Sunday, January 1, 2012

January decluttering habit: stop stockpiling

I'm not a fan of resolutions because I feel like every day, every week, and every month is an opportunity to make ourselves better human beings.

Each month this year I'm going to look a different habit clutter-related habit.  Maybe it'll be a good habit that helps us live less cluttered lives. Maybe it'll be a bad habit that stands in the way of getting and staying decluttered. Either way, it will help us see where we need to change and prove to us that we can make that change happen. On to our first habit, stop stockpiling! Keep in mind though -- it's not stockpiling if you really do use it,  in a reasonable amount of time.

Stockpiling seems to be a trait that's woven deeply into the human psyche. Stockpiling resources when they were available helped cavemen survive famine. It helped our grandparents survive the great depression.

It does almost NOTHING to help us now.

Stockpiling often wastes more money than it saves. Buying more than you can use means you run the risk of any perishables you've purchased going bad. My father bought twenty bottles of vitamins about ten years ago. Last time I went home I saw about half of them still there, all expired. He might as well have bought half the bottles he did at full price.

Buying excessively amounts of goods makes it harder to find the goods you do need to use. This means that you may end up running out to the store because you can't find another product you need, and have somewhere...and wasting money.

Stockpiling ties up liquid assets in investments that depreciate. $50 in half-price shampoo means that you now have ~$47 less in your bank account than you would have had if you'd just bought the one or two bottles you need NOW. Stockpile dozens of different types of goods and you have hundreds or thousands of dollars just sitting on shelves, slowly decaying. It's money that you can't access if you need it.

Stockpiling in and of itself does not provide security. Maybe you're afraid of running out of food in an emergency. That's a reasonable fear. But do you really need a year's supply of tomato soup, or is a week's worth of canned goods enough? Ask yourself why you feel you need to keep long-term supplies of goods around. Can something less material provide the security you need? Perhaps better relationships with your neighbors would be more help in an emergency than that year's supply of toilet paper.

Maintaining a *reasonable* supply of disaster-preparedness items, however, is important, and this isn't stockpiling.  We keep three days worth of water (in our case, six gallons, per FEMA's recommendations at and canned food on hand. In my town I've seen the shelves completely bare when Snowpocalypse struck and grocery store trucks couldn't get in for over a week. So this is something reasonable to prepare for. But am I going to keep six months of food on hand in a 1200-square-foot apartment? No. If a disaster is bad enough that I need six months of food, I need to be finding a way out of our area. In that situation, a map and the camping gear we use for backpacking will do me more good than a six-month supply of food. Be reasonable, not paranoid and irrational.

Stockpiling adds to stress. It's not fun to have a pile of toilet paper rolls fall on your head when you open the linen closet (though it is funny). Why deal with cramped closets and overloaded drawers when you don't have to?

Moving stockpiled goods is a pain. You don't want to have to pack boxes of shampoo when you find a new apartment or house.

What would happen if we only kept enough goods around to keep us going until the next convenient shopping trip?

That's the core of this month's challenge. Let's try using up the items that we have stockpiled and only keeping enough around to reasonably get us until the next shopping trip.

Then tell me your experiences! Did you cut it too close with the toilet paper and have to run out to CVS in the middle of the night? Did your wife steal your chapstick and leave you hunting for the vaseline and contemplating divorce? Or did it work out well for you?

What have you stockpiled? I've stockpiled shampoo, toilet paper, light bulbs, hand cream, pretty notebooks, medicine, pasta, name it. Guess I'm going to be eating a lot of spaghetti this month. Hooray for a lower grocery bill!


  1. Great post! This is a weak spot for me too... I'm not sure why I have the compulsion to stock up, but slowly and surely I am releasing my stockpiling habit for all the reasons you list here. Buying what I need when I need it. After all, it will go on sale again soon!

  2. Hi Pol! Thanks for commenting! It's so tempting to think that we're saving money by buying in bulk, or buying lots of items when they're on sale. You are absolutely right, with the internet and smartphones you can now find a sale on anything, anytime!

  3. Haha, I've had to use tissues a couple of times because we ran out of toilet paper :) But how dangerous is that? I hate having things stockpiled, it's like I feel a pressure to use them up fast, so I end up being wasteful.

    1. good thing creativity isn't dangerous :o)

  4. I still fight this every day. Well said!
    The most ridiculous example, is from my parents who were hoarders/stockpilers. When my Dad passed, my eldest sibling had the difficult task of liquidating their belongings.... there were rolls and rolls of toilet paper stashed in an old, nonfunctioning chest freezer. Sheesh!

    1. Definitely one of many things I dread when I think of my parents departing this earth. It really deprives you of the chance to grieve, doesn't it?

  5. I realised a while ago that I had a ridiculous amount of cosmetics/beauty products- both things that I had bought and gifts. Basically I had stockpiles of soap and moisturiser! Working my way through those now..looking forward to the extra space when it's all gone.


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