← Back to All Columns

Columns

Over and Under: Balancing Your Buying

There are some common mistakes people make when they begin to get organized. Some of them are relatively minor, an old habit to break or a new habit to form that doesn’t seem very important, but actually has a big impact on serenity and order. Others are larger issues, like compulsive behaviors that seem like they would be helping in the organizing effort but are actually detrimental to it. Today, we’ll look at two biggies: over-buying and under-buying.

Over-buying

Over-buying is usually a mistake made by a compulsive or impulsive shopper, whose shopping habit has created the disorganization in the first place. When a compulsive shopper decides to get organized, too often the first thing they do is go to Target or get on the computer and purchase a bunch of organizing supplies. Without a plan, the supplies just sit there and add to the chaos.

Another symptom of over-buying is buying in bulk. It might seem like thinking ahead and stocking up on paper towels and chicken soup is a great idea, but unless you have the storage room and use the items regularly, it makes more sense to just buy what you need and maybe one or two extra. Decide if giving up storage space is worth the savings, especially if you are also spending money on gas to drive to a bulk store out of town.

Under-buying

On the flip side, under-buying is not as common a problem but it can cause disorganization. When someone is not willing to invest in the organizing process the results are mediocre. For example, making do with containers that don’t really work or a filing cabinet that tips over every time it’s opened makes putting things away a drag. When a task is difficult or unpleasant, we tend to avoid it. The right tools make organizing easier  — and even enjoyable.

Also, I’m amazed when people continue to live with things that are broken or constantly malfunction, another symptom of under-buying. I certainly don’t advocate tossing something out if it is only slightly flawed, but if a piece of equipment constantly lets you down, get rid of it.

My grandmother spent 30 years sewing on a machine that never maintained proper tension on the bobbin, which meant that every few stitches she had to stop and adjust the tension. Life is too short for this kind of frustration, especially when the activity is supposed to be fun or creative but ends up being stressful and irritating.

When my grandmother handed the Singer down to me (and bought herself a snazzy new sewing machine), I tried to make it work. I wanted to be as diligent and frugal as she was, but learning to sew on such a lemon was a horrible experience akin to learning piano on an instrument that won’t stay in tune. Dumping it felt like a victory. Remember — your time has a value, too.

Look at where you might be overbuying or underbuying and try to balance it out. If you find yourself buying more clothes than you can find room for, maybe it’s time to stop visiting the outlets and start looking at spending a bit on closet design or a new dresser. If you can’t leave Home Depot without a new power tool, try focusing on purchasing a work bench or better shelving in the garage to organize your stash.

Giving yourself organized access to what you have often prevents overbuying. Shopping your own cupboards and closets can be as much fun as trolling the stores—and far healthier for your finances.