Jun 19, 2013

The "Take Something Out" Rule, Revisited

This post was originally published in 2008. I've made a few edits and additions to the original post.

We Americans really have a hard time not buying things, don't you think? Nothing in particular, just things. It's no wonder we don't feel that we can spend money on quality organic and local food, or on alternative energy, or clothing that is more expensive because someone actually made a livable wage to produce it. We're spending all of our money on little plastic things, more clothes than any one person needs, and items we'll only use a few times or we think we might need in the future. Most of us have chosen quantity over quality. If you don't believe me, take a look around your house, in your closets, in your kitchen drawers and cupboards, in your basement and garage. How much of your stuff do you actually use every day? What about the rest of it?

The result of this unintended accumulation is often more stuff than can fit into our living space. More stuff to clean and store. More stuff to maintain and replace. More stuff to clutter our lives. And for people like me, whose stress level increases dramatically in an overfilled room, more stuff to clutter our brains.

We've tried to break the buying/procuring habit in our household, but it is difficult. Frankly, we've grown up purchasing things we don't need, either because everyone has one or we are depressed and need a pick-me-up or we feel like it would make life better/easier or it is pretty or it is on sale. It's a lifelong habit for both of us, and probably for many of you too. This has resulted in the accumulation of stuff. So. much. stuff. We've now substantially reduced our stuff at least four times (meaning that we pretty much wasted the money we spent on the original purchase), and still have way too much. 

A few years back, to help in our war against our own excessive accumulating, we installed the "take something out" rule to curb our consumerism. It works like this: for every thing we bring into the house - whether from a big box chain or a garage sale - we must remove one item from the house. Even things like socks have to replace something (often other socks, with holes in them). Over the years, we have been both super strict and pretty lax about this rule. But when we feel either our spending or belongings are getting out of hand, this tool can be reinstalled in full force to help reign us in.

This simple rule has changed our purchasing habits completely. Sure, a shirt looks good on the rack, but then I have to get rid of one of my other shirts, and I like my other shirts. Decision made. We slip up plenty to be sure, but it has helped us take more consideration in our purchases and accumulations. We can finally leave a store without $50 of crap we don't need. We've taken our power back! You can too!

How do you curb your appetite for stuff?


  1. I've been telling myself that "I don't need all the things."
    I'm not sure why this phrase is working for me, but it is. It's helping me fight that feeling left over from childhood that if I don't get something when the opportunity presents itself then I will not be able to get it later. I've created a more stable environment for myself as an adult. It's helped me to defeat that feeling of scarcity and "feast or famine". It's feels empowering to CHOOSE to add something to my life or not.

  2. I love that, Emily. You changed your entire lifelong world view—that is amazing. "I don't need all the things" is going to become my new motto.

  3. I ask myself if my purchase is an impulse buy. Next I ask do I need it. Oftentimes I end up walking away from the item.

  4. Two fantastic questions! The first would probably eliminate 75% of the things I have in my cart at any given time (especially at the grocery store). The second, at anywhere other than the grocery store, would probably eliminate the remaining 25%!