SLT062: Stop the Accumulation of Clutter

We all have clutter in our lives. Naturally, one of the first steps on the road to simplicity is to challenge what and how much you consume. The basic idea here is that, the more you consume…meaning buy, acquire, receive, etc…the more complicated your life can be, and the more clutter you have, too! The less you consume the simpler it will be.

Stop the Accumulation of Clutter

So as important as editing is…and that’s an ongoing process…understand that just as important on the road to simplicity is your ability to slow your accumulation of stuff.  Read more…


Note: Our new book Supermom vs Super Mom is digital and will help you eliminate clutter in your life, too!

Topic: Stop the Accumulation of Clutter

But stopping the accumulation of “stuff”(aka clutter) is not as easy as flipping a switch. You’ve got to change your mindset, establish boundaries like we talked about back in Episode 54, and exercise a great amount of self-restraint.

The reality is, most of us have been on autopilot when it comes buying and accumulating things. To consume is human. But consuming is easy…too easy as a matter of fact; which makes slowing the accumulation a little more challenging. But who doesn’t like a healthy challenge?

Ways to Stop Clutter from Finding Its Way Into Your Life


The first step in slowing the accumulation is becoming aware of your own buying habits and also being aware of how marketers and advertisers work.

The Stuff Cycle: On the last show, Dan introduced the Stuff Cycle as this seemingly natural 6-Phase cycle of why and how we consume stuff.

You can go back and listen to that in Episode 61, but remember the 6 phases are the:

        • Perceived Need Phase
        • Acquire Phase
        • Utilization Phase
        • Replacement Phase
        • Edit Phase and the…
        • Refine Phase

Let’s focus mostly on the Perceived Need phase and how that influences the Acquire phase. There are a few things you can make yourself aware of that influence how you perceive unmet needs or desires which effect how you act in the Acquire phase.

Marketing Strategies: Being aware of how Marketers and advertisers try to convince you that your life will be so much better if you get their product. Now…a lot of times they’re right. We definitely like some products we buy because they have made our life simpler….or added value to our lives. But more often than not, products just add clutter.

Here are just a few strategies marketers will use to get you to buy “stuff”:

      • They’ll use simplicity and minimalism against you: 
        • Ex: Target had a commercial about minimalism with their clothing….yeah right!
        • Ex: After saying Vanessa didn’t use or need a lot of product because she takes a minimal approach to makeup, she was told at a makeup counter that the manufacturer was “all about minimalism” too.
      • They tout their products will make life “easier” but usually they just cause more clutter. 
        • “If Necessity is the mother of invention, Convenience is the mother of the unitasker!”
      • They use “sale” terms are used over and over again but their real intent is to make you buy. Such as:
        • “It’s FREE!!!” Well, nothing is ever FREE. 
        • Advertisers will tempt you with quantity over quality by using “Buy one get one free” or “Buy 5 for the price of 4” strategies for example. Seriously? You only need 1 tub of yogurt. Can you really go through that much before it spoils? Just sayin’. Or…
        • Buy one get one free but…“just pay shipping and handling”…which usually ends up being outrageous!
      • They capture your information for their sales funnel and hope for a later sale.
        • Ever put your name in a drawing to possibly win a FREE whateveryoucallit? Well, you just entered their sales funnel. Now they’ve got your email or mailing address.
        • Your name will be added to a list for a later sales pitch at their convenience
          • Most likely, they’ll sell your info to third parties (for profit) and those companies will contact you, too!
      • They offer a deep discount to you now, to be made up by them later (sometimes in multiples).
        • “Save 20% off your purchase today if you open up an account with us”
        • These deals almost always come with hidden fees.
        • They also cause temptation for easy purchases later since you have a store card.
      • They’ll strategically place front of the store sales, clearance items, and end of aisle “As Seen On TV” gadgets and unitaskers. These places are “key terrain,” giving stores a marked advantage. They use these areas strategically to:
        • Capitalize on impulse buying
        • Make you to think “you can’t afford not to buy it”
        • Funnel traffic through to increase likelihood of sales because they know you’ll pass it.

Action Steps:

Now that you know, how do you stop the flow in the Perceived Need phase before you act in the Acquire phase?  Here are some techniques we use and you can too!

Change your mindset. If you want simplicity, you need to focus on your needs and priorities. LESS really is MORE! Practice it…and embrace it.

Ask yourself the following questions before you buy:

      • Do I need it?
      • Will I use it?
      • Where will it live in my life if I buy this?
      • What actions will I have to take to make it fit in my life?
      • What will I have to move or get rid of to make room for this?
      • What type of maintenance and upkeep will be required?
      • Is it really going to add VALUE to my life?

Create Boundaries for yourself:

      • Use the one in one out rule.
      • Wait a period of time before making any purchase. 
      • Reconsider bulk items…will you use them, will you have room for them?
      • Have a budget.
      • Shop with a purpose…with a list…and stick to it.
      • Research products before buying.

Consider borrowing or outsourcing:

      • Ex: Yard service vs owning a ton of yard equipment
      • Pay for access to entertainment versus buying it. Things like:
        • AppleTV, HuluPlus, Netflix instead of owning a lot of DVDs or subscribing to cable
        • Only buy entertainment that has been “vetted” by others with similar tastes:
          • Movies that have been vetted
          • Music you absolutely love
          • Books with great reviews or recommendations

Stem the Flow of Junk Mail Advertisements:

Go back and re-listen or re-read Episode 24. Specifically, we give you some great tips to stop the mail flow, cut down on ads, and opt out of things you just don’t want to receive. It’s a great, proactive way to stop accumulation…stop it before it even gets to you!

Major Takeaway

So the major takeaway here is this: Yes, slowing your accumulation can be challenging when it comes to simplifying your life, but by being more aware, mindful and deliberate about what you consume, after a little practice it won’t be s0 difficult. Sure you may splurge here and there (like we talked about back in Episode 60 , What’s Your Simplicity Splurge?), but hopefully you won’t feel as guilt-ridden because that “splurge” was a deliberate one and not one based on impulse or weakness.


So, how do you slow the accumulation of stuff into your life? What tips or techniques do you use that could help the rest of us as we try to combat the temptation of consumerism? We’d love to know.

 Be sure to leave a comment below.

Thing Segment

Dan:  Taking my Dad and nephew driving around the Texas Hill Country. Once again, experiences win out over stuff!

Qs and Comments

MicheleStiches wrote and said…

Dan and Vanessa,

As a mom of 7 kids (5 of them now moved out) I could comment on this topic till the cows come home! I’ll try to stick to just a few things. Let me preface by saying that with 7 kids, and limited income, some of our family ways have been out of necessity, but know that much of this can work for many or few!

We tried to limit toys. We found that the creative-play toys (like blocks) were likely to last longer than toys that only did one thing. Also, we tried to get toys that could easily be added to, for example, Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train set or Legos…enabling them to build bigger, and more complicated set-ups but not adding to the sense of clutter.

We also limited organized extra-curricular activities. Each kid got to choose one sport or music lesson they could do. This taught them that you can’t do it ALL. You have to decide what you really love and what is truly fulfilling. It also taught them that what they do as an individual affects the whole family, and sometimes the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.

A wise woman once told me to never do for your children what they can do for themselves…i.e. teach the kids to clean their own messes, pick up their own toys, do their own laundry. This is one thing that worked really well for us. My kids even had assigned days for laundry to prevent arguing over the washing machine. Not only were they responsible for their own stuff, but we had chore charts and everyone helped with the shared spaces of the home. They washed dishes, dusted, swept, vacuumed, scrubbed bathrooms, etc. And I confess, we never paid our kids for these jobs. We wanted them to learn that it was part of being in the family. Mommy doesn’t get paid to cook dinner. Daddy doesn’t get paid to mow the lawn. We do it because we all work together to keep our home running smoothly.

Our kids have all worked outside the home. They learn that spending money equals giving up a piece of your life for whatever you are buying. It is amazing to watch a young person at a store who “NEEDS” something, change their mind after you tell them, “Sure, you may get that if you want to spend YOUR money on it!”

Another thing that we do in our family is start at an early age educating our kids about responsibility and unrealistic expectations. We have a saying:

“With adult privileges comes adult responsibilities.”

For example, my kids know from a very young age that if they ever want a car, THEY will have to pay for the car (and the gas, and the insurance, and the maintenance.) Granted, there has been a time or two when we have helped them out a bit, but they do not EXPECT this from us. We do it as an act of grace and love…a gift. We actually have one teenage son who got rid of an older car he had been gifted by a grandmother! After a year of ownership, he realized he was sacrificing a large chunk of his life working just to put gas in the machine and pay for the constant repairs. He decided having a car was not worth it!

We also teach our children that when they decide to leave the nest, they are on their own financially. I know this may seem harsh to some readers, but we explain to them that if they want to be an adult and make their own decisions and not have to report to us, then they get ALL the responsibility (rent, utilities, food) that comes with that privilege. This is only fair. It is responsibility that often grounds people and keeps us from behaving foolishly.


  • Folks, we need some help over there on Amazon reviewing the book. Again, just go to to pick up your copy of Supermom vs Super Mom and review it too!
  • Check out the first episode of All Things Simple Rev, the podcast about the SimpleRev simplicity summit I’m working on with our friend Joel ZaslofskySimpleRev will be 200+ passionate simple-living advocates. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist will be there, too! To learn more, just go to or
    • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
    • Date: October 3-4, 2014
    • Venue: University of St. Thomas Downtown Campus
  • Joel put together a fantastic page on where you can find all your transportation options, lodging, what to do, how to get around…everything a conference attendee would like ask about the area at
  • Special thanks to ScrappydCote  for the review you left for us on iTunes. It really does help people find the show.
    • If you’d like to leave a review, just go here on iTunes and click “View in iTunes,” launch iTunes, and then click “Write a Review.”

Finally, sign up for the Edit & Forget It Challenge! If you’re already on our Edit & Forget It Challenge email list, that’s great. If not, you can sign up here.


You can download a PDF  of our show prep, too.

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 Photo Credit: FreddieBrown

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7 thoughts on “SLT062: Stop the Accumulation of Clutter

  1. Well ya know, this podcast was meant for me 🙂 The minimalism for clothing marketing we are seeing is due to minimalism as a style, is on trend again for Spring 2014. Fashion goes through cycles and minimalism makes an appearance every now and then. I do wonder if it reflects the shifts in views on lifestyles too as fashion often does. It is the ongoing theme of some brands like DKNY, Eileen Fisher, Alexander Wang, Chloe etc. Just means the styles are more streamlined with the style achieved through quality materials and draping, not from ornamentation and lots of neutral colors. It’s interesting because I saw someone comment on Miss Minimalist that a couch could not called minimalist but actually it can as minimalism first began as a method/style for art and architecture. It began to be used as a description for a lifestyle later. So one could definitely refer to a couch, a dress or a building as minimalist. Even midcentury furniture (like Design with Reach’s pieces, i.e. Eames or Herman Millar) are minimal as those designs arose during the time of limited material resources and the designers desire to create as simple a design as possible (like a chair molded out of one piece of plywood).

    Aahhh unitaskers, yup the bane of most kitchen’s existence (as well as the bathroom vanity). I’ve also been meaning to write about how upgrading on appliances also is a cause for consumerism. I’ve found that I also have too many multi-taskers (i.e a food processor and a hand blender with chopping attachments were unneeded for me so I gave my food processor away, the hand blender sufficed for all my processing needs). There is another side of the unitasker though, doing one thing but doing it well. I would never buy a combo expresso maker/frother again as frothers notoriously break so I’d rather keep those two functions separate.

    Great episode once again.

  2. Oh, to stop the random purchase flowing river that can run right through our living room….this has been the struggle. There have been triumphs (the “Great Halt of Catalogs”) and there have been failures (a chopper just to make zucchini noodles)—yet, lately I stand firm in my decision to wait two weeks before purchasing anything. This has helped—that and holding “exhibit A” with a look of disgust on my face as I ask “WHY?” to my offspring. I think the biggest boost to ending temptation is not looking at magazine ads or commercials. If I don’t see it, I don’t want it. Contentment begins with enjoying what you have and not going on a flashlight search for the next cool thing. Same goes for my kids—gotta keep those girls outta the mall! The hard part is discussing their friends and the gear these kids convince their parents to purchase. My kids can repeat it with me now: “We are not the Joneses” and we are better for it 🙂
    As usual, great stuff guys. I always feel one step closer to a simpler life when you’re speaking in my earbuds.

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