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Do You Buy Things and Never Use Them?

The following is a guest post written by FMF of Free Money Finance, a blog devoted to helping readers grow their net worth. FMF posts daily on a wide range of money issues including saving money, making money, and making the most of your investments.
Every summer, my wife and I set a main task to clean the house from top to bottom. While cleaning two years ago, I stumbled upon a disturbing development — we had several items that we had purchased a year or more earlier and had not yet used. Many were still in their original packaging. Why did I purchase these things? And is there a way to identify things that you’ll never use so you don’t buy them in the first place?
Here’s a partial list of what I found:

  • Fire extinguisher — Thank God it’s not been used, but it wasn’t even out of the original box either — and it was hidden on a closet shelf.
  • Clothing — Several pieces including a golf shirt I found on the bargain rack that I just “had” to have.
  • Books — Don’t get me started here. I’m a recovering buy-a-book-but-don’t-read-it-aholic.
  • Cycling pants — One pair was used, but I didn’t like them, so the other two were unworn.
  • Portable fan — I got it after a few hot waits on airplanes. Soon after, I stopped traveling as much and when I did I didn’t want to carry extra weight.
  • Humidifier — Got this because the old one was “broken.” I must have been mistaken because the old one was used at least another year.
  • Wire cutter — I meant to use it, but then found another one I already had that did a better job. Didn’t get around to returning the new one.
  • Miscellaneous — File these under “great deals at Costco that I couldn’t pass up.”

And this was just my stuff. Who knows what my wife found? I was afraid to ask.
This treasure trove made me ask why I had so much stuff that I’d never used/opened. I’m not sure there’s one answer, but I think the following are the main reasons:

  • I mistakenly thought I needed it.
  • I wanted it but really didn’t need it.
  • It was a good deal I couldn’t pass up.

After considering these causes of my over-spending, I pledged not to make the same mistakes the next year. I’d like to report that I was completely successful at this attempt, but I wasn’t. However, the next year I did find significantly fewer items that I had purchased but never used. And I’m hopeful that this year I won’t find any new non-used items.
So let me end with two tips and a question.
Tip #1: The easiest thing to do is ignore this. And that works for a few years. But if you’re wondering why you can’t seem to save enough, or invest enough, or even have enough to go on vacation…maybe this is one place to start. And by cutting down on the unwanted things you have now, you’ll set a precedent for not buying things later (because you know you’ll have to sort through them once a year).
Tip #2: To identify items you might own but have never used, I suggest you go to the main places in your home where “stuff” accumulates (in ours it’s the bookshelves, closets, and pantry) and do both a spring and fall cleaning of these areas. Not only will you probably identify some new/unused items that you never knew you had, but you’ll probably rediscover several items you’ve misplaced. Clear out items by either tossing them, storing them in an appropriate place, or donating them to charity. After the first few clean-ups, the task will be much easier and you’ll feel better knowing your life is less cluttered.
Tip #3: If you’re a chronic buyer of items you never use, ask yourself if you need an item before you purchase it. Be sure you do before every purchase. And even then, place the receipt in a folder that you review every month or so. If a couple months go by and you haven’t used an item, pull out the receipt and return the item for a full refund.
The question: Am I the only crazy person that does this or are there others out there who also mysteriously buy items that they don’t ever use?

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