How a Major Organization Problem Helped Me Save Hundreds

Free—as in complimentary—is a powerful word. Sometimes I like to drop it into casual conversation when I think no one’s listening to me and just wait for the questions to roll in… “Hold up, you got a free dinner?!” Everyone loves free stuff. It doesn’t cost you a penny, and it’s all yours; Who can say no to free stuff? Well… me. I have a love/hate relationship with free.

A few months ago, I realized that my apartment was stressing me out. Despite all the effort and money I’d spent to make it look pretty and feel like “me,” it occurred to me that being in it was giving me mental anxiety. Why? Because I’d acquired too much stuff. I did a big spring-cleaning, made piles upon piles of donations, and got unnaturally organized. But soon enough, it happened again: The clutter had creeped its way back in…

I took a look around and realized that many of the things that were clogging up my tabletops, spilling out of my medicine cabinet, or making my drawers jam were things I’d gotten for free. It was an unsolicited book a publicist had sent me that I’d never gotten around to reading, that complimentary beauty product Sephora gives you on your birthday, and a pair of hand-me-down jeans a friend had passed along when she was cleaning out her closet. And let’s not forget the trio of family paintings I’d inherited that were taking over one corner of my living room.

The problem with many of these items is that I’d accepted them without considering whether I wanted, needed, or even had space for them. Why wouldn’t I? I was grateful to have received them. They were gifts. The thing is… when I’m buying something with my own hard-earned cash, I’m much more thoughtful about whether I’ll use it and have room for it in a closet. After all, I could spend that money elsewhere.

So I decided to do a little experiment. Every time I received something for free that I wanted to keep (excluding perishables), I’d tuck the estimated resale price of that item into my savings account. A friend gives me a book? $10. My mom sends me an old side table? $150. I get a candle as a party favor? Another $10 in the piggy bank.

Soon I found myself more considerate about what things I was bringing into my home. Was it worth not being able to spend that $150 this month? I began immediately donating or sharing things I knew I didn’t want piling up, rather than waiting till spring-cleaning season. My home was visibly more organized—and, more importantly, not causing me stress. Within a couple of months, I’d also saved about $700 that I otherwise would have spent on who knows what. I paid off a credit card bill. And now I have to admit… I kind of love the word free.

Read a couple of books about curbing excess and saving money below.

What tricks have you used to curb excess in your home or save money in general? Share below.