Inside: A list of things we tend to buy too frequently, which eventually leads to a cluttered home. Plus 5 reasons we buy too much stuff in the first place – awareness is the first step to recovery!

Yesterday as I was putting on makeup for the first time in goodness knows how long, I picked up my chapstick, the chapstick that’s lasted for months and months already.

(Side Note: If you’re reading this in the future, we’re social distancing like champs over here and let’s be real, there’s not a lot of reasons to put on makeup these days.)

I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought chapstick. It’s been at least a year.

For whatever reason, holding that chapstick gave me a quick flashback to life before decluttering.

To my pre-minimalist days when I used to buy packs of chapstick much more frequently – probably every other month. Especially during my extreme couponing CVS runs, you could almost always get chapstick for free or pennies.

Seems innocent enough, right? What’s one more pack of chapstick? And it’s FREE.

But it wasn’t just chapstick, of course. That was the problem.

It was all the other unnecessary purchases combined, things I bought one at a time over the course of multiple trips to the store.

One more little unnecessary thing doesn’t seem like a big deal…until you start trying to declutter. Facing the consequences of all those “not such a big deal” purchases.

An extra pair of shoes on clearance here, a couple bottles of multi-purpose spray in the latest Mrs. Meyer’s scent there, a cheap toy from the thrift store.

Little bit by little bit, the clutter slowly built up over time.

Now I know that all those small, seemingly harmless purchases add up and leads to a house full of clutter.

And especially when they’re “useful” items and you spent your hard-earned money on them, decluttering on the other end is twice as hard.

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All of Those Unnecessary Purchases Add Up

On my first round of decluttering, I used the KonMari method, which involves gathering all like items in one place, one category at a time.

Seeing everything in one place gives you a better sense of how much you actually have.

While I don’t love all of Marie Kondo’s decluttering advice, seeing everything in one category definitely gives you a much-needed reality check.

My jaw dropped at how many of those seemingly harmless purchases added up over the years.

Pens. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many we had!

Several barely-used chapsticks.

Socks (with and without matches).

Craft supplies we never used.

You quickly realize how you can comfortably get rid of so much, and still have more than enough.

I got rid of SO much and couldn’t believe how much more I had to go before my home was truly clutter-free. A lot of our clutter was from these seemingly harmless – and often practical – purchases, many of which I thought I needed.

And unfortunately, we are set up to buy things we don’t need all.the.time. Knowing why we overbuy in the first place is the first step to recovery.

Related: 7 Decluttering Tips from Marie Kondo that are Pure Genius

family shopping for sales in the mall

5 Reasons We Buy Things We Don’t Need

1. Store Placement

Stores put a LOT of thought into store design.

There’s a reason you have to walk past the home décor, cleaning supplies and kitchen odds and ends sections just to get to the milk at Target.

A lot of the time, the things that overstuff our cabinets and bookshelves and couches are the product of us – mindless consumers – succumbing to skillfully designed checkout areas and strategically placed clearance end caps.

2. Packaging

How often have you experienced the frustration of trying to buy just one thing, but you honest-to-goodness can’t?

Why can’t you? Because manufacturers don’t package certain kinds of items individually.

I’m not an expert, but I’m assuming it’s not very cost-effective as far as shipping and packaging goes to sell low cost items individually.

And after all, why sell just one chapstick when you can easily get people to buy three at once? When they have very few options to buy just one?

I don’t even think it’s possible to buy just ONE chapstick in the flavor I like. I can often only find it in packs of two or three, often accompanied by additional chapsticks I probably won’t use.

Before you know it, you have four chapsticks you rarely use, adding to the clutter.

3. Future-Oriented Mindset

Some of us like to pride ourselves on thinking ahead. We’ll eventually need another tube of toothpaste, right?

Then why not get two instead of one, you know, while we’re thinking about it?

(Of course, right about now, we’re all kind of wishing we’d stocked up on toilet paper….)

While there are advantages to thinking about the future all the time, it often steals from the present. It leads to cluttered cabinets that prevent us from actually seeing and remembering that we bought a second tube of toothpaste five months ago.

Then we still end up having to go out and buy another tube of toothpaste. And you pick up one more because, you couldn’t find the other one and you might as well have a second.

Now you have three tubes of toothpaste, and around and around the cycle goes.

Combine a future-oriented mindset with the next point, and clutter piles up like crazy.

Related: How to Declutter When the Future is Uncertain

4. The Love of the Deal

I used to be an extreme couponer. There’s nothing quite like the rush of getting things for free or next to nothing.

I might not be able to see under my bed because that’s the only place I have to stash twenty tubes of toothpaste and thirty cans of corn, but I sure did save a heck of a lot of money!

While frugality and minimalism can complement each other, a frugal mindset can also lead to a lot of unnecessary clutter just to save a fraction of a dollar.

After all, it can take 6-12 months or longer to use up just one chapstick. Is saving $1 by buying two really worth it taking up space in your bathroom cabinet?

There’s also the unfortunate reality that in America at least, it often costs just a tiny bit more to buy DOUBLE the number of items.

My dad, God bless his heart, always got the 20-count nugget at McDonald’s because it was just $0.50 more than the 10-count. Did we really need 10 more nuggets? Maybe, maybe not – but it didn’t matter because it was the spirit of the thing.

Free shipping when you hit X spending threshold is another powerful clutter trap.

There’s always the promise of adding just $10 more to your cart to get free shipping. It feels like throwing money away NOT to buy that one extra thing you weren’t intending to buy.

(That’s another reason why I think Amazon Prime is worth it – I’d rather pay one set annual fee for shipping than constantly be tempted to find something else to buy to get what I actually need. You can get a free 30-day trial HERE.)

And then there’s just the constant appeal of the sale.

Sales are everywhere, which leads to a lot of unnecessary purchases for no other reason than “it was on sale” and “I will probably need/use this later.”

5. Boredom

Shopping is THE favorite American pastime. Certain segments of the population are more susceptible to mindless shopping than others.

New moms are particularly vulnerable.

As a new mom, there were things I bought just because I was tired of being cooped up with kids all day, so a trip to Target just for milk seemed completely justified.

And we all know what an innocent trip to Target [just] for milk inevitably leads too, amiright?

Especially with clearance endcaps full of goodies.

Related: How to Stop Shopping – 10 Ways to Break the Habit for GOOD

15+ Things You Should Stop Buying

The first step in getting better is awareness, right? Hopefully this list of things we commonly overbuy will open your eyes to the mindless purchases you make all the time.

Stop buying these things unless you:

  • run out, or
  • are swapping “one in” for “one out”

For the things that expire, make sure to mark the item with the date of purchase (or the date you opened it). Only replace it when it’s gone or expired.

Stop randomly buying this stuff, and you’ll be one [big] step closer to winning the war on clutter.

(You’ll also save a boatload of money, too!)

Related: 100 Things You Can Declutter Right Away

1. Toiletries

Shampoo, hand lotion, toothpaste, chapstick. Toiletries are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to impulse purchases and accumulating more than we need.

Especially hand lotions, chapstick, and seasonal items like sunscreen, it’s easy to use half a bottle according to the season.

You shove them to the back of your closet and forget you have them when winter or summer rolls around again. You buy more because you forgot you already had some leftover (or forgot where you put it).

Make sure to label these items clearly with the date you opened them and follow replace according to expiration guidelines.

2. Candles

I used to have a serious candle problem. I loved Yankee candles, and I would accumulate them any time they had a great sale.

We recently switched to homemade soy candles with lead-free wicks, partially because of health and partially because my kids started making them to sell.

Now I try to only have 1-2 candles on hand at a time and burn them until they’re gone.

3. Writing Utensils

How many pens do we really need?

Obviously, everyone will have a different number depending on how many people are in your family and how frequently you use them. (As a homeschooling family, we use more!)

What I’ve noticed with pens is that we all have our personal pen preferences. I will dig through our entire stash of pens to find my favorite ones.

Declutter your stash, pass along the ones you never use, and only buy new pens when you are down to your last 2-3.

4. Coffee Mugs

This is the classic form of clutter, and I find it super hard to resist buying a cute new mug every time I walked by them in Target.

A good rule of thumb is two coffee mugs per person in your family who actually uses them, and a few extra for guests if you regularly host people.

You could also keep a stash of disposable to-go cups if you rarely have guests.

5. Coasters

We have a couple sets of coasters, one my kids made and another we adopted from a family member that have sentimental value.

We barely use them, and we definitely don’t need more. We honestly don’t have nice enough furniture to warrant protecting it against water marks.

6. Cheap Décor

I hate to go back to Target again, but if you are filling your home with cheap Target art and knick-knacks, now is the time to stop.

Your bookshelves don’t need twenty little objects to make it look beautiful, and you don’t need a full on gallery wall to have a beautifully decorated home.

In fact, they may be contributing to visual clutter that may be causing you anxiety without you even realizing.

If you truly need more art, you love it and your walls are bare, find a local artist to support and make your purchase thoughtfully.

If you love displaying family photos, create a small arrangement of 3-5 frames, then rotate photos in and out.

And give cheap, trendy décor a hard pass from now on.

7. Throw Pillows

Couches full of pretty throw pillows look beautiful…until you actually have to sit on the couch. Beds full of those same throw pillows also look beautiful…until you need to take them all off before you can climb into bed.

Limit throw pillows to one per chair, 1-2 per couch, and one per bed if you insist on having decorative pillows on your bed.

If you are replacing throw pillows, I strongly encourage you to choose ones with removable and washable covers for longevity sake.

I will never purchase another throw pillow without one!

8. Coloring Books

Coloring book accumulate SO quickly in our house, but you know what? The ones we have are only half used, if that.

You don’t need more coloring books for quite some time. Finish the ones you already have and when they are used up, consider printing individual free coloring pages from the internet as needed.

9. Toys

For our fifth baby, we purchased exactly zero toys – only a teether.

She doesn’t even seem to need or miss the toys because she’s far more fascinated by everyday objects.

Our older kids purchased a couple of toys with their own money this year. Those fell into disuse fairly rapidly, as they much prefer the basic LEGOs, marble runs and dress up to anything else.

Bottom Line: you probably have more than enough toys.

Related: The Best Way to Declutter Toys

10. Bath Toys

The more bath toys you have, the harder it is to clean up after baths, and the more bath toys there are to clean. And bath toys get disgusting fast.

Keep one set, or even better, a few small toys like a set of stacking cups and one floating toy.

If the floating toy has a hole in it, fill it with a glue gun to avoid mold developing undetected on the inside of the toy. Gross!

11. Cleaning Products

This is another area where it’s extremely easy to accumulate products without even realizing it.

Find cleaning products you love and trust and ONLY replace them when you are close to running out. I still have toilet bowl cleaner from buying a multi-pack from BJ’s a couple of years ago!  

Also try not to fall into the trap of buying specialized cleaning products for individual cleaning tasks.

The more you minimize your cleaning products, purchasing a few things that can work for a variety of cleaning tasks, the easier cleaning will be.

12. Magazines

Unless you truly LOVE reading magazines, these are often an impulse buy at the checkout counter. You go through them ridiculously fast and they quickly become coffee table clutter.

If you love magazines, set a rule for yourself.

Try giving away the last one before you purchase a new one (one in, one out), or get them from your local library.

13. Shoes

I confess I’m not a shoe person, but I still own eight pairs of shoes! Nine if you count my slippers.

I usually only have 3-4 in rotation per season. If you have more than 10-12 pairs of shoes, I guarantee you don’t need more.  

If you shoe variety truly bring you joy, try using the “one in, one out” rule with this category.

Related: How to Create a Frugal Capsule Wardrobe (and why you need one)

14. Kitchen Gadgets

Most kitchen gadgets are supposed to save time, but do they really? It only took a few times of breaking down a food processor to clean it for me to realize it was more pain to me than it was worth (including the space it took up in my limited cabinet space).

Unless you plan on using one frequently, it’s so much easier to borrow the one time a year you’ll need a food processor OR simply do without and do things the old-fashioned way.

Even though multiple recipes reference a kitchen aid stand mixer, you really can make most recipes without one.

15. Magnets

Because we live in a small house, I do occasionally have letter magnets for the kids on the refrigerator. Other than that I try to keep our refrigerator free of papers and magnets.

It took me a while to come around to a clutter-free refrigerator, but it really cuts down on visual clutter! It’s also so much easier to keep clean.

Despite never actually purchasing a magnet myself, I somehow have 5-6 magnets we rarely use – souvenir gifts from friends or family, marketing materials from our pediatrician.

We definitely don’t need more and could stand to get rid of a few of those, too.

Declutter the front of your refrigerator, see how it feels, and I bet you’ll realize you have more than enough magnets!

16. Tupperware

Have you seen anyone decluttering Tupperware drawers? How on earth do we accumulate so much Tupperware?!

I bought this simple set of pyrex glass dishes with lids years ago, and only recently replaced the lids because several cracked or were lost.

Unless your Tupperware are breaking or dangerous (contain BPA), stick with a simple set with a few different sizes – you never need to buy it again unless they break.

If one happens to break, try replacing individual pieces, instead of buying more sets, to avoid an overflowing Tupperware drawer.

17. Craft Supplies

Hobby Lobby is a dangerous place even for non-crafters! I went there a few months ago, and I had to get out ASAP.

I knew wouldn’t use half of what I bought, but I still wanted to buy everything! My kids wouldn’t use it either – they without fail gravitate towards simple drawing supplies like sharpies, colored paper and plain white paper.

But even if you ARE a die-hard crafter, you probably don’t need more craft supplies than you already have. Definitely apply the “one in, one out” rule to this category.

Be intentional with your purchases, purchase supplies for specific projects, or replace art supply staples as they run out.

18. Baskets & Bins

Most of us have more than enough baskets and bins around the house. But the Container Store is SO tempting. 

Resist temptation.

Always ALWAYS declutter first, then shop your own house for appropriate containers.

You have more than you think you do. With a little rearranging, you probably have more than enough.

What are you tempted to overbuy? What are you trying to stop buying too much of? Share in the comments!

Related: 8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income (from a mom who’s been there)

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1 Comment

  1. SO many things on this list! I have mostly given up tupperware but replaced it with oh-so-cute glass jars with their million lids 😅 Also spices, because I forget to check what I have before going to the store for a specific recipe, and spices lose their flavor very quickly.

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