How to stop accumulating stuff (and save money while you’re at it)

You can have all the right boxes, bins, and furniture for organizing, but sometimes the real problem is just too much stuff (or too little space…but most of us just can’t go out and buy a bigger house!) It’s so easy to accumulate things, and after the initial excitement, a lot of those things get shoved in a closet or garage to be unused for much of the year. Here are some tips to help you take in less, so you have more room to live!

-Ask “Do I need this?” I’m not talking about “need” like medication or toilet paper. Obviously there are things that are non-negotiable. I’m talking about when you go into a store and see something you like and get that feeling of “OMIGOD I HAVE to have this.”  A lot of impulse buys are just that-something we buy on a whim because of a mood we’re in at the moment, or it’s something we’ve seen around and we feel like we have to get in on the action. When I feel that impulse, I have a go-to strategy for figuring out if it’s something I really want, or just a passing fancy. Try waiting a day before you buy. If I am still obsessing about the item, I will have no problem going back to buy it. But, if I purchase it and then regret it, I’m less motivated to make a trip to return it and it just turns into more clutter.

-Can I borrow or rent it? Do you need to own this item? Many things, especially if it’s a big-ticket, infrequently used item, can be borrowed from friends or neighbors (try the Nextdoor app!) And don’t forget about libraries! They’re not just for books anymore.. here in Portland we have tool libraries as well.

Sporting/hobby equipment can take up a lot of room. Usually at some point our priorities change, and even though we use the equipment less and less, it continues to sit in the garage (waiting for a change of circumstances, or “what if…” scenario). Assess how often you actually use these items. If it’s only a few times a year, it may be better to just rent the equipment, or join a workshop or gym where you can use it when you need it, but don’t need it taking up your valuable living space.

-Is there a digital alternative? We’re constantly being bombarded with paper, in the form of mail, flyers, handouts, magazines, etc. This stuff piles up quickly, and can be hard to get rid of. We’re all familiar with using e-readers or tablets for books and magazines, but there are other possibilities as well. It may not be necessary to keep instruction manuals, newspaper clippings, paper articles, and recipes around when these things could easily be looked up (or stored in your own files) online. Evernote is a great app that allows you to capture notes and store them in notebooks on any device. Other apps such as Scannable are great for receipts-just take a picture, enhance the digital copy, and you can send the scans anywhere (including to Evernote). Plus, having your information online makes it much easier to find through searches and tags. If you are a copious note-taker/doodler (like myself), consider getting a Smart Notebook, such as the Rocketbook, which allows you to take notes with a pen, scan the page with your camera and check off where you want to send it online (e-mail, google drive, etc), then wipe the page clean.

-Beware of the “sale”! Sure, you got a great deal on towels, they were 2 for 1! But maybe your linen closet is already so full you can’t close the door...Not buying items in the first place saves you more money than getting a deal on things you don’t really need.

-Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you should take it. We get offered things all the time.. extra napkins and sauce with our food order, goodie bags, flyers, hand-me downs...and we tend to just take these things reflexively. Next time someone offers you something, take a moment to consider if you’re going to use it or not (or if it’s going to just end up a junk drawer) It’s ok to say “no, thanks.”

-Do I have space for this item? Consider setting a limit (based on the space you have) for items in a certain category. Decide that you won’t purchase more clothes that will fit in your closet, or more mugs than will fit on a shelf in your cupboard. You can use the “one in, one out” rule, where if you take a new item home, you will have to part with another item from that category. This will ensure you are re-evaluating your stuff on a regular basis, and only keeping the things you actually like, instead of just holding onto items forever. If you LOVE that Unicorn mug and want to buy it, then maybe it’s time to get rid of that old, chipped novelty mug that you bought for 50 cents in college (in fact, it was probably time to get rid of it a while ago…).

A little bit of intention in your purchasing can go a long way. You can do it!