Perhaps I should blame it on late-winter blahs, but in the last few weeks I have had an urge to buy less and de-clutter come on like a fever! Anyone else feeling that too? It’s perfect timing to give you a sneak peek in to the “Deal with your stuff” section of my new book, How to Be a Better Person. This is the eighth and final section, so next week I’ll return to regular programming. =)
(And in honor of my 2018 intention to embrace systems, I’ll be setting themes for the remaining months of the year to center my content on—if there are subjects, questions, or quandaries, or ideas you’d like to see me cover, leave a comment below to let me know! I love hearing from you.)
While you don’t have to become a full-on minimalist in order to be a better person, acquiring and tending to possessions definitely eats up a lot of time, space, money, and energy. And those are precious resources that could be put to use on more productive things, like developing relationships, deepening your skills, giving back, and having meaningful (and fun!) experiences.
The five strategies I share below will help you buy less and get rid of what doesn’t serve you. It’s all in the name of lightening your load and freeing you up to pursue better things.
Take only what you need
Take one stroll down the cereal aisle and you’ll know that we live in a world of excess, both in the sheer number of choices available to us and in the massive sizes those choices come in. When you buy only what you need for the immediate future (instead of stockpiling 48 rolls of toilet paper, for example, or stocking your freezer full of on-sale meat), you send a signal that you trust that there will be more when you need more.
Model consuming less to your kids
It’s so tempting to meet your kid’s every desire for something new. But getting accustomed to constantly getting new things can set the stage for a lifetime of mindless buying. Use a chore chart that needs to be filled up before making big purchases; give them a spending allowance so they can start learning how to balance their desires with their available funds; become regulars at the library. Because modeling is the most important way kids learn, let them hear you talk about how you decide what to buy and when. And then challenge yourself to make fewer impulse buys.
Borrow more things
Talk to your neighbors about divvying up bigger purchases—you buy the snowblower, someone else has the lawnmower, and the house three doors down keeps the weed whacker and hedge trimmer. More and more libraries are starting to lend things besides just books, too, including tools, sports gear, digital equipment, and musical instruments. Sharing resources does more than save money; it also frees you from some of the spatial and psychic load that comes from being responsible for an ever-growing list of things.
When deciding what to keep and what to let go, be honest with yourself. For example, if you aren’t a baker, you don’t need four pie plates. If there’s an item you’re not sure what to do with, ask yourself whether you’re truly the kind of person who will put it good use. If the answer is no, get that item to someone who will, and feel that much better about your home and yourself!
Stem the tide
To keep the flow of stuff into your home at a manageable level, develop a quick check-in process to do each time you’re considering buying something new. Ask yourself: Do I need it? Do I love it? Will I use it? Can I afford it? If the answer’s no to any of these questions—be honest!—save yourself the task of having to declutter it later, and leave it on the shelf.
Here are a few more articles from the archives that relate to the “stuff” side of life:
Also, I didn’t write this, but I’ve been really inspired by this essay by Ann Patchett (my total writer crush) in the NY Times on her no-shopping-for-a-year challenge she embarked on.