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You walk into your favorite store — or hit your favorite store’s website — because you got an email or ran across an ad that promised that glorious word: Sale. If you’re like me, you dig into the bargain rack or the Clearance page like a starving man hits a buffet. And it feels good. But why? And how do we make sure we’re getting things we really want and need?


We all know that feeling.

You walk into your favorite store — or hit your favorite store’s website — because you got an email or ran across an ad that promised that glorious word: Sale. If you’re like me, you dig into the bargain rack or the Clearance page like a starving man hits a buffet. And it feels good.

At a certain point, however, sales shopping turns counterproductive. It’s not too hard to get caught up in the moment and find yourself with a bunch of clothes (or shoes,or appliances, or gadgets) that end up in boxes at your storage unit, taking up room that could be dedicated to more important items.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I preach the value of using self storage as a rotating space for seasonal items — and it’s hard to roll away that grill in the winter when you’re eating up space with that barely-used big-screen TV.

Before starting that sales floor-to-storage facility cycle yet again, let’s look at some of the reasons why we shop — and how we can streamline our storage space slimmer while fattening our wallets.

Sales shopping: Why do we buy?

Gigi Miller, owner of Vision Organizing, LLC in Atlanta, Ga., and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, recently told me that many of her clients regularly shop sales and frequent discount stores. She’s noticed that — in a high percentage of these cases — their clearance finds turn quickly into clutter.

Why? There are a combination of factors at play.

1. Giving into the temptation because of the discount. Would you normally buy it? Maybe. Is it the highest quality? Possibly. Do you really even want it? In the moment — because of the price — yes.

This is a great way to end up with a storage space filled with so-so stuff.

“Oddly enough we rely on the price charged for merchandise to understand its value,” writes Dr. Kit Yarrow. “Most people don’t understand why one pair of shoes is $80 and another $400. So we rely on the price as a measure of quality and style. That explains why those $400 shoes that are now $150 seem like a much better purchase than an $80 full-priced pair that we might use more often.”

2. Allowing a discount to trump reality. It’s a little big. You can take it in! It’s not the right color. I’ll learn to love it! You don’t dress that way. Maybe I should! In the heat of the sales moment, you can talk yourself into anything — but sooner, rather than later, reality will kick in.

“You wear 20 percent of your closet 80 percent of the time,” Miller told me. “I love a good sale as much as the next person. But you’ve got to ask yourself: does it fit well? How do I feel when I’m wearing this? Does it make me feel good? Is it going to make that 20 percent in my closet?”

3. The discount rush gets the best of us. Shopping sales for clothes, home décor, and other consumer items is an emotional experience, Miller noted. Think about riding a roller coaster or cashing in at the slot machine — finding great sales can actually release chemicals in our brains that, in the moment,feel  great.

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“Individuals will get some kind of high from a behavior like shopping,” Ruth Engs, a professor of applied health science at Indiana University, notes in a post at “Meaning that endorphins and dopamine, naturally occurring receptor sites in the brain, get switched on, and the person feels good, and if it feels good they are more likely to do it — it’s reinforced.”

Moderation is the key to sales shopping

Can you treat yourself from time to time? Certainly, Miller says. However, she adds, moderation is key. Having a strategy before you hit the sales is even better.

“I tell my clients that going to the mall without a plan is like going to the grocery store without a list,” Miller said. “You should never go shopping for anything without a list. Figure out if you’re looking for a black suit, a white shirt to go with that black suit, a pair of pumps for work. Have a plan. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of great finds that will just become clutter, back home.”

Be an empowered shopper — don’t get sucked in by opportunity, Miller noted. She said that many of her clients tell her they can’t walk into Target and go straight for their intended purchase, but wander through other sections on the way, picking up “just one little thing.”

“That one great thing turns into a hundred good things, if you give into your impulses every time,” Miller said. “It’s fine to shop the sales or to go to big discount stores, but you’ve got to have a plan. Do you have storage for that stuff? Do you know what you’re going to do with it?

“A cluttered closet,” Miller concluded, “is the same as a cluttered schedule. Both are all filled up with things we don’t need in our lives.”

Header photo by Flickr / Klearchos Kapoutsis
Body photo by Flickr / retinafunk


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