Posts filed under ‘organization’

The More I Purge The Less I Buy

Old Car

If you’re a regular reader of One Frugal Girl you know that I detest clutter. Every few months I clean out my drawers, reorganize my closet and search through unused items in my home. I take books to the library, clothes to the local donation center and list higher priced items on eBay.

The change of season is a perfect time to clean out the house. I get to pack up all of the winter coats and sweaters and box up all of the boots and snow pants. I pull all of the shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits out of storage and move them into the front of my closet. Ahhh, springtime and spring cleaning, what could be better?

So when I saw an article on Washington Post recommending throwing out 50 things I knew I had to read it. I’m not a big fan of the title, because I don’t throw anything other than true trash away, but nonetheless I loved the idea of finding 50 things to donate and give away.

The article is based on a book called Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. According to the author you should follow these four rules when clearing out the clutter:

  1. Rule No. 1: If the item, memory, job or even person is weighing you down, get rid of it.
  2. Rule No. 2: If the thing is not contributing something positive, let it go.
  3. Rule No. 3: If it takes you a long time to decide whether something needs to be tossed, throw it out.
  4. Rule No. 4: If you’re afraid to throw out something, get rid of the fear.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’d really love to get my hands on a copy of it. Apparently the book is divided into four parts. It starts by recommending getting rid of unused stuff, by cleaning out your junk drawers. By part three you’re moving on to getting rid of the mental mess, including all of the emotional junk you’ve collected.

Michelle Singletary, the author of the Washington Post article, hits the nail on the head, when she writes,

“People want higher incomes so they can live a better life, and this often just means having more stuff and the debt that goes with the accumulation of it. But what if you started throwing out things? What if the purging process makes you more appreciative of what you have? This has the possibility of making you realize you can can make do with the money you have.”

This has definitely been the case for me. The more I clear the house of unwanted items the more I learn to appreciate just how little I need in life. Since I started the purging process I find myself making fewer and fewer unnecessary purchases.

The first time I riffled through a box of barely worn clothes I felt sick to my stomach. Boxing up all of that wasted money made me vow not to make that mistake again. Now I try my best to only buy what we need when we need it. I’m not perfect, but I’m definitely trying to buy less.

August 3, 2016 at 4:57 PM Leave a comment

The Daily Cycle of Stuff: Lessons for My 4 Year Old


I spend a lot of my day moving things from Point A to Point B. I move the dishes from the cabinet, to the table, to the dishwasher and back to the cabinet every evening, only to start all over again tomorrow. I move the clothes from the drawers, to the kitchen table, to my children’s bodies, to the washing machine, to hangers in the basement and back to their drawers within a day or so.

This is life; perpetually moving things from one place to another. The same can be said of so many things. The towels that we use to dry our bodies, the books we read, the toys my children play with.

We take them out, do something with them, move them, move them again and finally start back wherever it was we began.

As a stay-at-home parent I spend a good portion of my day putting things back where they belong. Much of this is to blame on my fifteen month old who likes to dump the contents of each and every toy box onto the floor, spend two seconds looking at the items on the floor and then moving on to the next unsuspecting box.

After spending a few hours alone with our kids my husband asked me to downsize their toy collection. With the little guy dumping everything onto the floor my husband could barely see the carpet below his feet.

This time I recruited the help of my four year old and it went surprisingly well! I explained that his dad and I wanted him to look carefully through his belongings. I said, “some toys you play with a lot, some a little and some you almost never touch. Our goal is to figure out which toys you really love.”

I also told him that he often receives toys from friends and family. I explained that people think long and hard about what to buy him, but sometimes he doesn’t find the toy very fun to play with and when that happens its okay to pass it on to another child who might enjoy it more than he does.

We also talked about how its important to get rid of toys we don’t play with so we have plenty of room to enjoy the toys we love. After all we can’t build a Lego city if we don’t have room on the floor. We need to get rid of unwanted toys to make space for fun.

Then I explained the process we would follow. I would pull each toy off of the shelf and he would analyze just how much he loved, liked or honestly didn’t care much for it.

I thought he might say he loved everything, but he contemplated each item for just a second or two and then placed it in the appropriate pile.

He genuinely wanted to pass his toys on to someone else who might like them more. He also realized that it was more important to pick through the toys himself. This made sure Mommy and Daddy didn’t accidentally donate a favorite item.

Sometimes he got distracted by a newfound toy. He’d take it to the floor and start to play, but I was adamant that we finish our analysis before any playing could begin. Once he realized I was serious he moved more quickly through the toys so he could get back to playing. An hour later we had a box and a half of unwanted toys ready to leave the house.

Best of all he was proud that he helped weed out the toys. When my parents arrived a few days later he proudly told them “We got rid of a bunch of toys. From now on we’re only keeping the ones I really love to play with!”

June 17, 2016 at 11:33 PM Leave a comment

If It Is Not Useful It Is Out


I used to wonder how someone could get rid of 50, 60 or 70% of their possessions. Now I know. I didn’t calculate the exact number of items we’ve removed over the past six months, but I would bet it’s a minimum of 40 or 50% of our stuff.

Removing clutter can feel quite overwhelming. I often found myself feeling stuck as I cleaned out our basement in preparation for remodeling and decluttered our dining room to make it more kid-friendly. Should I keep this? Should I donate it? Should I move it or buy a new bin to store it?

After months of cleaning out the crap I’ve landed on a solution that worked unbelievably well for me.

I passed through each room multiple times rather than trying to finish the job all at once. I found the first round of decluttering was easy. I am never going to use the 1970s fish platter I inherited from my mom and the unbelievably heavy vase that can’t hold more than four or five flowers no longer needs to take up space on the shelf.

After taking care of the easy stuff I moved on to a different room and repeated the procedure. That dress I never wear, that shirt that’s stretched out, that gown I wore to a wedding over ten years ago…piece of cake.

I dragged everything off to donation and started again a few weeks later. With the easy stuff out of the way I made a second crack at each room. For some reason it was a whole lot easier to get rid of those items I originally questioned. With more free space opening around me I realized I craved clean counters and near-empty dresser drawers more than ever.

Was I really going to wear that shirt I hadn’t worn for six months? Was I really going to eat off that china we haven’t used in ten years?

I didn’t get rid of everything. A few things went into the attic for further consideration. That china is boxed away along with some of the platters, pretty bowls and a cake plate.

One day we might host Christmas dinner for our children. Maybe? If not, it is at least boxed up and moved out of the space we intend to occupy day after day.

As I emptied the contents of drawers and shelves I came to a realization: It is better and easier or me to get rid of something than continually reorganize it.

With that thought in mind I decided to get rid of the majority of items I moved at least once in the past year but never actually used. This includes objects that need to be dusted, but aren’t cherished. No more dusting pretty plates and candle holders. They will be used or they will be donated.

I will no longer hold on to beauty for beauty’s sake. I will not keep a china cabinet full of pretty vases that are never filled with flowers. I will not hold on to 16 wine glasses when I never invite more than five wine drinkers over at the same time.

I love how much more space we have in the rooms we live in. I intend to revisit each room one more time and to do my best not to accumulate any more unnecessary crap.

July 22, 2015 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

If You Were Starting from Scratch What Would You Buy Again?


My husband and I talk a lot about moving out of our current home. We live in a beautiful house in a nice neighborhood, but the school system here is absolutely abysmal.

As I see it we have two options. We will either need to enroll our children in private school or move to a new home with a better school district.

My oldest won’t attend kindergarten until 2017, so we have a little bit of time to formulate a plan. The middle and high schools have extremely low ratings, but the local elementary school would probably support my son’s needs for the first few years, which means we could stay in this house for another four or five years if absolutely necessary.

As we sat at the dining room table discussing the possibility of a big move I began to panic a little. I started to picture myself packing up the kitchen and dining room. How many boxes would I need to gather up all of our plates, Pyrex containers, pots and pans.

How many of them would I really want to move? If I were starting over how many of these items would I buy again?

I learned a lot from the basement remodeling project we finished last year. We purged and streamlined our belongings with so many trips to the donation center that I lost count. Despite all those boxes and bags leaving the house I look around each room and realize we still own a lot more than we use or need.

Here’s an example. I own three sets of glass candlesticks, but haven’t lit a single taper candle in the fourteen years since we bought this house. I also own sixteen wine glasses, but never drink and rarely have more than two or three people in the house at any given time that might use them. These are all wedding gifts that are now really nothing more than pretty dust collectors.

Do I really want to box these up and move them to another place? How about the dessert cups that we never use? They would look beautiful with hot fudge sundaes inside of them, but we never reach for them after dinner. Instead we use the same bowls we eat cereal out of each morning. It’s time to change our mindset. It’s time to make use of them or get rid of them.

We made a significant dent in the number of unused items in our home, but we clearly have a long way to go. From now on I intend to think carefully about the objects around us and ask myself three questions about each one.

First, how often do we use this item or how long has it been since the last time we used it? Second, would I want to expend energy boxing and moving these items into a new home? Third, if I had to start over entirely from scratch would I buy this particular item again?

If I cannot say “yes we use it,” “yes I’d move it” and “yes I’d buy it again” then I think it’s time to find it a new home.

June 24, 2015 at 1:29 PM 4 comments

Storing Versus Buying at a Moment’s Notice

toy box

My husband and I are not always on the same page about money. In his recent quest to rid the house of unwanted clutter he’s discussed a new philosophy I’ve nicknamed just buy it again. He told me to get rid of everything I don’t want to part with fully knowing that nothing is particularly unique and that everything can be purchased again.

The frugal side of me is fighting against the clutter-phobic side of me. If I had to pay to store these items I would get rid of them in a heartbeat. I would simply sell and donate everything we owned and start again when and if the need arises. But since I don’t have to pay to store them, (I can find space somewhere in my house), the penny pincher in me doesn’t want to risk paying for things a second time.

Space now exists where stuff once stood and my husband is adamant that we stick with our minimalist basement. When our monthly shipment arrived from Amazon’s Subscribe and Save he nearly lost his lid. “How many tissues do we need? How much toilet paper?” The answer is quite a bit. My son often refuses to use a tissue more than once. The result: a lot of tissues end up in the wastebasket each day.

Along with the just buy it again philosophy my husband is attempting to institute a just in time approach to our belongings. His philosophy is not to keep a lot of stuff on hand. There is no need to stock up on supplies when Amazon Prime can ship most packages to our home within two days. The prices aren’t as low as they would be with sales and coupons, but they are most definitely lower than the retail price at most brick and mortar stores. He is willing to pay a little bit more to keep our rooms spacious and open.

I’m still struggling with his concept. We have very limited storage space at our beach house and my son has outgrown the majority of toys we keep there. Our younger son is at least a year or two away from playing with these items. Is it in our best interest to donate the toys we own and simply buy them again when the time arises or try to cram them in some small space just so we don’t have to buy new toys many moons from now?

The answer seems simple; donate the stuff we don’t need and buy it again if we need it in the future, so why can’t I convince my frugal self to do that?

May 4, 2015 at 5:54 PM 4 comments

Free Books: I Am in Love!


One of the best things about blogging is revisiting old posts. Reading my own words helps keep me accountable to myself. As a result of recent home renovations I created a little note to myself called A Few Things I Learned While Nesting, Purging and Streamlining.

Lesson #7 including the following:

Books are a huge waste of money if I never find the time to read them. I am not allowed to bring any new books into the house until I read the ones I already own. After I read them I will pass them on to someone else. I almost never read the same book more than one time so why on earth am I putting them on a bookshelf for later.

When I was a child I absolutely loved visiting the library. I remember exactly how that building was configured. How the long checkout desk stood at the entrance and how many steps it took to reach the children’s section after walking through the front door.

I’ve written many times about my love of reading and about my strange habit of buying books, but never setting aside the time to read them.

For years friends, family and readers of this blog have recommended borrowing books from the library, but I’ve always been against the idea. Our local library is dark, dingy and quite frankly a bit disgusting.

Before my son started preschool I began taking him to story hour once a week. Every Monday we walked straight to the children’s section and then straight back out to the car from there. My experience in other parts of the library haven’t been pleasant so I avoided going back there. The books I want to read are never available and the ones I find interesting are typically stained, ripped, written on or water damaged.

So every week despite being inside the library I refused to check out any books for myself. I continued to buy books unnecessarily and worst yet never found the time to read them.

That is until a few months ago when I began reserving library books online. When my son was younger we read books three to four times a day. In the morning we read between six and ten books, before his afternoon nap we read another handful and before bed he chose another three.

Although we own boxes full of children’s books, (primarily gifts and hand-me-downs), I began to get bored from reading the same stories and rhymes day after day and week after week. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on books he may outgrow quickly so I searched for the best books for three and four year old children and searched the catalog at our local library.

While most of the books weren’t available immediately I submitted a simple online request to reserve them. A few days later I received an email alert that the books were all ready for pickup.

Every two to three weeks I pick up a new set of books and return the ones we checked out earlier in the month. The books I reserved are all waiting for me on a long shelf right next to the checkout desk. I simply walk in, search for my name on that shelf, gather up my books, scan everything and walk out the door. It typically takes less than five minutes from start to finish.

I find that the books are in much better condition than the ones I see on the shelves at the actual library. I can’t account for this discrepancy, but in the past three months I’ve only received one book with ripped pages and children’s scribbles.

My only regret is that I didn’t start using the online reservation system earlier. While I typically purchase used books from eBay and I’m pretty certain that I still spent hundreds of dollars on books over the past few years. From this point forward I don’t intend to spend a dime.

Photo Credit

March 25, 2015 at 11:07 PM Leave a comment

Just Get It Out of the House!


One of the hardest things about purging is figuring out what on earth to do with all of the stuff we no longer need. After watching my husband clean out the garage I am surprised by just how differently we approach this problem.

While I cleaned out the majority of the house my husband was in charge of a small section of the basement and the garage. When it was his turn to remove clutter he pulled six large trash cans into the backyard and began tossing everything in sight into them.

A couple of things were tossed into a pile for family members, but the rest were pitched with little regard. He could have donated some of the stuff, but truth be told everything was in need of a good cleaning. Those Christmas bulbs may have worked, but who is going to dust off fifty little glass balls before bundling them up for donation? A few days later he rolled those trash cans to the street and early the next morning all that unwanted stuff was taken away. Within an hour or two his work was complete.

Unfortunately getting rid of stuff is not so easy for me. I tend to review every item carefully and ask myself whether or not we should keep it. I didn’t see my husband ponder for more than a second. He looked at each item and either pitched it into the trashcan or placed it back on the shelf.

It’s not so easy for me. I run through a series of options in my head. If we aren’t going to keep it should we donate it, toss it or try to sell it. If I sell it how much time and energy will it take to find a buyer? If I donate it when should I drive over to the donation center? Should I continue to gather items before making a trip over there or should I make a trip every time I fill a bag up?

Where do I store things while waiting to drag them off to donation and  where do I hide things so extended family members don’t see the bags I plan to donate?

While I think some of the things my husband tossed could have been donated or sold I did appreciate his simple approach to getting rid of the junk. It seemed a whole lot easier than the mental hoops I jump through.

I settled on a few rules this time around that seemed to make my life easier.

  • First, I set aside any new and/or like-new items in a drawer in my dresser. If I found anything new in a box or with tags still attached I turned to eBay to see if I could sell it. I put watches on similar listings and waited to see if they sold. If they sold I created a seven day listing and waited. If the items failed to sell I listed them one additional time.
  • I didn’t waste time listing any items I didn’t think would sell or any items that would earn less than a $10 profit. Unfortunately I failed to earn that much on three or four of my transactions!
  • I sold all of my books to book buying services. I know I could earn more selling each book individually, but I wanted the stuff out of my house so I sold them in big bundles and figured some cash back was better than nothing.
  • I took a lot of trips to the donation center! I could have waited until I was finished with every room in the house, but just like the books my ultimate goal was to get these items out of my sight. Some nights I took the bags right out to the car, other times I stacked the items to be donated in large paper bags and stored them in a corner of my dining room. (I like the paper bag approach because unlike garbage bags you can line them up neatly.)

The amount of time I spent cleaning, compared to my husband, is quite shocking, but I still feel good about my approach. After all…

  1. Unlike the garage and basement a lot of the items within the main rooms of the house were in good condition and can be used by someone else. I would feel terribly guilty throwing anything away that could take on a second life.
  2. I made a small pocketful of change on the items I listed on eBay.
  3. By donating the majority of stuff and selling some things off to bulk buyers I didn’t earn as much as I probably could have, but I did get everything out of the house quickly!

February 24, 2015 at 9:28 PM 2 comments

Organizing Store Receipts for Easy Returns


November and December tend to be the two months of the year where we buy and receive a laundry list of gifts. The one key to making any holiday run a little bit smoother is organizing the receipts that come with each purchase. All those little tiny strips of paper are sure to get lost in your purse, wallet or shopping bag if you aren’t careful. A week or two after Christmas when your son’s sleeper doesn’t fit and your husband’s shirt is just a little too big you want to be able to dig up those receipts so you can enjoy hassle free returns.

My solution: a small plastic binder that can store receipts easily and efficiently. There are many ways to organize, but I like to label my binder tabs with the stores I frequent the most. My labels look a little like this:

  • Macy’s
  • Home Depot
  • Marshalls/TJ Maxx
  • Kohl’s
  • Target
  • CVS

Every single time I return from shopping, (whether it’s the holiday season or not), I gather up my receipts and place them directly into the appropriate compartment. If you have a spare minute write a description across the top of your receipt. For example, “red sweater,” “racing cars,” “blue sheets,” etc. I keep a pen clipped to the side of my binder so I can easily pull it out and write down exactly what I bought. Of course, this is easier for some stores than others. If you bought twenty things at Target just write down the key items you may one day need to return or try to classify them. For example, “pool toys” or “groceries.”

Once you write down the description, file that little piece of paper into your binder. Then weed through the compartments every few months and shred any receipts that are no longer useful. For example, Target permits returns for ninety days after purchase. If ninety days have passed go ahead and shred that tiny piece of paper.

Most stores list their return policies prominently on their websites and many permit returns for a short period of time; typically thirty to forty-five days. Make note of the timeline for returns so you can keep receipts on hand for as long as they are relevant. A few stores, like Kohl’s, will accept returns for much longer periods of time. I wouldn’t keep a Kohl’s receipt for years, but I wouldn’t hesitate to keep it stored away for five or six months.

During a particularly dark period in my life I attempted to alleviate stress by shopping. One week I would walk out of a store with a bag full of items and a few days later I would feel guilty and return everything I purchased. Thankfully I am no longer in this predicament, but during that time I learned that staying organized was the only way to receive full credit for my purchases.

Just a week or two ago I cleaned out the closets and found $54.36 worth of stuff we didn’t really need. Without my handy-dandy receipt organizer I wouldn’t have been able to return any of these items!

Do you have a method for storing receipts? Have you ever been a serial returner?

February 12, 2015 at 11:47 PM Leave a comment

Struggling to Part with My Belongings

I’m pretty certain I’ve created a monster. After watching box after plastic box move out of our basement and into our garage my husband has suddenly declared everything must go! After nearly a month of work the contractors finished their remodeling efforts and my husband declared the downstairs a storage-free zone. He wants to keep the space as open as possible, which for the time being means he wants to see nothing but furniture and a very small number of toys.

The great purge began back in October as part of my crazy need to begin nesting. Five months later, and more trips to the donation center than I can possibly count, I can honestly say I have cataloged the majority of items in our house. I have touched just about every item, questioned it’s importance and either discarded, donated or found a proper place for it to reside.

I’m pretty proud of the dwindled down pile of plastic boxes remaining. The biggest offenders at this point are boxes filled with toys and clothes ranging from six months to four years. As you can imagine there are a lot of these boxes. The boxes are sorted by type and there is a box for every item of clothing; shoes, coats, pants, shorts, t-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts and swim suits.

Part of me wants to ship all of these things out the front door and the rest of me thinks that’s crazy. After all, if I’ve held on to them for the past three years I might as well hold on to them for a few more. I know it would cost a lot of money to buy everything again, but I will kick myself if the majority of clothes don’t fit because child number one is born in the fall and child number two is due in the spring.

I also don’t want to part with the three or four bins of infant and toddler toys. Again I feel this is somewhat crazy as grandparents, aunts and uncles are always inundating my son with gifts. I’m pretty certain baby number two wouldn’t miss a beat if I sold everything today and set the toy pile for toys back to zero. If my husband had the ultimate say they would all be gone tomorrow.

Once baby number two is born I’ll have a better idea of his or her general size and growth patterns. That should sway the decision on what to keep and what to donate. Maybe that factor alone will help me decide just what I really should keep.

I find it difficult to part with things for practical reasons. My mind keeps telling me my next child will play with those toys or wear those hand-me-downs.

I’ve had similar, conflicting feelings about the ridiculous pile of gift bags and rolls of wrapping paper sitting in our basement. In my head I know that I probably paid less than $1 for any one item, yet as I look at the stack I hate to part with any of it. I know that one day I will need to wrap a gift or find a pretty gift bag for a special occasion.

Quite honestly I’ve convinced myself that I’m keeping them around for the convenience factor. After all, who wants to drive to the store with two kids in tow just to buy wrapping paper? The other part of me knows this is ridiculous. How many gifts do we give throughout the year? Not that many. The rolls in the basement may last me a lifetime.

This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled to part with strange things, yet every time it happens I’m surprised by either the sentimentality or the stubbornness with which I want to keep stuff I don’t need.

Have you ever struggled to get rid of something you know you don’t use? Do you find yourself holding on to things for practical reasons, when in reality you know you probably don’t need them?

February 11, 2015 at 1:00 AM 5 comments

Round Up: Making Money by Cleaning Out the House

shipping supplies

With all of the nesting and remodeling taking place in my house I began to wonder if I could make any money selling the stuff I so desperately wanted to purge.

I tried a couple of different approaches to offloading my unwanted belongings. Here is where I landed so far:

  • eBay Sales: $86.37 for six items (more sales pending)
  • Book Sales: $86.65
  • DVD Sales: $11.97
  • Returning Unwanted and Unused Items: $54.36
  • Consignment: $18.72

Total earned after shipping and fees: $258.07.

What I learned along the way:

  • I am not a fan of eBay. The fees for selling and shipping seem a whole lot higher than they used to be. After paying the 10% eBay fee, a PayPal fee, paying for shipping supplies and USPS labels my profits quickly dwindled. eBay sales felt like a general pain to me. Listing didn’t take a particularly long amount of time, but it does take a few minutes to take pictures, provide a description and post. A few buyers took forever to pay, which meant following up day after day and packing and driving the boxes to the post office wasn’t particularly fun either.
  • Book buying sites make selling unwanted books so easy. I used bookscouter to price out the highest paying vendors and shipped packages to five different companies. While I might have earned more on eBay or I enjoyed bundling everything up and shipping them off all at once. The downside: a couple of boxes were so big they required hand delivery to the post office and the post offices around my house, well quite frankly, suck. I didn’t want to wait in line for twenty minutes to ship $5 or $10 worth of books.
  • I had no idea anyone would want to purchase a bunch of old children’s DVDs, but to my surprise we had a small stack of old movies that a few companies were willing to buy. I punched in the UPCs and compared bids. I sold a bunch of children’s videos we received as hand-me-downs from friends and family members. A few were worth $3 or $4, but most were worth around 50 cents. This isn’t getting rich money, but since they were headed out the door anyway I figured I might as well make a little money off of them.
  • In digging through our closets I found a number of brand new items we didn’t really need. Included in that list were a few books I never got a chance to read and a couple of children’s toys. (It seems I bought a few too many things over the holidays.) I try to keep the receipts for everything I buy, so I gathered the items together and returned them. I know that buying books can be a huge waste of money for me. It’s a lesson I really need to keep at the forefront of my mind. For some reason the temptation to buy more is always lingering.
  • I wrote about my consignment adventure yesterday. I certainly didn’t earn much from my haul, but a larger volume might bring in more cash next time. I would certainly consider this route after baby number two outgrows the infant toys and baby gear a year or so from now.

Do you have any other ideas for purging stuff? How do you get rid of unwanted possessions?

Photo Credit

February 5, 2015 at 3:14 PM 1 comment

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