Don't Buy That Case of Stuff on Sale.

I'm Serious.

Nearly a decade has passed since I helped prepare my parents for a move to assisted living for Mom’s dementia, but whenever I enter into a frenzy of cleaning, sorting, down-sizing or right-sizing I’m taken back to these days.

They owned so much STUFF! I had no idea until I saw it all spread out in heaps and mounds all over the pool table, end tables, coffee table, folding tables, and every other flat surface in their basement.

When I’d visit and she’d tell me she was “busy sorting” I had no idea what this meant. The topic wasn’t much of a conversation-starter so we’d move on.

Once I went downstairs to look for myself, though, it appeared that each and every day of the week she started the task anew based on a different sorting algorithm.
  • “Today, I’m putting all craft projects into the craft project pile.”
  •  “Today, I’m putting everything into piles by kid so if it’s a craft project by Barb it goes in the Barb pile.”
  • “Today, I’m sorting by holidays so if it’s a craft project by Barb related to Christmas it goes in the Christmas pile.”

All of these without reference to the previous day’s system or any apparent progress, so of course she would never finish sorting.

I took the girls with me sometimes to keep me company while I combed through closets, drawers, the three-car garage, and the dusty piles in the basement for anything actually worth keeping.

I had ONE method: if it pertained to one of their six children, it went in a box with that kid’s name, and if it was something personal about Mom and Dad such as a scrapbook or photos it went into the box that would move with them. Other than that, Helloooo, Estate Sale Lady.

We found amazing quantities of some items. I only recently—and I’m serious about this—used the last of the plastic wrap I took with me.

The girls took a lot away from this. Things like finding six unopened bottles of nail polish remover in the bathroom cupboard stick with you, I guess.

Now any time I have more than one of something (due to innocent stocking-up-on-basics-that-are-on-sale on my part, honest) they say with a note of sad warning, “Mom, are you turning into Grandma?”

When we moved into this house about three years ago I wastefully—wastefully!—threw away multiple partial bottles of various skin lotions that promised oh so many magical things, all because one of the girls was there and spotted all the containers as I packed up my bathroom.

I also have to watch my grocery-buying, although that’s getting easier since I’m starting to put up more of my own food. I only have so much pantry space and there will always be another sale on pasta so I no longer buy six bags of bow-ties (we do love our bow-tie pasta).

When I cleaned Mom’s fridge I found three bags of the fake baby carrots. Bag #1 in front was crisp and orange. Bag #2 right behind it was looking a little saggy. Bag #3 behind that had turned into green slime.

I realized that in Mom’s brain the trigger for something like “I need carrots” fired at the store and she bought carrots, but the reset to “carrots purchased, return to neutral setting” never took place. Her brain just keep pinging on “buy carrots, buy carrots.”

Since she’d spent a big chunk of her life producing food in large quantities to feed her six children and their assorted friends and relations, her food-buying philosophy was firmly grounded in the notion that it never hurt to have a little extra on hand. As in, if they dropped the bomb you’d want to shelter in our basement, where you could live the next 40 years on a diet of canned tomatoes, string beans, and pickles.

Couple this lifelong pantry-stocking with an inability to know that you’ve already bought something so you’re buying even more than you meant to….

…and you’ll understand why I make an extra effort to keep tabs on the condition of my bathroom closet and my produce drawer.

And why my girls do, too.


  1. I do this already. I run out of something, and forget it once and for weeks afterward EVERYTIME I go to the store I buy that thing. I just remember say "ketchup" and not if that means we have none, or too much. I've ended up with 6 bottles of ketchup, 8 rolls of paper towels, and most recently, 4 containers of salsa. I've started writing the things I DON'T need on my list. It's just easier that way.

  2. I have to do this to our list sometimes, usually in ALL CAPS TO SHOW I'M SERIOUS.

    We do have a small backlog of toilet paper right now but that was a seriously good sale and sheesh, the PRICE of that stuff! I can't believe what we pay to wipe with two-layered cushiony comfort.


  3. Great post! Inspiring me to keep going with the summer decluttering project. The main part of the house feels lighter, but the dreaded basement will have to wait until next summer. I will pick away at magazine "archives" and misc. stacks of files there in the meanwhile. Will be in Seattle later this week. Hi to all on Saturday.

  4. Hauled a load to Goodwill today and boy did that feel great. More to come (or go, is more like it).

  5. We just de-cluttered our once-scary basement and now the ONLY things down there are the washer/dryer and 2 bikes! (Think white walls, gray cement floor, empty vibe.) Every time I want to "store" something down there I remember how much stuff we had to haul away.


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