Are you shopping for chaos?

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to offer us advice on curbing shopaholic practices. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

Ahhhhh, the siren song of the mall. Doesn’t it feel nice at the mall? Isn’t it pretty in the mall? Doesn’t the mall smell all yummy and delicious, thanks to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Cinnabon? Doesn’t being at the mall just make you wanna get a Starbucks latte and go buy stuff? AAAARGGGHH STOP IT! That’s what got you in trouble in the first place!

If your clutter issues stem chiefly from shopping, here are a few helpful tips to change that reality so you can conquer your clutter once and for all.

  1. Be aware of how you feel. If you use shopping, and specifically BUYING to alter your mood, notice it! If buying something new gives you an emotional high that temporarily takes you away from your troubles, makes you feel safe, worthy, loved, or gives you some other rush, it’s important to be aware of it. Once you’re aware of why you’re buying, you can take other steps to make yourself feel better besides buying. I would recommend a few sessions with a counselor, a hypnotist, or therapist to get to the root of your buying.
  2. Imagine yourself at home. When you’re OUT of your cluttered home and inside the gorgeous four walls of Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, it’s easy to forget how stressed your home makes you. Again, that’s the idea. They WANT you to forget about your house and just open your wallet. And listen, when you really need something, great. Go buy it! But before you do, vividly imagine yourself back at your house with your new “thing”. Where in your already cluttered home will your new thing live? Who will clean it? How much space will it consume? What will it give you back? How long will it be valuable? Asking yourself these questions will help you make better buying decisions.
  3. Calculate the TIME cost. If money isn’t a motivator for you, and unnecessary spending doesn’t inspire you to reduce your shopping, think of how much TIME your new “thing” will cost you. Let’s say you make $20 per hour, and your new “thing” costs $100. In time currency, your new thing will cost you FIVE HOURS of your life. Thinking of new purchases in this way will help you decide if you REALLY need it or if you just want it to make yourself feel better.

The next time you’re out shopping, try these simple tips and see if it doesn’t help shift your shopping mindset so you can make better, more powerful choices and reduce the clutter in your life.

11 Comments for “Are you shopping for chaos?”

  1. posted by MushPanjwani on

    Excellent tips, Monica! I am forwarding to my wife and daughter.

    I follow a rule: buy one, give away one. For every shirt I buy, I must give away an old one. Same for shoes, books and other stuff. That greatly helps control the shopping.

  2. posted by whyioughtta on

    I’m a shopaholic…a “fashion collector” (at least that’s what I tell myself). But this year we’ve really had to cut back so I carefully assessed my spending and gave myself a clothing budget. I know the concept is not earth-shattering, but it has REALLY helped me curb my impulse buying. I think it’s because by giving myself an annual “allowance”, it’s somehow translating in my psyche as being given a lump sum for shopping–GUILT FREE!

    I can spend it all on one thing, or I can buy 50 things. In the interests of uncluttering, I’ll probably just buy a few higher-quality items. Whereas before, when I didn’t think about my spending in this way, I would buy a bunch of cheap things on impulse and feel guilty about it later.

  3. posted by Suzyn on

    The book *Your Money or Your Life* has a great section on time cost. If you make $20/hour, and then factor in taxes, transportation to and from work, work-clothes (anything you would never wear if you didn’t work), etc., that $100 item is probably costing you more like TEN HOURS of your life.

  4. posted by Trog on

    Good tips. I use number one and number three a lot.

    The few times I go shopping for something other than groceries I usually go shopping when I am feeling stressed or want to reward myself. I’ve often looked back on purchases made on those trips with regret as I rarely purchase things I love when I do this. It took me many trips to realize why I end up shopping when I do and knowing why definitely helps curb impulse spending.

    Strangely my love for lack of a cluttered, messy kitchen can sometimes lead me to grabbing some fast food rather than cook something from scratch and make a big mess of the kitchen so I have to remind myself of how overpriced fast food really is in comparison to a meal made at home to help me avoid hitting the drive through. I do the “how long will I have worked for this meal” question nearly every time I do this.

  5. posted by Louise on

    Monica, what advice would you have for someone who is a shopaholic but extremely organized? My mother is clearly shopping to fill a hole in her life, but her home is beautiful. She loves all the stuff she has and it is displayed very attractively. Everything is clean and dusted, and she rotates decorative items in and out of storage.

    She lives alone and have five (yes, five!) closets full of clothes, most unworn. Yet the closets are neatly arranged by season and color.

    She can certainly afford to spend the money and is financially conservative. She just shops constantly and yet is unhappy in so many ways. Am I just projecting my own decluttering needs onto her? I’d say I am, except for the anger and sadness I see in her…

  6. posted by Caroline on

    I always ask myself “Do you need this?” and walk away. If I am still thinking it over later on, or I decide a couple days later that indeed it would be useful and practical to have, (or it is really what I want and I can afford it) I go and get it.

    This has saved me so many times I have lost count.

    Another thing I do is make a list of items I want that I keep handy. That way, I can look at that list, and I am reminded I should save to get these items, like an iPod, or that new dress for my friend’s wedding, instead of spending nickels and dimes here and there on things I impulse buy, or do not really need.

    It also makes a handy reference for people when they ask “whatcha want for Christmas/Birthday/Anniversary?”

  7. posted by Erin on

    Louise’s post really struck a chord with me. I’d love to see Unclutterer address that topic- the ‘organized’ cluttered person. As well as the anger/sadness aspect of filling a void with STUFF. Louise I wish you luck!

  8. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I try to move some items out when I bring home new ones. It’s not always easy to do but when you don’t have a huge home, you really have no choice.

  9. posted by chacha1 on

    I used to be the organized cluttered person. I am now working toward – to borrow a phrase from “Jennifer” who commented recently on Simple Dollar – “Net Loss of Stuff.”
    I shopped as therapy for an extremely stressful job that I kept just for the high wage. Finally gave myself a 30% pay cut to get out of there and oddly enough have “needed” to shop a lot less.
    Maybe Louise’s mom needs a little gentle help finding a new, more fulfilling activity than shopping. Maybe there is something she’s always wanted to do but needs a little push (an art, a skill, an adventure) or a companion. She may not be conscious of being unhappy, so maybe just taking her hand and asking, Mom, are you happy? could start the conversation.

  10. posted by Claire McFee on

    Great tips. Getting you to think about visualising the shopping items in your home – with all the ‘stuff’ you already have and what a waste that usually is with everything else you already have is really effective…and of course thinking about how much in real terms it is costing you to actually purchase it and therefore is it really worth it??

    I frequent Op Shops / Charity shops now and again for cheap but ‘vintage’ stuff and if I make a bad buying decision at least I haven’t spent much and can just donate it right back. As I say “Make the Op Shop / Charity store your best friend!”

    Claire McFee

  11. posted by Monica Ricci on

    What intelligent and thoughtful comments! Thank you all for the kind words on my guest post. Louise, first yes, you may be projecting your desires onto your mother’s home. Sometimes it’s tough to detach when they involve people we love, especially our parents. I had the same issue with my own mom (but her house wasn’t neat or orderly)

    Secondly, have you had a loving and candid conversation with your mother? Does she know how you feel? Does SHE perceive it the way you do (as a problem)? That’s the first thing to establish.

    Has she always been this way or did something trigger this pattern? You say she is “financially conservative” yet with five closets full of clothes, she must spend a ton of money. She must also donate a lot of stuff if her house continues to stay manageable and it isn’t overrun with clutter. Where does all the stuff go that she buys? Eventually the house, attic and basement will fill up. Then what is her plan?

    She may indeed be assuaging some sort of pain, sadness, or anger by acquiring new things but because it’s a temporary pain reliever, she has to KEEP shopping to keep her pain at bay. However, unless this behavior begins to be a problem for HER there is likely not much you can do about it — nor should you push it, in my opinion.

    She’s an adult and it’s her life — as long as she is not in physical danger, you might want to release the anxiety YOU have about it and simply make a safe space in your relationship for her to come to you when she is ready. You want her to know you’re there for her *whenever* she is ready to make a change.

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