This blog features over 300 articles by international bestselling author and leading clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy home expert, Karen Kingston.

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Forget FOMO – embrace JOMO

jomo

JOMO (the joy of missing out) is a very welcome new trend and the exact opposite of the soul-crushing ethos of FOMO (the fear of missing out) that has dominated so many people’s lives for so long.

The Urban Dictionary defines it as: ‘Enjoying what you’re doing in the here and now and not on social media, broadcasting or seeing what everybody else is doing.’

Example:
Guy #1: I had a great day, climbed a hill and didn’t check Facebook.
Guy #2: Good day?
Guy #1: Yea, pure JOMO.

Many digital apps are designed to be addictive

Steve Jobs knew very well that the devices he designed and many of the apps they run are addictive, and he took steps to protect his own children from them. ‘We limit how much technology our kids use at home,’ he told reporter, Nick Bilton, when she asked about their use of iPads. Bill Gates took a similar approach. He didn’t let any of his three children have a mobile phone until they were 14 years old.

Now current and ex-Silicon Valley tech executives are coming clean and speaking out about this. Many admit they limit their children’s screen-time and have opted to send them to low-tech schools where blackboards and chalk are the norm and technology is rarely, if ever, used. They don’t want their kids to be manipulated like most of the world is.

‘I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children’, was the New York Times Quotation of the Day earlier this week (October 29, 2018) by Athena Chavarria, a former executive assistant at Facebook. What people in the tech sector know, more than anyone else, is how destructively addictive digital devices can be. They should do. They designed the darn things to be that way!

A wonderful upshot of this new trend is that internet detox has now become a thing. Instead of it being cool to be connected 24/7, it’s starting to become cooler to take a break from time to time.

Full transparency

People often ask me if I have a phone. I do own one but I use it very differently to how other people use theirs.

I got my first phone in 1997 — a sweet little monochrome Nokia 3810 that had the lowest radiation of any available at that time. I’ve been through various upgrades since then and now have an Android smartphone. During the last 21 years, I’ve used my phone on average no more than two or three times per week. These days it’s more like two or three times per month, for only a few minutes each time. That includes data usage too.

No-one except my husband knows my number. I only use it if I’m lost, running late, or have an emergency of some kind. Everything else can wait until I get home to my landline phone or computer, or if I’m travelling, my laptop. My computer runs on a wired ethernet connection, not WiFi, and all devices have Fiara anti-blue light filters to block the harmful portion of the blue light spectrum from being emitted through the screens.

I do use social media but only for about 20 minutes per week. And I do use email, but never check for messages in the morning except on rare occasions when I’m expecting something important. When I take vacations, I totally unplug and don’t take any devices with me at all. Not even a phone.

How do I manage, you may wonder? Perfectly well. I’m more tech savvy than most of the people I know and very connected to the world. The difference is that I choose when to use the devices I own. I decided long ago that I would run them rather than them running me.

The effects of digital addiction

It used to be that high-income parents gave their children the advantage by equipping them with the latest devices. Now it’s the other way around. Schools in underprivileged areas tend to require kids to use screens whereas schools for the children of wealthier, more discriminating parents increasingly do not. Poor kids are bombarded by WiFi for much of their waking life and live from dopamine hit to dopamine hit in an endless addictive cycle. Rich kids are more likely to escape this.

The title of a very well-researched article published in The Atlantic in September 2017 asks: Have smartphones destroyed a generation? The author, Jean M. Twenge, has studied generational differences for 25 years and cites a Monitoring The Future survey in the US that has questioned Eighth- and Tenth-graders each year since 1991 and Twelfth-graders each year since 1975. She says the findings of the survey are unequivocal:

Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.

Digging deeper, she concludes that ‘Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent’ and ‘Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.’

Many children are so addicted to their phones that checking it is the last thing they do before sleep and the first thing they do when they wake up. And if they leave it turned on during the night, as so many do, a part of them is always on alert and never fully rests. Sleep deprivation is now a chronic problem, not just among children and teenagers but device-addicted adults too.

And for these kinds of people, it’s not enough just to turn their phone off. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Texas found that for avid users, turning their phone off but still keeping it close by had a significant effect on their cognitive abilities because of the effort it took them to resist turning it back on. For this to make any difference, the phone had to be placed in another room.

The solution

Smartphones give us access to galaxies of information. They are a portal to entertainment, a vehicle for communication, a multi-media recording device and a vast technological resource. It’s the way they are used is the problem. Instead of making people more awakened and smarter, over-dependence makes them sleepier and dumber.

As with all great innovations, the technology itself is not inherently bad. It can be used for good or evil. With this in mind, ex-Google designer Tristan Harris is now spearheading a movement called Time Well Spent, with the stated mission of ‘realigning technology with humanity’s best interests’. He and his team have created an excellent resource for those who want to take back control of their life. Click here if you want to know more: How to take control of your phone

And what will you do with all the time you no longer waste? Remember talking to people? Nurturing relationships? Having new experiences (without needing to photograph or video them)? Delving into life’s mysteries? Discovering deeper levels of yourself? Or myriads of other ways to live life to the full instead of endlessly surfing the surface? That’s JOMO — the joy of missing out — on pointless titillation that does you no good at all so you have time for the things in life that truly matter.

Related articles
The truth about smartphone addiction

Related courses
Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Clutter clearing tips for interior designers

Photographing a room

Look through any glossy magazine that has photos of gorgeous interiors and you’ll never see any clutter. Yet we all know that in the real world just about every home has some.

One of the main challenges that faces interior designers these days is how to make a home look stylish as well as being practical and comfortable to live in, and that nearly always involves tackling clutter of some kind. This article has been written to give professional interior designers some insights into working with clients who need help to clear their clutter.

Why clutter is a problem

Interior design involves consciously placing furniture and items in a home for specific effects. Clutter, by definition, is the exact opposite of this because it’s the unconscious accumulation of things, usually stored in a disorganized and untidy way.

Most people have no idea how much clutter they have or how much it affects them. They think that all the things they are keeping just in case they come in useful is a good thing. They don’t realize that the stagnant energy that accumulates around these items causes a corresponding stagnation in their life and causes them to feel stuck.

The good news, though, is that when someone clears out their stuff, their life usually starts moving again very quickly.

Why people have clutter

Clutter is only ever a symptom of underlying issues. When working with clients, this means becoming adept at spotting the everyday kind of clutter you can easily work with, such as clutter that mounts up when someone gets too busy and has become a bit overwhelmed, and the more serious type that needs to be referred to a trained clutter clearing or health care professional.

Accumulating clutter can sometimes be a person’s way of coping with a traumatic event in their life. It can also be a symptom of depression, other mental illness, or a side-effect of a brain injury or abnormality.

The four categories of clutter

There are four main categories of clutter:

  • Things that are not used or loved
  • Things that are untidy or disorganized
  • Too many things in too small a space
  • Anything unfinished

Let’s look at these, one by one…

Things that are not used or loved
Many people keep things just in case they come in useful one day. They don’t use or love them, but they don’t want to let them go because they fear they will later regret it.

When someone engages an interior designer, they are essentially asking for help to create a home environment that more accurately reflects who they are or who they want to become. To get the most from this, it’s an excellent time for the person to make a fresh start by clearing out all the things they are keeping from the past that no longer fit with how they want their life to be. Support them in keeping the best and letting go of the rest.

Things that are untidy or disorganised
Mess on the outside is always indicative of some kind of mess or lack of structure on the inside. Creating better storage facilities can help, but when a home is excessively untidy or disorganized, it’s usually best to refer the client to a professional clutter clearing practitioner who you can then liaise with to devise an entire new storage system as part of a complete life makeover.

Too many things in too small a space
If your client owns too many things for the size of their space then they will either need to upgrade to a bigger home or downsize the quantity of possessions they have. Either way, this decision needs to be made and acted on before you begin work with them.

Anything unfinished
This includes repairs that need to be done and renovation projects that need to be finished. If your client has a tendency not to complete things, make sure they actually manage to finish the project they will be working on with you. Agree completion dates for each stage right from the start.

Dealing with clutter

There are three main approaches you can take to dealing with clutter:

Create more storage space
Many homes can benefit from the creation of additional storage space. But before advising your client to go to this expense, make sure the items they want to keep are worth the cost of doing so.

For example, some people build an extra garage — not to store their car in but to create more space for their fairly worthless clutter while their much more expensive vehicle is parked outside in all weathers. Help your client to decide if this investment is really necessary. Isn’t there some beautiful design feature they would much rather spend their money on?

Store things that are not used very often
Favourite options for this are:

  • An attic or loft
  • A basement or under-house crawl-space
  • A garage
  • A garden shed
  • An offsite storage unit

In my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain that people are connected to everything they own. So wherever clutter is put, it has an effect on them. Even keeping it in a storage unit separate to the home is only recommended as a temporary measure. However, it’s fine to put winter clothing away during summer and vice versa, or to store things that are used every year such as Christmas decorations. Items that are used at least once every year or every two years are not classified as clutter.

Clear the clutter
This is the best option of all. Most people find they can even make some money from clearing out their stuff. At the very least, they can donate things to charities so that other people who need the items can use them.

Tips for working with clients who have clutter

When creating a home environment for a client, it’s important to take their treasured possessions into account rather than hoping they will learn to live without them. On the other hand, it’s not necessary for them to have everything out on display all the time. Most people are happy just knowing that the things they love and value the most are somewhere in their home where they can find them if they want to.

The golden rule is to NEVER, EVER clear someone else’s clutter unless they specifically ask you to do so. People have very deep attachments to their personal possessions and can get very upset if someone even touches their belongings without their permission. But there are many things you can do to help your client to sort through their clutter themselves.

Take photos
A good way to start is to go around the property taking photos of each room from a number of different angles, and then sit down and go through them with your client. You can either print them out or look at them on a screen, depending on their preference.

Photos reveal so many things that can easily be missed or glossed over. They show up things that look out of place, that have been put somewhere “just for now”, that are unnecessary, that detract from the décor rather than enhancing it, that overcrowd the space, and so on.

Rather than pointing these out, ask your client questions in such a way that they see the clutter for themselves. For example, point to the tired old plant in the corner and ask them how long they have had it and has it seen better days? Point to the pile of paperwork on their desk and ask them how it makes them feel to see it. Does it inspire them, or does it make them feel stressed? Help them make a list of all the items that need to be moved, repaired, replaced or let go of.

Create a Rescue List
Another good technique is to ask your client to make a Rescue List. If their home were on fire and they had five minutes to save a few personal things, what would they choose? Most people say they would save people, pets and their digital devices first, and then a few personal things that are meaningful to them. What items would your client choose?

This list is a good way for the person to gain perspective and for you to learn what is truly of value to them. If they become indecisive about letting things go later on in the project, you can remind them of their Rescue List to help get them back on track.

Start small
The trick is to always break down cluttered areas into small manageable chunks. Clutter clearing can feel like a chore when people first begin, but after they feel how good it feels with each small success, they feel inspired and encouraged to do more. Help your client to create a clutter clearing plan that is achievable for them.

Design tips
The old maxim ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ is a good one. Wait until your client has completed the bulk of their clutter clearing before taking a general inventory of the items they will be keeping. Make sure the design you create for them will comfortably accommodate everything. If not, you will either need to go back to the drawing board yourself or discuss another round of clutter clearing with them.

Clutter tends to accumulate in poorly lit areas. To help prevent it from building up again in the future, design lighting solutions that eliminate dark areas of the home.

For clients who own a lot of things or are prone to untidiness, install cupboards with doors rather than open shelves. This creates clean lines rather than the constant visual assault of seeing so many items, and it makes the space less prone to cluttering too.

Final advice
Interior designers often ask me, what is the single most important piece advice I can give them about dealing with clutter? My answer is the same one I give to the clutter clearing practitioners who train with me:

Do your own clutter clearing first before giving advice to anyone else!

This will enable you to appreciate the kind of feelings that clutter clearing brings up, and also how good it feels when you’ve done it. There is also no better motivation for a client than hearing you talk in glowing terms about your own experience of this and your own results.

Helpful online courses
Fast Track Clutter Clearing
Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter
Declutter Your Clothes

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Subscribe to my newsletters to receive news, articles and information about upcoming online courses by email. And I promise you – no junk mail ever.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Cluttered desk, cluttered mind

Cluttered desk

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

This witty quote by Albert Einstein, whose desk was notoriously messy, is often bandied about by people to defend the state of their own cluttered desk. The implied argument is that if this is the preferred state a genius likes to work in, then it’s OK for everyone else too.

However, there are some major flaws with this reasoning, as I’ll explain.

There is no evidence that Albert Einstein ever said this

It’s not listed anywhere in the most comprehensive and reputable source of Einstein quotes, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, published by Princeton University Press. Quote Investigator has rigorously examined the origins of the quote and discovered that it was not attributed to him until 51 years after his death, in a New York Times article published in 2006 where its source was not cited. So while it sounds like something he could have said, there is no evidence at all that he did.

Messiness on the outside is always a symptom of some kind of chaos on the inside

Read any of the biographies about Einstein and what quickly emerges is that his life was not a happy one. Like many creative geniuses, he was chaotic to live with and found it impossible to sustain healthy relationships. It’s said he was an indifferent father and a habitual philanderer who had at least ten extra-marital liaisons.

So even if he did make this often-quoted remark, it’s still highly debatable that a cluttered desk is desirable. Having worked with clutter issues in people’s homes for many years, I’ve seen on numerous occasions how straightening up their home helps a person to straighten up their life, and also how much more productive they become after decluttering their desk. So it really does beg the question, how much more could Einstein have accomplished and how much happier could he have been if he’d been able to do that too?

An empty mind is a sublimely creative state

The quote suggests that an empty desk is a sign of an empty mind, inferring that this is inferior to a cluttered mind. But I’ve found the opposite to be the case.

The most notable experts I’ve met don’t use their mind at all. They ignore the relentless chatter of their thoughts and learn to access streams of creative brilliance that exist at much higher levels. The more they can clear their mind, the higher they can fly.

As experienced meditators know so well, the mind is a cage that keeps people boxed into conventional norms. Being able to still the mind and empty it of thoughts can take years of practice but it’s a very worthwhile endeavour. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that until a person has found a way to bypass their mind and access higher levels of consciousness, they have no real idea who they are or what the world is about anyway. Everything is skewed by the mental conditioning they are subject to.

Viewed from this standpoint, anyone who genuinely wants to make a difference in the world would value being able to empty their mind. And it would be obvious that being immersed in clutter would hamper rather than help them with this.

A cluttered desk is a symptom of a cluttered mind and a stuck life

Take another look at the photo at the top of this article. Even though you can’t see the person’s face, their body language and the state of their desk conveys much about them. Do you think they are happy, productive, in control of their life? Do they find their work fulfilling or are they overwhelmed? What are the chances they can find something when they need it? And even if they can, how much time will they waste looking for it? It’s clear that all is not well in their world.

So am I advocating pristine neatness or spartan minimalism? Heck, no. That’s about as inspiring as living your life inside a Tupperware box. What I’m recommending is a happy balance. Not so much stuff that there’s no room to work and not so little that it feels stark and sterile.

Exactly what works best to have on a desk will vary from person to person, depending on what stimulates and stifles their creativity or productivity. So if you tend to be messy, try having a good clear-up before you start work and see what a difference that makes. And if you’re ever-so tidy, relax a little. The sweet point for most people is not too cluttered and not too rigidly organized either. Discover what works best for you.

Related article
Feng shui desk positioning and why it matters

Related course
Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Don’t let your home become a museum of the past

Woman remembering the past

There’s a poignant moment in John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, when the family are packing to leave Oklahoma and must quickly decide which few possessions they can take and which they must leave behind. With eleven adults and two children about to board a dilapidated old truck with no idea if it will make the journey or what future awaits them if it does, there’s no room to salvage anything but essentials.

‘How can we live without our lives?’ ponders the mother, as she sorts through the family’s meagre personal belongings. ‘How will we know it’s us without our past?’

This is radical decluttering on a scale that most people never have to experience. But the thoughts she voices are similar to those I’ve often heard people express in modern times while clearing their personal clutter, as they confront their internal tug-of-war between wanting to live in the present and embrace the future while realizing they can only fully do so if they are willing to let go of the past.

Our relationship to material possessions

We aren’t born clutching any material possessions in our hands and can’t take anything with us when we die. So why is it that we can become so attached to objects while we’re here?

Psychologists have identified that babies only start to understand they have ownership of their own body at around two months old and it’s not until they are about twelve months old that they begin to bond with items such as teddies or blankets. At around 21 months, they start using the word “mine” and may start to squabble with other children over toys.

So it seems we are hard-wired to own things. But sometimes people take this too far and their entire home becomes a museum of things that relate to their past. I’ve been given guided tours where each item has a special story attached to it about how long the person has had it, how it came to be in their possession, what was happening in their life at that time, why it’s special to them, and so on.

These stories are often long and complicated, requiring a lot of detail and explanation, and the person can be very convincing about how important the items are. They believe that their well-being rests on continuing to own each object so that they can remember the particular event in their life that it relates to.

But when viewed through an outsider’s eyes, it looks like a home full of useless stuff. And when the person dies, it’s highly unlikely anyone will want any of it. It will most likely end up in landfill or, at best, be donated to charity.

Why a museum of possessions is no substitute for life

When people ask me for my advice about this as they sort through their things, I point out that the question to ask yourself is whether you really need to remember all the people and events of your life? What purpose does that serve other than to create mental and emotional clutter?

You are the sum total of all your life experiences. They have made you what you are, and whether you remember the events or not, it doesn’t change who you have become. You are the walking, talking embodiment of your life to date, as any facial diagnosis expert can tell you (a person’s entire history is recorded in their face). You can’t change the past but you can certainly change the future through the choices you make in the present.

The truth of the matter is that anyone can archive the past. What takes far greater skill and courage is to let go of the past and live fully in the now, to become all that you can be. As one woman said to me after letting go of her personal museum of things, ‘When I gave such importance to archiving my life, it felt as if I was already dead.’ She realized, as many others have done, that resting on old memories brings only limited pleasure. True happiness can only be found in the present.

Related article
Let go of clutter and live your life to the full

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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How to avoid impulse buys when shopping

Chocolate bread rolls

I was in a supermarket the other day when I came across a very obese woman whose chubby teenage son was pestering her to buy him some chocolate-flavoured bread rolls that had caught his eye. I wanted to say to him, ‘Step away from the bread rolls. They’re not going to help you in your life.’

Then he saw me looking at him, and as our eyes met I could see that he felt that he needed those rolls. Stuffing himself with carbs was his coping mechanism and comforter in life. He had no thought of chocolate bread rolls before he saw the lavish display in the store, but from that moment he wanted them. And since his mother saw it as an act of love to let him have them, into the shopping cart they went.

How shopping can be a coping mechanism

I’ve seen the same behaviour in relation to the accumulation of clutter. To some degree, anyone who has clutter uses it to suppress their emotions in some way. It provides a protective layer to numb feelings they would rather not experience. Their children then learn by example that they can quickly and easily cheer themselves up by acquiring a new material possession. It becomes the antidote to any disappointment or setback they don’t want to feel.

You’d think this would only apply to high-income families, but money is no object. The less well-off go to discount stores, charity shops, garage sales or the equivalent in their part of the world. Or they use websites such as Freecycle, where they can pick up tons of stuff for nothing at all except the time and expense of collecting it. If all else fails, they buy new things from regular malls or online stores and run up credit card debt they then struggle to pay off.

As with food treats, what takes over is the yearning for gratification, with no regard for the consequences that follow. And in the same way that a person gains weight one bite at a time, so clutter is acquired one item at a time. Each bite or item is the result of a yes/no choice that is made.

Become more conscious about the shopping choices you make

The problem with acquiring new things to try to make yourself feel better is that the effect soon wears off and then you want something else. The more stuff you pile into your home, the more stagnant energy will accumulate around it, and the more stuck in life you will feel.

And no amount of things is ever enough. So then you have the problems you’re trying to forget and the new problems created by the things you’re buying to try to make the original problems go away. It’s a downward spiral.

When you’re caught up in this pattern, you’re very easy prey. Billions of dollars are spent each year designing shop windows, store layouts and online stores to encourage impulse buys. You may think it’s your own idea to buy something, but it’s more likely you’ve succumbed to a marketing strategy that’s been cleverly engineered to snare you.

Stores use all kinds of tricks

Do you know that the reason why clothing stores offer generous return policies is because the resulting increase in profits from impulse buys far outweighs the cost of processing refunds for those who come to their senses after they get home? Long-term research shows that most people are just too lazy or disorganized to take things back.

And do you know that people prefer bananas that have Pantone 12-0752 coloured skins rather than the natural shade of Pantone 13-0858? There’s only a whisper of difference between them but it translates into millions of dollars of sales. So now banana growers work with scientists to produce the exact colour of banana skin we all want without even knowing that we do.

When you dig a little deeper, there are countless examples like this, and you discover that the “treats” you give yourself are mostly things you’ve been lured into buying. You thought they were your own choices, but they very probably weren’t.

The truth about impulse buys

On the one hand, there are the powerful advertising campaigns that lure you to buy things you don’t really need. And on the other hand, there are deeply ingrained self-gratifying urges that pop out of nowhere to engulf you. Somewhere in the middle, very hard to find these days, is the narrow pathway of free will.

The first thing to understand is that many items you may feel tempted to buy are nothing more than future clutter in disguise. A 2016 study in the UK discovered over £37 billion of unused gadgets in people’s homes, ranging from kitchen appliances and gardening equipment to hi-tech devices and other gizmos. These types of items are purchased, brought home and never used. Many are still in the box they came in or still have the price tag on.

A 2018 survey by Slickdeals.net revealed that American adults spend an average of $5,400 per year on impulse buys. 71% of the people polled said food was their most frequent type of impulse buy. Clothing purchases came in second, and then household items, takeout meals and shoes.

Stop before you shop

If you’re ever tempted to buy something you didn’t plan to buy, either online or in a store, stop for a moment and ask yourself this simple question:

Did I want this item before I saw it?

If the answer is no, then you’re about to make an impulse buy.

Instead of caving in, ask yourself:

  • Why do I want it?
  • Do I really need it?

And in the case of an item that will take up space in your home:

  • Where will I keep it?

If you don’t have clear, wholesome answers to all these questions, walk away.

How to be better prepared

If you know you’re prone to impulse buys, here are some more tips to help you avoid them in future…

Never shop when you’re hungry
If you’re shopping for food, you’ll tend to buy more than you planned. If you’re shopping for other things, you’re likely to make choices you’ll later regret.

Don’t shop when you’re feeling down
Retail therapy doesn’t work. It only masks the problems. It doesn’t solve them.

Don’t shop to celebrate
Adding clutter to your home is not helpful in the long term. Find other ways to reward yourself or rejoice.

Don’t shop to amuse yourself because you’re bored
No amount of material possessions can ever fill an emptiness you feel inside. Use your money more constructively to learn ways to bring more meaning to your life.

Remember that a bargain is not a bargain if you never use it
Sale items are the greatest source of impulse buys. But if you save money buying something you don’t need and never use, you haven’t saved money at all. You wasted it.

Plan ahead
Make a shopping list of the things you need and can afford and have it with you whenever you shop. If you’re tempted to buy anything else, make yourself wait for at least seven days, then reassess when you feel calm and more objective.

Get to know your triggers
Keep a written log for an entire month of situations that trigger you to want to make impulse buys. The more you are aware of the triggers, the easier it will be to resist.

Related article
The art of intercepting clutter before it even starts

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Subscribe to my newsletters to receive news, articles and information about upcoming online courses by email. And I promise you – no junk mail ever.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


Posted in Clutter clearing | Read 1 comment

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