Space as a Finite Resource

I think we are all used to the idea of money as a finite resource. But space is a finite resource as well — not just for those of us who live in small homes, but for everyone. Even if you have an attic, basement, or garage to stash the stuff you aren’t using, eventually it will be so full that you will have to deal with it.

One way to avoid coming up against space limitations is to use them as an ally and not an enemy. Use space to help determine how much you own.

Here’s an example of this. I love cardigan sweaters. (For those of you not up on your fashion terms, a cardigan sweater is a sweater that opens in the front, as opposed to a pullover.) I wear them over turtlenecks in the winter, and I carry one with me in the summer to combat over-cooled restaurants and subway trains. But I can’t have an unlimited number of cardigan sweaters because space is finite resource.

So I have allocated one — and only one — drawer in my dresser for my beloved cardigans. That drawer is always full. If I decide to buy another sweater, I need to figure out which sweater to get rid of. Embracing my space limitations forces me to make choices, which is the key to avoiding clutter. And I can always find the sweater I’m looking for, because they are limited to just one place.

You can apply this method to anywhere in your home. When your bookcases are full and you want to buy another book, figure out which book(s) to give away. Don’t start putting books somewhere else (where you will never find them again) or lay them horizontally across the standing books or start another row of books in front of the existing books. That, my friend, is clutter.

Once you’ve allocated the space for a particular type of item, stick with it. If it’s something that gets used up — like toilet paper or breakfast cereal — you will easily be able to see when you are running low and need to buy more. If it’s something that doesn’t get used up — like handbags or neckties — having a limited number will enable you to find what you are looking for faster and more easily.

Buying in Bulk

Everybody loves a bargain. And it’s well-known that the larger package will generally cost you less per item than the small one.

But what if space is at a premium? Purchasing decisions should not only be made in terms of dollars and cents. Clutter and storage space should also factor into the mix.

As I discussed in my recent post The Dangers of Buy One Get One Free, when you buy more than you need, you are in danger of losing track of the extra items. The shrink-wrapped package of two bottles of Tylenol might cost less per tablet, but if  you forget that you have a second bottle, you haven’t really gained anything.

Buying big bulky things in bulk can be problematic if you are short on storage space. Paper towels, toilet paper, and tissue boxes take up a lot of room. Unless you have a large family and go through these really quickly, you’ll make better use of your limited space if you always have one or two extra on hand, but not eight or ten.

You might think that if you buy a lot of something, you’ll never run out. But if you are someone who doesn’t have a good system for keeping track of when you are on the last one, you are still going to run out. It’s better to buy fewer of them, and to put a sticky note on the last one saying “Order more!” so that you’ll remember to do so when you are opening that one.

If you do your purchasing on Amazon, you can instead save money with their “Subscribe and Save” feature. You’ll need to figure out how quickly you go through an item so that you can set the appropriate subscription frequency, but once you’ve got that worked out, you’ll be able to rest assured that you won’t run out of this item and you’ll still be saving money.

When it comes to purchases of frequently-used items, it’s true that less is more.

The Dangers of Buy One Get One Free

When you go to the store to buy something you need, isn’t it great to see the sign “Buy One Get One Free” or “Buy One Get One 50% Off”? Well, yes and no.

We all love getting something for nothing, or for less than we expected. But there is a danger in taking advantage of BOGO opportunities. You need to carefully manage where you put the spare item so that you don’t forget that you have it.

I’ve recently experienced TWO situations where I thought I needed something, only to discover that I already had at least one extra. Luckily I realized it before I went to the store to buy more.

Here are some solutions for managing the extra stuff:

  • If you have enough cabinet space, put the new items behind the one you’re finishing up. Don’t buy any more until you are running low on the last of the them.
  • If you don’t have enough cabinet space, designate a more spacious area in a closet or cabinet to keep extra items until you are ready to use them. Be sure to group similar items together so that you always know how many you have. Remember to shop your closet before going shopping.
  • Resist the urge to stash the extra item somewhere else, especially if it is going to be buried behind a lot of other stuff. You may think you’ll remember you put it there, but by the time you are running out of something, you will have forgotten. (Trust me on this.)
  • Be sure to look at expiration dates before buying extras. There’s no use getting an extra one at 50% off if it is going to expire before you have a chance to use it.

Great Reusable Bags by meori®

In New York City, where I live, a law went into effect on March 1 of last year banning stores from giving out plastic bags. In preparation, we all stocked up on reusable bags, including those distributed by our city’s elected officials. I started to note which bags served my purposes better than others.

Like many in NYC, I don’t own a car and I get around on foot or via public transportation. It’s helpful for me to have a small reusable bag in my backpack or purse (or in my coat pocket if I’m traveling light) in case I want to spontaneously stop off at a store while I’m out. There are also times when I go out expressly to shop, in which case I can bring along a more robust bag.

I was recently introduced to the products of the company meori®. They offer a line of high-quality foldable boxes and bags. These include trunk organizers and wine totes, as well as boxes to help organize your home. But what attracted me were the reusable shopping bags.

meori® Reusable Pocket Shoppers

The meori® Reusable Pocket Shopper turned out to be the ideal foldable shopping bag for me. It folds into a small pouch that measures 5 1/2 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches high. When opened, however, it holds a voluminous amount! I’m a petite person, and some tote bags drag on the ground when I hold them in my hand. This bag, even when full, does not quite reach the floor. It also sits comfortably on my shoulder due to its wide strap. I love having multiple options for toting my purchases home! The Reusable Pocket Shopper comes in a variety of solid colors and prints.

meori® Small Essential Tote

Another favorite is the meori® Small Essential Tote. This is the bag that I take with me when I’m going out expressly to shop. It measures 12 1/2 inches wide by 14 1/2 inches high. It folds fairly flat, so I can carry it on my shoulder without bulk when I’m on my way to the store, but when the bottom is expanded, it’s almost 7 inches deep. It has shoulder straps and also cutout handles in case you want to carry the bag in your hand. The bottom is reinforced to give you additional support. And it has an interior zipper pocket for your wallet or phone, so it’s really the only bag you need to take with you when you go shopping.

As you can tell, I’m very excited by the quality and utility of the meori® product line. I liked their products so much that I volunteered to be a guest blogger on their site. Check out my article on Small Kitchen Storage Ideas!

The Right Time to Buy A Suitcase

For a while now, I have been meaning to buy a new suitcase. I use a carry-on suitcase whenever I travel — whether I’m going away for a weekend or for two weeks. My cute little red carry-on was perfect for me: roomy on the inside with outside pockets, and easy to pick out of a group of suitcases due to its color.

However, ever since I started noticing suitcases with four wheels instead of two, I have been wanting one. I even went to the Container Store travel sale last year to look at what they had. But I came away empty-handed because the mechanism for the extra wheels took up too much room inside the suitcase. I decided to wait.

There was also some part of me that didn’t want to replace my red suitcase. It had served me so well, and I was afraid I would be sorry I had replaced it. Besides, I couldn’t replace a perfectly functional suitcase, could I?

My red suitcase must have known that I was planning to be unfaithful, and it started acting up: the retractable handle was resisting retraction. I figured out a work-around for that but knew that it was just a matter of time before I had to get a new one.

The coup de grâce occurred late last month when I was on my way home from the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). I got to Pittsburgh airport sooner than I needed to because I had shared a taxi with some friends who had an earlier flight. I retrieved my suitcase from the taxi driver and pulled up the handle. But it only went up halfway. No matter how many times I retracted it and released it, it only would come up halfway. (This was a new problem: previously it had only failed to go down, not up.)

Luckily I’m short, so I managed (awkwardly) to get it into the terminal and through security. Then I arrived at the airport shopping concourse and a light bulb went on over my head. I had a broken suitcase and a lot of time to kill, and I was surrounded by shops. A few minutes later, I was in Brookstone and a sales clerk was showing me the latest and greatest in four-wheel carry-on suitcases. He pointed out a surface behind the counter where I could try out a couple of the models I was most interested in by transferring in my stuff.

Half an hour later, I was marching securely towards my gate, the proud owner of a Samsonite Spinner suitcase. (I let the store keep the red one.)

I am grateful to my old, familiar suitcase for letting me know when it was time to let go. Without that push, I would have been mired in analysis paralysis, looking longingly at the new models but not being able to figure out which model would be best. I am also grateful that this push occurred in a place where there were many suitable replacements for sale!