Determining the perfect amount

In the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the pesky Goldilocks is able to quickly find the bowl of porridge, chair, and semi-firm mattress that all meet her definition of just right. Granted, she has a limited set of options from which to choose, but she loves her choices so much that she is blissfully able to drift off to sleep in a den of BEARS at the end of her decision-making day.

In my life — thankfully without much threat of deadly wildlife mauling me — I struggle to find that point of just right with everything. How many pairs of jeans, shoes, spare rolls of toilet paper, rechargeable batteries, and baby bottles should I own? How much time should I spend working, socializing, sleeping, and exercising to feel my best? Is my house too small for my family’s changing needs?

Determining the just right amount of physical goods has proven to be easier than determining the less concrete attributes of life, and so I wanted to share my methods with you. The following is how I decide the perfect amount of goods for my space and my life:

  • How much space can I commit to storing this type of good?
  • How much space do I want to commit to storing this type of good?
  • Will I use all of it before it expires and/or becomes outdated and/or my brand loyalty changes?
  • Do I have enough (or too much) to get me through to my preferred cleaning schedule? (For example: Do I have enough pairs of socks to last me between laundry days? Am I putting off laundry until it gets out of control because I have too many pairs?)
  • Do I need or want this item at all?
  • How much time, money, and energy will I save in the future if I have more than one of these in my space?
  • What will I do if I run out?
  • Would having more or less of these items improve my quality of life?

Regardless of how good a deal is, I stick to this method of determining just right. What method(s) do you use? Tell us about it in the comments.

20 Comments for “Determining the perfect amount”

  1. posted by Michele on

    I have very little storage space and an even smaller income right now. I base my most important strategy on the idea that my life is “uncluttered” if I’m not running out of things unexpectedly. So, for just all of my groceries, toiletries, and other consumables, my rule of thumb is that I’m “out” of something when I’m using the next-to-last one and there is one more in the cabinet/drawer/pantry. Examples: I’m “out” of toothpaste when I’ve just opened a new tube and there is one unopened tube in the cabinet; I’m “out” of flour when there is a loaf of bread baking in the oven and I have enough flour left to make one more loaf; I’m “out” of vacuum cleaner bags when there is a bag in the vacuum cleaner and one new one left in the package. When something runs “out,” it immediately goes onto my weekly grocery shopping list.

    This way, I usually have two or three of all my consumables on hand. I never get stressed by finding that something is truly, completely depleted. Also, I save a few pennies by being able to wait, in the vast majority of situations, until something goes on sale to stock up, because I almost never have to pay a premium to replace something in an emergency.

    But my rule is a little flexible depending on storage space. For instance, I’m “out” of laundry detergent when I have one open box and zero unopened boxes, because I don’t have room to keep two unopened boxes in the laundry nook off the kitchen.

    But even that exception regarding space has two exceptions: food and clothes. I never turn down free food and clothes. If someone gives me food or clothes that really can’t use, I’ll just donate them within a couple of weeks. This doesn’t happen very often, though!

  2. posted by Sky on

    Excellent post! I used to keep various office stuff (tape, paper clips, etc), first aid items, batteries, etc. in several locations all over the house. Now all office items are in the office, first aid and medicines in the bathroom, etc. With all my “like items” together, I have more room and its not a problem to walk a few more feet.
    So, instead of having too much and the same thing in multiple locations, I know better what I have and don’t over buy. Making me more uncluttered!

  3. posted by Gumnos on

    We tend to operate like Michele — have one of most things in backup. The quantity in backup changes based on velocity-of-use. for things like the toothpaste she mentions or cleaning supplies, we’re “out” when we open the last one because we still have a couple weeks to burn through the last item (and we get coupons for toothpaste/disinfectant/etc frequently enough that good deals can be regularly found). However, certain regularly-used foods like canned pasta-sauce, cheese, or yogurt, we’re “out” much faster because the burn-rate is so much higher and the frequency of sales is much lower.

    We have enough space to stockpile non-perishable goods when they come on sale for a great price. But *only* those we know we’ll use.

    To directly answer some of your items:
    -spare rolls of toilet paper: enough to get through a regular shopping cycle (a week for us) without a panic-run to the store.

    -rechargeable batteries: We keep enough for items around the house, plus enough to restock any one of those items if they need new batteries (so that’s usually a spare pair of AA and a spare pare of AAA).

    -baby bottles: for our new bottle-fed addition, we have 8 of the small bottles which generally lasts us for about a 24hr period. Thus we do dishes once daily and the bottles go in with them. I suspect as the kid gets older, that number will go down, but the volume will have to go up

  4. posted by Marie on

    I used to measure my “just right” clothing by the size of a weekly wash load. Then my washer blew up and I got a new one with a smaller drum, and that went all to aych-ee-double-hockeysticks.

  5. posted by Courtney on

    In days of yore, chatelaines used to keep written lists of everything that was in the household, as part of their duties.
    For silly example: “sheets – cotton – white, 2 flat, 2 fitted – hall cabinet”
    I try to keep a mental list of everything that our household uses, and stick to *only* what our household uses. It may be a good deal, but if we’re never going to use it, there’s no point in having it.
    Along with that mental list, I keep an eye on what we need, and purchase it on demand, with some exceptions.

    I buy emergency preparedness items in bulk, use them up, and then replace them as needed. Generally: TP, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, infant Motrin, trash bags, laundry detergent, dish soap, bulk storage water (10 gallon canisters from Sam’s Club), rechargeable batteries, wipes (from Sam’s Club), diapers (which I get by the case monthly from Amazon.com, saving 15% with free shipping), bleach, shampoo, baby soap, bar soap.

    I buy beans, pasta, flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, olive oil, jarred tomatoes, and meat in bulk. I have an upright freezer for the meat, which I buy by the animal from a local farmer. Significantly cheaper than buying it from the store ($2.65/lb for the entire animal) and SOLE.

    I tend to buy new clothes for my husband and I once every season or so, just replacement for what we need. With my daughter, I tend to buy what she grows out of. Generally, it’s 5 pairs of paints, 5 short-sleeved shirts, 5 longsleeved shirts, 5 overshirts (sweatshirts/sweaters), 7 prs of socks, 7 prs of underwear, and 7 bras/undershirts. 2 prs of PJs. Sneakers, Boots, Sandals. 1 winter coat.

    How much time should I spend working
    no more than 40 hrs/wk
    socializing
    at least 3x/week
    sleeping
    at least 8 hrs/day
    exercising
    at least 3x/week

    Is my house too small for my family’s changing needs?

    I don’t think it’s too small, as long as you can live with on-demand living, or buying what you need when you need it, and then scrapping what you don’t need. That can get expensive, though.

  6. posted by Another Deb on

    I am fighting quite a battle with rechargable batteries. Perhaps Erin can uncover the secret of keeping up with this.

    The 20 or so rechargeable batteries in the drawer are varying ages. How can I keep them straight, and what do I need to know about using them? For instance, my husband says a set of the same total age needs to be used together.

    Is there a way to organize them so I have freshly charged batteries but not keep them “cooking” endlessly on the charger as I anticipate some need? My camera uses rechargables but if I don’t put them in the day I need the use the camera, the charge seems to be lost quickly.

    When can I assume they are all worn out so I can toss them?

  7. posted by Kris on

    I would suggest that for items of clothing that you want to wear “fresh” everyday, 7 is not enough. At least it’s not enough if you want to launder those items only once a week.

    For example, let’s say that I have 7 pairs of underwear.

    Let’s also say that I put on my last clean pair of underwear on Monday. That day I do a load of laundry and wash the 6 dirty pairs of underwear that I’m not wearing. But because I’m wearing the 7th pair of underwear, I can’t wash them.

    For the 6 days that follow (Tuesday through Sunday), I put on a clean pair of underwear each day. That means that I put on my last clean pair of underwear on Sunday. I have no clean underwear to put on on Monday morning. I will have to wear a dirty pair until after I finish doing laundry that day.

    (I suppose one option would be to skip wearing underwear on Monday, but I’d rather not.)

    Or, if I want to have clean underwear every day and I only have 7 pairs, another option would be to do laundry every 6 days. Thus if I do laundry on a Monday, I will have to wash underwear again the next Sunday. And after that, I will have to wash underwear the next Saturday, and so on.

    So, if I want to wear clean underwear every day and if I want to wash them only once a week, I need 8 pairs of underwear.

    And to go a step further, in some situations even 8 pairs of underwear won’t be enough.

    If some emergency makes it impossible to do laundry on Monday, I will be out of clean underwear on Tuesday.

    Similarly, if I’m called out of town unexpectedly because of a family emergency, I may not have any clean underwear to pack.

    For me, when it comes to underwear and socks, 7 or even 8 pairs is not enough.

  8. posted by trillie on

    I think “How much space do I want to commit to storing this type of good?” is the most rewarding question, because the “want” part suggests thinking about all of the other questions as well.

    As for cleaning supplies and similar stuff, I also just put them on my shopping list when I open the last one. For toilet paper, I have an emergency roll stored with my camping supplies (which is made of environmentally friendly paper), so whenever I’m out, there’s a scratchy reminder to buy a new package. Also, you never know when your guest’s kid decides to play ancient egyptian mummy ;)

    @Courtney: I’d love to be so organised and put together that I had a list like that! It is something I continually admire and aspire, and struggle with, because this “always be prepared” thing is really calming and relaxing in the long run. (Just like Flylady says! Maybe I should sign up for her emails again.)

  9. posted by WilliamB on

    My system is like that of Michele and Gumnos. For things I burn through quickly, I keep a lot on hand. I stock up during sales on these items and devote a relatively large part of my storage to them. Soda is an example.

    For things I burn through moderately quickly I keep at least two on hand, the one that’s open and the one in reserve. I will buy the replacement when I need it rather than waiting to stock up, but will stock up if the opportunity presents. Toothpaste is an example.

    For things I use slowly or rarely, I have only the one in use at hand and replace only when it’s almost empty. Tylenol is an example.

    An interesting organizational question: do you keep spares in a central location or where you use it? For example, do you keep an extra roll of TP in each bathroom or keep a pile of them in the linen closet? Both are valid answers but it’s good to know which one you prefer.

  10. posted by knitwych on

    I’m very interested in seeing replies to Another Deb’s post about batteries. I’m in the same boat, and it seems that the rechargable batteries are dwindling in their lasting power. I’ve labeled my sets of batteries with letters (A Set, B Set, C Set, etc.) using small blank return address labels, but when I buy new ones, I’ll switch to using the purchase date. Maybe this will help me determine which brand has the longest lasting power, both in the length of the charge and the life of the battery.

  11. posted by Sheila on

    I make storage space for more of things I can save on, such as, paper products or cleaning products, at wholesale clubs.

  12. posted by Dave on

    In response to Another Deb, I recently ditched my old rechargables & charger to switch to Sanyo Eneloops, specifically to deal with the need to have charged batteries available on short order. They keep their charge for ages, either in their drawer or in a device, which allows be to use them anywhere. TV remote, Wii controllers, I would even trust them in a smoke alarm. In terms of actual output they seem fine. I don’t worry about matching sets in terms of age, just making sure they are all fully charged, but the idea of labeling and using manufacture dates is excellent if that is a concern.

    I notice that my Eneloops do not have a manufacture date on them, and they are only available in AA/AAA sizes, but there are adapters they fit in for C and D – useful for some situations, but disposables might be the answer if you require a lot of C/Ds.

    Also, a Battery Tester is invaluable, and I picked up one for less than $3 at a surplus store

  13. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    My system is exactly like WilliamB’s. To answer his question about storage: Given the option, I prefer to keep extras near where they’re used, and in most cases we can make that happen in this house.

    I’m fortunate in that the closet in our guest bathroom is ridiculously huge and can easily accommodate several Costco-sized bundles of TP, tissues, and paper towels, so that’s where extras of that stuff lives. We keep a package of TP in each of the other bathrooms; when it gets down to the last roll or two, we go get another package from the closet.

    Our kitchen pantry holds almost everything, but some overflow ends up in the mudroom cabinets (I buy staples like canned tomatoes, broth, and the like in Costco quantities). The mudroom cabinets also hold the extra dishwasher detergent and dish soap, since the space below our kitchen sink is tiny and pretty much taken up by the current containers of that stuff and the recycling bin.

    This system works well except in the rare instance that I forget I stuck the extra dishwasher goo in the mudroom, see the undersink bottle is almost empty, and buy more. This is why I currently have four containers of dishwasher goo in the mudroom.

  14. posted by Babs on

    I do not like to run out of things. So I always have a back-up package of consumables (toilet paper, cereal, etc.) because I have the space to store them. And I have enough of clothes worn daily, like socks, that doing a load of wash won’t be a dire necessity. This amount to more than someone who’s really pared down, but it keeps me comfortable.

  15. posted by Jeannine on

    My husband has developed a motto that prevents:
    (1) him from keeping excessive amounts of “extras” around and
    (2) to prevent me from “uncluttering” too much of his stuff in our home!

    The motto is, “We keep exactly the amount of stuff we have room for.”

    So that means, when the drawer is full, when the closet is full, or when the cupboard is full, we can’t store any more. At that point, when we buy something new, we need to get rid of something. On the other hand, if all of his grubby t-shirts fit easily into the one drawer we have designated for them, then I can’t make him purge them. :)

    I buy only a few items in bulk, mostly for convenience rather than saving money. For me, buying toilet paper, cereal and detergent once a month at a big box store saves me from purchasing those bulky items on my weekly trips to the grocery store.

  16. posted by Courtney on

    @trillie – http://www.ready.gov helps a bit. ;) When all that fuss about swine flu came around last spring, I stocked up, and some supplies last forever. Plus, no matter what you buy, it tends to be cheaper in bulk if you shop around.

    I buy 12-packs of TP and keep them in the bathroom on a shelf, since I have space.

    Ditto the use of a battery tester, and in fact, our recharger has a battery tester built in. ;)

    Since my significant other is organizationally challenged, I get to make all the rules in this regard. That helps, but also hurts because if I’m sick or away, then the house looks like a disaster area when I get back.

  17. posted by The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: The Giving Tree Edition on

    [...] Determining the Perfect Amount How much is too little? How much is too much? Getting a good sense of both helps you to regularly use the perfect amount, which can save you a lot of money and time. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  18. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: The Giving Tree Edition | Frugal Living News on

    [...] Determining the Perfect Amount How much is too little? How much is too much? Getting a good sense of both helps you to regularly use the perfect amount, which can save you a lot of money and time. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  19. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: The Giving Tree Edition | Rich Dad Poor Dad Blog on

    [...] Determining the Perfect Amount How much is too little? How much is too much? Getting a good sense of both helps you to regularly use the perfect amount, which can save you a lot of money and time. (@ unclutterer) When Is It Okay to Finance Fun? I’m much more in favor of saving up for fun than financing fun. Financing fun means that, after the fun is over, you undo the joy you gained by having to face down the debt. By delaying gratification, you don’t have the downside of debt, just the upside of the fun. (@ get rich slowly) If Craigslist Cost $1 If Craigslist cost $1, I would actually use it. As it is now, with free postings, it’s a cesspool of nonsense. This model really does work – see Ask Metafilter for proof. (@ seth godin) [...]

  20. posted by The Academic Wardrobe: Planning on

    [...] fit, if it needs mending, or if there’s a stain, fix it or get rid of it. In “Determining the Perfect Amount,” Unclutterer’s Erin Doland asks some good questions about the relationship between [...]

Comments are closed.