stop buying stuff

When I was pregnant with my boys I nested like crazy. I spent countless weeks moving and sorting things from one location to another. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. When life feels overwhelming I often clean my house and sort my belongings. It helps me clear my mind.

After my children were born I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the baby stuff that came with them. I bought bright, colorful shelves to hold my children’s toys and large, square boxes to store the oversized mounds. Yet every new storage system seemed to fail. The piles still multiplied. The puzzle pieces got lost. The bin meant for one set of blocks ended up full of fake, plastic food instead.

As they grew so did their toys and these larger playthings were too large to stack neatly. The low hanging shelves were easy for my older child to use, but contained toys too dangerous for my little one to reach. So I arranged and rearranged over and over again. I was convinced the perfect system would solve all of my problems. Of course, it never did.

The same can be said of my possessions. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time reorganizing my stuff, but I probably use less than 1/3 of the stuff I own.

For years I kept clothes in my closet that I never wore. My dresser was bursting with shirts, yet I only felt comfortable and cozy in four or five of them. The others never seemed to make it out of the drawer. The same goes for dresses, skirts, pants, shorts, workout gear and so much more.

Then one day I realized I was spending an inordinate amount of time moving things. Sure this should have seemed obvious right from the start, but I became disheartened by the amount of time I’d wasted reorganizing my home.

I’ve written a lot about mindful spending and thinking carefully before buying something. But over the years I don’t think I’ve ever detailed the process I went through to convince myself to stop buying stuff!

So here it goes… One day when I was feeling quite anxious and overwhelmed I decided to rid my house of clutter. I didn’t have any particular guidance to follow. I hadn’t read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure what to do or where to start, so I did the only thing that seemed to make any sense at the time. I yanked everything out of my closet and dresser drawers and plopped it into the center of my bed. The mound was huge and as soon as I saw it there I wished I hadn’t dumped it all out.

I stared at that pile and couldn’t believe how many things had been crammed into the deep recesses of my furniture. The task seemed overwhelming, but I pressed on.

First I moved aside all of the clothing I could easily part with. This included things that were shabby and worn, stuff I never should have purchased in the first place or items that clearly didn’t fit. That stuff was relatively easy to part with.

Next came the items I loved in my not so distant past. A soft shirt my dad gave me from a trip out west. A tee from my first concert. A dress I never wore, but looked damn good in when I did.

The last pile included the stuff I knew I wanted to keep. The go-to shirts I wore every day, my favorite pairs of jeans, the comfiest of sleep pants.

Now, here is where most people would grab a plastic bag and throw all of the items from the first pile inside, right? Yup. That’s how we declutter. We grab everything and send it right out the front door.

But that’s not what I did. I grabbed a pen and a spiral notebook and wrote down every article of clothing I planned to get rid of. Line by line I filled the pages of that notebook. First I wrote down the name of the item. Next to it I wrote down a rough estimate of the price I paid. Then I placed a star next to the items I’d worn, used and loved a lot.

This was a painstaking process. It looked a little something like this:

  • Colorful t-shirt – $5
  • Blue dress – $20*
  • Concert t-shirt – $15
  • Necklace – $12
  • Fancy dress – $50

If I threw everything into a bag I would have finished the task in 5 minutes. Instead it took me over an hour and a half to journal my purge.

After spending hours sorting and processing and another ninety minutes documenting and pricing items I found a comfy spot on my bed and read through the list.

I added up the cost of all items together. Then separated out the cost of the starred items. I was shocked to see how much money I spent on stuff I rarely used. I was also amazed at how little I spent on stuff I loved and had to get rid of.

When we declutter we often think about getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose. We gather everything and feel proud to look around at a more spacious and well organized space.

That’s all well and good, but calculating the amount of money I wasted set off a lightbulb in my brain. It made me realize once and for all how much money I was frittering away in the first place.

In order for me to stop buying stuff I had to see the financial truth. Sure it helps to look at the bags stacked on the floor, but staring at the total in that spiral notebook helped me equate those piles with the money I spent.

I dragged the bags off to donation, but I kept that spiral notebook open on my dresser for months. Every morning I looked down at the list as I pulled clothes from my drawer. I circled the total in bright red marker so it could serve as a visual reminder of how much money I wasted.

And you know what… As a result of that process my shopping habits changed dramatically! Every time I visited a store or thought about buying something online I stopped myself.

I was and still am tired of reorganizing my house. I don’t want to waste precious hours moving things from Point A to Point B and back again, but just as importantly I don’t want to waste the money.

I’ve purged many times in the past, but seeing the value of all of those donated possessions brought the truth to light for me. The experience convinced me to stop buying needless stuff.