The Decluttering Mindset: The FIFO Approach to Household Projects

I don’t know about you, but we frequently have a stack of Amazon boxes on the table near the front door, because parts were ordered for some project we haven’t tackled yet.  So, these parts sit there in their boxes, awaiting the day that we get around to that particular project.

Last week, I wrote about how decluttering is a mindset problem, not a too-much-stuff problem.  This time, I want to tackle an area that causes a lot of clutter in our home and possibly in yours, too – household projects.

Whether it’s fixing an appliance, updating old bathroom fixtures, hanging new shelves…these types of projects can bring an unbelievable amount of clutter into our house.  And it’s not just interior projects; things like updating the garden in the Spring or changing the car’s oil can also contribute to the clutter.  But it can also be things like a child’s science project, crafts you’re making for Easter, or similar.  Really, I’m talking about any supplies you’re purchasing to use in some sort of project.

First, What is FIFO?

Probably, this one would only make sense to a fellow MBA graduate.  In manufacturing operations, you see, there’s a concept called FIFO, which means first in, first out.  Basically, it’s the idea that when you buy parts for a car, for example, you use the first parts you bought first,  Then, you use the next set of parts you bought.  We see this concept everywhere – have you ever been at the grocery store when they’re refilling the milk shelf?  They’re putting the newest gallons of milk behind the older gallons, so that customers buy the older milk first.  It only makes sense – otherwise, the older milk would go bad while the newer milk got sold first.

How Does This Apply at Home?

I think we should have the same approach to our household belongings.  Simply put, if you purchased something yesterday, deal with it, use it, or organize/store it before things you bought today.  Or, ideally, before you buy anything else at all.

When we don’t follow the FIFO principle, we frequently regret it.

Buying Too Far Ahead

At any given time, most of us have several to-do list projects laying around, right?  Maybe you need to replace the lightbulb in your car’s dome light, fix the broken handle on the toilet, and do an oil change on your truck.

For many of us, it would make sense to go out, buy the lightbulb, the replacement toilet handle, and the oil filter and oil all at once, then start going through your list.  But what typically happens?  Maybe you get the lightbulb replaced, then you start on the toilet handle before your wife gets home and you have to stop to make dinner.  Then, it’s bedtime and tomorrow has its own list of projects and appointments.  By the time you get back to finishing up toilet handle, it’s been a month, and you finish the handle and move on to the oil change.

Oops…you bought the wrong oil filter!  Darn…and now you’re past the 14-day return window, so you can’t take it back.  So, you run out again to buy the right oil filter, and while you’re out you also buy the supplies for the next five projects on your list…

Hmm.  Do you see the problem?  In addition to being past the return window for parts you discover aren’t right or won’t work, you’ve probably forgotten where you put the oil because it just got tossed in the garage somewhere until you needed it.  Or, maybe you’re like us and you left the toilet handle in the back of your car…where it got mangled, and then stepped on by a dog, and by the time you went to use it…it was useless.

No matter how you look at it, it’s all clutter!  And it’s a result of not following the FIFO principle.  You see, FIFO also says that you wouldn’t buy more than you need in a reasonable period of time, because prices could change, supplies could go bad, and it wouldn’t make sense to have a big enough warehouse to store things for too long.

So, while I know it’s tempting to just buy everything you need for the next ten projects on your list…think about buying just for the next two.  That way, you can get things rolling in and out quickly, without having to worry about storing them, being unable to return them, or losing them.  Heck, if you’re really good at this, you’ll get to the point that you don’t even need to put things away because you buy them right when you need them for a particular project.  See? Storage needs go way down when you buy this way.

FIFO and Motivation

Approaching your projects this way also helps keep you motivated.  Most of us, when we have a few things to tackle, will be happy to get them done and off the list so we can move on to something more fun.

But for many of us, adulting (I still haven’t really decided if that’s a word or not) means a constant list of projects and repairs to be done.  In fact, our motivation often fades because there’s always another project…so what’s the motivation to get it done?  By planning ahead and buying for only the next one or two projects, you can help avoid feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to get done.  As the saying goes…don’t borrow worry from tomorrow.  Just deal with today’s challenges.

What Now?

Now, it’s time to clear the decks.  Pull out all those parts and pieces for projects you haven’t done yet, and either use it, return it, or donate it!  Then, going forward, buy only for the next two projects to keep the decks clear and clutter-free.  This way, you keep your home working like a well-oiled machine, with supplies coming in at just the right time for the project.

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