Using Stuff Up

I love to use stuff up. It’s a great feeling to finish the contents of a container and then recycle or toss it, as appropriate. Now there’s one less thing cluttering up my cabinets!

The things I love to use up fall into two categories:

  • Things I use frequently.
  • Things I use rarely.

For things I use frequently, I generally notice that I am running low and have already purchased a replacement. So when I use up the old one, the new one is ready. Things that fall into this category are stuff like toothpaste, Tylenol, everyday makeup, and a box of 5,000 staples that I thought would outlive me.

For things I use rarely, it’s exciting to finish up something up that has been around for a while. I may not even buy a replacement because it gets used so rarely, so it gives me some free space. Things that fall into this category are stuff like specialized Band-Aids and colored printer paper.

So where does this system break down? For things that get used frequently, the system breaks down if I don’t have a replacement. If it wasn’t available at the store the day I noticed I was running low, I may forget about it and then find myself completely out of that item. Oops!

For things that get used rarely, the system breaks down if I forget that I have that item because I haven’t used it so long. Then I might end up buying a new one, and it’s not until I put it away that I realized I have a package already that’s almost empty. It’s so frustrating to have lost the opportunity to use it up!

When I work with clients, we often find multiples of the same item. If it’s an item that they use frequently, they’ll tell me that they wanted to make sure they didn’t run out so they bought a lot. But that’s not a good solution. Because they have so many, they don’t notice when they are on the last one, and they end up with none. Then they buy too many again. See the cycle?

If they have multiples of an item they use rarely, they’ll tell me that they forgot they had it or they couldn’t find it when they needed it so they bought another one. Often they didn’t even realize that they had multiples until I pointed it out, because they don’t have a good system for keeping similar things together.

Here are some guidelines for managing your stuff so that you don’t have too many or too few:

  • Buy only one backup for your frequently used items, and be diligent about replacing it after you start the new one.
  • Organize your stuff so that you know where everything is and you can see it, and keep like stuff together.
  • If you’ve been holding onto something for a long time and haven’t used it, toss it. A sure sign is that it has become dusty on top!

Outliving Your Office Supplies

I got a real kick out of a recent article in the New York Times called “Let Me Count The Days“.  In this amusing piece, author James Collins takes a look at his box of 5,000 staples and realizes he will never use them all up.   His mortality is made real to him when he is forced to acknowledge that his office supplies will outlive him.

A few years ago, I wrote about my mother purchasing a value-pack of Q-Tips simply because she found the unit price irresistible (see A Cautionary Tale about Q-Tips).   She knew that she didn’t need that many, and she tried to rationalize the purchase by offering some to my sister and to me.  My mother passed away 18 months later, and her stash of Q-Tips did indeed outlast her.

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Sucked In By A Sale

Long-time readers of my organizing tips may recall an earlier rant of mine on the tyranny of coupons (Coupons: To Clip or Not To Clip?)  Coupons induce us to behave in irrational ways that waste our time and create clutter.  Similarly, sales are likely to have the same effect.

When we are shopping for something specific, it’s quite delightful to find that the item we planned to buy is on sale and we can purchase it for less than expected.  However, our delight in discovering a sale often leads us into some self-defeating behaviors.  Here’s an example.

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Keep Like With Like

One of my five basic organizing principles is “Keep like with like”.  In  my clients’ homes, I see over and over again what happens when this principle is violated.

I often hear the anguished cry, “I had no idea I had so many of these!”

When you don’t keep like with like, one of two results is likely to happen:  (1) you run out, or (2) you overbuy.  You may be asking yourself, how can one behavior result in two completely opposite outcomes? 

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Better Ways to Spend

I was intrigued by a book review in the weekly magazine The Economist, since the book in question delivers the same message that I have been telling my clients: spend your money on experiences, not things.

According to “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending”, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, behavioral research indicates that the excitement brought on by material purchases wears off quickly.  A much better strategy, the review states, is “to spend money on experiences, like interesting trips, unique meals, or even going to the cinema.  These purchases often become more valuable with time — as stories or memories — particularly if they involve feeling more connected to others.”

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