My Love-Hate relationship with bulk buying and the warehouse club

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Ask anyone, I’m a savvy shopper… and I love deals.  For many years, I’ve been a huge fan of Costco for many reasons, with these at the top:

Quality & Value – I know that if I buy a product from Costco, it’s of high quality.  It will meet, if not exceed, my expectations from a value perspective.  Often, when presented with a variety of “models or versions”, Costco has picked the one that is the best value – the features above the base model are the right ones, worth the extra few bucks, instead of the shiny glitter of some luxury model with things that aren’t needed or rarely used but would have cost extra.

Bulk savings – when it’s something you use a lot of, it’s not only convenient to have a good supply on hand, but they reward your bulk buying with hard dollar savings and fewer trips to the store.  (I remember the days when I gratefully bought diapers at Costco and never regretted it!)

But here’s where the love starts turning into loathing…. As I’ve begun my next career in the Professional Organizing world, I see drawbacks and challenges to those of us who love the deal.  Can you afford the storage?  Is the waste worth it?  Consider the following:

Food – Sure, I don’t need that huge bunch of bananas.  We can’t eat them all before they are overripe.  Let’s get honest, I haven’t baked banana bread for years, so yes, those brown spotty bananas are going to go to waste.  But only after they sit on the counter long after they are good, because I just might use them – I should use them!  Inevitably they end up in the trash though, as I finally guiltily toss them in the garbage.  So, why do I keep buying bananas at Costco?  Because they are so darned cheap!  Even if we only eat a portion of them, it was probably cheaper than buying the smaller amount at my local grocery store.  Ack!  What’s wrong with this picture?!?

I have a long laundry list of food items that fit in this category…. But if I’m honest with myself, I rarely use even half of my purchase before it spoils, expires, or I just plain get tired of it.  In the meantime, I’m trying to fit those extra-large bottles of ranch dressing and ketchup, not only in my over packed fridge, but also in my pantry.  Only to end up tossing one or both before they’ve been consumed.

Medicines – Even I, who has GERD and daily heartburn, have trouble plowing through two gargantuan bottles of Kirkland antacids before the expiration date.  Do an inventory of these things, and I think you’ll be surprised that most of those big bottles of pain relievers, vitamins, or even the double or triple pack of nasal spray or eye drops are probably expired.  If you are like me, you either don’t notice or you continue using them for a while after the expiration date (for that sake of frugality?); but is that the best for you?  Probably not.

Is the savings you got on that mega supply really worth having those extra or supersized bottles taking up precious space on your shelves?  If you are like most people, you have less storage than desirable, making overstock just one more addition to the problem of clutter, and the peace of mind it robs us of.  Do you even know what you have in the back of that shelf or the bottom of that pile?  Quite possibly not.

Cleaning supplies — What, you bought a can of Lysol thinking you needed it, when later you find that spare can hiding behind or under something else?  You are not alone!  Overstocking, leading to a special form of clutter, can cost you more in the long run, because you can’t find it (time searching is time not spent on something of higher priority), or you forgot you had it, and bought something you didn’t need right now.

Will I still shop at Costco?  You bet!  But I will be more mindful of what I buy and when I buy it.  Here are some of my new resolutions on “bulk buying”:

Toilet paper – yes!!  I never want to run out of toilet paper!  We need it, we use it, we go through it, and Costco has exactly the brand we like at a great price.

Paper towels and Kleenex – maybe.  During cold and flu season, it might make sense to buy extra boxes of facial tissue, but honestly, even then we don’t go through that many boxes even in 6 months.  Paper towels, again, love ‘em, use ‘em, but they take up a lot of space and often are hard to keep from toppling each time I get near them.

Milk – did not make sense until my boys hit those teenage years where they chug it like water.  Still, if your timing for your Costco trip is off, you’ll end up hating the space it’s taking up in the fridge, knowing you might not get through all of it before the expiration.  Timing here is important…

Cereal – One of my boys eats this for almost every meal, and he has two favorites he sticks with.  It’s worth it for me to buy those, mainly so I don’t run out.   But the other cereals the rest of us occasional enjoy?  I’m back to buying a box when it’s on sale at my local grocery store.  It fits better in the cupboard, and it’s less likely to go stale before it’s finished.  I’ve also resolved to keep the selection down to what fits in the cereal cupboard, nothing new gets purchased until a box has been finished and recycled.

Snacks – those healthy snacks I buy in bulk, resolving to prepack easy to go single packs?  Hmmm.  They simply don’t get used quickly enough to keep buying those huge sizes.  While I don’t need to opt for the individual packs at the store that are pretty expensive, I can buy a small bag at the grocery store that will fit better in the cupboard, fridge or a designated storage container, and will stay fresh while I make my way through it.

Seasonings & baking supplies — I have to be honest, while good quality and price, these large sizes are a waste of my precious space considering how infrequently I cook or bake.

Starbucks espresso beans?  Absolutely!  At a pot a day, this is a great price, great quality, and exactly what I’d buy at Starbucks but without the temptation to get a latte or a muffin while I’m there.

Bottom line – be mindful of what makes sense for you and your family to buy in warehouse size.  Ask yourself:

  • How much storage space does this take up?
  • How long before it’ll be used up or I get tired of it?
  • Will it spoil/expire before it’s gone?
  • Is it making me crazy (thinking cascading paper towel rolls every time you open that space)?
  • Do I feel guilty about what I’ve spent but not made good use of, in spite of my good intentions?
  • Am I really saving money if I don’t use it all?

When you consider clearing your space and mind of clutter, don’t forget this special category.  Changing your buying patterns could be a considerable gain in space and serenity!

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Where to start decluttering…. Anywhere! Start now, but start small!

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There’s no time like the present.  Something making you crazy?  Deal with it.  But don’t start too big.  A little progress is better than none at all.  Don’t tackle your entire kitchen, whole garage, full closet or even a whole dresser at once.  Why?  It’s too overwhelming.  Remember, the mess didn’t get there overnight, so don’t expect to fix it all at once.

Here are some great places to start, with tips from your Professional Organizer:

Your sock drawer: 

PURGE the singletons, the pairs with holes or stains, and the ones that sag.

Toe-socks, really?  Time to say good-bye to the odd & unusual that you never wear.  Capture a photo before donating them, if the sight of them makes you giggle.

CATEGORIZE.  Work, Casual, Athletics.  Whatever makes sense for your life.

SORT.  If you have colored socks, sort by color within each category.

TAKE STOCK.  Have 20 pairs of white athletic socks but only workout 3x a week?  Keep only what you’ll use between laundry days.

Have 5 pairs of pink socks, but only wear those matching shoes, a couple times of month?  Donate all but your favorite pair.

Finally, ORGANIZE them.  This is where your own style comes into play.  You get to choose.  Are all your black work socks the same style & brand?  You don’t have to fold or pair them up – it’s up to you!  Usually dividing them up by category is enough, but if you are left brained, maybe you want to go by color instead.  That’s ok.  You can even put them in a hanging shoe bag on the back of the door.

Here’s some ideas for this last step: Google images sock drawer

Pat yourself on the back next time you open that drawer and you know what you have to choose from and can easily put away the clean socks.

Your books and other “to read” piles:

First, decide on location, do you want all your books in one bookcase; or would you prefer some on the nightstand; or maybe the cookbooks in the kitchen for inspiration and easy access?

Next, gather all the books & magazines from all corners of your home.

CATEGORIZE.  There are lots of options here, but do what makes sense to you!  Some possible categories:  Collected Authors, Reference, Nostalgia, Business, Fiction, Hobbies

SORT within your categories.  Do you have more than one hobby, separate them.  Do your business books run the gamut from Resumes/Interviewing to Leadership/Management.  Sort them into what makes sense.

TAKE STOCK.  Have 12 resume/interview books?  Which one or two are the best?  Donate the rest!  Have duplicates of your favorite author’s books – purge all but one.  Do you EVER revisit those old yearbooks?  Perhaps they can be recycled or boxed up for the attic when you kids finally grow up enough to wonder about their parents’ younger years?  Better yet, carefully remove the important pages for a scrapbook, and recycle the rest of the yearbook.

2+ years worth of the Oprah Magazine?  Keep only the last 6 months and position them near your favorite reading area.  Topics tend to recycle every year or less, so by them time you would have gotten to those great summer tips, the new ones are out.  Besides, you can always troll through the archives online.

Be honest with yourself.  Will you really ever read that book that you started but put down because it was too slow or the writing style didn’t work for you?  Donate it!  It might be perfect for someone else.  Did you save that magazine for the ONE article you wanted to read?  Tear it out and recycle the rest.  Or, maybe it’s online and you can bookmark it for reading on a work break?

That great book you think you might re-read someday?  Give it to a friend or relative – let them enjoy it and continue passing it on.  There’s always going to be a copy you can buy or borrow later, when and if you really decide to reread it again.

Finally, ORGANIZE in your predetermined spot(s).  Don’t be afraid to put some books vertical and some horizontal on your bookshelves.  It’s a great way to provide natural dividers between subjects, and can help fill up gaps (or alternatively give you more room for those last few books you want to squeeze in).

MAINTENANCE:  When the next issue of your magazine arrives, toss the oldest one, even if you didn’t read it.  Found a new great author?  One book at a time, then pass it on!  The latest business book on the best seller list – go ahead but try to recycle an older one of the same topic, or one that you’re unlikely to pick back up in the near future.

Once you have a few wins under your belt, it’s motivating to keep going.  Bit by bit, it’s possible!  However, if you have a really big or otherwise overwhelming declutter/organizing project, consider engaging a Professional Organizer.  We have the skills and experience to help you get started and ensure the job gets finished, in a compassionate and confidential manner that works FOR YOU.