The Purge, The Splurge, and Back Again

I love attending yard sales.

Our town has a yearly community yard sale and it’s fun to spend the day strolling around town looking at the items. Nearby towns have community sales on other days and we often try to make it to those, too.

Having done this for several years, I can’t help but notice that some families have sales virtually every year. They have piles of fresh stuff out there, from clothing (I understand children’s clothing, but there are often adult items, too) to small appliances, from piles of DVDs to various home furnishings.

Now, some of these families might actually be selling stuff for others, but some of them are engaged in what I like to call “the purge and splurge.”

The “purge and splurge” happens when you sell half of the stuff in your living room just so you can fill it up again with different stuff.

The “purge and splurge” happens when you empty out your bookshelves just to fill them up again in a year or two.

The “purge and splurge” happens when you work to make your closet manageable again, only to see it fill to the brim with clothes in the next several months.

The “purge and splurge” happens when you clean out your garage, only to find it filled with “stuff” before too much longer.

Often, it becomes a cycle. You “purge” by clearing out and selling off a lot of things, then you slowly – or quickly – acquire more stuff to fill up the space, then you purge again.

Don’t get me wrong – purging, by itself, is a good personal finance tactic. It’s a great way to jump start savings, get an emergency fund going, or start off a debt repayment plan.

The problem comes in when it’s part of a cycle with “splurging.” If you end up simply buying more stuff to fill up the space you emptied, then purging isn’t really helping your financial situation.

There are two real keys to defeating the “purge and splurge” cycle.

First, be content with open space. Your closets don’t have to be full. Nor do your bookshelves. Nor does your garage. Nor does every inch of your living room. Simply having room for something is not a reason to acquire it. Empty space doesn’t mean that something is missing.

Buy things only if they have an actual purpose. Are you actually going to read this book or watch this movie multiple times? Are you actually going to use these tools or garage items lots of times? Are you actually going to wear this clothing item lots of times? Is this a home decor item that you’ll be happy to have in your home for several years? Focus on items that will last and that you’ll use over and over again. If it doesn’t meet that criteria, don’t buy it.

Second, if you have lots of open space that you never fill, you’re probably ready to downgrade the size of your living quarters. It’s expensive to maintain a home that’s just filled with open space that you never use. Rather than seeking to fill that space with stuff you’ll scarcely use, look at living in a smaller space. That smaller space will have lower expenses and the only difference will be less empty space (that you’re not using anyway).

Purge. But don’t splurge. And definitely don’t make it into a cycle.