Deciding What to Buy

For the past five weeks, I've been traveling. At the end of September, I packed my bag and I've been on the road ever since. I've had fun, and learned a lot of Spanish, but to be honest I'm looking forward to seeing cold, rainy Portland again next week.

As always happens when I travel, I've come to marvel at how little I can live with. I have a hotel room (or a tent) every night, and I buy my food from markets, street vendors, or restaurants. But all I carry with me are my main 42-liter pack and a smaller 18-liter pack. (In other words, a carry-on size bag, and a bag the size of a briefcase.) For six weeks, these bags will have effectively contained all of my possessions.

Usually at the end of a long trip, I rant about the tyranny of Stuff. This time, I've been trying to direct my thoughts along more productive paths. What if instead of complaining about clutter, I actually tried to set up some ground rules to guide my spending? What would these guidelines look like?

Off the top of my head, they might look something like this:

  • Buy only what you will use — or value. I've decided that almost anything I own but don't use regularly is clutter. I say “almost” to give myself a little wiggle room because there are certainly things I value — like my backpack — that I only use a few times a year but still provide value. (But this can be slippery slope. I don't use my record player regularly. Do I value it?)
  • When it's both possible and productive, buy quality. I used to be a vocal advocate of cheap, cheap, cheap. And for many things, I still think cheap (or free!) is the way to go. But I've learned — at the prodding of GRS readers — that it sometimes makes sense to spend for quality. When? You need to make that call based on the items you use and value most. For me, that means spending for high-quality computers. Plus, I don't skimp on travel gear. (For evidence, read about my love of wool clothing.) You don't need to buy the best of everything, but sometimes it makes sense to pay more for quality.
  • Don't buy things you already own. Surely I'm not the only one who has a tendency to buy things he already owns. You don't need three rain jackets, for instance, and you probably don't need three wooden spoons in the kitchen. Own just one of everything. (“You own three rain jackets,” Kris said when she read this. “And I have three wooden spoons.” “I know,” I said. “That's the problem!”)
  • Make decisions based on your own moral code. Some people refuse to own a gun. Some won't own a car. Some won't buy from companies that contribute to certain politicians or certain causes. In my own case, I do my best to buy local. Buying based on your values may seem obvious, but I'm always surprised at how many people talk one way and spend another.
  • Buy only what you can afford. Don't fund your lifestyle with debt. Again, this may seem obvious — especially to GRS readers — but it's a tough concept for many people to grasp. And it can be even tougher to put into practice. Staying within budget really can help reduce clutter.

Actually following these simple guidelines could help me spend less while bringing less clutter into my life. (As for the existing stuff, well, I've been working on thinning that out for the past four years!)

I'm not saying you should live like a monk. Hell, I don't want to live like a monk. (After five weeks of living out of a backpack, I'm ready to wear some different clothes!) I'm saying that all of us — especially me — could save money and have less clutter in our lives if we were more deliberate about the things we bought and brought into our homes.

Though it makes Kris sigh, I often say I'd like to start our household again from scratch. In this fantasy world, we'd have a new, empty house — like a blank canvas. We'd move in slowly, little by little. When we found we needed something, we'd retrieve it from the old house. Then, after maybe a year, we'd get rid of all the Stuff that remained at the old house.

Note: Astute readers will recognize that this is just my one-year wardrobe project, but for everything in my life, not just clothes.

For me, the real test will be when it comes to the things I collect, like books and comics. I'm not going to stop buying books and comics. But maybe it's time to change my buying habits.

Instead of trying to buy whatever interests me, maybe I should try buying new material only when I've finished reading the old stuff. (That could take decades!) And maybe it's time to become re-acquainted with my public library.

What's interesting to me is that despite having increased my income and decreased my spending over the past few years, there's always room for improvement. I'm no longer fighting a battle against debt; today, I'm fighting against unnecessary spending.

Note: Two years ago, April explored this topic too. She shared a flowchart for evaluating potential purchases. That's a bit too structured for me, but I would like to start asking myself questions like the ones I've listed here, to be more deliberate about the things I buy.
More about...Planning

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Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago

I need all 3 of my wooden spoons. Each has its own particular shape and size, and I frequently have more than one pot of goodies bubbling on the stove.

In the interest of marital happiness, you shouldn’t nag your wife about her wooden spoons! You might get whacked with one!

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

Yes, in the “extended version” of our conversation, Kris pointed out that each of her wooden spoons was important, and that it was my three raincoats that were redundant. 🙂

Barb
Barb
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I think sometime you need multiples, sometimes no. Caught in the middle is me. I for example, cook for large groups and on thos occasions I need multiple sppons and multiple ladles-but only one metal and one plastic spatula. On the other hand, I have four sewing machines and all get used……sigh

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

LOL! i had a nice wooden spoon set and my husband insisted we throw them out, citing germs. since he just agreed to basically restock our kitchen through the wedding registry, i figured love is compromise and tossed them. if they bother him that much, i don’t mind. i have metal spoons.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

What I’ve heard is that wood is naturally antibacterial, so you don’t need to worry about them, only if they have a crack where you are stirring. I need all of my wooden spoons! I am down one because the dog got ahold of it and chewed it up, and I’m always looking for it before I remember.

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

re wood vs metal…as long as you and hubby are happy with your decision, then no problem.

Personally, I don’t like the feel of metal so use wood a lot. I have several wood spoons, long chopsticks, but did switch from a wood cutting board to the thin silicon ones…Would never go back to wood for them! 🙂

PB
PB
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

My DIL is a very strict vegetarian, and I need to keep all cooking utensils in use separate if I am making a family meal that also includes meat. Like many things, it is only a problem if you make it one. I just exercise extra care.

Grog
Grog
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Are the jackets of different weights?
Do some have hoods?

Given the activities I do, they become important (and of value to me), even if you can warm yourself with layers. 🙂

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I too, as a frequent cook, will chime in on the multiple spoons. For me, it comes down to being mindful of what you need. I cook frequently and we entertain fairly often. Having multiple dishes on the stove top bubbling away I can think of few things that would annoy me as much as the need to keep washing my one wooden spoon as each dish needed to be stirred/combined, etc.

If you need multiples, be mindful of them, and you’re good.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

Spoons and the sort:

1 bamboo for savory
1 bamboo for sweet
there was another one that died but i didn’t replace it– proof i just need 2
1 skimmer
1 ladle
1 silicone spatula
1 metal spatula

I would never whack anyone with any of them though!

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

If wooden spoons take on the taste of the foods you make with them, surely they take on other aspects as well – including the aspect of “food for bacteria.”

I have heard that wooden cutting boards are “self healing” in a way that plastic ones are not. However I have never heard of the above-claimed antibacterial properties of wood. Does anyone have a link to some evidence?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve
TinaPete
TinaPete
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I have several wooden spoons…here’s what I did with one of them. This is the prototype of a gift, so it’s a bit crude but I’ve kept it in my kitch for years. (Never added a link or photo before, hope this is OK)
https://picasaweb.google.com/114386519360000812121/StirItUp?authkey=Gv1sRgCN7D8puIwI-qgwE#5671198400378097730

David
David
8 years ago

One of the only nice things about moving is that feeling of starting over with a “blank canvas”, as you say. I love a good purge every now and then. You could try doing it one room at a time? Move everything out, then re-populate it, purging along the way. I think one of the most challenging issues about getting rid of unused items is the whole balance between things that are used rarely but necessary. For example, specialty cooking utensils. Yes, you only make turkey for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas, but do you really want to re-buy a turkey… Read more »

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  David

The problem with moving “one room at a time” is that you have to pay for two places to live for as long as the process is going on.

Perhaps a compromise is to leave everything in the garage until you need it? Or rent a storage unit?

I am wondering about this quite actively, as my wife and I plan to move in the next few months, and I also think that we own too much Stuff.

Amanda B.
Amanda B.
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I think he meant that you could move everything out of one room, store it elsewhere in the house, then move things back in as needed. So like a tiny one-room version of the moving thing, but without actually moving.

STRONGside
STRONGside
8 years ago

I agree with the argument of buying quality when applicable. I would also say that buying quality, used, items is also a very cost effective approach to buying the best items for the best price.

Thrift stores are great places to buy gently used high quality clothing, and yard sales/auctions are great places to buy quality items that people no longer need.

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago

I am worried, is it minimalism in its early stage, JD?

I see a connection, if you become spiritually rich(by means of travel, knowing other people or getting in touch with a monk etc) you feel less attracted towards materialistic pleasure. You no longer cherish you monetary richness.

The more you travel or know other people, you become aware of the vastness of this world and your little house and the belonging therein becomes insignificant to you.

I am originally from the land of monks and have seen many monks living their lives.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago

Ha. I don’t think there’s ever any danger that I’ll become a minimalist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But I do think it’s possible that five years from now I’ll live in smaller home with much less Stuff. 🙂

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Sometimes I think that minimalists are just as obsessed with Stuff as materialists…. They keep a running count of all their belongings, read magazines and websites about How To Get Rid of More Stuff, and spend money on “minimalist” solutions.

It makes me feel like it’s just another obsession that distracts us from actually living our lives….

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Like everything else, it’s the recent converts you hear from. If JD hadn’t been in so much debt before, he’d never have built this platform for talking about building wealth & spending less. The real minimalists are pretty quiet and angst-free about it, like the millionaires next door.

K.C.
K.C.
8 years ago

I find that the more I travel within myself, the less I am attracted to material things. As my spiritual life expands and deepens, I realize that while material goods are necessary, they do not make me happy. They do not make me who I am.

BB
BB
8 years ago

I’ve been thinking along the same lines JD. I agree in the main, for a different reason. I love jewelry and acquired many pieces. When my mother died earlier this year I inherited her jewelry. Mother’s is not only more intrinsically valuable, but I decided I want to wear hers, to keep her with me always. So I’m selling off most of what I bought over the years. On the other hand, sometimes you have to have more than one of something. I need a short rain jacket for when I’m dashing in and out of the car, and a… Read more »

Angela
Angela
8 years ago

I grew up with a near hoarder level of clutter in my parents’ house, and I’ve gone in the opposite direction since then. I love purging the house, and since I seem to lack the usual gene for sentimentality, I’ll toss just about anything out. The problem, however, is that you live a different life when you’re traveling or backpacking. You know the duration of your trip is finite, and usually you have no other job than to experience the place around you. For that, a hotel/tent/whatever really can satisfy all your needs. But those who live there need to… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Angela

I was just cleaning up after my partner’s most recent fix-it job, and thinking about this. If we moved, most of the contents of the bin of plumbing supplies would go away. The new place would be a rental or at the very least have newer, modern-sized and shaped plumbing. The washers we just added to the bin (that fix our old, weird-sized tub fixtures) may never be used – they’re the remaining 3 from a 4-pack, of a size we’ve only needed 2 times in nearly 10 years. So the bin of things I just picked up and packed… Read more »

ShackleMeNot
ShackleMeNot
8 years ago

Now THIS is the kind GRS post that makes this site worthwhile. Hi, my name is ShackleMeNot and I have a clutter problem. I’m active and I do a lot of outdoor activities (hiking, climbing, camping, snowboarding). I buy gear. Lot of gear. But I don’t have a great way to store all the gear when I’m not using it. I also have trouble getting rid of anything. Also, paper is my other main problem. I try to throw away junk mail and those ad sheets as they come in, but I always end up with a pile of junk… Read more »

Iain
Iain
8 years ago
Reply to  ShackleMeNot

I’m the same way with sports gear (Biking, Cross Country Skiing, Camping and Canoeing). Boxes are lableled and each sport has at least one box and in the case of Camping Gear lots of boxes and a set of drawers. Orginisation is your only way.

Then of course there is the canoe in the livingroom. 🙂

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  ShackleMeNot

my husband has more motorcycle gear than our house can hold… eventually we bought a big expedit bookshelf from ikea (holds a lot of random things), shoved what we could fit in the closet, and he sold off or gave away the rest. this probably only works if you have parts lying around from bikes three motorcycles ago, but it definitely cut down on a lot of “gear” clutter (much harder to deal with than regular household clutter)

Jean
Jean
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

Ah, the Ikea Expedit bookshelves. They are a marvel, aren’t they? We have two in our very small flat, precisely because they seem to encourage order out of clutter and they hold an amazing amount of stuff. My son-in-law has about six of them scattered throughout his house — same reasons.

Fish+Finder
Fish+Finder
8 years ago

Hey, I’m a guy and I have three wooden spoons! My wife is the one with multiple coats. She finally agreed that she had too many coats when the coat closet hanging bar collasped a few months ago.

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  Fish+Finder

ha!! that happened to us, but i didn’t have the same epiphany. i just have coats hanging on everything now.

My University Money
My University Money
8 years ago

Interesting idea about moving in. It’s funny because I know a lot of guys that fall into this trap completely when it comes to “toys.” Guys who go fishing 5 times a year, but own a $30,000 boat. I want to yell at them, “You could fly down to the Caribbean and charter a deep-sea fishing boat five times a year for 10 years for what you’re paying!” That’s probably not even factoring in the interest costs since it’s almost always bought on a plan deal. Why is it that so many of us fall into this consumerism-based lifestyle? Is… Read more »

Fish+Finder
Fish+Finder
8 years ago

Whoa! Hold up there My University Money, Boats are different. Only using one 5 times a year probably means the wife won’t let them go!!! 🙂

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago

It’s not only the boat but the vehicle you “have” to own to be able to tow it. A guy I know has a big ole truck (with a big ole payment) that he has because he “needs it to haul his boat”. But he doesn’t have time to fish because – wait for it – he has to work 2 jobs to pay for the truck and the boat (among other things).

20's Finances
20's Finances
8 years ago

I am finding that with increased income, it is hard to avoid unnecessary spending too! At first, when I was making a side income from a hobby, I wasn’t counting it as income. As a result, I would spend it without much thought. I didn’t let this go on too much though!

njcatherine
njcatherine
8 years ago

One time I had to leave unexpectedly with two small children to live in a hotel room in St. Louis for three months. Because it was unexpected, I had no time to think about packing. I just shoved basic necessities into a suitcase and left, telling my husband I’d have him ship stuff out later. Well, we got by on what we had, and I never asked my husband for that shipment. That taught me exactly the same lesson you got! On the basis of that, my intentions were to go home and get rid of 75% of my stuff,… Read more »

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

I used to hoard books, but after moving several times and getting tired of lugging them around and working at a library, I set a new rule for myself. I borrow a book from the library for my first read. I created a http://www.librarything.com account so that I could track what I had read and write a review for myself. If it’s a book that I absolutely love, I’ll allow myself to buy a copy but try to find it used for cheap. 99% of the time, however, even if I’m happy with the book, I don’t find that I… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Though one things about books is that it’s very hard to make a living as a writer these days. Since I can afford to, I like to buy books written by authors I like so that they’ll be able to afford to quit their day jobs and write more! Kindle has been a godsend for me in this way; I no longer have to worry about storage space. When I do buy physical books, I try to give the ones I like to friends so they too can discover wonderful new authors.

Des
Des
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I second the e-book solution for this, but you don’t have to buy a reader. I downloaded the Kindle app on all my computers and my iPhone. As long as they are connected to the internet, I can read a bit at work, log off and go home, and when I open my laptop in bed that night it syncs up to where I left on at work. I really love it! I just couldn’t bring myself to spend all that money for a device that would only do one thing, but their app is great!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I have the same “problem” and I tried the Kindle Reader on my laptop for a while, but I’m not crazy about it. -I can’t lend a Kindle book (huge bummer– how shall we corrupt the innocent?) -I can’t sell it either -It’s harder to jump pages– a book is a 3D object -It’s ugly by comparison -If you drop your book in the bathtub you lose $10. If you drop your Kindle in the bathtub you lose $200. If you drop your laptop, you lose $1000 or more I reversed course and now I am actually saving up to… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I can address one of your issues at least – stick your kindle in a gallon-size ziploc and you can read in the bath with no trouble.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I got a e-reader for free. I’m not wild about it. I never have remember to re-charge a book. I don’t have to worry about how I treat books. Their pages don’t crack or scratch in ways that need replacing. There are no programming flaws. (Right now my reader is doing something funny.) Books are easy imo.

I use the e-reader for e-books and pdfs. I’m looking forward to perhaps getting magazine subscriptions on an electronic device when it becomes so ubiquitous that EVERYONE has one. (That’s usually when I get stuff like that.)

TinaPete
TinaPete
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Love your suggestion of using & donating to the library! Speaking as a librarian who has witnessed the decade-long, steady erosion of funding for our collections, I ask that you always vote YES when the library support bond is on the ballot. Happy reading!

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

Make decisions based on your own moral code. I too am surprised at how people’s spending isn’t in line with the general conversations we have. Its much easier to talk about the evils of industrial farming than it is to get your butt to the farmers market every Sunday morning and buy food from a real farmer.

I’ve found that aligning my talk with my walk has naturally decreased a whole lot of our purchases. Do you know how hard it is to find American made shoes? I’d be hard pressed to have a closet full of them.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

You’re experiencing what people who’ve just through hiked the Appalachian Trail experience–a disconnection with the stuff you’ve left behind. In the case of backpackers, they even carry their shelter with them. So when they return home after a six month trip, they wonder why they have so much. I’m in the early stages of exploring life on a sailboat. I too am wondering why I have so much stuff. And without a tv, cell phone, stereo, and tons of other necessities of life, I still feel overwhelmed by stuff. Want food for thought, check out the book Material World. It… Read more »

shalom
shalom
8 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

I second this – it’s a great book!

We kept loaning ours out to friends, and I would worry that it would never come back home to us. Luckily, I found a stack of copies at a remainder book store, bought them and gave them away. (Hmm, maybe that goes against the spirit of this thread, since I helped a bunch of friends increase the amount of Stuff they owned…)

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  shalom

I love that book and have showed it to a lot of people (and also What the World Eats) but it exactly fits my rule of books not to buy – large, heavy, and available at our library).

I figure by checking it out once or twice a year I am keeping it in active circulation so it won’t get weeded, and it ends up out of storage and on the library shelf more often so more people I don’t know are likely to see it.

Janette
Janette
8 years ago

We moved five years ago. We only brought into the house what we needed. The barn has about 8,000 lbs of stuff. Unfortunately we chose to live in the middle of no where – so selling it is a pain.
But, we are slowly getting stuff again. The purge is back on…

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

The fight against unnecessary spending has in the last few months become an automatic win for me, and the results are kind of shocking. It’s not that I don’t have “wants” but my wants are all four digits and up right now; and I’m too much of a GRSer to fork over that kind of dough unless it’s necessary. Even if I can afford it. Spending on little “wants” or even an under $1000 vacation isn’t hard to convince myself, it was a great reward to go buy a vintage book on amazon or new shirt at Lacoste or go… Read more »

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

do it!! that’s your reward for being good, you get to go on nice vacations guilt-free cause you can afford them. holla! i recently purchased a very expensive ticket to a convention i had wanted to go to for about a year. it was more money than i’ve spent in the last six months and it hurt to punch in my credit card number and see that big figure on my bill, but… i did have the cash to pay it off right away, and now a couple weeks later i have no guilt about the money spent and just… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

Thanks cc!

I think I’m going to buy this painting I’ve wanted for a long long time and start my art collection. The cheapest one I have my eye on is $3000…I think it’s time I started giving myself a little something for my frugality.

OR should I go on the trip…or….gah. This is going to take some thought.

shalom
shalom
8 years ago

Welcome back, JD! This is the kind of article that I’ve missed around here lately.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  shalom

Agreed. Inspirational, thoughtful, and a little insight into the J.D.-Kris dynamic — what we have come to look for and love!

Catherine
Catherine
8 years ago

Sorry for the promotion, but on the subject of wool (and Icebreaker)… You can save 20% off at Icebreaker in New York City and a ton of other stores that don’t usually offer discounts by making a tax-deductible donation of $50 to Futures and Options (a NYC nonprofit that prepares underserved teens for the professional work world). Check it out: http://www.theopportunitycard.org

If you’re in NYC and about to drop a bunch of cash on a Coach purse or 3 Icebreaker shirts (Hello, Christmas presents!), this is worth it for the charity and for you.

Catherine
Catherine
8 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

On a personal finance note, I’m curious how people feel about a fundraiser (that doesn’t require a huge donation) that both encourages you to spend money, but offers you a discount?

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

I don’t know about anyone else, but I only buy an item for a fundraiser if it was something I was going to buy anyways (i.e. it’s useful to me or someone else as a gift).

Sadly, only a small part of the purchase price actually goes to the cause. If it’s a charity I care about, I’d rather make a cash donation instead. I plan my spending and my donation budget, so I don’t feel guilty about not making impulse purchases “for a good cause”.

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

for a while this one dish soap was offering to give money to charity if you bought it- it had a big cute panda so was like “awww let’s save the pandas and get this brand.” i found out later they only donate if you go onto their website and give them your contact information. uncool, dish soap company! just give my money to the pandas. back to joy. btw, i would love to see a feature on charity things that don’t take a lot of money. i always feel bad when i see the animal shelter coin boxes and… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

I love the pet comforters idea! I’d love to see a post like this too. (hint, hint, J.D. — this might make a good “ask the readers” post!) My mom and I have worked on various projects where the materials have been donated (and we have donated materials too.) If you’ve got unused crafting supplies, there’s always a group who will take them. If you’ve got crafting talent, you can find these groups to get the supplies to create something for sale or for comfort. (Like a blanket for a child in crisis, or a memory quilt for someone with… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  cc

I would love an Ask the Readers on this topic.

I have found tutoring of various kinds – literacy, computer skills, homework support – really satisfying, and not super time-consuming.

Amanda B.
Amanda B.
8 years ago

Having a tiny apartment has been one of the best things that happened to me, spending-wise. Any time I want to buy something, I have to ask the question “where will it go?” More often than not, that would require getting rid of something else. If I don’t value the item enough to get rid of something else for it, then I don’t need to buy it. I’m certainly not a minimalist but I understand what many minimalists mean when they say that they have “freedom from stuff”. Less stuff means a load off your back, fewer worries, no need… Read more »

Mutant Supermodel
Mutant Supermodel
8 years ago

Welcome back! I’m getting ready for a huge purge via garage sale this month. I can’t WAIT!!

Rozann
Rozann
8 years ago

Here’s my two cents worth – On books: I generally don’t buy a book UNTIL I’ve read it from the library and decide that it’s a “keeper” and will refer to it or read it again. On wooden spoons (or any other kitchen implement): I’m a stay at home mom of five children, homeschooled for fourteen years and cooked three full meals each and every day. I got tired of having to wash everything after each meal so I purposely got multiples of the most commonly used items in my kitchen, which saved tons of time for me. There is… Read more »

Phillip
Phillip
8 years ago
Reply to  Rozann

It’s *sooo funny to read your comment about dishes-we just did the opposite! My wife and I got tired of letting the dishes pile up (family of four, no dishwasher) and spending a solid hour each night washing dishes. We intentionally took everything *out of our kitchen but what we needed for an average meal. Sure, this forces us to do the dishes more frequently but in smaller, more digestible chunks. I admit it’s a small bother to cart up dishes from storage when company’s over, but it helps our house stay clean and keeps me away from the sink… Read more »

Steve S
Steve S
8 years ago

My wife and I have done something similar. When cleaning, vacuuming, or dusting, if an item has a lot of dust on it, or has been moved repeatedly for the vacuum but not used, it goes immediately to the basement (my iPod even made it down there once, no exceptions!) Then twice a year – or when it gets noticeably full (we don’t go down there often except for laundry and food storage) we sort through everything and either, 1) bring it back up (the iPod made it back up after a month when I started using it in my… Read more »

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
8 years ago

I have drastically brought down my belonging over the past few years, but I am FAR from being a minimalist, which is fine as that’s not my goal. For me, I like having space around the possessions that I value. Not only can I find what I’m looking for, but it’s much less stressful to not have all that visual stimulation. Having less Stuff means that I don’t need to spend time and money on Container Store style products, and that it’s not a problem for my husband and I to share a small-ish closet and a single chest of… Read more »

Jill
Jill
8 years ago

This article really speaks to me. I’m the girls with 4 blue sweaters. I like blue and it looks good on me, but I decided to get rid of the two that look the most worn out (and will refuse to buy any more..i promise.) My husband and I just need to curb spending on our camping supplies. We really have everything we need but we always come across a neat gadget. The camping “stuff” is taking over our storage locker.

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago

What about packing up all of your belongings in to the basement or garage and starting your house from scratch that way? Or doing it one room at a time? It could work. I’m in the middle of something similar, having moved from one city to another, while my boyfriend stays behind in our home. I can pick and choose what I want to bring with me to my new home (while not leaving him without something he may need). It has also made me really look at those boxes I’ve had stored since I moved 4 years ago and… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
8 years ago

Three spoons is (are?) totally justifiable so long as one is cooking more than two dishes at a time. We’re not supposed to use metal spoons with those non-stick pans! Three rain jackets? Not so justifiable, sorry, J.D. 🙂 Books were a big problem for me too, but as I neared the end of my marriage, knowing I was going to move eventually, I hated the idea of moving all those books! Anything I’d read more than once or didn’t like well enough to read a second time had to go, and new rules were instituted for possible incoming books.… Read more »

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Kathryn

When you live in a rainy place, you might be surprised to find that three rain jackets are reasonable. I’ve got three. One is breathable and lightweight, so it’s good for warmer months or when being active outdoors. One is thicker and not really breathable, and it’s good for heavy rain. The last one is heavy and breathable, and I love wearing it in the rainy, cool winter. Of course, now that I no longer live in Seattle and instead am in snowy Minnesota, I should probably let go of some rain jackets and make sure there’s always room for… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

I was thinking about this later in the day and realized that in his rainy-er cooler neck of the woods, three rain jackets might indeed be appropriate, depending on temperatures and activity. In light of that and Leah’s reply, I duly retract my statement on the raincoats. Have at ’em!

Mary
Mary
8 years ago

We actually emptied the contents of our kitchen storing them on the back porch while we painted. Instead of bringing it all back in, we brought equipment and tools in only as we actually needed to use each item. We waited until after New Year’s to dump what wasn’t used and that brought us through normal living and the holidays. It was amazing how much we didn’t use at all. It kills me to see a $39 appliance just sitting there because I know how hard I work to get that much interest in one month!

happygal
happygal
8 years ago
Reply to  Mary

We also painted our family room, living room and kitchen this summer. Things had to be stored in the dining room. We have about cleared the dining room, but made a piece-by-piece decision about where each thing should go. Several items went to a charity. Some were seldom used and went to the basement. Some went back to their original space. It is fun to start over with a blank canvas. We also decided to clear the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and rearrange some items. Now remembering where they are is causing our brains to work a bit… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

BLANK CANVAS METHOD: Rent a storage unit. Move most of your things there. Then fish things out as you need them. Then sell the contents after some time (depending on how much you’re willing to spend– ideally you’d keep it for 1 full year to test every season, but that depends on how much you want to spend for the experiment). Alternatively, if you have a basement, you could stuff everything there and pray things don’t catch fire. But that’s a waste of blank canvas. I did the storage thing/blank canvas thing when we moved from a 3 bedroom house… Read more »

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

The closest thing to a decluttering success my wife and I have had was when we were moving some bookshelves across a room. We took everything off the shelves and put it in another room. Each of us was allowed to take whatever we wanted to put back on the shelves – not even a requirement that we use it. With the low bar we kept the majority of the stuff, but we did get rid of about 10%. It was at least easier to choose what to keep rather than what to get rid of. More positive energy or… Read more »

Rose Marie
Rose Marie
8 years ago

Yes – the local library! And, if possible, a library that is in a program with other libraries, so you can get any book you want, even if it takes a few days. Since I began working for Willamette University, I’ve been able to break my book buying addiction to almost zero. Like another person in the comments section, I have purchased a few books, but only after I read them and knew I wanted to read them again and again. And, I still buy books as gifts for my great nephews. But using the library is the perfect way… Read more »

Candice
Candice
8 years ago

This is a great post. Every consumer should have their own set of buying guidelines.

One guideline I have is to ask myself the questions, “Where will this item go? Am I willing to store it based on it’s size/purpose/frequency of use?” I am very anti-clutter, so this keeps me from pulling the trigger on a lot of purchases.

My husband and I also have several purge sessions a year. If we discover that we have more clothes than hangers, we don’t buy more hangers. We go through our clothes and pull out items to donate or toss.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
8 years ago

Good policies. Let me know if you need any help reading those comic books. 🙂

Don’t rent a storage unit. It’s such a stupid singularly American thing to do. Just toss the junks.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  retirebyforty

Renting a storage unit long term is throwing good money after bad. However, renting a storage unit for a short term (defined period for a specific reason) can make sense. In dollars per square foot per month terms, it’s a lot cheaper than an extra room in your house full of the junk. And if it is used as per the above comments to help you get rid of the junk permanently, it’s a win.

If you still have stuff in storage after a year, though, you should probably just get rid of it.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Exactly. For the record, I just kept my storage for 4 months: Moved out at the end of May, and in June and July we were traveling, so it makes normal sense to store. We got the new place August 1st. The following 2 months we took things out of storage only as we needed, and by the end of September we had either sold or given away everything that didn’t belong in the new place. But some people have ski equipment, and motorboats, and volleyball nets, and kayaks, and snowmobiles, and things that are supposed to be used seasonally… Read more »

brooklyn money
brooklyn money
8 years ago

I can get ebook loans through the NY Public Library now that I read on my kindle. Love it! I think a lot of libraries offer elending.

Naomi
Naomi
8 years ago

JD-

Do you know about the Icebreaker close-out sale? Every December in NW Portland they sell enormous quantities of merino wool clothing at ridiculously low prices (such as $175 sweaters for $40). Worth seeking out.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago

What about potential purchases where you’re not sure if you want them or not? I don’t mean a case where you’re on the fence – the default there is to fall on the “don’t get it” side IMHO. I mean things where you think it might be really useful, but you’re not sure and might not be able to figure it out until you try integrating it into your life.

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

I have been living this way for a long time, but I called it low profile lifestyle. Things never made me happy anyway so I focus on the experiences. My wife and I are going to Europe next year and comparatively, we will indulge ourselves modestly. These are the things I value.

Jess
Jess
8 years ago

I recently did a version of this: moved in with my boyfriend, put almost everything into a storage unit. Three months later we broke up and I found myself with boxes and boxes of stuff I couldn’t even REMEMBER. I was awash with grief and didn’t even feel like unpacking, so I took it as an opportunity to be rid of a lot of things I’d otherwise held on to. As I unpacked, if I had any doubt about an item, it went in the Goodwill pile. I made three big trips with my car, and haven’t missed a single… Read more »

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

Interesting that you mention your dream of starting to live in a new house with nothing. I used to dream of that, too. How it would feel to just start from scratch again, with less stuff. Funny, but it came true. I live in Germany now, in a tiny apartment with hardly anything. All my stuff sits in a storage unit in the U.S., and it feels like a burden. Some things I’m determined to move over here someday (such as furniture my grandpa hand crafted just for me), but I’m so looking forward to the day when I finally… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

This post is timely for me because I’m thinking about Christmas shopping. I try to align my gifts with what the person needs or wants — but it can be tricky. I think sometimes it’s easy to splurge on someone else but not yourself.

Unfortunately, some of the “clutter” I have around my apartment are gifts! It’s so hard to get rid of something you don’t need or use because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I like to follow the William Morris philosophy: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I have a real problem with clutter- too many hobbies! There’s the sewing machine, the knitting supplies, the crochet hooks, the sewing accessories, the patterns, the non-fiction books, the spindle and wool for spinning, painting supplies, letter writing paper, sketchbooks, toy stuffing, fabric and so much more. That’s not even counting the tools for my degree and the work from previous years, although many of my tools are in my locker at university now.… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I love that William Morris quote too 🙂

Oddly enough, this quote came through my feed today:

“To be content with little is hard; to be content with much, impossible.” – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

happygal
happygal
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I was at a charity flea market recently. A woman was selling crafts and talking about quilting. I asked if she were a quilter. She said no, just a collector of fabrics. That seems to be the way with most crafters…we collect all the supplies but never have enough time to actually create an item.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  happygal

There is a great thread on the Unclutterer forums about “decluttering our fantasy selves.”

It winds around the idea of conscious buying (and keeping) as well as how to come to terms with the people we used to be and aren’t anymore.

Diane
Diane
8 years ago

I did this when I bought my house. I had lived in a 1073 sq. ft. 1 bedroom and den apartment. I realized that I was never in the living room and just used it to hold a bunch of furniture. When I purchased my 793 sq ft, 1 bedroom condo I ended up with a very nice open floor plan where my office is sort of combined with my living room so that I use the entire space and not just half. Worked out great, I don’t feel cramped at all and I got rid of a bunch of… Read more »

Gina
Gina
8 years ago

Moving several times, including a cross-country move, taught me to live with less. It wasn’t worth paying to move some things from CA to VA, and then we lived without (and survived). Other things stayed in boxes for 2+ years and once we had the “room” for them, I decided not to bother. We had lived that long without them, we obviously didn’t need the clutter. Now that we’re staying put, I try to apply the same conditions.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken
8 years ago

In regards to you books and comics, I think that’s a very difficult thing to let go of for us bookish types. It took me years to realize that I didn’t need to hang onto every book I had ever bought and that I still got to keep the knowledge and pleasure I got from the books even if I no longer owned the book itself. When I moved in with my husband, I brutally purged my collection down by half. I still own way more books than you can comfortably shake a stick at, but I try not to… Read more »

AC
AC
8 years ago

Good article. I especially like your “purge” idea of only buying (and keeping) those things we use and value. I held on to some old job equipment for nearly 4 years without use. I always thought “well, you never know, maybe I’ll end up doing that job on the side again.” Problem is, I didn’t and don’t have plans to do that job ever again. And the equipment had sat for 4 years! I sold it on Craigslist a week later for $125 (nearly 1/2 its original value when purchases 6 years earlier).

Vince Thorne
Vince Thorne
8 years ago

One word: Budget. Stick to a monthly budget and discretionary spending will not overwhelm you.

Alex
Alex
8 years ago

I would keep things even simpler than that. When you think about buying something, ask yourself, do I need this? And define need fairly strictly as in if it is a necessity or not (and I know even this can be very subjective). I agree with going with quality if you can afford it, but even minimizing my spending and only buying what I need, I end up with a lot of clutter from free things I pick up here and there.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago

JD- Why don’t you spend a few nights or a few weekends going through your stuff and organize your entire household? Have bins labeled: keep, donate, and trash. Just deal with all the junk and get it over and done with. That’s what I did. I now own less than my boyfriend now. I digitized my life as much as I could. You should think about digitizing your collection. I got rid of my CD’s and now have an MP3 library. I buy e-books and got rid of most of my physical books. I only kept about 5 physical books.… Read more »

Diana Young
Diana Young
8 years ago

Good morning. We down-sized to a small condo and a sailboat when we retired (early). A rule we try to live by is “if we bring something home or aboard, we have to take something out or off at the same time”. It was amazing to realize how many things you end up bringing home (of course food or consumables such as wine doesn’t count).
Diana Author Financial Fitness for Beginners
http://www.financialfitnessbooks.com

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

The first time I moved, I cut my belongings by 1/4. The third time I moved, I cut my belongings by 1/3. Now that I’m in a house, I find myself going through shelves or cabinets at least once a year and tossing stuff into a box to donate/sell. The main thrust of this was: I Hate Dusting, therefore the less I have, the less I have to dust. That’s expanded out to only having four boxes of things in the house: two for Christmas and two of mementos that I don’t want to display but hold great sentimental value.… Read more »

Lina
Lina
8 years ago
Reply to  Jen

I have done the same thing. For every time I move I purge more and more stuff. During the last years I have moved at least four times which have reduced my belongings considerably. Although previously I have found it difficult to get rid of books but no I have booked a table at a flea market and decieded to get rid of all the books that I havent read during the last year. I am planning to move soon again and I have realised that I dont want to pay again for moving books that I dont read or… Read more »

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  Lina

Oh, every year I tell my mom exactly what to get me (Star Wars ornament from Hallmark) but she doesn’t believe me when I say that’s all I want. She feels “bad” that I’m only getting one thing, so she buys something else for me that I don’t usually want or need. Last year it was a t-shirt that had “Snow!” on it. A t-shirt..while cute, I can’t wear it in winter! I’ve done the ebay/craigslist dumping of my purged items, and the whole family has gone in on one yard sale every couple of years. I’m too lazy to… Read more »

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
8 years ago

JD I think you are too hard on yourself. You have stuff, people have stuff. It’s really only bad if the stuff is putting you into debt or if the stuff is affecting your life (think hoarders).

I suppose if you are really worried about stuff you can always hire a professional organizer to teach you the skills so that you can control/organize your stuff.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Slackerjo

I don’t think JD is being hard on himself at all. There’s no self-judgement in that article. “OMG I have three rain jackets I’m a terrible person!” LOL

He is just at the point where he is really thinking about things differently and he shares that because some of us may be at the same stage.

This whole process of financial reinvention (and decluttering, which seems to go along with it pretty often) is kind of like a kaleidoscope.

Each time you change the dial you get a different vision.

Louise
Louise
8 years ago

JD, you can try this to declutter. For every new (or used) thing that you’re bringing into your life that’s not a consumable like food or toilet paper, get rid of two items you already own. Doesn’t have to be the same type of stuff (e.g. old pants for new pants). This makes you think harder about what you’re adding to your life and if you want it enough to get rid of stuff you already own. Also, it’s a declutter as you go process. If you’re not the type who wants to spend a weekend, a day or even… Read more »

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