Avoiding clutter by careful purchasing

Poorly chosen purchases are one major source of household and office clutter. While most of us are unlikely to totally eliminate this problem, we can certainly minimize it.

I’ve written before about controlling online purchases, but what about in-store purchases? You could implement a “mandatory waiting time” policy for anything not on your shopping list, but that’s not the only possible approach.

Paco Underhill is an expert in how stores convince people to buy, and he provided the following suggestions in The New York Times:

For consumers, my advice is this: Never shop tired, never shop hungry, and keep a list of shopping objectives. And if the deal looks too good to be true, pay attention to your instincts and just step around it. Don’t buy for “someday” — if you can’t wear it or use it today, chances are it will become clutter in your home instead of in the store.

What else might you do? If you’re going shopping with a friend, be sure that’s a friend who will be useful. You want someone who will give you honest feedback about the wisdom of a purchase: whether something does indeed look great on you, whether it’s something that makes sense for you to buy at this time, etc. I made one of my more useless purchases when I went clothes shopping with someone else. With her encouragement, I bought something I would never have bought if I had been shopping by myself. (Fortunately, it wasn’t an expensive item.) But another friend helped me pick my fantastic sofa, which was somewhat expensive but worth every penny.

Reflecting on prior purchases and seeing where you tend to go wrong can also be useful. Jeff Yaeger wrote on AARP’s “Money Talk” blog about doing an annual “What the Heck was I Thinking” self-audit annually, at tax time.

It’s simple: Just quickly review your credit card statements, canceled checks, receipts, etc. for the larger purchases you’ve made in the past year, particularly the discretionary, “nonessential” things you’ve spent money on. Then ask yourself one question: “If I had it to do over again, would I have bought that?” Make a note of those things that you spent money that you now regret, and then take a few minutes to really study that list once it’s complete.

The idea is to learn from your spending mistakes so that you won’t keep repeating them.

… It’s also helpful to carry your “What the Heck Was I Thinking?” list with you in your wallet or purse, and glance at [it] whenever you’re headed out on a shopping spree. 

Similarly, you could choose to give yourself a different kind of physical reminder to help control impulse purchases. This pocket wallet reminds you to think twice before spending your money.

For those who share its social concerns, The Center For a New American Dream has a wallet buddy you can print out and wrap around your credit or debit card, with the reminder that, “Every dollar I spend is a statement about the kind of world I want & the quality of life I value.” On the reverse side, there are a series of questions, including “Do I need this & do I need it now?” There are also questions about whether the product was made sustainably and whether it has too much packaging.

If you like the idea of a credit/debit card wrapper, you could certainly create your own, with whatever reminders are helpful to you. As an alternative to the wrapper, you could print a short reminder on a label maker and attach that directly to your card.

11 Comments for “Avoiding clutter by careful purchasing”

  1. posted by Pat Reble on

    I find that after a while I go “blind” to visual reminders. What I find helpful in reducing impulse buying is putting a couple of rubber bands around my credit cards. The time spent removing them is “pause for thought”

  2. posted by Tam on

    Clutter Diet has a great wallet reminder sleeve for your credit cards: https://clutterdiet.customerhub.net/printables (I think you need to create a free account to access this, but it’s worthwhile!)

  3. posted by kym on

    Impulse spending can be an issue for me – I find internet purchases to be the hardest thing to avoid as they seem so insignificant until they build up!

    I like the pocket wallet idea.

  4. posted by kym on

    Impulse spending can be an issue for me – I find internet purchases to be the hardest thing to avoid as they seem so insignificant until they build up!

    I like the pocket wallet idea.

  5. posted by Grace on

    I’ve been really trying to use the zero waste 5R rule: Refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle, rot. So the first rule is don’t buy it at all.

    These days if I want something, I tell myself I will wait a year before buying it and then see if I still want it. Makes me lose interest pretty quickly. 🙂 No more “wait 24 hours.” That only made me obsess until I ended up buying it. I’m also buying stuff secondhand now. I’m down to owning only two t-shirts, and one of them will need to be replaced soon, so I’ll just pick up another one at a secondhand or vintage store.

    Amazon – I stay away now except for a few T.V. shows. Since I’m out of the habit of just buying stuff for the sake of buying it (especially new stuff) and refusing to buy stuff at all until there is a pressing need, there’s no reason to troll around on Amazon anymore. 🙂 I had to stop buying the Seventh Gen bathroom tissue on Amazon because it was too much of a trigger going to the site for basic household items. I found a local restaurant supplier who sells bathroom tissue wrapped in paper in a cardboard box, so I managed to continuing avoiding plastic.

    Impulse book buying – This was one of my biggest issues. 🙁 San Francisco Public Library has LINKS, which means we can check out books not only from other local public libraries but from academic and university libraries up and down the West Coast. So really there is probably not any book I will ever need to buy again. For people like me who love reading history and obscure academic books, it’s a dream.

    Staying uncluttered and zero waste is an ongoing process of staying in the moment and being very conscious. I really struggled in the beginning but now it’s much easier since going all in for all aspects of it – refusing to buy it in the first place, buying used items and not new, reducing the clutter, and finally when that part of your brain clicks and you realize you don’t need “stuff” to make you happy, it’s almost second nature.

  6. posted by laura m. on

    I try to have a place for everything. For ex: when I did a closet purge, one of the purses had two new wallets, and I had three more in the drawer. So, I gave two away. Extra things like scissors, wash rags, dish scrubbers are fine, they are used all the time. One site had a clothing purge I found motivating, it suggested a dozen items of each type clothing for warm and colder weather, like a dozen winter pants or jeans, a doz. summer pants or shorts, ditto skirts, blouses, tops. I’m still working on the tops, way too many! socks and underwear don’t count. Will do another purge next week. Got rid of extra coffee mugs, drink glasses, several pots not being used. Kitchen are the worst room to keep up with. Think of group homes near you, they always need household stuff and some clothing in good condition.

  7. posted by Grace on

    I agree about kitchens requiring ongoing vigilance. I finally donated my 7-cup Cuisinart which I was down to using maybe 2-3 times per year. I kept my 3-cup mini-processor and my immersion blender with the attachments. I was never more glad to see that behemoth go, they are such space hogs. It’s looking like the 3-cup may make the cut too, though.

    Just like having a “capsule” wardrobe, I’m finding that a capsule kitchen works so much more efficiently and with less frustration and clutter. I capsuled the fridge down to the bone, now I only buy enough produce for 3-4 days at most, keep everything in mason jars so I can see what I have. (It also looks beautiful when you open the fridge door.) Since I’m a vegan, I eat a lot of beans and rice, but really how many different types of beans and rice does one person need to have around? I found about seven different varieties of beans and rices in my pantry, many of the bags were opened and used once and then never used again. I’m working my way through those and NO MORE BUYING beans, grains, or whatever until I use what I have. (Sorry, Rancho Gordo, I love your heirloom beans but I’m off your mailing list!)

  8. posted by Barb on

    After watching a couple episodes of “Hoarders,” I want to get rid of sooooo much stuff in the house and only buy what I really need and love.

  9. posted by G. on

    I totally agree with not shopping while tired or hungry and keep a list, especially in the grocery store. Not only does the list cut down on unplanned purchases, which often end up languishing in the cabinet, refrigerator or freezer, it also cuts down on “oops, I forgot …..” and return trips to face more temptation.

    The wallet buddy, sounds like an interesting idea, but it would be even better to have something you see while in the store, long before you get to the checkout. Stopping to think at the checkout is highly inconsiderate of the other customers in line. Because no one will give up their place and go to the back of the line while making decisions.

  10. posted by Pat Reble on

    In November last year I moved from Perth, Western Australia to Hamilton, New Zealand. I downsized and decluttered before I packed, but the move has been an interesting experience as my shipment of household items has been delayed and I’m still camping in an almost empty house two and a half months later. I’m amazed by how little I actually need and how liberating it is to have so much space and so few possessions. I’m almost dreading the arrival of my stuff – if they eventually find it – long story!
    I’ve discovered I can live that long with the same few clothes. I’ve managed with a few borrowed items – some plates, cutlery and some basic linen, just two of each. I’ve borrowed books from the library and slept on a blow up mattress that will double as a spare bed when I have guests in the future.
    What I’ve missed are strange things – my Tupperware that enables me to store food efficiently; my iron so I don’t look scruffy in my minimalist wardrobe; and my good vacuum. I foresee further decluttering when my things finally arrive from their scenic tour of Patagonia or wherever they have been, and a lot more care in future purchasing.

  11. posted by TootsNYC on

    I love the Amazon wish list as a way to postpone impulsive online purchasing.
    I click on the item (instant gratification), add a note about why I think I want it, or what’s so good about. And that makes me feel satisfied. It’s as if I’ve purchased it.

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