By-and-by, you will regret buy-and-buy

By Nicole Anzia / Special to The Washington Post

Published Jul 15, 2014 at 12:01AM

As a professional organizer, I am constantly reminded of what happens when people buy too much stuff without first thinking through what they’re buying.

Initially, they feel good about their purchases, because they got a good deal, they thought the items would simplify their lives or because they just loved something and had to have it. But within a couple of days, weeks or months, when they realize they have no use for certain items, have nowhere to put them and don’t have the time or energy to get rid of them, the clutter begins to close in. Recognize this scenario? Here are some tips to avoid it:

Never buy something just because it’s on sale. We have been programmed to think that sales are opportunities. If we fail to take advantage of a sale, we have missed out. Rationally, we know that the money we’re saving is relatively insignificant, and yet, the temptation to buy something on sale is alluring. Before you take the plunge, ask yourself whether you need it, will use it and, most important, would buy it if it weren’t on sale.

Don’t buy for the future. I am totally in favor of planning for the future, but buying things now that you may need, or want, a couple of years from now is unnecessary. The amount of work it will take to store the item, remember you have it and eventually put it to use, whether you actually need it or not, outweighs any benefit to getting a good deal now.

Take inventory before you shop. Do you know what’s in your closet or kitchen cabinets? Most of us think we do, but when we take a closer look, we always find something we’ve forgotten. If you’re headed out to the store, take five minutes to do a quick inventory. Make a few notes about what you need so you’re not second-guessing yourself in the store and buying duplicates.

Measure first. Shop second. Buying things that you think will fit without knowing if they actually will is a bad idea. Don’t buy a tablecloth that you think will fit your dining room table without knowing what size you need; don’t buy curtains if you don’t know what length you need; and don’t buy clothes in a store without trying them on. Take measurements before you shop and try clothes on before you buy them. You’ll save yourself time and headaches later.

Beware of fancy gadgets. Do you have a bread or ice cream maker? A fondue set or a juicer? These shiny gadgets that promise to make your life easier often sit collecting dust after only a few uses. It’s not that it’s not fun to make your own delicious bread, ice cream or juice. It’s just that, more often than not, it’s easier to buy the products at the grocery store, so we opt for convenience. Try borrowing a friend’s specialty appliance before you decide to buy one. If you love it and have adequate space to store it, go for it.

Plan for electronic upgrades. This should be the case for all purchases, but especially new electronics: Make a deal with yourself, and your significant other, to never buy the next generation of an electronic device without a specific plan to get rid of the current generation. Old electronics pile up quickly, but if you use the “one item in, one item out” method, you’ll avoid having to find a space to hide old TVs, computer monitors and bundles of cords. Shopping sales, experimenting with new products and occasionally buying something you don’t really need is normal, but constantly buying things you don’t need and then trying to find a use for them is stressful and creates clutter.

Think first. Buy second.