I found a new way to save cash and have less clutter: Get rid of the extra stuff!
Bethany Sanders: There's something liberating about getting rid of stuff, giving bags and bags of things we don't really need to Goodwill or putting it on our front porch for Freecyclers to come and grab.
But a while ago, I had an epiphany: If giving away the possessions that make me and my family feel trapped by constant housework and chores feels good, imagine how good it would feel to not have all that stuff in the first place.
So this was -- and still is -- our New Year's resolution: Less stuff, more life.
By ridding our lives of our excess stuff, we spend less time taking care of our stuff. By not buying stuff in the first place, we've got more money to go out and experience life.
The first thing we did was cut back on toys -- toys for the kids and for the adults. No one gets anything new unless it's Christmas or their birthday. Clothes are an exception, and we buy most of those at a local consignment shop. Our kids are young and not yet into trends or must-have toys, so this one is pretty easy for them. Reteaching the grownups ... that's another matter.
We also cut back considerably on both Christmas and birthday presents. We have more work to do, but this year we spent about a third less, and no one really noticed. (Buying consumables, such as craft supplies, is a great way to give a thoughtful and interesting gift without having yet another toy to store.) Our "friend" birthday parties are no-gift parties. Even if someone else gives us a gift, it's still stuff ... and we want less of that. The one place I draw the line is with family; giving gifts is one of the ways that our family shows love, and I don't want to take that away from them.
We've also firmly embraced the idea of reusing. After repainting our dining room this week, I decided I'd like all new picture frames. What I got was a new can of spray paint. Savings? At least $50.
We're not done yet weeding through our possessions, but as we go room by room, we're using the keep-sell-toss-maybe system. All items fall into one of those categories. The "keeps" get put neatly away, "sells" and "tosses" go out the door, and the "maybes" go into the basement. If they aren't missed in the next three months, they'll be given away, too.
This isn't a budgeting plan, it's a re-allocation plan. Earlier this winter, we took a four-day family vacation, something we normally can't do so soon after Christmas. It was fantastic to get away in midwinter -- even if it was just five hours away -- and it really motivated us to work harder at our goals. We've already booked one long summer vacation and several short weekend getaways. We're setting our sights on Disney World next winter.
What's never cut from our budget is experience. My older daughter took an art class this winter, both girls dance and they're both playing soccer this spring. Gear -- such as bikes or a pair of used cross-country skis -- don't count as "stuff" as long as we have a plan to use them. My husband and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary this summer not with jewelry or expensive gifts, but with some time away alone together.
Do you ever feel like stuff is taking over your life? How do you cut back, declutter and reclaim your serenity?