 Comments

  1. August 1 at 08:53AM

    Setting limits is my biggest clutter controller! In general, I don’t buy it if I wasn’t planning on buying it when I walk into a store. I can always go back after I think about it….but, in general this doesn’t happen.

    I recently moved and gave away TONS of things and I love the feeling of living in a much smaller house, but still having room on all of my shelves. It’s freeing and I don’t want to accumulate stuff anymore! Thanks for the tips!

  2. August 1 at 10:45AM

    Awesome post! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of having too much clutter, haha. I’ve been saying I’m going to get rid everything for months now, but procrastination is a b***h.

    I really liked how you mentioned we give meaningless gifts to others out of obligation, which fills other people’s lives with clutter. I’ve never thought about it like that before but it’s very true!

    • Liz
      October 24 at 05:41PM

      This struck a nerve with me, and I am afraid I am going to come off sounding like an ogre, but I hope you can understand where I am coming from.

      I have a very dear friend who insists on going overboard when giving gifts for birthdays and Christmas, despite my insisting that she not do this. These are almost always gifts for the house (her taste, which is VERY different from mine), and she usually gives several things at once. Often she will have things personalized, so there is no option to return or exchange the items. While I love her, and the sentiment, I am at a loss as to how to get her to stop giving me all this stuff that I don’t want or need without hurting her feelings. She knows that I am desperately trying to declutter my home. I have tried many times to tell her that gifts are not necessary and that I’d rather just get together with her for lunch or coffee. I have tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her from the whole gift exchange deal, but she will have none of it. So, I have piles of things that she has given me over the years taking up space in the basement, this close to going to Goodwill, but I feel guilty about the prospect of doing that.

      Has anyone else out there been in a similar situation? How have you handled it? Should I just accept things graciously and then donate them?

      • Jennifer
        January 14 at 08:52AM

        The best way to handle it is: “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” {Matt 5:37} Once again, explain to her that you do not want any more gifts, reiterating that you are desperately trying to improve your life by decluttering and not bringing in more clutter/chaos. If she ONCE AGAIN ignores your request, REFUSE HER GIFT {nicely, of course!}. “Oh Megan, I can’t accept this. Remember how I told you three weeks ago to not buy me anything for Christmas because I’m desperately trying to declutter? Though I really like this __________, and I love the thought behind it even more, I just cannot accept this.”
        A friend who totally ignores your wishes/desires/requests maybe isn’t really a friend. Because, don’t we want what is TRULY best for our friend?!!!
        Jennifer

  3. August 1 at 10:45AM

    I just got back from vacation and the look of the minimal refrigerator is wonderful. Thanks for the inspiration to not over buy when I get to the store.

  4. Michelle Pena
    August 1 at 12:12PM

    I enjoyed this post and found it insightful. I think it is absolutely hilarious and ironic that while reading this I was distracted by the advertising for Wayfair, a website for beautiful housewares (more clutter)…

  5. August 1 at 03:14PM

    Such good reminders! It’s hard to break that “savings” mentality… Like, no but I need all these things that are on sale because I’m saving… but on the flip side, I’ve become more generous to myself- buying more expensive / nicer things, because I don’t stock up on all the cheap bargins. It is a nice mental change to splurge on yourself instead of continually telling yourself that you are only worth these “bargin prices” .. if that makes any sense!? ;D

  6. Kathy
    August 1 at 11:55PM

    It’s like peeling an onion..one layer at a time. I’ve declared a moratorium on buying make up, skin care, hair care products, etc. thru the end of the year. I’m eating breakfast and lunch from the pantry..meal replacement bars and shakes

  7. I’m getting ready for a garage sale and I’m trying to examine everything I’m getting rid of and think where I got it from and why. Like, maybe it’s hand-me-downs that I didn;t really need and should have just passed on. Or some stuff I bought because it was a great deal, but I didn’t really love it. It kind of helps me think harder about what I bring into our house next time.

    • March 26 at 09:51PM

      Reading you note made me think of when I seen a similar blog about decluttering. I had to find 5 items each day for a week in a special area, like the kitchen or whatever was assigned to me for that week…. this was for a month. I could not believe how much I had put into boxes and at the end of this time I had a garage sale and made 250.00 just from my clutter. I think I am going to enjoy this site which I just signed up for.

  8. August 5 at 12:47PM

    enjoyed your ideas very much. will try to put them to use.

  9. August 5 at 04:14PM

    Bringing in more clutter is a battle I’m still facing. While it’s gotten better, it is still a slight problem. I find that purging things in steps has helped and often times I don’t even notice it’s gone.

  10. Jeanne Fox
    August 5 at 04:19PM

    Reading this article really gave me a “lump in m stomach”. I KNOW that I need to declutter because all this stuff is not only making my husband nuts,but is also beginning to make me nuts! There isn’t room for one more piece of ANYTHING and I just don’t know how to let it go.
    Just saying this to other people makes me feel ashamed.

    • dianne
      September 11 at 01:44AM

      I know just how you feel. I feel so smart, so triumphant when I get a good buy! Then that feeling goes away when I get home and don’t have a good spot for it…doesn’t help that Salvation Army has 69 cent day every Saturday. I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV, but I do have more than I need for sure. Am slowing clearing out and it does feel good.
      Don’t give in – find something else to fill your time. That does help.

  11. Pat
    August 6 at 06:30AM

    In the past I’ve done a lot of couponing and rebating, and loved good deals, so I built up quite a stockpile of dry and canned foods. I’m working on using up what is still good (many things are really still good long past their “best by” date), and trying not to buy nearly as much. I still occasionally go to Discount Grocery stores where they sell slightly dented products and things that are slightly out of date, but I carefully consider each item and usually only buy one or two of an item, instead of stocking up as I would have in the past. For my regular grocery store shopping, it’s mostly items like bread, milk and eggs now (and ice cream!), plus selected buy one, get one free items if it’s something I use often. When I go to Costco, it’s mostly to buy a few specific items like milk, fruit and pecans. I use Costco shopping as an exercise opportunity now. I push my cart quickly through the aisles, glancing at products and saying “I don’t need that” to myself as I go. If something catches my eye that I might need, I stop to carefully consider whether it’s really something I need and can use in a reasonable time. I do enjoy eating the samples, which gives me an opportunity to consider new products I’m not familiar with. In general I’m much more thoughtful about my purchases.

    Same with garage sales, which I use to go to all the time. Now I’ll go to church or neighborhood garage sales to get more choices in a locality, and carefully consider whether I need and can use an item. I’ve bought a lot of organizing items at garage sales recently, at much cheaper prices than retail. But I’ve also held 11 garage sales in just over two years, so that makes me think more carefully about what I buy at garage sales!

  12. Mia
    August 6 at 11:47PM

    We recently sold our suburban home of 25 years to live in NYC. The amount of stuff that we had to give away was staggering. Despite careful selection of items to ship to NY, we have too much stuff for the apartment and already we have given Goodwill 13 large bags of clothes and housewares. More has to go, there simply isn’t enough space for everything. The whole experience has made me physically ill. The amount of waste is hard to accept. I can’t believe how much stuff we purchased, how many projects we started and didn’t finish and how many similar items we had. I hope to have our apartment organized so that everything has a place and that a new purchase requires an old purchase be discarded. Wish me luck.

  13. Millie R.
    October 16 at 12:01PM

    I find de-cluttering has been my never ending life-long challenge! I have a small house so it’s important not to accumulate too many “stuff,” yet somehow, someway, try as much as I could, I can’t seem to get ahead of the clutter. Part of it is that my spouse likes to buy the newest and latest new things but I on the other hand try to buy only what I truly need. So there’s no balance here! Any suggestions on what the solution might be? I have read countless books on decluttering and have put many of the recommendations to practice over the years but somehow in a few weeks/months the clutter seems to “grow” back! I like the “one-in-one out” rule so I’ll start there. Thanks for all the great tips!

  14. October 20 at 08:03AM

    Usually people neglect taking care of their clothes or putting things back at their places as they go. These are small habits but actually pretty helpful ones. You article give a very comprehensive explanation on how we could stop cluttering on time. I really recommend it to all my friends that have issues with time management and organization. Thanks for sharing!

  15. August 25 at 11:13AM

    Your point about buying better quality but fewer things is very important! I feel like I’m preaching this all the time: the cheapest option is not always the lowest-priced item. In the long run, buying good quality where it matters saves you money (and reduces clutter!) because you won’t have to replace it as often. That said, you don’t always have to pay full price or get all the bells and whistles to buy good quality. Researching purchases ahead of time is the best way I know of to get something that is truly a good value or won’t end up becoming just clutter.

    I only wish I could apply the same principle to paperwork. That’s my biggest clutter challenge!

    • September 8 at 08:51PM

      I’m with you on the paper challenge. Its the catalogs that I might want to order from, the magazines I mean to read, article ideas, dream board pictures, and on and on…

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