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Do you really need an avocado slicer?

If your life seems crowded and your budget feels tight, take a look at the stuff you own. How much are you spending on items that rarely -- if ever -- get used?

By Donna_Freedman Jan 22, 2013 12:12PM

Unorganized items in garage (image100, SuperStock)Recently, an executive from GE sold her home and almost everything in it. In a post called "Wishing you a simpler New Year" on the LinkedIn networking site, Beth Comstock wrote that she'd started to think her possessions owned her.

It took more than a year to divest, based on a single, simple rule. "What was left had to be extraordinary or essential," says Comstock, the company's CMO.

A cynic would say that a high-level exec's decision to embrace voluntary simplicity would simply mean fewer things for the housekeeper to dust.

After all, a wealthy person has the option of simplifying -- and of re-buying all that stuff if it turns out she misses it. Someone with little money doesn't have many options: It's simplify or die.

I'd have said that myself if I hadn't recently seen an odd little implement in a relative's kitchen.

It looked like a miniature tennis racket with vertical-only strings. When I asked what the tool was for, she replied, "It's an avocado slicer."

This is not a rich woman. In fact, she's a single working mother. But her mom works in a high-end housewares store, where an employee discount, plus last-chance clearance prices equal a lot of high-end, at times perplexing gifts.

Specifically, I'm not sure this relative even eats avocados.

A friend whose marriage ended was sorting through all sorts of left-behind kitchen implements: garlic press, multiple graters, numerous knives, a wine bottle stopper. His ex-wife had no use for them, either. Yet they'd managed to acquire some pretty specialized doodads over the years. How did they get there? Were they used more than once or twice -- or ever?

What we need and what we don't

We've just come through the holidays, a time when a lot of offbeat gadgets are given as gifts. If you've always wanted a countertop grill or a cake-pop maker, wait a few months -- such items will wind up as real steals at thrift stores and yard sales.

As for other items given for holidays, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, keep this fun fact in mind: The self-storage industry generated more than $22 billion in revenue in 2011.

I'd be willing to bet that 2012 business was pretty good, too, thanks to our relentless need to acquire and our apparent inability to let go. Think of how much we've paid for stuff we can't  even see and for a place to keep it all.

I forced myself to divest of a lot of belongings before moving to Alaska last October. That wasn't easy. In a post called "What I learned from decluttering," I noted that getting rid of things such as old birthday cards and small gifts from friends initially felt like "a loss of self."

How have I managed without those things? Quite well, thanks. Once I got the hang of letting go I felt that there was a lot more room in my life as well as in my house. I simply have to remind myself that I don't have to own something in order to appreciate it.

I also don't need an avocado slicer. In fact, I'm wondering how many of us really do.

What have you bought/been given that you didn't use as much as you thought you would, or didn't use at all?

More on MSN Money:

Jan 23, 2013 10:02AM
Soon as property prices recover, I'm selling my house and getting rid of it and the $7000 property taxes.
Jan 22, 2013 1:53PM
I just stopped to think just how much stuff I really don't need, it is time to down size.
Jan 22, 2013 3:38PM
I recently purchased a new computer and was busy trying to get my programs moved over.  As I was going through the drawer, I found MANY discs that should be thrown away, such as the Windows 95 installation disc.  It's a pretty safe bet I will NEVER need that again.  I would guess 99% of the computer discs I've accumulated over the years won't even be compatible with Windows 8 and should be tossed, freeing up valuable drawer space.  (I won't even tell you about the box of floppy discs I still possess). But then I see the programs my kids used when they were little, and an instant tug pulls at my heartstrings.  It's so hard to get past the emotions.  How can I get rid of my son's Reader Rabbit discs that he spent so many hours playing as a child?  That is my struggle.  So I shut the drawer and tell myself I will make that decision later. Kitchen tools I never use would be much easier to part with, so maybe I will start there and enjoy the new-found space in those drawers! 
Jan 23, 2013 12:12PM
May I just add this is SO fitting for our life right now!  We moved a thousand miles in May, from Wyoming to the Phoenix area.  We've decided this isn't where we want to, we're getting ready-in 10 days-to do it again, in reverse!  We pared down a lot when we moved here, but that was nothing compared to what we're doing now.  Both times I have looked at an item, and wondered why in the world do I have this?  Some of these were my own doing, but others were gifts.  My new mantra to friends and family is "please, no more material goods".  Let's share-or make-memories, but no more stuff!  Donna, your posts are ALWAYS spot-on.
Jan 23, 2013 1:56PM

Clearing out the clutter is definitely one of the many ways to improve your quality of living.  Having more free space is better than less.  Whenever I come upon something that's been stashed away for years, I look at it and ask myself, "this has been here for X number of years and I never used it.  What are the chances that I'll use it in the next X years?".  My answer is almost always zero chance, so I do the only thing logical, I get rid of it.

Jan 25, 2013 8:41PM
I'm retiring in 5 months and moving overseas and am now tackling reducing 30+ years of stuff into 1 suitcase, a carry on bag and a travel vest. It's amazing to see how much useless junk I've accumulated (oddball computer cables, orphan power supplies, floppies, VCRs, at least 11 padlocks I can't open, etc.)--- the reality of having to ditch the baggage and only keep the things that match my new tropical lifestyle. I love avacados but at least I resorted to digging at them with a spoon.

Love your articles, thanks for the push..doing de cluttering right now.  Seems as though the Idea of Relativity is.  While I m getting rid of business guidelines from 2006, I m making room in my head as well as my drawer, my life with less stuff and more meaningful take always...don't dwell on small items, things that won't matter in a year, keep inventory clean, travel light costs less. time flies very quickly 


You have a choice; choose wisely

Jan 23, 2013 5:10PM
just like a fishing luer only has to catch a fisherman (not fish) the perfect product need to be bought, never returned, and never spoken badly of.  AND they make great gifts! 
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.