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Silver medal shopping

In my 20s and 30s I was a wine judge, and wine in competitions is judged by the sip and spit method. We usually judged anywhere from dozens to hundreds of wines in a day-long or weekend competition. Although these competitions are fine for weeding out obviously flawed wines, I never felt that they could tell a consumer very much about which wine he or she would enjoy with dinner. Gold, silver or bronze? Was a gold that much better than a bronze?

Often the gold would win the sip test, but the wine that I could enjoy an entire glass of — the kind of wine that leaves you looking longingly at the empty bottle — was more likely to be a silver or a bronze. In numbers parlance, the 95-100 point wines might be great at first sip, but the wines in the 80s and low 90s might be more enjoyable over the course of an evening and with food.

So how does this pertain to organizing? While reflecting on one client’s impulse shopping dilemma, I thought of wine competitions. The latest, “statement” handbag is like the sweeter or bolder wine — fantastic at first, but maybe not so enjoyable for the long term. When the credit card bill arrives, will you feel better about the high-ticket dress you haven’t found the occasion to wear yet or the perfect pair of pants that go with everything?

Impulse shopping almost always leads to clutter and financial disarray. Those adorable pheasant-shaped salt and pepper shakers may be the item that puts you over your credit card limit. Back away from the antique sterling oyster forks. Unless of course, you really, really need them. Or want them. (Full disclosure: I bought a set four years ago and have never used them. You can find them on consignment at Lolo’s next week.)

Every now and then, we might need a gold medal item that doesn’t have to justify its price. Two examples are a wedding dress or a lobster dinner in East Hampton. But for the most part, a shopper with his or her house in order looks for things that he or she will enjoy for the long haul — the silver and bronze purchases. Here are a few habits that are tried and true:

• Walk away for at least 24 hours. I find that if I leave the store, those shiny “Gold Medal” items will lose their luster within a few blocks, but the more useful or more wearable items — the silvers and bronzes — will stick in my memory overnight. Mulling over my purchases and considering the pros and cons makes me feel like a grown-up.

• If you are in a shopping mood and recognize that you are shopping for pleasure, not out of necessity, then by all means avoid any stores that do not give full refunds on purchases. The last thing you need when you experience buyer’s remorse is “store credit only.”

• Save your receipts and be responsible. Don’t remove any tags until you are 100 percent sure you love and will use your purchased item. Be sure you note the date by which you need to return it if you decide to, and honor that date.

• Look at your last three credit card statements. This can be like dunking your head in cold water.

• Actually dunk your head in cold water — dive into a swimming pool, go for a jog, go to a yoga class. A change of scene and physical movement is such a perspective-changer. You might decide that what you need is not an Alexis Bittar necklace but more defined abdominals or a better upward facing dog, which are free, courtesy of daily practice. Or you may decide, due to an exercise high or sudden enlightenment, that you need for nothing; all is right with the world.

If you can employ these habits regularly, you won’t be as popular with Restoration Hardware and Tiffany — you will lose your gold medal shopper status. But shine on silver medalist! You will become a saner, savvier, more responsible — and more organized — being.

Angela Hoxsey is a professional organizer based in the Napa Valley. For information about her services, go tohouseinorder.com or call 738-4346. Like House in Order on Facebook for more organizing tricks and tips.