Home organisation has been turned into an art form by social media influencers who share beautifully curated images of pantries arranged by colour or linens tucked neatly into labelled baskets. There is a full-blown American obsession with organising. But all of this ignores the root of the problem. It’s not that we need to organise our junk to make it prettier. It’s that we need to buy less stuff to begin with.
People seem to be shopping constantly, buying whatever appeals to them without a second thought, whether it’s clothes, home accessories, kitchen gadgets, make-up or sports equipment. It’s common for people to have so much that they forget or can’t find what they have, so they buy more, only to discover the duplicate later. It’s a vicious cycle.
Here are some tips to help you break up with overconsumption.
What is all this stuff?
I frequently go into clients’ homes, and as they show me around, they’ll usually open a few closets and say: “I have no idea what’s in here.” Or they’ll explain that they couldn’t find the box of printer paper they bought last month, or their hammer or stapler, so they bought another one. This seems harmless, but when it becomes routine, it creates organisation problems.
Begin by taking a look around to see what you have, what you need, what you like and what you can get rid of. Periodically taking a basic inventory and purging will help you make more informed shopping decisions and will help eliminate repeat purchases. You don’t have to inventory your entire household at once; break it into manageable categories, such as kitchen appliances or winter clothes, then identify what you use regularly and what can go.
Also consider which belongings bring you joy and which ones you wouldn’t miss if they were gone. Do clothes and shoes make you happy, or do you prefer the items you brought back from a trip or inherited from a family member? Are your books your most prized possessions? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you set priorities and stay focused when shopping.
Shop with intention
Our shopping habits are complex. Some people buy items because they’re on sale or come highly recommended. Other people think it’s necessary to stock up on almost everything “just in case,” or because they’re not sure whether they own something already. And other people shop because it makes them happy. Whatever the reason, the excitement usually doesn’t last long. New items make people happy momentarily, then they become part of the mountain of stuff we find overwhelming.
Shopping mindfully — instead of impulsively or compulsively — will save you money and liberate you from the time required to organise, clean and manage the constant churn of items coming into and going out of your home. Deciding to buy something may not require much mental energy, but deciding what to do with unwanted items can be stressful and take up considerable time. Avoid buying pieces “just because,” and commit to being a more conscious consumer.
Some people limit accumulation by following a “one-in, one-out” rule: If they buy a new pair of jeans, for example, they donate a pair of old ones. Or, if they need a new desk, they make a plan to sell or donate their old one. Although that’s a good philosophy, it would be even better if we asked ourselves whether we really needed a new desk or pair of jeans. Maybe the existing desk could still work if it were positioned differently or if you made better use of the space around it. You could also paint it for an updated look.
Before you buy something, consider where you will keep it. It sounds obvious, but haven’t we all made purchases — perhaps of bulk paper goods — then brought the items home and wondered where to put them?
Consider long-term effects
Mindless shopping has costs beyond the price of the object and how clutter affects our mental health. It also teaches our children how to value — or not value — their belongings, and it makes each item seem less special. It’s understandable for parents to want to give their children new and interesting toys, but less is usually more, both in terms of what kids want to play with and their ability to keep their items tidy.
Our consumption habits also affect the environment. Buying less, considering where and how pieces are made, and shopping locally are all ways to help protect the planet. Avoid purchasing items with the mindset that you can return them if they don’t work out. Returns require attention, money and energy. The manufacturing, shipping and disposal of the goods we’re all churning through are draining increasingly scarce resources. We should all do our part to minimise our footprints.
Shopping for new items can be fun, and it’s natural to want to have everything you need for you and your family to live comfortably. But many of us have gone too far. How many glasses, tablecloths, sweaters, pairs of shoes and beauty products do we really need? Most of us only regularly use a small percentage of what we own. Reaching a state where we spend less time organising and keeping track of our belongings and more time enjoying them starts with purchasing fewer of them. Doing so will benefit us, the next generation and our planet.