Clutter and Cash – How Purging Clutter Can Uncover Spending Habits

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the book talk of New York Times Bestselling Author, Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen just released her new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm and delivered a joyful discussion about decluttering a home to make room for happiness. There were 300 people in the room soaking up tips on how to get rid of everything from books to their child’s favorite art from kindergarten and from purging tools in the garage to donating clothes in a closet.

While driving home I started to think about this hot topic “decluttering” and wanted to understand how individuals have gotten so deep in clutter. There had to be a common source.  Within minutes of taking the time to dig a bit deeper, the root of the problem became vividly clear. Knowing the source of the problem is the only way to truly prevent repeating the habit of getting buried in clutter.

For many, Gretchen Rubin and Marie Kondo are carrying the best-selling torch in the world of decluttering, organizing, and purging. Decluttering a home is definitely a learned skill and I applaud these women for writing such incredible guides that are helping millions of people shed pounds of unwanted goods, organize homes, and learn to live with the concept of “less is more”.

But, one important step that was not discussed in either book, and in my opinion is the source of the problem, is SPENDING! Clutter goes hand in hand with poor spending habits and if spending habits are not kept in check, the clutter will slowly creep back into a home. How many times have you cleaned out the garage, a closet, or a desk only to find a few years (or months) later that the same decluttered space is packed full again with items that you a) don’t need and b) never use? This happens to all of us!

Regardless of which system you choose to use to purge unwanted items, adding the additional step of identifying which items are creating the most clutter and reviewing the spending habits behind purchasing the items, will help break the spending habits that led to clutter in the first place. It will also eliminate the buildup of clutter in the future and save you money. Every room, closet, box, or drawer presents an opportunity to identify where money is being spent on unneeded items. But before you just dump and donate, use the below tips to help break future clutter habits:

Take inventory

As you clean out each closet, drawer, or room, take the time to look for duplicates, review the items that you are giving away or selling, and write down the quantity of each item. For example, while cleaning out a clothes closet stack the items into groups (e.g., shirts, pants, shoes, handbags, sweaters, jackets, etc.). Before you pop everything in a bag and donate the items, grab a notebook, review each stack, and write down which specific items make-up the largest portion of the donation. Once noted, immediately put the items in a donation bag.

Most donated awards –

Next, review your notebook and determine which items win the largest donation pile. This can be a fun game and learning lesson for each family member in the house. For ladies, most donated pile may be shoes or clothes. For the gentlemen, the pile may be tools from the garage or a coffee cup collection (random, but true). For kids, the list may range from clothing to puzzles or books to squishies. Each member of the family will have different varieties of clutter -including pets- and will win multiple awards for large donation stacks.

Recognize spending habits –  

Once the awards are noted, sit down as a family and review the quantity of items being donated. Determine the purpose of buying such a large quantity of each specific item and ask the following questions. Were the majority of the items purchased on impulse? Is there a pattern of buying in bulk? Were the items purchased a “need” or a “want”?

Knowing the above will help identify spending habits. If items were purchased on impulse, going forward, take the time to think about a purchase before buying. Go home, review what you already have, and decide if the item is a necessary purchase. If items were purchased in bulk, buy less the next time and see if you can make do with one versus several. Always ask if the item is a “need” or a “want”. We tend to always want new things, but seldom do we really need them.

Whether you have (or have not) joined the Rubin and Kondo cleaning club, spring cleaning is in the air, and with an extra hour of daylight, now is the perfect time to purge unwanted goods and refresh spending habits!