Organize & Clean

The Shopping Bag Method for Staying Clutter-Free

published May 9, 2014
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(Image credit: Arthur’s Long-Distance Home, photo by Evan Thomas)

My closet is a mess. I’ve gone on ignoring it long enough, but now my clothes problem is seeping into the bedroom pile by pile. It’s time for an autointervention. Absolute and sovereign rules about what to clear out, like the backwards clothes hanger thing, are easy to digest, and help slow-starters like myself to actually dive in and get clutter-free — but only for a little while.

Unless you pinpoint and work on your hoarding tendencies (mine is shopping at the black hole that is Target), the miscellany will always come back into your closet or kitchen or playroom. That’s when you need another trick to make sure the hodgepodge stays out for good. Let me introduce my latest experiment: The Shopping Bag Method.

The shopping bag method for staying clutter-free is based on a concept long touted by successful minimalists: don’t bring anything new into the house without first getting rid of something else. It’s a great philosophy but really hard to stick to without a hard regimen for making it happen. So here’s mine:

When I excitedly come home with a shopping bag full of blouses and ballet flats, I’ll empty my new clothes into their homes in my closet, then fill the same bag up with old clothes to be donated, thrifted or thrown away — and get it immediately out of the house. Something comes in, something goes out. And the shopping bag never leaves your hand.

It works for me because I know I have items I could definitely part with, I just don’t have the resolve to keep carving away at my wardrobe. By committing to cleaning it out piece-by-piece each time I bring something in, I can work steadily at staying clutter-free.

After pinpointing your impulse-buying weakness (as suggested by Julia in this post) and then using a trick to get your home’s clutter problem areas under control (there are great strategies here and here), I hope you can use this shopping bag method to (literally) keep a handle on the things that struggle to take over your space.

Re-edited from a post originally published 5.9.14-NT