by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Okay, a no-spend month (or year) is a bit of a misnomer; because, of course, you have to pay the rent or mortgage, the phone and electric bill, gas and insurance for the car, food, shampoo, and other sundry items.
You could become a total freeloader and wonder why, at the end of the month, you have no friends (because you’ve been eating all their food) and even your mom wants you to stop sleeping on her sofa.
Nope, not going to work. A no-spend month (or year) is really about becoming more aware of how you spend your money.
Benefits of a No-Spend Month (or Year)
Why This Month of Minimalist Living Isn’t So Minimalist
When you heard about a no-spend month, the first thing you probably thought of was the money you’d save. Chances are, you weren’t thinking of decluttering your home. However, this is another big benefit of a no-spend month, and just why you might push it into a no-spend season or year.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to use the stuff you already have.
Use the Food in Your Pantry, Refrigerator and Freezer
I’m not suggesting that you end up with empty pantry shelves and a bare refrigerator. However, this no-spend month is the perfect time to minimize your shopping list to dairy, bread, eggs, fruits and veggies and other stuff that you eat each week. Shop your pantry and freezer for the components of meals. Do you have three open boxes of cereal. Eat them before buying more cereal. Consider how many jars of sauce you need to keep on your shelf to make a quick supper. Chances are, it isn’t six.
If you go shopping every week, you are just days away from replenishing anything that you run out of during the week. Bonus – you save time that you used to spend stopping at the grocery store for an ingredient to round out your dinner’s menu. You might need to be a bit more creative and plan your menu for the week. Almost any combination of ingredients can be turned into a soup, stew, stir-fry, casserole, or tucked into a sub roll or fajita wrapper.
Yes, at some point, you’ll realize that you need to buy a bag of frozen peas or a box of orzo. That’s fine. You’ll work down you stock of food to a manageable level.
While using the food you already have, you may discover food that’s two years’ past its expiration date or chicken breast with a serious case of freezer burn. Now that you are using the food you’ve bought, you’ll eliminate that issue in the future.
Use the Grooming and Beauty Supplies You Have
Use the stuff you’ve bought on sale. Go back and use the items you stopped using because you wanted to try out your newest purchase. Unless something looks off or smells strange, use it. If it is disgusting, toss it.
When you notice you’re running out of a product, shop through your cabinets and cubbies to see if you have more. Yes, after a few months, you can replace the mascara you’ve been using. Replacing any item is fine. Buying more of what you already have in another color or fragrance is not okay on your no-spend season.
I know, you don’t want to deny yourself that great new nail polish color; however, buying it won’t help you reach the goals you’ve given yourself for going no-spend. Go home and pamper yourself with a mani-pedi using the nail polishes you already have.
You may start to realize that you have a lip balm and tube of hand cream in each of the five purses, totes, and gym bags you regularly carry. Do you really use the products stored in each bag? Or, was this a useful way to handle excessive purchase. Use up supplies and then replace them.
Wear the Clothing You Own
Want something new? Look through your own closet and you may discover something that you bought but haven’t worn (or rarely worn). Pull out the jewelry and purses and scarves and shoes that you haven’t used as often as your favorites. If you find something that doesn’t fit, is stained, or is uncomfortable, put it in a bag for donation.
If you can’t wear something, already it’s not a part of your wardrobe and you can get rid of it. Unlike a bottle of shampoo, you do not have to replace the pair of pumps that pinch your toes or the tee shirt with the coffee stain. Chances are, you have another pair of pumps and another tee shirt that you can wear instead. Again, if you can’t wear something, it isn’t part of your wardrobe, so you don’t need to replace it. If you own one white button-down and you wear it all the time, then you can replace it when your sister’s toddler gives you a spaghetti sauce-laden hug.
Keep Playing the “Shop in Your Own Home Game”
Once you start looking, you’ll realize that you have a lot of stuff that you normally would have shopped for.
Want to carve away at your clutter, a little bit at a time? It’s not to late to join A Year of Decluttering, a free 365-day program.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Here we go again. A new year and probably a lot of the same resolutions you made last year. Oh, look, “get organized.” Right behind “lose weight” and “get a better job.” It’s discouraging.
You really, really hate feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff in your home. You can’t stand that you misplaced your car keys (again). You’re annoyed that you spent 15 minutes this morning trying on all six pairs of black dress pants hanging in your closet trying to find the pair that fits and doesn’t need to be hemmed. You’re annoyed by all the money you’ve spent on items you don’t even use.
But, where should you start? How much time will the process of decluttering your home take? Do you need to block out every weekend for the next six months or take a week off work so that you can dedicate yourself to decluttering and organizing your home?
Start with Your WhyWhy do you want to declutter your home? Yeah, yeah, I know, “duh, too much stuff.” But, here’s a kick in the pants … if “too much stuff” was your reason for decluttering and getting organized last year, then it’s just not a good enough reason.
Do you want to sit around the dining room table with your family instead of perching on the couch while eating dinner? Do you want to show off your personal fashion style (once you find it)? Do you want to get rid of the camping gear you haven’t used since college, so you can use the art supplies you do want to use (but can’t, because, camping gear)?
Your “why” will probably be very specific. It might be so specific that you don’t think it will be useful because you have so many things and spaces to declutter and organize. The thing is, once you clear off the dining room table, you’ll probably start decluttering the space around the table, so you aren’t staring at clutter while eating dinner. Then, you’ll work on tidying the rest of the room. While going through things, you bring the scissors, a bottle of glue, and a blank notebook to your home office, which starts you organizing your desk and then the file cabinet and then the bookcase.
You get the idea. Start small. Start specific. Start with doable.
Get in the Habit of MaintenanceFrom this day forward, get in the habit of putting things away when you finish with them, particularly when the task will take less than two minutes.
You finished your cup of coffee? Take the mug from your desk and put it in the dishwasher (you can stop by the bathroom afterwards). When you take off your jacket as you walk in the house, hang up the jacket instead of wearing it into another room and then tossing it on the back of a chair.
This gets you in the habit of figuring out where things belong, which may be a major source of your clutter. Some clutter is stuff that doesn’t have a home or that isn’t put back where it belongs (where you’ll go looking for it the next time you want it).
Surprised? You may have thought that clutter was stuff you had to get rid of. Sometimes yes; sometimes no.
Declutter in Small StepsOh, small steps, like, “declutter my closet.” Ah, no. Chances are you’ll open your closet, pull out a few things, and then drop to the ground, curled into the fetal position. Small steps are most effective when you think of them and roll your eyes at how simple they’d be to accomplish. So,
“I’ll clean my dresser (all six drawers).” NOPE
“I’ll dump everything out of these three drawers and reorganize the stuff.” No
“I’ll tidy this one drawer.” Hmmm, maybe.
“I’ll pull the sports bras out of this drawer and see which ones are still in good condition. I’ll put back the ones that I can still wear to the gym.” Yeah. It took me longer to make that statement than it did to do the task.
This small task may not make a significant difference to the clutter in your home, but, and this is a big, meaningful but, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment instead of feeling overwhelmed frustration. After completing the small task chances are that tomorrow you’ll find it easier to do another small task. If you tried to tackle too much, you would have been so frustrated that it may have taken you a couple of weeks before you went back to the task of cleaning your dresser.
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Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.