Making Space for Savings

 Posted by on September 21, 2010  Add comments  Tagged with: ,
Sep 212010

My apologies for the lack of posts recently. My strapping young son has made it his mission to get into every possible cabinet, drawer, corner, and cubby, so I spend nearly all of my time chasing him about, snatching shoes, and cat toys, and the occasional piece of wedding china from his hands, and saying, “No, no, honey,” and “Daniel James! Mama said NO!” and “NOOOOOOOOOO! For the love of PETE!” and trying not to burst into tears.

When he’s not emptying drawers, and wastebaskets, and scattering our belongings all over the floor, he’s busy trying to fling himself down the basement stairs, or attempting to ingest a toxic substance. It’s been a bit stressful, as you can imagine.

So. Moving on….

A reader asks,

“Can you write more about your method of “organized packrattery.” How do you store all the extra stuff that you buy? I’d like to buy in bulk when I find sales, but I don’t have a lot of storage space.”

This reader refers to my practice of buying low-priced goods in bulk, and saving things for future use, strategies that I believe are an essential part of the successful frugal life. The actively frugal person plans ahead, and anticipates future needs, to avoid making a last minute trip to the store to pay full price for some necessary item.

Organized packrattery is, in some ways, easier for us than it may be for you, because even though we live in a small house with little storage, we also have an attached garage, and two large buildings on our property. My husband uses one as his workshop, and he’s fortunate that it has built-in workbenches, with drawers below, along one entire wall. There are also built-in shelves on another wall, a bolt cabinet for storing and organizing various nails, screws, bolts, and fasteners, and a storage loft above. The second building is nearly empty, save for our lawn and garden equipment, so we can easily store larger items as we find them, such as the $20 bed for DJ.

Unfortunately, these buildings are not temperature or humidity-controlled, so while they’re great for storing tools, garden equipment, furniture, and the like, they aren’t a viable option for the storage of bulk food or clothing. My laundry room is really the only storage room in the house, so I must be very careful about what I purchase. If space is a limited and precious resource for you as well, here are some strategies that may be useful:

1. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need. This should always be your first strategy when trying to free up storage space. If it’s difficult for you to make decisions about what to keep, and what to part with, consider what your space is worth. Would you be willing to rent out your closet for $50/month? Because you could potentially save that much by buying cheap groceries in bulk, or stockpiling yard sale kids’ clothing, or buying gifts on clearance. If your closet is filled with stuff you no longer need or want, I would argue that keeping that stuff is costing you money.

2. Don’t overbuy! I can’t stress this enough. Overbuying, and lack of organization, are major contributing factors to household clutter. My husband, a real estate appraiser, sees houses drowning in clutter every day, and I believe that this problem is becoming an epidemic (for lots of reasons which I won’t go into right now, because that’s a whole other post). Sure, bargain hunting is really fun, but buying more than you need, especially if you lack the ability to establish organizational systems, is misguided frugality. It’s not a “bargain” if you can’t remember or find what you have, and your money would be better put toward college savings, your mortgage, retirement planning, or an emergency fund.

3. Share ownership. Items that aren’t used often can be shared by two or more families. For example, we have a 1 1/2-acre lawn, and the first summer we lived here, we called a landscaping company to spray for weeds. The cost, for one treatment? $200! We decided that we needed to purchase a garden sprayer, which could be pulled behind our riding lawnmower. My Dad wanted one also, and since each of us would only use it two or three times each year, we decided to share it. We each paid half the cost, and we trade it back and forth as we need it.

4. Be creative when thinking about space. My ingenious husband stapled twine across the wall studs in the laundry room, and it’s a perfect place to store garage sale-purchased rolls of gift wrap.

I would never have thought to use this space for anything, but it’s a great solution, and I didn’t need to spend money on one of those gift wrap organizer thingies.

I’ve also taken advantage of this space between the furnace and the wall, to store hand-me-downs and garage sale-purchased clothing for my kids to grow into (see The Clothing Filing System).

5. Hang as much stuff as possible. In our garage, we hang bikes, rakes, snow shovels, sleds, jump ropes, even crutches (because with my husband’s history of knee problems, we’ll probably need them again). I hang my mop, Swiffer, broom, and dustpan on the basement stairway, out of sight, and I hang the kids’ lunch bags, library bags, and reusable grocery bags on nails inside the utility closet. Another great example is this series of hooks, which my husband installed on the laundry room wall, so that I could hang gift bags (recycled, of course. I haven’t purchased any in more than 6 years):

The space beneath stairs is also great for storage. We pounded nails into the backs of our basement stairs, to hang Easter baskets and other holiday decorations, and we keep ornament boxes, clearance-purchased gifts, and our luggage on the floor below.

6. Keep careful inventory, and set limits. When deciding how much to buy (or how much to keep), consider three things:

a) Is the item readily available? For example, why keep a box of old newspapers to use as packing materials, if you receive a free newspaper every week, and your neighbor would be happy to give you his? (This is a recent example from my own life).

b) How much can you use before it expires? This is especially important to consider when bulk-buying food. Don’t buy 20 jars of clearanced peanut butter in December if it expires the following August, and you only use one jar each month.

c) Does it go on sale regularly? In my area, bone-in chicken breasts go on sale for 99 cents/pound about every three to four months, so I know to buy only 20 pounds at a time, because that’s approximately how much we’ll use before it goes on sale again (this is where the practices of keeping a price book, and tracking price trends prove very useful).

7. Barter for storage space. My Dad needs a place to store his car trailer, and we need babysitting services. Because my parents provide so much free childcare, we happily store the trailer in our back storage building as a show of appreciation. If you have a valuable service to offer, I’m guessing that many other people would be open to a similar arrangement. It never hurts to ask.

8. Store stuff in non-traditional places. Food doesn’t have to be stored in the kitchen. In the past, I’ve had a 5-gallon bucket of rice in my hall closet, several flats of super-cheap, canned soup under our bed, and a case of mandarin oranges in my bedroom closet. My laundry room pantry shelves are a perfect example of non-traditional storage:

When considering food storage, most people don’t think “laundry room,” but with the addition of heavy-duty shelves, and a dehumidifier, it works.

We’re a family of 5 living in a 1400-square-foot house. For us, as for many people, saving space means saving money. I think it’s worth the extra effort to carve out storage space in order to accomodate a little organized packrattery…with emphasis on organized. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. It sounds counterintuitive, but it really is true.