Feeling overwhelmed by everything around you? These key tips will help stop clutter before it starts in your life and home for good!
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 into our lives. 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 jump-starting 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.
The Key to Stopping Clutter Before It Starts
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 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. Is there 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?
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… ahem Target (we love you though). 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.
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?
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 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 if one item comes in, it means another item goes out.
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? Are the value and quality worth the cost? Is this a quality item?
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.
Other helpful resources:
- The 40 Hanger Closet
- Yes, You CAN Get Rid of That! How to Declutter Without Feeling Guilty
- 7 Organizing Hacks that Will Save Your Sanity
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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!
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…
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!
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!
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.
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!