Got Ants in My Pants and I Need to Dance!

Recently, my doctor and I decided to up the dosage of my antipsychotic. Unfortunately, this has caused a major problem for me: akathisia.

What is akathisia? According to Wikipedia:

Akathisia is a movement disorder characterized by a feeling of inner restlessness and a compelling need to be in constant motion, as well as by actions such as rocking while standing or sitting, lifting the feet as if marching on the spot, and crossing and uncrossing the legs while sitting. People with akathisia are unable to sit or keep still, complain of restlessness, fidget, rock from foot to foot, and pace.

One of the major causes of this is drug withdrawal, although antipsychotics have this as a common side effect. In terms of side effects, this one is miserable. You’re down, you’re up, you’re side to side. Your legs are moving, your arms jittery, unable to sit or lie down. Every muscle is on fire. Just go, just go. Your legs run on the floor, miles in minutes, without you going anywhere.

There are a few different ways to treat this, one being medication. Keep in mind that you should always talk to your doctor before making med changes though. Beta blockers and lorazepam are shown to help minimize the side effect. In addition, you can talk to your doctor about lowering the dosage of the medication that causes it or find a new medication. There has also been some data that show that Benedryl can be effective in treating akathisia as well.

But what to do in the meantime? Well, I’ve found that funneling movements helps. For example, I have a fidget toy with me to keep my hands busy, and I have bouncy hemispheres that keep my legs busy. If I have to concentrate on something, I usually pace in order to eliminate the amount of energy that goes into stopping the movements.

If I have time on my hands and the akathisia is particularly bad, I try to channel it into various workouts. You can find some basic fitness moves online or on an app. Use this miserable side effect for the better.

When I have akathisia, I try to drink more than I usually would, since my body is expending more energy. Try keeping a water bottle with you, especially if it’s warm out.

So, what do you guys do for akathisia?

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Don’t let the Grinch steal your holidays!

How do you get through the holidays with a mental illness? It’s not easy. Everyone else seems to just “let it go,” but you’re “frozen.” The holiday stress, the gift giving, the concentration on food, the anxiety, the threat of a jolly fat man breaking into your house! It makes everyone crazy. So, how can you handle the holiday season?

1. Identify your “Grinch”

What’s your Grinch? You know, the Grinch? The green furry guy who hates Christmas so much that he steals it from the Whos? Each one of us has a Grinch who gets in the way of a good time on holidays. It may be a person, it may be a feeling, it may be a terrible kugel that your Aunt Ethel force-feeds you on the eighth day of Hanukkah.

The key is to first identify your Grinch. What gets in the way of you having a good time during the holidays? I have a few, but one of the funnier ones is my hatred of a song. A terrible, horrible, awful song. It’s called “Dominick the Donkey” and it is my hell on Earth. With every “ee-ohwn,” I feel like that stupid donkey is back-kicking my eardrums. Each year, I try my very best to avoid that song. The smell of boiling meat nauseates me, so I avoid being in the kitchen during that time or I put a little Vick’s VapoRub under my nose to mask the smell.

Grinches can be little, big, devastating, or just plain obnoxious. But identify yours and try your best to avoid it. Maybe it’s turning off the radio when Dominick comes to town. Maybe it’s staying away from cousin Murphy who always makes fun of your weight. Maybe it’s something else. But avoid it! Or, if you can’t, sandwich it between two things you love.

2. Create or continue a tradition

This is a fun one. The holidays are all about tradition, and that can be a very joyous experience. It doesn’t have to be a typical holiday tradition; not everyone has to go to midnight mass or have figgy pudding. But if you create a fun tradition for the holidays, you’ll have something you can look forward to. I personally have a few. I have a fake Christmas tree I like to decorate, and sometimes I do the Elf on the Shelf (need ideas?). Also, a family friend gave me an old Italian spaghetti sauce recipe, and I’ve decided I’ll cook that every year at Christmas time.

Other ideas? Try decorating cookies, watching claymation Christmas movies, starting a Christmas collection (such as stars, Santas, or houses), decorating with pine, reading Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (my favorite holiday story), singing Christmas carols, going to the movies, finding the perfect ornament, playing dreidel with friends, or throwing an ugly sweater party. Even traditions like setting aside time for yourself can have a special meaning. Make the holidays worth looking forward to! The one rule: don’t let it add to your stress!

3. Make gift giving easy (and get something for yourself!)

There’s always the option of not giving gifts. Or, for an easy alternative, gift cards and cash are great, too. But sometimes there’s just nothing like giving the perfect gift.

One thing I do is Christmas shop all-year-round. This requires some space in your home, but in the end, it’s worth it. Whenever I see something I know my friends and family would like, I snatch it up right then and save it until Christmas. Or, if I don’t want to buy it at that time, I take a picture of the item so I can return to it during Christmas. This policy also helps spread costs throughout the year rather than going into that December debt. You can even wrap them in advance and put Post-It notes on the presents to remember who they’re for.

In addition, there are a lot of very simple, affordable presents that you can get. You can check out my article on gift giving and gifting giving for kids and my Pinterest board on parties and gifts. Also, don’t forget “experience” presents like going out to lunch or going to a park. If you go for this option, schedule for later in the year so there’s less anxiety around the holiday.

And, don’t forget to to get a present for yourself! This year, I got myself a book on cooking that I’ve been eying at BJ’s. It makes me so happy to read it, and for just a little bit I can forget about the stress of the season. Find something you’ve been eying as well!

4. Manage your triggers

‘Tis the season to be triggered. Food, alcohol, wrapping presents, and the hustle of life can all trigger unhealthy behaviors. For example, if cutting paper is a trigger for self-injury, try using gift bags! If food is a trigger for you, avoid storing food at home. If you have to bring something, bake cookies the next before. No one snacks on ingredients, and you only have one night to deal with the challenge. If alcohol is your trigger, avoid keeping alcohol in the house and bring a soda or seltzer to Christmas dinner. Social anxiety? Limit the number of parties you attend or pretend you have another party to go to and leave early. You can also do all of your shopping online to avoid the shopping crowds.

But half of the battle of avoiding triggers is avoiding triggering people. Sometimes people get nosy, but there’s no reason you have to tell them about your struggles. For example, if someone asks you why you’re avoiding alcohol this year, tell them you have a stomachache or that you have a medical reason. Then, tell someone you’re drinking a “rum” and Coke (minus the rum) or “vodka” soda (without the vodka). Or, offer to be the designated driver for the night.

Also, keep a close friend or sponsor on speed dial during the holidays. Have a pet? See if you can bring them with you to the festivities. This is the Thunderdome, so make sure you’ve brushed up on all your coping mechanisms!

5. Remember your physical health, too

Your physical health is just as important as your mental health. If you haven’t done so already, get your flu shot. Congregating crowds mean congregating germs. Keep some antibacterial hand sanitizer on you while you’re shopping, and make sure you wash your hands before you feast.

Also, forgo some traditions if they affect your health. For example, people with mold allergies should avoid getting real Christmas trees (known as “Christmas Tree Syndrome“). In addition, if you have smoke allergies or little kids, opt for electric candles rather than real ones (there are even electric menorahs). Remember your meds, and always cook that turkey to 170-180 degrees F!

More ideas? Check out this article, this articlethis article, or download this PDF (faith-based).

Let’s Get Physical

No one escapes life without some sort of injury. If you’re like me, you don’t escape a day without some sort of injury. I’ve written a post on dealing with medical situations and doctors, but I haven’t written anything about dealing with physical illness when you have a mental one. It’s like a one two punch to the groin and totally not fair.

This month, I’ve both sprained my shoulder and torn my meniscus. (I’ve been pretty unlucky!) However, the process has reminded me to take care of my physical self as well as my mental self. There is a very strong connection between physical health and mental health. For example, people with chronic illness are more prone to depression and mental illness has been linked to diabetes and heart disease. When the two systems are so bonded, you can’t manage one part without managing the other.

So, how do you treat your physical injuries while at the same time maintain mental wellness?

Ask for and accept help when you need it.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time asking for help. I feel like I should be able to handle everything on my own, but sometimes that’s just not within my ability. Ask your partner to cook or order take out. Have your friend hand you your crutches or carry your backpack. The benefit of having a physical illness is that there’s no stigma and people know how to help you. While someone might not know what it’s like to be psychotic, most people can relate to the flu. Use that to your advantage!

Keep your supplies handy.

Most people have a medicine cabinet. Keep yours stocked and ready to rock. For example, the Red Cross has a good list for a first aid kit. If you keep all of your supplies together, you won’t have to search for the Tylenol when you’re under the weather.

I like to keep two groups: one is my as-needed medicine drawer. That’s where I keep the decongestants, bandages, and stuff I don’t need too often. When I see a sale for any of those items, I stock up and make sure something’s always there. If I’m psychotic and have a sinus infection, I don’t have the wherewithal to hunt down the stray NyQuil under my bed.

My second stash is a basket filled with the things I need on a daily basis. I store it next to my favorite chair, and that way I can grab what I need without having to roll out of my chair with a knee brace to fetch it. This is where I keep my daily medication, blood pressure cuff, blood sugar monitor, and other things. You could even throw in some stress balls, DBT diary, snacks, iPod, and whatever you need to get through a tough moment.

Give yourself time to amend your routine

Like mental illness, chronic physical illnesses need time to be properly treated. For example, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with IBS. One of the treatments for it is the FODMAP diet, which I talked about here. It’s a huge lifestyle change to which it takes time to adapt. Start slow and take the time to learn what you have to do to make it better. Your doctor should provide you with treatment options, and you can do some research online to learn more about your condition(s). The small changes are the best ones, and if you have to change your lifestyle in a big way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

One way to manage this is a week-by-week approach. Start with making a list of the lifestyle changes you need to make. For example, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and have a list of modifications you need to make. You can start out with one change a week, giving you time to get used to it before you move onto the next one. For example, the first one might be to replace the soda in your diet with water. It’s a small change that can lead you toward a lifestyle alteration without the overwhelming and defeating thoughts of a total makeover. It may take time, and at some points can be challenging, but it’s never hopeless.

Treat yo’ self!

Keep in mind – you’re sick! Do what you need to do to get better. Have a cold? Slurp some chicken soup! Fever? Grab a blanket and Motrin! Tired and mad at the world? Curl up in your bed, tell the world to f-ck itself, and watch Parks and Recreation! Even if you fight mental illness each day of your life, it doesn’t mean you should fight through every illness. Sometimes, you have to relax and give your cold/broken toe/strep throat/whatever the time it needs to heal. For some ideas, you can check out this PopSugar article.

Is some of these suggestion obvious? Of course! But I hope you find them helpful. Stay strong!

DBT

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately- it’s been pretty busy. One of the things I’ve been doing is completing a DBT workbook., and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a method of helping yourself deal with overwhelming emotions. It was invented by Marsha Linehan, who used an altered form of cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Later, individuals who didn’t suffer from BPD began to use the program, and so far it has helped people with suicidal thoughts, overeating, under eating, bipolar disorder, and more.

If you want to learn more about DBT, you can visit the NAMI website here.

While individual and group therapy is the traditional means of teaching DBT skills, at the moment, I’m using two other tools to help me learn: the DBT app and The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook. Those two things have helped me enormously.

If you’d like to try it, check out the resources I’ve listed or visit the NAMI site for DBT groups around you.

Mental Health Day

Today, I decided to take a mental health day. I haven’t taken one in a very long time. Usually, I don’t take time off until I can’t function anymore, and at that point, it’s a sick day. Even CNN thinks it’s a bad idea.

I encourage everyone to take a mental health day every once in awhile. Sure, there are weekends, but if you’re anything like me, I spend them doing housework and visiting family. (I hope you don’t think I’m too much of a party animal!) Life goes so fast, and I always seem to be thinking in the past and planning for the future. That’s why a mental health day is so important. It’s a one day vacation where you can just catch up to the moment.

So, what does a mental health day entail? You can do anything you want! I prefer to stay home alone (I get so much done that way), but the world is your oyster. You can watch your favorite TV shows, read a book, go for a walk, or even spend the day sleeping. Maybe you like video games. Maybe a day trip. It’s your day and you can do anything you want.

If you need some ideas, this is how I spent my day:

  • Browsed Reddit and Pinterest
  • Cut collage items out of magazines I need to recycle
  • Made the bed
  • Sang as loud as I wanted while vacuuming
  • Dislodged the sock I accidentally vacuumed up (whoops)
  • Reorganized my kitchen
  • Back to Pinterest, where I found a recipe for homemade pretzels
  • Sliced my finger open on the food processor while making said pretzels (double whoops)
  • Watched Parks & Recreation reruns and nursed my poor finger
  • Soaked my feet. Couldn’t find anything fancy, so I used dish liquid
  • Played with my cats
  • Admired the IKEA art cart I assembled yesterday. Råskog means, “Awesome job, Clean!” in Swedish*
  • Drew with charcoal
  • Drank a deliciously artificial grape soda and enjoy it (rather than my usual process of stressing about the corn syrup and purging)
  • Went to get replacements for all the ingredients I lost
  • Went to a small farm stand where I fed a pig and pet a cow.

 

* Not actually true

 

So, how will you spend your mental health day?

Medical Diets

When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be very difficult to navigate the equally tough world of physical health. Sometimes, you get saddled with complicated medical conditions that require therapeutic diets. Conditions like IBS, diabetes, Chron’s disease, Celiac disease, epilepsy, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and more. These aren’t the diets you hear about in the media, like Atkins, blood type diet, detoxing, juice fasting, etc. I’m not going to go into those. These are diets that are supported by the medical community and are used to treat specific medical conditions.

Some of these diets are the low-FODMAP diet, the gluten-free diet, the Ketogenic diet, the DASH diet, among others. These diets should be closely monitored by a medical professional, as they are treatments for medical conditions. Once again, I am NOT a medical professional. I’m barely qualified to write a blog. Please see your doctor or dietician for advice.

Ok, so, how do you mange these diets when you already have a full plate (lame pun totally intended)? The key is to really rely on prep and proven foods.

For example, I have the unfortunate pleasure of being on the low-FODMAP diet. I have visceral hypersensitivity, which is a very painful condition in which it hurts when organs perform their normal functions. While I don’t have IBS, my doctor thought it would be helpful to go on this diet. I went on the diet once before, and I wound up giving it up because it got too depressing. This time, however, I’m determined to do it right.

So, what did I learn the first time?

1. It takes some planning.
One of the hardest parts about medical diets is that it’s hard to grab food on the fly. There’s no guarantee that a restaurant will have something you can eat, and even if there’s something suitable on the menu, there’s still a risk of cross-contamination (big problem for people with allergies and vegans). This is especially difficult on the low-FODMAP diet, where you can’t have any onions or garlic. Planning might include calling restaurants before you eat there, bringing your own food to a friend’s house, or carry a protein bar with you. Make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t eat. If it’s a long list, it might be helpful to carry it with you.

2. It takes some prep.
Even if you decide to cook at home, it doesn’t ensure you can buy the necessary ingredients. You might have to make your own salad dressings, condiments, baked goods, etc. For example, it’s almost impossible to find low-FODMAP BBQ sauce. So, I make my own, put it into little containers, and freeze it. That way, I don’t have to make BBQ sauce every time a recipe requires it. I also like to stock up on gluten-free pasta, gluten-free breadcrumbs, suitable vegetables, etc. since there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to find the ingredients on short notice.

3. Keep a tally of brand names of products on which you can rely.
This will save you an ENORMOUS amount of time when you shop, especially while you try to get into a routine. While you should continue checking the labels in case they change the formula, your shopping trip doesn’t have to revolve around it. You can make the process easier by guessing and checking, major allergen labeling, and using an app (such as UPC Sanner). Once you’ve built your list, you can send it to family members to make their lives easier as well.

4. Make it easy to differentiate “safe food” in your cabinets.
I like to store my designated products away from stuff I can’t have and then put a sticker on the packages. It might be overkill, but I like fun stickers.

5. Look for food in unexpected places.
In the days of the internet, we now have the ability to order lots of weird crap online! If it’s hard to find specialized food near you, check out Amazon. However, I would recommend only ordering from a trusted retailer. I’ve also had good luck at health food stores and ethnic food markets. If you do go to an ethnic food market (and can’t read the product’s original language), make sure you do some research online first. The labeling isn’t always phenomenal.

6. It’s okay to be pissed.
Seriously. It’s quite the loss, and it’s hard to do. Every time I visit the produce aisle, I still get sad about not being able to have mangoes. No more croissants, no more hummus, no more avocados. It’s difficult to hang out with friends and I hate quizzing the waiters about ingredients. But it does get easier and you’ll get in the groove of it.

Need ideas for easy recipes that accommodate your dietary restrictions? Visit the Clean Brains Pinterest board.

Doctor’s Orders

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If you’re in treatment, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve come into contact with a number of health professionals. With both physical and psychological problems, I’ve been to over a bajillion doctors, pharmacists, nurses, NPs, PAs, specialists, etc, and that’s a conservative number. Some of them have been incredible, amazing people who quite literally have saved my life. I’ve had my therapist since age eight, and I’ve had my psychiatrist for over six years. They are both amazing people, and I can’t imagine how I got along without them. I also have a couple favorite pharmacists, three stomach specialists, an endocrinologist, an OB/GYN, a PCP, and have been to a cardiologist and ENT.

And then there are others that I hope go through the same trauma they put me through. I’ve had an NP try to prescribe me a drug I’m allergic to, someone who never responded to a crisis situation when I had to be hospitalized (my mom had to wait outside his office to even talk to him), an over zealous NP who had me on every medication under the sun, among so many other “professionals” who made my life harder during a time where I was at my worst.

Ok, so what was the point of that story? It can be very difficult to navigate a world of doctors, acronyms, pain, appointments, waiting, medications, and frustration. This becomes even worse when you’re already sick. I have a few things that help me when it comes to the world of healthcare.

1. I take notes on the backs of their business cards. These can be little notes like “friendly,” “kind,” “efficient,” or “cold.” This works especially well with people who I don’t encounter all the time, like pharmacists or people in a practice. This helps me remember which professionals I like and why.

2. I don’t waste time on doctors I don’t like. I’ve spent so much time trying to work with doctors who weren’t willing to work with me. Now, I try to find people who take the time to explain my conditions and treatments. I also look for doctors who aren’t too “gung-ho” about strange tests and treatments.

3. I set aside a lot of “padding” time around appointments. This has saved my ass on a number of occasions. For example, at the last two doctor’s appointments I’ve had, the doctor has been over an hour late. That’s just how it goes. There’s no point in being angry or frustrated about it. However, if I’ve scheduled appointments back-to-back, I’m going to be stressing about being late, and I’ll rush through my appointment. I know that when meeting the doctor, I have to be fully present to take part in my treatment. I need to have the time to ask the right questions and remember the answers. It’s not always easy to find this amount of time, and I’ve had to make sacrifices at work to make sure I have this padding. However, I’ve found that the reduction of time-related stress has been invaluable in the treatment process.

4. Allow yourself to debrief and, if necessary, grieve. There’s a lot of information to take in at appointments. Sometimes you get good news, sometimes you get bad news, and sometimes you’re left with more questions than answers. Whatever the case, I find debriefing very helpful. Sometimes I text my family/friends after my appointment. Sometimes I don’t want to talk to anyone and instead get a coffee by myself. Sometimes I go to back to work. Sometimes I spend an hour wondering how I can have a “pseudo” syndrome.

Sometimes, treatment can be as much of a process as having the illness itself. However, with enough practice, discretion, and luck, it eventually becomes an inconvenient habit.

Dressing for Weight Fluctuations

Dressing for Weight FluctuationsDressing for weight gain and loss is hard. Maybe you’re in treatment for an eating disorder. Maybe you’ve gained weight after taking medication. Maybe your appetite has decreased and you’ve lost weight. There are a million reasons why sudden weight change might occur.

Unfortunately, I’ve been there. When I first was put on medication, I gained 60 lbs in about a year. I stayed stable until I was put on Clozaril for a few months and gained 10lbs. I ended up stopping the Clozaril and lost that 10 lbs. When I started severely limiting my caloric intake, I lost 20 lbs, only to gain 30 for an unknown medical reason. A few weeks ago, I was put on a new medication and have gained a few lbs since then.

Sometimes, it’s not a slow and small weight gain, and a lot is affected from such a drastic change. Your self esteem, your self worth, and your wardrobe become foreign, slow to adapt to a new situation.

Or, let’s say you feel confident about yourself and your weight. No matter what, your closet is due for an overhaul. Easiest way to handle it? Sweatpants and huge t-shirts. While those might work at home, they become less appropriate and more depressing at work or running errands.

Women

Dresses can be your best friend. Sundresses, wrap dresses, and cowl dresses work really well. The key is embracing fabrics like jersey, spandex blends, etc. You can pair them with stretchy leggings, and it’s appropriate for any season or situation. In a relaxed setting, oversized tunics and leggings work well. Tunics look big, but they are made to look big as opposed to buying a larger size of an item that is meant to be fitted. I can’t tell you the last time I actually wore real pants.

As depressing as this thought may be, maternity clothes also work well. Many of them don’t look like maternity clothes at all, yet they’ll still accommodate some weight gain. In addition, since they’re also designed to be worn postpartum, they also look good with weight loss. Yes, this sounds embarrassing as all hell, but you know what? The only one who has to know is you. I have a few camisoles from Target that I wear when I’m in a rough patch and have to double up on some Seroquel, and not one person has noticed that it’s maternity clothing. I do draw the line at nursing bras, though.

The idea of camisoles leads me to my next tip: layering! Layering allows you to adjust clothing to cover up exposed skin that happens when your weight changes. For example, it took me an embarrassingly long time (and one mortifying suggestion from a teacher) to figure out that there was a gap between my jeans and my t-shirt, especially when I sat down. Plumbers, you can sympathize with me here. Tanks and camisoles usually come longer and stretch, moving and growing with you. Similarly, they also allow you to wear your larger shirts for longer by hugging your midsection. Finally, they are usually cheaper than other clothing, so you can stock up.

The strangest suggestion I have? Wear scrubs. I know it sounds nuts, but think about it: they are stretchy, comfortable, come in a million sizes, cheap, and no one is going to judge you. There’s no rule that says you can’t wear scrubs unless you’re a medical professional, and unless you happen to be in a medical setting, no one’s going to rely on you for medical advice. These obviously aren’t for formal occasions, but they’re perfect to wear while running errands.

Men

I don’t have much experience in this area, so I’ll refer you to a great Art of Manliness article.

Everyone

In terms of clothing, stick with basic, foundational items in neutral colors. They don’t have to be expensive, and you can get a bunch of uses out of them. In addition, shopping doesn’t have to be a nightmare scenario. You can buy online and try them on at home, or you can go to a store with which you’re comfortable.

One coping mechanism I use is to concentrate on finding nice accessories, things that can stay with me regardless of my weight. I like to pick out nice shoes, scarves, watches, etc rather than become upset about my actual clothing. A cute purse is a cute purse regardless of how much I weigh at the time. And, when I slip my feet into my nice shoes, I remember that I can enjoy how I look despite how I might feel.

Expect the Uncollected

At least I’m not this bad! From the movie “Everything is Illuminated”

In my heart, I’m a collector. Knowledge, stuff, images, music, memories, quotations, etc. Anything that elicits a feeling from me, I want to keep. It’s not necessarily hoarding (I know it’s not logical, and I’m able to limit it. It also doesn’t affect my life in a drastic way. In addition, it’s related to my OCD diagnosis, which goes against the diagnostic criteria of compulsive hoarding).

You may feel this way, too. Maybe it’s depression or shopping addiction or a manic episode. But no matter what the reason is, over-shopping and storing creates a number of challenges.

The first is space. For example, I live in a house, but it’s very small. One floor with three small bedrooms, 1¾ baths, living room, tiny kitchen, a basement that loves to flood, and a tight garage. Storage space is very limited. I inherited the house from my grandfather when he died, and many of his things are still there. That, plus my stuff, plus my boyfriend’s things, plus the million cat toys we have, equals a lot of needed space. It’s a wonderful home and I’m lucky to live here, but physically, there just isn’t enough room to house a bunch of stuff. In addition, even if I do push it to the brink of what it can hold, it looks crowded, distracting, and overwhelming.

And, once something gets into my house, it rarely ever leaves. What if I need it again? What if it’s one-of-kind? What if I forget every memory attached to it? My boyfriend would be more than happy to attest to my constant pleas to keep him from throwing stuff out. I once told him that I couldn’t recycle all my empty spaghetti sauce jars because they contained my hopes and dreams.

And then there’s the cost. Shockingly, it gets quite expensive to keep buying crap. Even if they are small charges, it adds up. And spending money on more things means I can’t spend money on better things.

And don’t forget that you have to keep all of this stuff clean! Dust, silverfish, etc are all symptoms of clutter.

So, what can you do? You want to buy things, it’s fun, sometimes you do need to hang onto things you don’t always use…  Not everyone can be Bea Johnson (you can read the People article or check out her blog). Don’t get me wrong- I think it’s cool what she’s doing- I just know I can’t accomplish anything close to that. I don’t have the self-confidence to bring glass jars to the deli for meat. I don’t think it’s fair to refuse to take packaging from stores as a “statement” and force them to throw it out. I have a job and can’t dedicate the amount of time it takes to pull something like that off. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work at cutting down on spending, collecting, and waste.

My favorite tips:

1. Pictures

Almost everyone has a camera phone these days. Even if you don’t, cameras are so cheap and small that it’s fairly easy to find one. Pictures can be a great way to cut back on spending. For example, let’s say you encounter a great sweater. It fits, it’s made of great fabric, whatever. But you’re not sure if it’ll match the rest of your wardrobe. Maybe you can find it cheaper on Amazon. What if you don’t need a sweater this year, but might need one next year?

Well, take a picture of it. Take one of the item and then a close-up of the tag. This way, you don’t have to buy it immediately. You can go back and grab it if you want to, you can go online, or even save the picture and find something similar a few years down the road. I like to organize my photos on Pinterest, but even folders on your computer will work. This way, you don’t have to buy anything, but you can remember what you saw.

Another way to use photos is to take a picture of something to which you’re attached before you donate it or throw it away. For example, I got a paper jewelry making machine when I was very young. Of course, when I tried to throw it out over a decade later, I was sad. I didn’t want to just throw these memories away. But I also didn’t want to save a broken 1990’s-era plastic knick-knack covered in glue. So I took a picture of it and then threw it away. Now, I can go back and look at the picture to get the memory rather than have junk cluttering my space.

2. I never set hard price limitations on things I have to buy

Before I did this, I found that I would buy things I didn’t really like simply because it was in my price range. After a while, my space was filled with things that I didn’t even really want or like but had spent money on. Sometimes there was a skirt on sale that looked okay, but didn’t fit me quite right. Instead, I got rid of budgets and instead pick things based on if I need them and like them.

3. Forget about deals

I work in the marketing department of a technology company. Someone I used to work with was in charge of ordering the little tchotchkes that people hand out at tradeshows. Now, when you order custom items in bulk, they have a different price system. The price is calculated on a cost-per-piece basis. It costs a vendor a certain amount of money to set up the dyes, the stenciling, or anything else that it takes to put your mark on a certain product. If you only order a few items, it’s going to be a larger cost per item because that he doesn’t change. However, if you order a lot of them, the price per piece would go down because it doesn’t cost that much more to keep the process going once established. And so, my coworker wanted to buy more pieces because she said it was a bargain. And, it was a bargain… if she needed 500 pieces. If she only needed 10 pieces, it wasn’t a bargain because she spent more money in all and had to store all the extra stuff you. Sometimes, companies would offer her a great deal on a product that they were trying to get rid of. Well, if we needed this, it would be a great deal. However, it’s not a great deal when you don’t need it, and you might never need it. It’s this “good deal” mentality that really starts to burn a hole in your pocket. If you have a coupon for something, and the store brand is still cheaper, is it really that good of a deal to buy the item just because you have a coupon? If you only need one bag of chips, but you buy a kind you don’t like because you get two for $1, is that a good deal?

Now, I don’t have the time to spend on extreme couponing. I’m not good at it, and the amount of time it would take me would just not be worth it. So, I try to ignore deals and coupons altogether. Sometimes I try to capitalize on some deals for things I know I’m going to use, like facial soap. I stock up on that because I know I’ll use it in the near future. However, I don’t go out of my way to coupon, and I don’t buy things that I wouldn’t need or ordinarily use. I downloaded the Target Cartwheel app, and I’ll try to get CVS Extra Bucks. Other than that, it’s freedom, baby!

4. Reuse it in a different way

Do you have a piece of clothing that you love but is riddled with holes? Cut that sucker up and use it for dusting rags. You still get to use it, just in a different form. Or, if you’re talented at sewing, make it into patches or a quilt or some of these things. I, however, suck at crafts, so I go with the rag thing or use them as bedding for the cats.

 

5. Buy a digital copy

I love magazines, but I hate tossing them. Now, I try to buy digital copies of things like movies, magazines, books, musics, etc. That way, I can keep it forever, but I don’t have to store it.

6. Don’t shop when moody

I’ve had my problems with spending when manic. For example, a number of years ago I went to a Barnes & Noble bookstore and spent over $200 on calligraphy pens because I was convinced I was going to immediately take up calligraphy. Did I do any writing at all? No. I promptly lost almost everything. I tried to shop for groceries the other day when I psychotic. And I ended up spending $40 on gourmet cheeses and a few crackers. It was not a very good dinner.

If you’re not feeling well, try bringing only cash or gift cards with you to places. It’s impossible to spend more than you need to. Also, try to avoid going to places that offer good deals on store credit cards so you don’t open a new one. Or, have a friend go with you or shop for you.

My favorite line from a tattoo removal ad: "A pegasus hatching from an egg? What was I thinking?!"

My favorite line from a tattoo removal ad:
“A pegasus hatching from an egg? What was I thinking?!”

7. Wait or try before you buy.

Anyone who has gotten a drunken tattoo can tell you that waiting to make decisions can make all the difference. A few years ago, I really wanted to learn how to play an instrument. My cousin was moving, and she was kind enough to let me borrow it for a few months. I played it for about a week before I got too distracted. It’s hard to know exactly what you’ll like before you try it out, and the last thing you need is to spend money on clutter. To combat this, try before you buy. See if you can borrow an expensive item before you get your own. Or, buy a sample size before you grab the whole thing. You can really get creative with it!

  • Wait a week or two before you make a change or spend a large sum of money
  • Volunteer at a pet shelter before you adopt a pet
  • Ask for a small sample of expensive hair or beauty products
  • Buy a trial or travel size
  • Email a company to see if they have any promotions
  • Leave the tags on your clothes for a few days after you buy them in case you want to return them