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My guest today is Perri Kersh, one of my colleagues in the North Carolina Chapter of NAPO. In 2006, Perri and her family took a six-month break from buying non-essentials, and I’ve asked her to tell us about the experience. There are some great life lessons here if you, or someone you know, is a compulsive shopper. Please note, Perri is not a compulsive shopper.

Maybe it was my natural tendency towards thriftiness, or just the call of my inner neat-freak, or perhaps it was an Al Gore-induced moment of green-guilt. Most likely it was a combination of all of the above that inspired me, a little over 4 years ago, to put my family on a self-imposed shopping strike. In July of 2006, way before the economic meltdown, we decided (and by we, I mostly mean me) to take a six month break from buying new stuff. Naturally, there were exceptions such as food, replacing necessary items that no longer worked, and school supplies for the kids, but otherwise, we decided to step off the consumer train for a while and see how it felt to stop buying anything new.

With the perspective of the last few years of economic misery for so many, this experiment seems a little silly. Especially to those who have had to live this way out of necessity rather than choice. For our family at the time, it was really an opportunity for us to dig deep inside and try to find a feeling of satisfaction with all that we have, rather than thinking we need more. Interestingly, I think we’ve all learned this lesson the hard way the last two or three years.

I wrote a blog about the experience entitled “Enough is Enough,” because hey, it was 2006 – all the cool kids were blogging. I also thought this would keep me honest and help me explore the feelings or events that tempted me to buy. Four years have passed and I occasionally go back and revisit the blog to remind myself of our motivations at the time and keep my desires for “shiny and new” in check. If you’re interested in reading more about our experience, you can find it here: http://neatfreak.wordpress.com (just be sure to start at the beginning – it’s a rather unsophisticated blog and I wasn’t so hot at tagging topics at the time).

In 2010, I often wonder what we took away from this experience. My children don’t remember much about it – they were 5 and 2 at the time. But my husband and I do discuss how that six month break shaped many of our purchasing decisions and our overall attitude towards something we call “enough-ness” today. We still try to ask the following questions whenever we find ourselves out with an opportunity to buy:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Where was it made and how did it get here?
  • Can I recycle the box or the packaging?
  • Would I buy this if it were NOT on sale?
  • Do I look fantastic in it?
  • Where am I going to put it once I take it home?

I’d love to say we always have the right answers to these questions prior to making a purchase…but we don’t. But we are more aware of our “God-I-really-want-that-item-right-now” triggers and when tempted to senselessly shop, we sometimes walk away and think about it for a week or two to make sure we’re not just being impulsive. I did finally lose the 10 pounds I whined about in my Enough is Enough blog so I allowed myself some new clothes (and I’m here to say…if you finally hit a weight goal for yourself, for the love of all things skinny, go get yourself some new clothes).

We saved a lot of money during our six month shopping moratorium. By our best guess, comparing our Visa bills from the six months to those from the same period of time in the two years prior, we saved close to $8000. This lesson alone is incredibly motivating! We’ve also managed to maintain our recycling efforts, we’re more mindful of purchasing items that will last longer and come with less packaging, and we still compost so the amount of waste we send to the dump is well below average.

Probably the most obvious difference is how we approach shopping, spending and consuming with our children. They’re now 6 and 9 years old and way more aware of money and things their friends have and they don’t (they will never forgive us for our lack of cable television). Our experiment in many ways shaped the way we structured their allowance and most of the time, they know not to ask for things unless it’s close to a birthday, Christmas, or if they save their allowance money to buy it themselves. Saving for a $20 item when you only get $1/week of spending money is a lesson in delayed gratification if I’ve ever seen one! And after 20 weeks I find they’ve often forgotten all about the toy for which they were saving.

I’ll freely admit I still have stuff-lust in my heart. But I am much more aware of the fact that even if I get it, it certainly won’t bring added joy to my life. I think our nation has a new and much needed attitude about consumerism given the economic times we live in. I talk to a lot of families who have cut back on stuff and are trying to spend more time together at home, playing games or watching old movies. And they’re just as happy as they were, if not happier. I don’t want to dismiss the real pain and suffering that some families are going through in this economy, but I’ve talked to so many people who are perhaps hungry for a different way of living. I’m all for consuming less, enjoying ourselves more, spending less time working to buy the stuff we are told we need, and hopefully, realizing that Enough really is Enough.

GT: What did you do before you started your organizing business?

PK: My mother will be quick to tell you I’ve been organizing my entire life. My imaginary friend at age 4 was a tie sorter named “Wrinkles.” Professionally, I worked as a Vice President of Marketing for an early childhood technology company until I had my second child and started Neat Freak.

GT: Name 3 of your energy vampires

PK: Negative people really steal my energy. I’m a glass half full gal and I tend to retreat from the glass half empties in the world.

I waste a lot of time on Facebook and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. For me, it’s what Facebook is mostly about.. enjoying random links, seeing a fun music video or hearing interesting details from people in my life.

Emptying the dishwasher. I know it’s small and silly, but I hate that chore more than most. I’m currently training my kids how to do it. I could do laundry all day long, but I despise emptying the dishwasher – it just makes me want to crawl back in bed in the morning.

GT: How many tasks are on your to-do list right now?

PK: Probably 10 biggies…but it’s always this way at the beginning of the school year. I’m a pencil and paper calendar fan so I’m constantly writing and re-writing my to-do’s.

GT: What’s in your purse right now?

PK: I buy one purse and carry it for years (I love the Highway bag because it has a pocket for everything, and everything in its pocket!) and it always contains the same items – I can tell you without looking: my Blackberry, my Nicole-Ritchie-gi-normous sunglasses, my business cards, a coin purse filled with my rewards cards (because Blackberry does NOT have an app for that), lipstick, my wallet, and my Vinnie’s tampon case.

GT: Finish this statement: Regardless of how hard I try, I can’t live without these 3 indulgences:

PK: A run in the woods with my running ladies.

A cold beer at 5:00 on Friday (unless I’m at the beach, and then I start a little earlier).

House porn in Dwell Magazine or on Houzz.com.

Organizing expert Perri Kersh began her career as a professional organizer and time management consultant in 1992. But, truth be told, she’s been organizing most of her life. Through various careers in counseling, marketing and consulting, she finally settled in to her passion and started Neat Freak in 2005.

As an organizing consultant, Perri works with families, individuals, small business owners and students to help them declutter their space and their lives so they can function at their very best. She is a frequent contributor to local and national publications, and is regularly asked to speak at professional and group events. In 2007 and 2008, Perri worked as a regular expert on the Fine Living Network’s show, “Time Makeover.”

Perri is a past board member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, North Carolina Chapter, and a member of NAPO. She holds a BA in Psychology and a MAEd in Counselor Education from Wake Forest University. When she’s not busy organizing for others, she frequently shovels up after her husband and two young children.

Learn more about Neat Freak Professional Organizing at www.neat-freak.com and follow Perri on Twitter.com/@theneatfreak.

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