9 Ways I Keep My Space Simplified

I was chatting with a co-worker the other day about my purging methods and ways to keep the quantity of things I own to a minimum and he suggested that I write down my tips. So, here are the rules I live by:

1. If I haven’t used it in a year, I don’t need it.

2. “Memories” are the exception to rule number one. But, I confine myself to one memory box. And its small enough to fit under my bed. If you were going to try this, I’d suggest just giving yourself the rule of having one box that you are able to move by yourself, however big that box may be.

3. Start purging clothes first.
At the end of summer I always go through my summer clothes and add the items to the donate pile that I had saved from the previous summer but didn’t at all use that summer.
If I buy a new version of something that is better than the old version, I get rid of the old version.
– Because I am not a painter, landscaper, mechanic, etc, I don’t need 12 pairs of “old jeans”. One is probably enough.
– Unless I were to be actually in the process of losing weight, meaning I’m actively working out, dieting, giving birth, having a massive tumor removed, etc, I resign myself to the fact that I will not wear my skinny clothes again. By the time I were to make the decision or effort to actually do the noted items above, fashions would change and I’d probably want the joy of going out and buying new clothes anyway.

4. Buy a few high quality things instead of a lot of cheap things. This particularly applies to furniture. Oh, and a bonus tip – I always buy furniture that allows me to store stuff in it. Open shelving creates an environment for more clutter.

5. I don’t buy the extra items in the “Buy 3 get 1 free” deals. If in the next month, I am only going to use 1, then I just buy one. If I was going to use all 4 (or even 3) in the next month, or before I can possibly get to the store that sells that thing again, then by all means, I’ll buy all 4 (Cereal comes to mind here. I do love my cereal). Why? See the following reasons:
The time value of money means something. According to whomever wrote this wikipedia article, the time value of money is “the principle that a certain currency amount of money today has a different buying power (value) than the same currency amount of money in the future. The value of money at a future point of time would take account of interest earned or inflation accrued over a given period of time.” So basically, if I spend $1 today on a bar of soap I don’t use, I’ve actually lost money because I didn’t use nor need the soap, and that $1 might have the buying power of $1.03 in the future.
My acquisition costs of new items are generally fairly low. I visit Target pretty regularly. I get perishable items there and other items that need routine replenishing. Because of that, if I need that additional bar of soap, the acquisition cost to pick that item up when I am getting others is nonexistent. If acquisition costs were high, I feel there is value in buying extra.
The cost to store the additional items has a negative effect on my life (or diminishing marginal utility) as I need to find a place to store and organize the additional items, often then resulting in the need to buy additional organizational items or furniture.

6. Get the items you are purging out of the house as fast as possible. So if I go through my closet and bag up clothes, those bags go by the door to take out when I go out next or I immediately put them in my car. The longer those bags sit there, the higher probability that I will get comfortable with them sitting there.

7. I don’t beat myself up when I can’t let go of something right away. Sometimes, it takes evaluating something a week later or a month later to finally be able to get rid of it. Example: when I just moved I brought along some scarves that I thought I wanted. Then when I was unboxing them and putting things away in my closet, I realized, I never wear those scarves and had others to take their place. So I got rid of them then.

8. I absolutely, positively, never take tchotchke. If I go to an event and they are giving out keychains, I tell them to keep it. Water bottles, t-shirts, notebooks, coffee cups, etc. I probably won’t like their water bottle, I have enough t-shirts, who writes things in notebooks? and my coffee cup set matches and is phenomenal so I don’t need to damage its beauty with some weird cup that advertises a brand I probably don’t care about. If I take it, it’ll probably just end up in a landfill, so I let them keep it and give it to someone who might actually want it.

9. I don’t participate in the gift-giving aspect of holidays. Its much better for me to just buy my own stuff and others to buy their own stuff than for us to try and guess what each other likes within the dollar range we can spend on them. Here are two episodes of my favorite podcast, Planet Money, that helps to explain this – Making Christmas More Joyful, And More Efficient and The Most Wasteful Time Of Year.

Learning to purge takes time. Clothes are always the easiest. But after awhile it all just becomes habit. And I find myself only buying things I really like. So I’m really happy with my physical space and enjoy being in my place.


My asterisk to this is, yes, absolutely, your situation is different and there are always exceptions to every rule. These principles have worked for me and may not work for you. I am not a tax advisor. I do not get paid to give financial advice. Your grandmother might be mad if you get rid of that ugly gravy boat she gave you for your wedding. And no, this is not an offer to clean your house.