If you have been toying with the idea of decluttering and downsizing, I have a challenge for you!

It’s easy, it’s simple, and anybody can start at any time. You can probably guess by the title that the challenge is to use up what you already have.

Do you have eight opened bottles of lotion? Challenge yourself to not buy any new lotion until you’ve used up at least six of them.

Is your pantry packed with snack foods? Challenge yourself to not buy any more snacks until your family eats through all of the opened boxes and bags.

Do your children have ten half-finished coloring books each? Challenge yourself to not buy any more coloring books until they’re down to two each.

Just hearing these examples probably brings to mind at least one category of consumables in your home that you know you have too much of. Whatever that category is, you can set a specific, quantifiable goal, and resolve not to buy any more until you reach that goal.

A “Use It Up Challenge” usually starts out easy. You begin with the ones that are almost done, and it feels so good to toss the empty bottle or box and feel the elbow room growing.

Inevitably, though, we slow down.

Especially when we reach the scent of lotion that we don’t really love, or the type of cracker nobody wants to eat, or the coloring book our kids aren’t interested in anymore.

Waiting to consume those items feels like it will take forever! (Note to self, don’t buy that kind again!)

When you hit that wall, remember that you have other options. I always prefer not to throw away perfectly good products, even if they’re opened, so I try to find someone else who would appreciate it.

Does your office keep bottles of lotion in the women’s bathroom? You might leave yours on the counter as a donation. Next time your kids have a play date, offer the extra snacks to the other mom. My daughter’s dance company has a coloring table in the lobby, and they love it when people donate coloring books.

Whether it’s consuming or donating, eventually your previously over-stocked cabinet will be able to breathe again.

In the meantime, how do we stop ourselves from buying more?

Typically, we are over-stocked on the items that are fun to buy, which means we buy them without thinking. My kids, for example, love browsing through coloring books.

They get excited about new characters, and coloring is a great activity, plus the books are inexpensive, so I find myself saying, “Why not?” I’m a pretty forgetful person, so there has to be an outside voice to stop me. Here is one strategy I use …

Before I begin the challenge, I purposefully allow the coloring area to get messier and messier until it is plastered in dozens of unfinished coloring books.

I then take a picture and set it as the background of my phone. While the kids and I are drudging through the obnoxious chore of cleaning up the coloring books, I explain that we have to use up what we have before we can buy more. They groan, but they understand.

When the kids ask for a new coloring book at the store, even if I forget at first, at some point I will inevitably look at my phone and see the picture.

If the kids complain and ask why I won’t buy it for them, I can just show them the picture on my phone and say, “That’s why not.” Then we go home and have a coloring party until we finish another book.

So today, I encourage you to choose one category of consumables that has been building up, and start using it up!

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