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A Professional Organizer’s Advice on How to Not Overspend this Holiday Season

It seems we've barely had a chance to make a dent in our Halloween candy and put away our spooky decor, and corporations have already moved onto pushing the next commercial holiday. Christmas music is already playing in stores and gift guides are making their way into my inbox. For weeks, I've been reading about how messed up distribution channels are and how imperative it is to start shopping NOW! Have you noticed the same?

While I love the spirit of the holiday season, I struggle with the amount of consumption and waste associated with this time of the year...not to mention the amount of energy that goes into figuring out what to do with all the holiday gifts, particularly the ones we didn't want. (My go-to example is the DVD box set of Season 2 of Sex and the City that an ex gifted me. I didn't even own any of the other seasons and I thought I had made it abundantly clear that all I wanted that year was Napoleon Dynamite.) In my experience, one of the chief reasons clients have a hard time decluttering is because they feel bad letting go of items they or someone they care about has spent money on. I completely understand this. Having grown up in a frugal and resource-conscious household, it will always feel wasteful to throw away or even donate "perfectly good" stuff, but I am also acutely aware that it costs too much precious time and energy to hold onto it as well. To mitigate this prisoner's dilemma, I recommend taking time to be intentional with your holiday spending and clearly communicating your wishlists with friends and family, so that you don't wake up in the New Year with a home full of gifts you don't love and the uncomfortable task of letting them go. Here are my tips on how to avoid overspending this holiday season:

  1. Declutter and organize. I know what you're thinking: "Of course a professional organizer would tell me to start with organizing!" This is not a self-serving piece of advice. As you do an audit of your home, chances are you’ll find things you already purchased with the intent of gifting to your friends and family. Or you’ll find items that you’re ready to part with that you know your loved ones will love.

  2. Make a list and check it twice. Decluttering your home allows you to make space for what you really need and want. After you’ve decluttered your home, you become clear about what items you (and your family members) would like to replace, what you already have multiples of, and what you’d like more of. At this time, carefully consider whether you’d actually like more physical things. Perhaps what you desire is more experiences and quality time with loved ones. Use your insights to inform your holiday wishlist. Create a list that you share with friends and family and encourage them to share theirs as well. This helps prevent the ever-awkward spiral of receiving a gift you don’t actually love and cluttering up your home until the next holiday purge.

  3. Unsubscribe. Here's the way clever marketing works: it creates a need and a sense of urgency to fulfill that need ASAP. Unsubscribing from mailing lists helps to reduce the noise and allows you to tune into YOUR needs, rather than ones created by savvy marketers. Unsubscribing will also help you resist the siren song of all the deals marketed at you. I love a good deal as much as the next person, but it’s important to remember that when you buy something on sale that you didn’t need, you aren’t saving money, you’re spending it.

  4. Shop in-store rather than online. I like being able to feel and see the quality of a product before I purchase it. Buying a quality item reduces the likelihood of returning it later and creating all sorts of waste. (Omg, have you read this article about what happens when you send back ill-fitting pants?!). And it reduces the amount of money you’ll spend on maintaining/repairing/ replacing it because it’s less likely to break.

  5. Unschedule yourself. When it comes to avoiding overspending this holiday season, I think it's important to manage how we use our time, in addition to how we spend our money. I don’t know about you, but after Halloween, the year feels like it ramps up. It’s like suddenly everyone realizes they only have two months left to “get things done.” This is the legacy of Capitalism. Our sense of self-worth is so inextricably tied to our productivity that we often burn ourselves out trying to check everything off our to do list. As a result, it becomes incredibly hard to enjoy the "most wonderful time of the year." Avoid overspending your energy, by giving yourself permission to rest. Declutter your calendar. Embrace “No-vember” by saying “No” to all the activities and people that steal your joy.

As always if you need help, I am here! Make Room by Monica offers in-person organizing services to clients in the Los Angeles region and Virtual Clutter Coaching to folks near and far. Wishing you all the best this holiday season!


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