11 March 2012

Four Criteria to Avoid Trading Cash for Clutter

Wandering the mall used to be a frequent and expensive after-dinner event for us. Then we discovered the freedom of living debt free.. and later, the freedom of living clutter free. We are enamored by the idea of living off the land in a tiny house, but I'm not exactly the Pioneer Woman, so shopping is still a necessary evil. To avoid trading cash for clutter, before we take anything to the cash register, we measure it against these criteria:

#1. Using time as currency, how much does it really cost? We dream of retirement, so saving money is more important to us than owning stuff. I know how my husband's salary breaks down into his hourly wage, so before I buy anything, I consider his time. Is a new pair of jeans worth two hours of pay? Maybe so. Is dinner at my favorite restaurant worth a half a day of work? Probably not. (At least not very often.)

#2. Is there a valid ROI even if not monetary? This one is a little hazy and not always a deal breaker. I try not to overthink it, but sometimes, you have to spend money to save money. For example, decorating our home makes us want to stay home more often, which translates into less eating out & less mindlessly wandering the mall. Another example: we say "yes" almost every time our girls ask for a new book. A young heart with a thirst for knowledge will surely grow into a teenage heart with a desire to work for college scholarships, right? Please say yes.

#3. Will I still want it 2 weeks from now? Going to the mall while you are feeling a little blue or even just bored is the equivalent of grocery shopping without a list and on an empty stomach. Suddenly you're buying exotic snacks that'll end up in the back of the cabinet because, while they looked good at the time, you didn't really want or need them. This might be a great way to use Pinterest. Create a "Shopping List" board, and take some time to pre-think purchases. All of a sudden that exotic "must have" pair of shoes may seem more like potential closet clutter.

#4. Do I want it more than I want to go to Morocco? You fill in the blank for yourself, but this has been the deciding factor in most of my non-purchases lately. I love to browse flea markets, and sometimes I'll pick up a knick knack; carry it around for a while; then ask myself, "would I rather have another twelve-dollar brass vase or put another twelve dollars toward my ten year anniversary trip to Morocco?" Morocco wins out almost every time.

Impulse buying is the enemy of a Minimalish lifestyle. Marketers thrive on Americans appetite for "new" and they bait us with fancy names and shiny packaging. These four criteria are my defense against the perils of debt and excess junk.


  1. Great list! Have you considered just going to the library when your kiddos want new books? We avoid buying books at all costs and find the library an amazing resource! Also, Goodwill has stellar prices on kid books. Good luck!

  2. Great Tip! Growing up, we went to the library a lot, but our local one charges for any small marks or tears on the books and my girls are kinda' rough on them. We do buy some at the local resale shops and also garage sales - usually about a quarter a piece!
    Most libraries are also a good source for kid movies, just check first to make sure they aren't all scratched. Nothing worse than bringing home a "new movie" and getting the kids all excited only to find it won't play :(