It’s the Little Things: 5 Ways to Spend Less & Reduce Clutter

updated May 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

I was at Target the other day, and standing in front of me in line was a gentleman buying a plunger. That’s it. A plunger. While I really should have been feeling bad for him, because after all, the poor guy was out on a plunger run, I found myself staring at him in wonder, dazzled by his ability to get out of Target with only one darn thing.

You see, had I been on a plunger run, I would have somehow managed to also scoop up some ballet flats, random office supplies, a soy candle or two, a hand towel, a tank top, an impractical scarf… aaaand my bill would have been $100 of weird little items + a plunger. It never fails. But the buck stops here. Literally. I’m kicking off 2013 with the goal of getting back to my minimalist roots. I used to be quite frugal, but over the last few years I’ve lost my way. So, my goal is to greatly reduce the amount of new items I bring into my home and hopefully save money, because as much as I enjoy donating things, I feel wasteful constantly cleaning out and sorting through stuff, much of which I never needed in the first place.

Since my shopping tends to be rather unfocused, a lot like mindless snacking, I realized I first needed a clear plan to tackle my goal. My plan is to follow the 5 steps listed below as a way to develop more mindful spending habits. I’d like to think that one day I too will join the ranks of those wise individuals who can leave Target with only a plunger, ignoring the siren song of colorful office supplies and laughing in the face of impractical scarves.

Check out the following 5 steps and feel free to offer any additional suggestions.

1.Control “clutter cravings”. According to The Clutter Diet, we all have areas of weakness when it comes to spending. It could be a collectible, housewares, shoes, magazines, beauty products, and so on. After a quick run through of my home, I pinpointed three key areas where I do too much impulse buying, which in turn leads to clutter. My weaknesses are books, small toys for my kids, and clothes for the whole family. It seems so obvious, but writing down exactly what I buy too much of makes me feel more accountable. I now clearly see that these are areas where I need to exert more control, and I can be mindful of this moving forward.

2. Follow the time rule. Meg Favreau from Wisebread (via MSN Money) notes that one of the most effective ways to control impulse buying is to make yourself wait before buying something. So, rather than tossing something into the basket, tell yourself you’ll come back to it in 20 minutes, or tomorrow, or next week. I like this approach because it calls for some reflection before buying and a chance to cool down from the initial excitement of spotting a shiny new thing. Plus, I’m sure the satisfaction of not coming back to an item far outweighs the instant gratification of impulse buying.

3.Shop with a list. This seems like a no-brainer, but so often I run to the store with a mental list, not a written list. Funny thing about mental lists, they’re very easy to add to, aren’t they? As the Everyday Minimalist points out, “One of the best things you can do to stay on your spending diet is to shop with a list… if it isn’t on the list, don’t get it”. Amen.

4.Reward yourself with experiences instead of things. Upon reflection, I realize I do buy things as a pick-me-up. I’ll buy a new sweater as a treat after finishing a tough assignment for work, or purchase a book on a whim after a stressful day (when I have countless books sitting around that I haven’t yet read), and I’m routinely tossing little things for my kids into the shopping cart, with the thought, ‘oh, it’s only $5’, or ‘it’s on sale.’ But I do these things far too frequently, which = clutter and mindless consumerism. I really don’t want to continue down this path. The article 21 Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself Right Now lists some nice ways to relax and reward yourself through experiences, like savoring a glass of wine, visiting someplace new, exercise or a walk, or reading a new book (from the library!). In the words of Thoreau,”Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit…”

5.Think before you buy. This tip is also from The Clutter Diet, and I like the approach of framing each purchase with a few relevant questions:
•Who can I borrow this from or share this with?
•What do I already have that is like this item?
•Where will I store this item?
•When will I have time to use it and maintain it?
•Why do I need this item?

Hopefully these steps will help get me back on track with my spending and help keep out needless clutter. Have you ever changed your spending/shopping habits? Please share any tips below.

-Re-edited from a post originally published 1/23/2013-NT