My big declutter led me to recognize one major factor in how I managed my household…we had a lot of waste.
We wasted food, personal care products, cleaning products, paper products and more.
I was not using items we purchased (waste of money), and we were throwing things out because they expired, didn’t fit our home or lifestyle, or we no longer had a use for them.
It was during our massive clean-out that I developed the “use it up” principle.
What is the “use it up” principle”?
The “use it up” principle is pretty simple in concept, but it does admittedly take some practice to create a new habit of actually implementing it.
The underlying theme behind the principle is to be first aware of what you own and then commit to using up any possible items before buying new.
That sounds easy enough.
However, clutter often builds up because we want what’s new, shiny, and better than what we already own.
There is a thrill we get from buying something new. We actually get a brain endorphin from shopping, and that desire for that endorphin often outweighs the logic behind using what we already have on hand.
This, my friend, is how clutter ends up in your home.
Related Post: The Invisible Cost of Clutter
Why do we have excess items we could be using?
Sometimes we have an accumulation of things because of the person we think we “should be” rather than who we are now.
Sometimes, we have excess because we prefer the exhilaration of new vs old.
We build up excess by stocking up on super healthy foods we have zero intentions of actually consuming. Or we do intend to consume those healthy foods, but that junk food is just a little too tempting.
We build up excess clutter by buying bullet journals when we actually prefer digital calendars.
We build up excess by buying household items that are “better” or “healthier” or whatever claim they make.
Related Post: Go Green and Save Money: Reusable Kitchen Items
Declutter and then take inventory of what you already own
First, decluttering the things you know you will never, ever use will make seeing what is left much easier to process!
Then, the super-easy way to prevent excess is to know your inventory. This simple practice works so well when managing clutter.
To do this, group like items together. If they are spread throughout the house, you’ll never really know what you own.
Knowing what you have available, makes it more obvious when you think you need to go shopping.
When you’re done with taking inventory, maybe try doing a no spend challenge so you can use up what you do have.
Related Post: No Spend Grocery Challenge
The 5 Most Common Areas of Clutter Where You Can Implement the “Use It Up” Principle
Over the years, I’ve found there are five categories where you can implement the “use it up” principle most often. This isn’t an exclusive list, but if you are unsure where to start to keep clutter at bay (and save money), then this is where I would start.
Before we decluttered, we actually wasted a lot of food. It sounds odd that food would be related to clutter, but planning and having a waste-not mindset often extends to our fridge and pantry too.
Look in your fridge. Do you have any science experiments hanging out in the back, buried deep within?
Chances are, there are at least a few scary items lurking in there.
When you treat your food with the “use it up” principle, it gets you in the mindset to not go and buy more groceries to add to your fridge before you use up what you have.
How do you do this though?
Maybe you hate leftovers. Maybe there’s only one or two of you in the household. Maybe you hate cooking at home.
Here are few suggestions to reduce food waste and use up what you have before the science experiments (AKA food clutter) build-up:
- Before grocery shopping, see if you can make one more meal with what you have on hand.
- Always “shop” from your pantry and fridge with your grocery list, before leaving the house.
- Look for easy substitutions with the items you already have on hand.
- Designate a specific shelf in your fridge for leftovers, so they don’t get lost in the back.
- Get in the practice of freezing leftovers when you make too much.
- Have a plan to eat from the freezer at least once a week (if you are in the practice of freezing leftovers).
Related Post: Create a More Minimalist Pantry
I have an obsession with the idea of journaling and paper planning. Keyword here…idea. I want to be one of those people who journal religiously every single day and create a beautiful bullet journal planner.
It’s never going to happen. I’m simply not that person.
I am the person who likes to buy beautiful notebooks and calendars with all the pretty pens. I’m not the person who likes to use them.
What’s the solution?
The first step is to recognize I will never use those supplies I bought, at least not in the way they were intended. The second step is to come up with a plan for them.
I now have really pretty notebooks for my grocery lists, random thoughts, etc. It makes me happy. They are getting used. I’ve learned to stop buying them.
Look at your paper products. Do you have them all stored in one area? Is it easy enough to take inventory?
Just like with food, don’t buy anything not on your list. Before you go shopping, “shop” at home first.
If you have a notebook with a few empty pages left, commit to using it for grocery lists this month and random notes. Then, recycle the used papers.
If you have planners that are past their dates and unused, go ahead and recycle those bad boys.
If you have a planner you bought in January and now it’s halfway through the year, either commit to using it or give it to someone who will before the year is over.
Use it up! (Or get rid of it!)
Related Post: How to Organize Your Paper Clutter
Like paper products, office supplies have a way of creeping up on us. Before you know it, you have 156 pens in your junk drawer, and only half of them work!
First, gather all your office supplies together, to get a true inventory of what you own. Nothing says “No, don’t buy those cute gel pens” like the image in your mind of the 200 (grouped together) you already own at home.
Grouping things together is powerful, both visually for your mental awareness and from a common-sense approach to the sheer number of things we own.
When we first went through our office supplies, I realized we had more pens and pencils than we could possibly use for years. I don’t like to be wasteful, so I grabbed my handy quart-sized food bags and put the “extras” in there.
Now, when we need new office supplies, we “shop” from our inventory stored out of the way.
Commit to using up all your current office supplies before buying any more.
Related Post: Small Office Ideas to Maximize Your Space
Personal Care Products
Is your bathroom cluttered? If so, there’s probably some products in there you can start applying the “use it up” principle to right now!
First, declutter. Life is easier when you start with this step.
If you have products you know you won’t ever use, don’t torture yourself by holding on to them. Let them go.
Then, take inventory of what you already own. Commit to using them all up before buying more. Remember, you like these items. That’s why you didn’t declutter them.
If you don’t like the items remaining, then it’s time to be honest with yourself, learn from it, and move on.
Common items you can apply the “use it up” principle to in your bathroom:
- Travel-sized products
- Beauty masks
- Hair products
- First aid products
Related Post: Declutter Your Bathroom
Cleaning products have a way of building up and cluttering those spaces under your kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, utility rooms and linen closets.
We all have our own cleaning routines, and I’m not one to tell you what cleaning products you should or shouldn’t buy.
However, if you want to have a more clutter-free space, apply the “use it up” principle to your cleaning products too.
Take inventory of what you currently own. Again, you may want to group them all together.
Do you have any products that duplicate each other? Do you have products you know you will never use?
First, dispose of (responsibly and according to directions) any products you know you will not ever use.
Then, commit to using what is left. Maybe one product isn’t your favorite, you keep avoiding it, but in all honesty, it gets the job done.
Make a promise to yourself that you will use that product first, before buying any more.
If you are looking to simplify your cleaning products routine, there are some great resources out there.
Keep reminding yourself, “use it up” first. Buy replacements later.
Related Post: The Secret to Curing Kitchen Counter Clutter!
Use it up (or toss it out)
Decluttering requires a mind-set shift and a change in habits. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with practice, it does get easier.
One simple habit you can implement today is to simply know what you own and then, commit to using it with the “use it up” principle. Also, be honest with yourself. If you aren’t going to use it, time to let it go!