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!

On the “Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo Phenomenon...

I’m willing to bet that by this time you have heard of Marie Kondo. Whether you were an early reader/adopter of her books, or are just getting into the show “Tidying Up”, there’s no denying that the organization bug has hit… hard! The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was an inspiration for me, and indeed changed my perspective on my possessions, and what I choose to surround myself with. Since everyone is weighing in on the popular show, here are a few takeaways from us here at Abridged:

On “Sparking Joy”-Marie Kondo’s signature question, which she uses as a criteria for whether to keep or discard an item (“Does this spark joy?”) is deceptively simple, and has an almost magical quality. Oftentimes we accumulate objects according to someone else’s criteria: “What furniture do I need to fill up this space?,” “What is trendy right now?,” or “What do my friends and neighbors have in their houses?” Or sometimes we just take gifts or hand-me-downs without much thought about if we really want them or not. Our environment has the power to make us feel a certain way, which is why it is so important to pay attention to our emotional reaction to our things, rather than just a rational assessment. We deserve to be surrounded with items that bring us joy, comfort, and inspiration, so we can live our lives accordingly. This is a very personal, and illuminating process. What qualities spark joy for you? Do bright colors and intricate patterns energize you? Or do you prefer the serenity of clean lines and natural materials? There’s no right or wrong style, just be true to what works for you! That said, perhaps not everything in your house will spark joy (unless you have a novelty plunger that you absolutely love), but it’s a good goal to work towards.

On Thanking Your Possessions-Marie Kondo has a very unique organizing process...One of her quirks is that she likes to kneel down with the family and do a sort of meditation, asking the house to help with their work. She also recommends that when letting go of an item, you thank it for it’s support. This may resonate with some, and sound a little wacky to others, but whichever camp you are in, I think we can agree that having more gratitude and intention in our lives is beneficial.

When we take the time to be grateful for the people and things in our lives, we can find some comfort, a respite from the constant striving to do, have, and be more.

On the “Work” of Organizing-What I appreciate about “Tidying Up” is that it is a more realistic depiction of “home-makeovers” than other reality TV shows. Usually on a home renovation show, the family offers a few suggestions about what they like, and then it’s up to a crew to come in and do all the work, and then present them with a polished product at the end. The families on “Tidying Up” are in the thick of it. It takes long hours and difficult decisions, and they must also learn the skills to maintain that organization after the filming is done. The finished space may not be magazine perfect, with a slew of matching containers, and everything tucked away out of sight, but it is a transformation nonetheless. Much like a weight loss program, or other resolution, tidying up is a process that requires dedication, and does not happen overnight.

On Sharing Responsibility-One of the things I love most about Marie Kondo’s process, is how she compels everyone in the house participate in the project. Oftentimes one member of the household (we all know who this usually is…) feels forced to keep track of everyone’s belongings and schedule, and lays down the standard of how the household functions. This often leads them to feel burned out, while other members in the household may feel helpless or like they are being nagged. When a family (or couple, or roommates) decide on their shared goals together, and put in that work together, they grow closer. Everyone in the family can feel their needs and wants are being met, and they can feel like a responsible, productive member of their family “team.” If you are tackling a project at home, why not invite everyone to join you? You might just be surprised at the results.

On “Professional Organizing”-While we can definitely appreciate what Marie Kondo is doing, our methods here at Abridged are a little different. We prefer to be present during the organizing process, so we can guide you (we want to create a “road map” to your goals), encourage you, and help you make decisions (sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than “Does this spark joy?”). We aim to teach you the skills you need to maintain your organization, and to change your habits for the better. If you’re finding the DIY approach overwhelming, let us help!

Where to begin Organizing when you're overwhelmed

One of the main reasons we hear for why people find it hard to declutter their house is that they just don’t know where to begin! It can definitely seem like an overwhelming chore (for those of you who don’t LOVE organizing as much as Mackenzie and I). Here are 8 tips for figuring out where to start your organizing project.

  1. Think about your organizational end goal

If we’re at the point of exasperation with the state of your whole house, it can be hard to parse out what is MOST frustrating to you. You know you’re stressed out about the mess, but try to think about the WHY behind it. Is your messy bedroom causing tension between you and your spouse? Do you wish you could have nice, relaxing dinners at home, but your dining table is constantly covered in stuff? Have you been putting off inviting people over because your living room is a disaster zone? Honing in on what you want will help you discover the most important place to focus your energy first.

    2. Start with a room that will have the most impact

Many times it is necessary to start by cleaning up the basement/attic/garage/storage area. If you find that you will be relocating many items from the house to that area, it makes sense that you create places to put these things. If this is not your situation, however, you should begin with the space you use most frequently. If you choose a space that you use every day, you can really appreciate the change, and will be more excited to fix up other areas of the house.

   3. Start small

Oftentimes we get overwhelmed because we set our goal too high. You don’t need to organize your entire kitchen in one day. Start by organizing the fridge or pantry. Or even just one drawer. You want to get to that feeling of accomplishment, not hopelessness.

   4. Don’t start by buying more stuff

We’ve all done it... substituted buying things for actually taking action (“I’m totally going to start writing every day… once I have this new leather journal”). We go out and buy a bunch of new storage containers and feel good for having progressed towards our goal, but then a month later the house is still messy and the containers have gone into the garage, unused. Sure, there are times when you just don’t have the right items for the job, but take some time to assess the situation first. Once you dive in, you may find that you are getting rid of a lot of things, or maybe you want to put them in another room entirely. And in many cases, people have storage items already lying around, or have things they can repurpose. Get a sense of what you really need before you drop a ton of money on something you may not need after all.

  5. Make it enjoyable

You may hate organizing, but you can at least make it less terrible! Put on some music or a podcast. Invite your type-A friend over to help (it will make their day, trust me). Give yourself breaks. There’s no need to be a martyr about it!

  8. Make it easier to focus

Set yourself up for success. Make sure you don’t have people (or your phone) around distracting you when you start the process. If you are organizing part of a room, and you keep eyeing other areas, you can even cover up the parts you aren’t working on with a sheet or a room divider.

  7. Give yourself a reward at the end

Sweeten the deal a little bit. Maybe you can watch your favorite show once you’ve tidied up a bit, or you can go out for a special treat. Better yet, have someone else reward you (so you’re not tempted cheat!)

  8. Go easy on yourself

Remember that having a messy or cluttered house is not a character flaw, it’s just a problem to be solved. And you don’t have to turn your house around overnight. Whether you schedule in weekly organizing sessions, or get to it occasionally when you have the time, be proud of yourself for working towards your goal!

Happy Organizing!