Clutter Prevention Tactics

You can be well assured that when you post your junk for sale on Ebay or Craigslist and wonder, “Who on earth will buy this?” that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE is going to think it is just perfect.

And THIS is precisely why I typically don’t buy the things I see late at night online. I bookmark them, but then I have to wait until morning before I pull out my credit card or reply to an ad on Craigslist.

Online late at night is when I am at my most vulnerable to used furniture or something vintage, the most likely to say, “Gold flowers and butterflies? This will be perfect for my daughter’s room.”

And it will be. She will love it. But the time comes that you’ll receive the package that has been shipped to you with delivery confirmation, and you’ll wonder if spending $12 on wall art that no one else wanted was maybe a little crazy, or at least uncharacteristic.

Avoiding shopping online late at night and waiting until the morning to see if I still want to buy something is one way that I prevent clutter from coming into my house in the first place. It puts me in a better frame of mind to make sound decisions about what to buy, and most of the time I decide not to buy something after all.

This is the vintage butterfly art I bought, with the photo taken right before giving it a new coat of spray paint. I don’t regret buying this, but it does seem kind of random.

So I try to avoid shopping online late at night. What shopping rules do you follow to avoid buying clutter?

clear the clutter

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I love the wall art! Super adorable. To avoid impulse shopping before I take out my credit card I stop and think “where does this fit into my wardrobe?”.
    Janey´s last post…A few accessories is all you need

  2. I do one of several things:

    * don’t even go to the store/site
    * add it to a shopping cart and never check out (bad, I know)
    * pin it to Pinterest
    * remind myself of something I’d rather spend my money on (travels, experiences, etc.)

  3. Oh my good golly gosh- this is so true. So many times in the past ave I binged Ebay and woken up hours later to realise I now owed hundreds of dollars on stuff I didn’t want. The awful morning after silly-spend hangover xx
    Tasmanian Minimalist´s last post…Doc Marten Boots Re-visited

  4. I filter all emails from online businesses so that they skip my inbox and are filed together. I only go to that file when I want to purchase something, say, a white blouse for myself or a pair of slacks for one of our sons. There are ALWAYS deals. I may miss the very best one, but I think I still save more money in the long run by not constantly seeing the emails/ads.
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Time Keeps on Slipping, Slipping, Slipping Into the Future

    • Meredith says:

      I do this too! I noticed that I would go shopping when I received a really great coupon in my email and would end up at home with a pile of clothes I didn’t need because they were a bargain. After a trip like that a couple of years ago, I decided to filter all of my coupon emails and only read them when I actively wanted something.

    • Jessica says:

      I do the same exact thing!

    • I should do that, but I don’t! I’ll add that to my list:-B

      For online shopping, I just bookmark things I like, rather than adding them to any cart; I often redirect that shopping urge by thinking about who would like the item as a gift, and then I save the bookmark with the tag “gifts_theirname.”

      For online book shopping, I “shop” at the library – whenever I see a book I might like, instead of heading to Amazon, I look it up on my library’s catalog and place a hold for it. For things like cookbooks or knitting books, I get it out of the library to test it out before buying. I usually am quite happy just to borrow it, and if it’s good enough to still interest me after 8 weeks (we have long loans at our library), then it’s worth it to buy.

      For in-store shopping, I pretty nearly always shop alone. That way I don’t feel any pressure to buy something “for fun” or “to make the trip worthwhile” or to “keep up with the others.” I usually combine shopping with another enjoyable, but cheap, activity – usually a visit to a coffee shop.
      Bronwen´s last post…Four diversions for a sunny Wednesday

  5. I shop in real life more than online. My biggest thing that I do to make sure I only buy things I want is to revaluate everything in my cart before I buy. I pull everything out and assess how much I need/want/love the item. I usually only buy 20% of the items and a lot of the items nothing. With clothing I try to overlook great sale prices to make sure it really looks great first. It’s so easy to buy bc it has a great price tag and looks ok. I don’t want anymore items that just look ok. Thanks for sharing.
    Jen at a place 2 call home´s last post…A little break

    • Jessica says:

      I was just realizing yesterday how one of my strategies is to avoid the cart altogether.

      I used to always grab a cart when I went into Target–because I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t (and end up going back to the entrance to get one). After I started carrying reusable shopping bags in my purse, I use those instead. A bag holds more than my hands do, and is a lot more comfortable to carry than the hand baskets they have at the door, so I’m not tempted to grab a cart when I need more than 2 items. However, it holds a LOT less than a cart will, and because I have to bear the weight myself, it really does hinder me from picking up more than I really need.

  6. My mom still has those same butterfly things on her living room walls. I think they are 80’s Home Interiors :-) Great tips, sleeping on an impulse shopping decision is always a good idea.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I don’t shop those places very often these days. My big downfall is buying supplies to make things I see on the web. While I am very crafty, I am coming to embrace the fact that I am not a person who really enjoys upcycling as much as I think I do.

    • Oh goodness – this is me too! I am also crafty but I get into a liking the idea more than the actual doing of the project mindset! I tend to jump into more projects than I can finish too. This is why I like this blog, she’s more practical than crafty/cute decor/spending money stuff that I normally get influenced by.

  8. I’ve learned not browsing saves me money and prevents clutter! When I go shopping at local stores, I stick to a list instead of looking for bargains (it’s not really a deal if I didn’t even need the item!) The same goes online, I just don’t look unless I need something!

  9. Rachel, it’s so great that you’ve pinpointed your vulnerable moments so you can plan accordingly! I’m planning on hitting up craigslist this week for the first time in ages to look for a few specific things, so this advice is so timely.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s last post…Deep Thoughts About Money and Happiness (Or, Let’s Talk About Legos)

  10. One of the biggest ways I avoid buying clutter is by making lists. Before I even decide to go to a store, I will think about what I want to buy and mentally go through the store to figure out exactly where I’m going. Very rarely will I meander through aisles, since that tends to lead to impulse buys.

    If I do see something that I’m tempted to buy, I’ll usually put it back on the shelf and sleep on it. If I can’t stop thinking about it and I’m willing to go back to the store the next day, then I know it’s something I really want.

    I think avoiding late night shopping is sound advice, especially since buying things is just a click away these days. Any sort of decision about money when you’re tired usually turns out to be a mistake.
    Jennie´s last post…My Faith

  11. I keep a folder on my computer called “stuff I want”. I put the picture of the itemin this folder & caption the photo with the cost & who sells the item. This folder is quite full by the way. Very very full of pictures.
    So once the pictures are in this folder it’s here where I go to look at & admire the items all the while giving me a little more distance between admiring the item & actually buying the item. This also cuts down on me “accidently” hititng the confirm to buy button on the actual product website.
    What happens then is some time goes by & either the item loses it’s appeal (which happens more often than not) OR I start to wonder why I was even considering it to begin with OR realizing I really have no space/need/desire for the item OR that yes – yes I really do want that item.
    Funny thing though, by now some time has passed & either the item is on sale (which is great if that item is truly one I decided I want) OR it’s sold out (whew, decision made for me) OR I’m self-embarrassed to see what items I was once so strongly considering purchasing.
    I tend to keep the photo’s in this folder for a long time to remind me of just how much stuff I almost bought with reckless abandon & that alone tends to bring me back to monetary sanity.

    • I love this idea- I think it will work for me…browsing online is what gets me…esp. if its on sale!! I’m going to try this, thanks :)

  12. I think that’s my “most likely to buy something on-line I don’t really need” -moment as well. When I’m tired, but don’t want to go to bed just yet, a little bit zoned out already, that’s when my brain just doesn’t follow through haha!
    Bookmarking things for later is a good idea, so you can revisit when you are more clear headed ;)

  13. Jessica says:

    I don’t do much in the way of decor- my big thing online is clothes. I’m a definitely guilty of buying things just because they’re really cheap. Hopefully I remind myself that it’s not a good deal if I don’t wear it (I know you’ve written about that!), and sometimes I’m being truly silly and the thing I really want is $1 or $2 more. I also have a bad habit leftover from living paycheck to paycheck of NOT buying things I should buy. I’ll find something that’s a great deal, I really like, and that fits a demonstrated need, but I’ll decide I’ve spent too much money that week or whatever. This is shooting myself in the foot, because another week I’ll buy something I like less that costs more. This happened to me the other day with light sweaters. Every week for the last month or two, I run out of clean ones on Tuesday or Wednesday and wish I had more. I found some on ebay. I could picture what I’d wear them with, they were inexpensive, and were from a seller that I’ve liked and that accepts returns. I bought four or five, and reminded myself that I can always return them if I don’t like them in person. While I was getting dressed in the morning, I thought “I’m so happy I ordered those! Why did it cause me so much angst?”

  14. How funny – we had those exact same branches hanging on our living room wall when I was growing up!

    I find the best way for me to reduce clutter is to shop online and not at Target. If I need 1 or 2 things, I can order them on Amazon. If I run to Target for them, I inevitably buy twice as much stuff.
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago (Review)

  15. So true. I’m applying this to online clothing purchases and conversations with my husband about family finances. :) I know my useful inhibitions lower quickly the later it gets!
    Erica {let why lead}´s last post…When Mama Bear Is Provoked

  16. This post is all too timely! I realized I was doing this same thing. So I stopped looking for a little while and wrote down things that I need, things that would be nice to have, and things I really, really, really want. It is working out much better. I definitely agree the late night shopping is so dangerous!!

  17. I completely agree that sleeping on purchases is a good idea, but I also see the value in owning possessions like this; it’s not fair to dismiss all our decorative belongings as clutter. Beautiful decorations add personality and life to your home, and that has value. I can see the arguments for spending money on travel and experiences…but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t enjoy living in a home that doesn’t have beautiful things in it.

    I think you made a great purchase, and at $12 it was a steal! You should pat yourself on the back.

  18. I use the wait-and-see system, too. And I also ask myself,”is there something I already have that can accomplish the same result?”

  19. I’ve never been a big online shopper anyway, but do have a bad habit for saving links of things I find that tweek my interest. I’ve adapted a “less is more” streamlined approach to home decor, as I’m trying for the open beach house look (and it saves on things to dust!). It also helps to be on a rather tight budget!
    WorkingMom´s last post…End of the Year

  20. Marilyn says:

    I am not a big “looking shopper” I am more of a “mission shopper” I shop when I have a need rather than for recreation – However for those times that I am recreation shopping – If I see something that is so darlingcutecan’tlivewithoutit..I ask myself – do I need to find a place/use/space for this? …….if so I don’t need it….it’s clutter it stays where it is.


  21. Rebecca says:

    Please post an after photo!

  22. Way back in college my husband’s roommates were teased endlessly for a late night purchase. They bought a speed-reading kit from an infomercial late at night so sure it would change the way they studied. They never really used the product when it arrived, definitely not enough to justify the cost.

  23. I avoid garage sales. I tend to over shop them because “everything is such a great deal, squee!”

    Oh, and infomercials, cause I’m a sucker for those. ;)
    Heidi @Adventures of a Thrifty Mom´s last post…Weekend Project: Redneck Air Conditioner

  24. Today I have contentment. Contentment is some abstract free flowing form that enlarges and shrinks in a wink. None the less, after losing our jobs simultaneously and being traditionally unemployed for more than 2 years, we had to sell things, and of course did not buy anything unless it was absolutely necessary. At that time I learned what was necessary and what was not. I chose to be content, to rejoice in my blessings, and to use what was often stored away. Am I content everyday. No. When it comes to my yard and garden, there I struggle. I live in a new town and miss my old garden. Again. I must choose contentment. It really is a choice.

    • I just wrote about this choice of contentment and joy in my devotional blog at Over the weekend I watched Sarah’s Key. The movie was so moving and mostly made me realize that no matter what is going on in my life, I still have it better than many who lived before me. It was very convicting.

    • Oh Diane, I feel for you…but also am so impressed with your lesson learned… that contentment is what matters most! And it is a choice… wow!
      angelvalerie´s last post…inspiration…

  25. Questions I ask myself:
    – Is this something I actually planned to buy, or is it something I never knew I “needed” until I saw it?
    – Will something I already own make an acceptable substitute for buying something new?
    – If I buy this, will I get rid of something else I’ve been using to perform a similar function?

    It’s not a perfect system, but it does help me to be more mindful of the things I buy and it kept me from buying a beautiful, inexpensive duvet cover at IKEA yesterday! Inexpensive and beautiful, yes, but after fawning over it for a few minutes I remembered that I already own a beautiful duvet cover so I really don’t need another one.

  26. I am sure you already have heard of this, but I recently read of a wonderful idea called the “30 day list”. Put something you want on a list, date it, and then wait for 30 days. If you still want it after those 30 days are over, then go ahead and get it. Most things do not stay in the forefront of our minds that long.

    While I don’t have an official list, I do sit and think on things for several weeks. If the desire sticks around and it is something I truly will use, I will go ahead and buy it. Lots of things I just forget about, though!
    Leslie A´s last post…Ordinary is Beautiful

  27. I ask myself one question:

    “Do I really want to dust that?”

    It makes it very easy to say no to something that initially caught my eye, but in the long run, has the potential to become simply an item that needs to be dusted. Works very well for me.

  28. One rule that we have in our house to keep clutter at bay (along with unecessary spending) is that we only shop with cash. It makes it hard to make spontaneous purachses when you only have a set amount of cash in hand. It has really changed me from a “shopping as a hobby to shopping as a necessity”. Sometimes I do miss happening upon something really special that I enjoy though…

  29. I live in a small town, where shopping options are limited to begin with. That helps.
    We have a Walmart, that’s as big as it gets ‘shopping’ wise. That said, when I’m in the store I seem to leave with double the stuff (double the money, at least). So, I’ve found that ordering essentials online from helps to cut down on the stuff and the spending. If you spend $45, items ship for free to your home. Household essentials add up quickly so $45 every few months isn’t difficult to do.
    Additionally, if I keep myself busy with other tasks around the house I generally don’t have time for online shopping.

  30. If I am considering a purchase, I always shop around first. I compare prices, which takes time, so I have time to realize if I don’t really need the thing in question.

    It took me about 6 months to buy a blender, for example, from when I first realized my old blender was dying to when I actually bought one.

    I make a list of non-food things like this and then I work on it occasionally – checking prices, gauging my need.
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…Little Soap Bags

  31. I don’t do much shopping now unless I have something specific in mind, but in my younger years, I used to go to the mall a lot. I found that I was buying a lot of stuff and regretting it later. So, I came up with this system. If I liked something, I would put off buying it until I had looked at everything else I wanted to see in the mall. If I liked the item enough to go back to get it, I probably would be happy that I had bought it.

  32. I had the same problem!! “Shopaholic” I confessed to my Dr this plus other issues! And she put me on medication….all I can say AMEN!! Now I don’t even feel like buying groceries! Or stopping at any yard sales!! :)

  33. 1: Remove myself from all email deal site emails (aka: Groupon and Babysteals)
    2: Don’t go shopping. Period.

  34. Years ago shopping was my only form of fun. Needless to say, I soon had a very stuffed house. Four moves later I am MUCH less likely to want stuff! My favourite approach to whether I really want to buy something is to imagine it actually in my home and ask myself some questions – where would I put it, is it worth the space it will take up, will I be happy to dust/store/look after it from here on in? This approach has trained me to leave a lot at the store for someone else’s enjoyment. :-) Now I just don’t go shopping very often at all.

  35. - When I was a sophomore, I realized that I spent more when I shop (even grocery shopping) with my girl friends so I stop doing that.
    – I asked my husband’s opinion before buying things that I’m not too sure I should be buying. He knows me well enough to tell me: “Go ahead buy it!” (when he realized the reason I wasn’t sure is because I’m too cheap) or to say, “I don’t thing it’s really necessary, etc…” (when it’s really unnecessary or don’t fit our need)

  36. Since Dave died, I’m trying to de-clutter and am trying to buy only necessities…food for example. If I do need “retail therapy” I’ll take a prescribed amount and do some thrift store shopping.

  37. Whenever I get anything (buy, receive, pick-up for free) I try to think of where its home will be, and when the next time I use it will be. My closet had space for a purple cardigan that I couldn’t wait to wear, but no room for one more blanket when I already had a favorite.
    K. Starling´s last post…Google Reader is My New Favorite Thing

  38. Jennifer says:

    Could you post pictures of the butterflies after you painted them? I actually own a set of these outdated things!

  39. Debra Kasel says:

    Small-space living makes me think long and hard about what I bring in. I’m a sucker for decor items, but with no place to set up that charming vignette I have in mind, unnecessary items have to stay in the store.
    I keep a running list on my iPhone of things I’d like to buy when I find the right ones at the right price. Then I can buy those things when I find them with no guilt. When I want a pretty whatever, I look at my Really Want/Need list and decide if the money spent here and there on little things is worth taking out of the “big” things’ budget. I also have to assess what to remove in order to have space for the things I want to add. Oh, and I very, very seldom buy online, except for ebooks. Never bought on eBay or Craigslist in my life, I see it as too dangerous for the house diet and the budget.

  40. I write impulse items on a list (mostly), so I have time to mull them over and decide if I still want them. I did this with a visit to a bookshop yesterday. I bought one of the three books on my list, but could easily have walked out of there with two other books I didn’t know about and suddenly thought I might like. So I left them on the shelf to think about. And by the time I was halfway back to my car, I realised I didn’t really want one of them, and there was no rush to buy the other one!
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Today’s organising bliss

  41. Since last year’s renovations, I’m striving for a more streamlined beach house feel – not shopping for “stuff” is key. Having also had to clean out two family members’ households in the past two years and dispose of the “stuff”, I have come to treasure the “less is more” philosophy. If I see something online I REALLY want, it gets bookmarked in my “Favorites To Buy” folder. Then I wait… the urge usually passes.
    WorkingMom´s last post…Leave A Message At The Tone

  42. I stay out of stores as much as possible. But when I do go, I ask myself right then and there,”Do I/my husband/my kids, have a place for this RIGHT NOW, or I am going to have to ‘make’ a home for it, or buy something to put it in?” If the answer is yes, I still think hard about it the purchase. If the answer is no, I don’t have a home for this right now; then I usually pass it up.

  43. Amazon has this nifty little thing called “Wish List”. I put things I want on the list. My family can check it for gifts if they want to buy me one, or I can go back and re-think something, etc. Amazon also price updates my wish list, so if the price changes, I can see it. It’s a nice feature, and sometimes wishing is just enough. Sure makes it easy to say, wow I really don’t need that after all.

  44. I do believe my Mom had those in our living room growing up. They look very familiar. :)

  45. eileen marie says:

    Um, my mom had 2 of those in brass hanging on the wall that connected the basements in the apt bldg where I grew up. The edges were sharp, & we thought they were hideous. You could have had ours for free! They would have been our “who on EARTH will buy THESE??”. Now looking at one w/ a fresh coat of paint -not bad! Ah what fickle creatures are we!

  46. OMG…my mom and I were out junk shopping a couple of weeks ago and we found this same exact thing and purchased it for $2! I don’t Really buy things unless I absolutely have to have them and in this case, I had a certain place for this item. I don’t like clutter!

  47. Through the years I’ve come up with several ways to resist buying stuff:

    1. Don’t read ads
    2. Don’t go to stores for entertainment
    3. If I think I REALLY want something, I picture it dusty and chipped, sitting on a garage sale table. If I still like it in that mental image, then I buy it.
    4. Stay off eBay late at night!
    5. Everything in my kitchen has to do 3 jobs or it doesn’t get to live with me. (what I call One Function Stuff is forbidden!)
    6. Any new piece of clothing has to match 3 pieces I already own. (Carrying around my colors from the ’80s helps – crazy that I still having them, but true!)

    All these rules don’t apply to shoes that fit my weird feet, jeans that fit my weird body, yarn, and earrings. But, I even have rules for those things!