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

Reader Mode

Reader mode is the best idea web developers/designers have ever had. Ok, that’s definitely an exaggeration (this is the real “best idea”), but it’s up there.

I’m easily distracted, and I often have a hard time concentrating on text when there’s so much around me. I look at the spacing, the stock art, the ads, the related content… anything but what I’m supposed to read. While this is a valuable asset in my job (web design), it makes it very difficult to glean any of the important written information.

Enter reader mode. Reader mode is a setting on most web browsers that filters out unrelated pictures, ads, and extraneous information on web pages, leaving only the words on a white background. It cleans up the text so you can concentrate on what really matters.

To enter reader mode:

Firefox for Android

Safari on iOS

Chrome plugin

Safari on Mac


One of these has got to fit mine, right?

When you buy an item that requires a replacement part, take a picture of what the replacement part looks like. That way, when you get to the store, you’ll always know the part you need.

Sample items this works for:
Air/Water filters
Light bulbs
Electric toothbrush heads
Wiper blades
Batteries (for watches, scales, etc)
Vacuum bags
Printer ink
Cords, wires, chargers
Air freshened cartridges
Items in a matching set (flatware, dishes, etc)
Hardware (screws, nails, etc)

Chronic Illness and Work

Today, I read an article on Let’s Feel Better about managing chronic illness and your career. She approaches the topic from a physical illness, but the same concepts can be applied to mental illness as well. Her rules?

  1. Nobody Has to Know Your Business Unless You Tell Them
  2. You Don’t Have the Luxury, Deal With It
  3. Do Something You’re Good At and Something You Like
  4. Accommodate Yo’ Self
  5. Plan for Shit to Go Down

Check out the article: Five Basic Rules for Dealing with Chronic Illness and Your Career

Tune It Out

If you work in an office building (or if you’re in school), invest in a good set of headphones or ear plugs. This is critical if you easily get distracted. You can also ask coworkers to email you rather than drop by your work space. This way, you can address issues on your own time rather than being interrupted and find yourself unable to return to your previous task. You also have a written record of the conversation in case you need to consult it later. If you’re at school, you might be able to ask for this accommodation.


Now that I’m feeling better, I use the MyNetDiary service to monitor what I eat. This is a great service for tracking a number of different items. Not only can you track your food, but you can also record medication usage, blood glucose levels, symptoms, vitamins, weight, macronutrients, micronutrients, and more. It can be daunting at first, so I don’t recommend it if you’re already feeling overwhelmed. However, if you have the opportunity, it can be a great resource for tracking your food intake and monitoring how you feel at various points during the day. It also syncs with Fitbit in case you use that, too.

Morning Forgetfulness

Even if you have a morning routine, sometimes it’s easy to forget things you need before you leave your house, especially if you don’t need them every day. If this happens to you, try hanging a reusable shopping bag (the plastic shopping bags tend to break) on the handle of your door. Anytime you’re at home and think of something you’ll need the next day, throw it in the bag. Then, every day, check the bag before you leave.

QR Codes

Create QR codes to function as reminders. I use the service scan.me. You can print the QR codes on address labels and stick them on related items. For example, you can link the QR code an object’s user manual and then stick the QR code on that item. When you scan the code, the usual manual will appear on your phone. You can also use these for chore lists. You can embed the directions on how to clean something in the code, and then scan it when you need the list. What’s the benefit of using QR codes as opposed to tape and paper? Once you scan the code, the information remains on your phone until you delete it. This means you can carry the phone with you while you complete tasks. And, since the codes are always with their related items, you always have the information on-hand. Plus, it’s more fun this way.

Siri Dictation

I use Siri dictation tools all the time. If I need to remember something, I just ask Siri to remind me of what I need to do. You can even tailor the reminder to locations and times. For example, I can say, “Remind me to empty the dishwasher when I get home.” When I arrived at the location I’ve defined as “home,” a notice will appear on my phone. I also like to use the dictation feature to compose texts and notes to myself.

Under-Eye Baggage

I organize all my bags’ contents in mix-and-match pouches. For example, all of my beauty products (such as hand sanitizer, concealer, moisturizer) go in one pouch. It helps me keep everything clean and then if I want anything I can just reach for that pouch rather than fishing through my entire bag. I use a soft leather pencil case by Co Lab, but anything will do. You can grab a bunch of pencil cases after the back-to-school sales.