by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
While decluttering your closet or desk or another spot in your home, have you found souvenirs from past vacations? What did you decide to do with them? Did you gather them in a memory box, toss them, or move them to another location so you could decide about them some other day?
There’s no right or wrong answer, provided your decision was a mindful one.
What I mean is – keeping souvenirs just because these tchotchkes are proof that you visited someplace says nothing about whether your memories of a vacation are pleasant ones and tossing those souvenirs just because you are decluttering also ignores your memories.
And, keeping them so you can decide another day? Let’s be honest, that was really a decision to keep them; you just didn’t want to admit it.
Declutter Vacations Souvenirs
You hold your memories of your vacations in your mind not in things. You can take a picture of a souvenir and tuck it into a digital file with photos of that trip. (I’ll talk about digital photos in June and October as part of A Year of Decluttering.)
Use your decluttering efforts at home as a reminder to avoid buying souvenirs during upcoming vacations. (If you are in the habit of buying souvenir tee shirts, do you really wear them multiple times?)
And, do you have souvenirs of other people’s vacations? Appreciate that the individual thought of you and then toss the item if you don’t care for it; it isn’t really your keepsake.
Display Vacation Souvenirs
Are your vacation souvenirs focused on a single type of object, say, shot glasses or magnets? Do you currently display them in a prominent location? If others are visiting you, does the collection catch their eye and prompt a conversation?
If you are reluctant to toss those vacation-site tee shirts (even though you don’t wear them), would you be willing to invest in hiring someone to turn into a quilt?
There’s nothing wrong with keeping the souvenirs from your vacations, if you enjoy them and aren’t just holding onto them because you think you need something to show from your trip. Having one souvenir from a trip is more meaningful than have a shot glass, decal, tee shirt, figurine, and magnet from each trip.
Decide What You’ll Do with Souvenirs
If you say that you are happy leaving your keepsakes in a box in the basement or garage (or scattered in random storage spaces), question what you get from these souvenirs by keeping them this way. Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel that if something can stay in a box and never get pulled out then it isn’t really a part of your life. It’s okay to keep the memories and let go of the knickknacks.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
Your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry are some of the most straightforward locations in your home to declutter and organize. So, why might you avoid decluttering these areas? You may find yourself facing good intentions that fell to the wayside – food for the diet you were going to follow, the healthier meals you were going to prepare, the attempts to be more adventuresome.
And, while many other items around the house may tempt us into saying, “I might use this,” food has an expiration date that prevents us from holding onto it indefinitely. So, how can you psychologically deal with the embarrassment or disappointment of purchases that end up in the trash?
Instead of flipping the item into a trash bag as quickly as you can so to hide the evidence, hold the item for a moment and consider what you got from making this purchase. Was it the thrill of finding a bargain? Was it the feeling that you were making positive changes in your diet? You got that feeling by buying the items, not using them; so, in a way, the items served a purpose.
That thought probably doesn’t improve the frustration you feel from wasting money or resources by buying food that you didn’t eat. Use this knowledge. In the future, allow yourself no more than a single new- or unusual-for-you food item a week and make yourself use the item within a week (before it has a chance to slide to the back of the pantry).
How to Clean Your Refrigerator, Freezer, Pantry, or Spice Rack
Before you start, you’ll want a few things on hand. Grab a cleanser and cleaning cloths. Have a trash barrel (and a back-up trash bag) handy. If you wear reading glasses, have them or a magnifying glass on hand so you can see expiration dates.
Note what types of food you threw away. If fresh fruit and vegetables spoil before they get used, consider purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables, purchasing smaller quantities, or only buying these items when you’ve planned a meal.
Create Your Own Systems and Tricks
Half of my shopping list includes items that get purchased every week so when I return home from one shopping trip, I immediately start the next week’s list. Then, when I take something from the pantry, it is immediately added to my shopping list.
I limit myself to keeping one or two of different boxed or canned goods on hand. I know I don’t serve pasta more than once a week, so I don’t feel the need to keep more than two boxes on hand. The same with things like diced tomatoes, I keep one can.
Every two or three months, I shop at BJ’s Wholesale for proteins that get packed into my refrigerator freezer. When the freezer is empty, it’s time to shop again. To keep track of these items, I make a list because, otherwise, I’ll forget the chicken wings pushed to the back of the freezer.
These systems work in my home – my husband and I eat at home six days a week and our adult nephew irregularly joins us for meals. Notice how you actually plan and eat your meals at home (as opposed to focusing on an ideal that you don’t follow) and you’ll likely see less waste and lower grocery bills.
What's your favorite way to reduce food waste and keep your kitchen organized? Leave a comment below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I once used to show kids how to use a drop spindle, a very simple tool for spinning sheep’s wool into yarn. It is basically a dowel, a small hook, and a weighted base. Kids would watch me do it (and I have only the most basic skills) and then give it a try. Within fifteen seconds, multiple kids would start wailing that their spindle didn’t work.
I laughed, pointed out that the drop spindle was basically a stick and therefore did nothing. To experience using a drop spindle, they’d have to try using it, even if they weren’t getting the results that they thought they should.
Then, one day at home, I pulled from my closet some simple fitness equipment that I never used. I was thinking how frustrated I was that the equipment hadn’t worked for me when I froze in my thought. Of course, it hadn’t done anything for me, it was an inanimate object, a simple tool.
Like the kids who thought the drop spindle would spin wool into yarn, I expected that kettlebell to get me into shape. Now, yes, I realized that I had to use this weightlifting tool to see results; which made me also realize that part of my expectation was that owning a kettlebell would make me someone who used a kettlebell for strength training.
You Can't Buy Motivation
I love this question from financial blogger Cait Flanders, “Who are you buying this for: the person you are, or the person you want to be?” While decluttering, I often realize that I bought a book or item because I envisioned myself as a person who kayaked, decorated cakes, followed the Whole30 diet, etc.
Now, setting goals is a good thing. Goals give us something to focus on and work toward beyond day-to-day tasks like laundry and running to the grocery store. However, setting a goal isn’t a reason to go shopping.
Imagine an individual who decides that they’ll run a 5K (so not me). They decide that they need a good pair of running shoes and, oh, a fitness tracker so they can post their progress on social media to, you know, keep them accountable. In their mind, they are working toward running a 5K – even though they spend their evenings on the couch while waiting for their new purchases to arrive.
In fact, this person doesn’t have a consistent workout routine. They figure that setting a goal (run a 5K) will motivate them. Instead of putting on their good-enough sneakers and getting in the habit taking a walk every day, they focus on the goal instead of the process. Instead of considering who they are (someone who spends their evenings on the couch), they buy stuff for the person they want to be – someone who has run a 5K.
Eventually, a lot of the items we buy for the person we want to be ends up in boxes – discovered only when we start to declutter.
So, what if you need specific items to do an activity, like skiing, snowshoeing, playing the ukulele, or getting into photography?
Rent the items. You may think that it will be cheaper to buy over renting, but consider renting, at least the first time. Shops that sell equipment may also rent, it’s just a matter of asking. Also, look at your local gym as a resource for “renting” exercise equipment while you use it at their location.
Borrow an item. My public library has a small collection of borrowable items, like an InstaPot and a ukulele. What does your library offer?
Consider asking, family, friends, and coworkers if someone has an item that you’d like to try. Maybe you’re interested in drinking fresh juice every morning. Your cousin might not be up to lending you his juicer, but you could ask if you could bring supplies over and give it a try at their house. If you’re borrowing an item, plan to return it in a week or two to keep your relationships smooth.
Think twice if someone tells you that you can have an item or buy it off them. Just because they didn’t use it doesn’t mean you won’t but consider this instance. Remember, part of your goal is to avoid collecting something that will become clutter in your home.
Skip the item. Be creative and work toward the goal without buying an item. Do you really need to buy a treadmill, or could you go for a walk outside? While a fitness tracker is a great way to capture how many steps you take during a day, couldn’t you up your level of activity by making a point to get up and move around throughout the day? Is your real goal to take 10,000 steps a day or to move around more?
Work on Your Goal without Buying Anything
Consider what the item is supposed to do for your goal. Now, imagine that you tried to purchase the item only to discover it will be on backorder for the next three months. However, you are so excited by your goal you still want to work toward it. But how? Come up with five ways you could work on your goal without buying that thing. Next, come up with another five ideas.
I know that it’s fun to buy new stuff, particularly when you think it will help you learn something new or help you reach a goal. You may consider your options and decide that, yes, you are committed to making the purchase; but, now, you are doing so more mindfully.
Releasing Aspirational Clutter
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
As a young adult, every Sunday morning I’d drive my mother to the local CVS Pharmacy so that she could pick up the Sunday papers and shop for the beauty and grooming supplies and other sundry items available at this store.
Since I was there, I’d shop for whatever I needed while checking out new products. Along the way, I adopted my family’s habit of making certain I didn’t run out of anything (even though the store was a five-minute drive from home). This meant that if I started on a new bottle of shampoo or body wash, I would buy a new bottle on my next shopping trip – even though I wouldn’t need it for another month or two.
When my mother died, I took home bags of new and nearly new grooming supplies that she had stockpiled. I didn’t have to buy anything for months. This had me rethink my shopping habits with these types of items.
What Is a Shopping Ban?
A shopping ban doesn’t mean that you can’t buy anything. Consumables that get used up, such as food and shampoo usually get the green light. However, you set rules on the gray areas. For example, coffee is a consumable, but you may decide that you won’t buy it at a coffee shop, but you can make coffee at home. Also, if you know you need to replace your worn-out sneakers, you can buy them during a shopping ban, if you add them to your approved list.
I’ll give myself a mini shopping ban when I go to the store where I’ll limit myself to what is on my list, and I can only list items that I’ve run out of or I will run out of in the next week. No browsing or impulse purchases.
Tempting Sales, Coupons, and In-Store Offers
Yesterday I went to CVS with a shopping list of six items – four I would use or start using right away and two that I’d need within a week. Each item came with an enticing offer that would have required me to spend more and bring home additional items.
Usually, the practicality of grooming supplies would have given me the go-ahead to buy more. After all, I’d save money now and use the items later. But, I’ve started to question if that tactic is in alignment with my goals. So, what challenges did I face in the store?
Hair color – In the Sunday paper, I’d found a three dollar off coupon that would expire in two weeks. I planned on coloring my hair right away, so the coupon was a good deal, I wasn’t buying something I wouldn’t use for months.
Shampoo – If I wanted the sale price on the shampoo I was buying, I would have to buy three bottles of shampoo. I bought one bottle, paid the regular price and spent half of what I would have if I’d stockpiled a nearly six-month supply of shampoo.
Moisturizer – Yes, this was on sale; however, if I spent a certain dollar amount on this line of products, I’d earn an in-store reward. Because the moisturizer was on sale, I’d have to buy a second product to reach the reward. I didn’t need another product.
Sleeping Aid and Toothpaste – Both items offered a buy one and get one at 50% off deal … tempting, but I decided I didn’t want to spend more money.
Replacement Electric Toothbrush Head – Not on sale.
I spent $100. If I’d taken advantage of the offers I mentioned, I probably would have spent another $40. I also would have ended up with a stockpile of items that I wouldn’t use for another month or six. In those few months, I would have shopped at CVS additional times and encountered other sales. I could have bought items that I’d forgotten I had stocked at home.
Define Your Shopping Ban or No-Spend Month
If you do a shopping ban, where you limit yourself to an approved list of purchases, you decide how you’ll handle sales and in-store offers. Do you buy the shampoo while it’s on sale, even though you won’t need it for a while … or, would you count that as an impulse purchase?
If you find that you have a stockpile of items that you’ve purchased on sale or with coupons, you could do a no-spend month which doesn’t just cut out spending but encourages you to use the things you’ve already bought.
So, how do you handle coupons, sales, and other in-store offers that encourage you to stockpile beauty and grooming supplies (as well as food and cleaning supplies) while managing your desire for less clutter? Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comment section below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Weird confession. I’m drawn to colors. No, not, “Oh, I love that shade of blue.” Nope, not me. I want all the colors. If I’m looking at an item that comes in multiple colors, I want all of them. Fortunately, this weakness doesn’t extend to purchasing a tee shirt in each of the eighteen colors its offered (my wardrobe is black and gray).
However, I long for the set of Sharpie markers in the largest, most colorful set offered. Instead of buying a palette with two or three eye shadows, I buy the one with ten (neutral) colors. The last time I bought ball-point pens, I bought the pack with pink, green, red, purple, light and dark blue, and black. If I wrote color-coded notes or lists, this would make sense. But, no. I just use the pens as pens.
I once bought one skein of every color Red Heart offers for their Super Saver yarn. I filled four big plastic totes with the yarn that took me over two years to work through.
I have to be vigilant, particularly if I’m tired or stressed or rushed for time when I run into a store. Oooo, a box with 120 Crayola crayons!
When you notice your shopping weaknesses, you can better prepare yourself for not buying things that later overwhelm you when you realize they’ve become more clutter.
Avoid Recreational Shopping
The kids are bored, or you and your friend are getting together for a couple of hours and someone says, “let’s go to the mall.” Maybe you have no intention of buying anything and you think that you’ll just walk around and look.
If you are just getting into the habit of decluttering possessions, why tempt your new resolve by wandering around stores for entertainment?
Limit Online Shopping
I’m always saying that I hate shopping. What I should be saying is, I hate going into stores. Online shopping from the comfort of my home, no problem. Or, well, it is a problem because it’s a little too convenient. Know what I mean?
Scroll from screen to screen and you see far more options than you would have walking around the mall in the same amount of time. And, what about the daily emails from stores and websites? Every one of them offers free shipping or a 2-for-1 deal or a limited time sale that make us feel as if we’d be losing money if we didn’t buy something.
Question Your Shopping Weaknesses
What tests your resolve to limit purchases? Shoes? Handbags? Books? Kitchen gadgets? Craft supplies? Beer-themed knickknacks for the man-cave?
If you know where or what your weaknesses are, you can decide to avoid them. Don’t go all “poor me, I can’t buy those adorable sandals.” Instead of thinking that you can’t buy something, rephrase it as a confident, “I choose not to buy those sandals. I’m working down my credit card debt and I’m cleaning my closet. Keep walking.”
If online shopping at 10 p.m. has you opening packages two days later, wondering what you were thinking, find something else to do at 10 p.m.
8 Ways to Limit Clutter by Limiting Shopping
While we tend to think of decluttering as going through the things we already own, noticing what your shopping weaknesses are can limit the number of new things that make their way into your house.
Learn How to Make this the Year You Declutter Your Home with some simple steps.
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.