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3 Pieces of Advice I Wish I Could Give My 23-Year-Old Self


Guest post from Angela of Setting My Intention

If you told my 23-year-old self that, 20 years in the future, I would be writing a blog about decluttering, I would have laughed.

When I was 23 years old, I had just graduated from college and traveled across the country (with only one large suitcase) to serve in an inner city ministry.

How did I get from one large suitcase to a house full of things that need to be decluttered?

I moved into an apartment…

got married…

had kids…

moved into a home…

In other words, life happened.

If I could give my 23-year-old self advice, here is what I would tell her:

1. Invest in Experiences, Not Things.

You will be tempted to “nest” many times: when you get a new apartment, move into your first home, have children. Along with that temptation, you will want to buy many things. Try to resist that temptation.

Experiences and time are the best gifts to give and receive.

Instead of making a wish list of things you’d like as gifts, try making a wish list of experiences that you’d like to give and get on your birthday and/or holidays.

When you do decorate your new spaces, only keep and purchase things that you love.

Invest in a few lovely pieces. Use your local thrift stores — they are often goldmines if you look carefully. Keep open spaces in your home.

2. Be a Thoughtful Consumer.

Wait to purchase things until you know what you need and will use.

When my husband and I were getting married, I naturally assumed we should have a wedding registry. However, we were clueless as to what we would actually use and need. We registered for many items that “we might be able to use” because we had that nifty handheld scanner that made it so easy!

The same thing happened to us when we were having our first baby. We registered for the things listed in the baby books that told us what we absolutely must have.

Can I just give you a heads up? You will NOT need a diaper genie. Wrapping them up tight, or plastic bags work just fine. You might even consider cloth diapering.

Again, wait to purchase things until you know what you need. It will save you the time later when you end up donating or consigning the pieces off of your registry!

Another tip: kids’ consignment sales have great, barely used items for a fraction of the price.

3. Don’t Get Emotionally Attached.

What your priorities or life circumstances change, don’t be afraid to get rid of the things that are no longer relevant or important to you.

Here are some areas to consider and declutter on a regular basis:

  • Clothing/purses/shoes
  • Books
  • Papers/yearbooks
  • Photos

The memories have been made, the mementos can be let go of.

If you are in your twenties, what advice has been most helpful to you? If you older, like me, what advice would you give your 20-something-aged self? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Angela blogs at Setting My Intention. She is a wife and mom to three boys. She works part time outside the home, and full time inside the home. She loves to spend time outside with her family, read, write, and most recently, run. She writes about simplifying life and developing healthy habits.

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  • bPatty says:

    I’m 25, married with two kids. The advice that’s been most helpful to me is what I always heard my momma say while I was growing up “it’s just stuff”.

  • Victoria M says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m 20, and so posts like this are very helpful to me! I appreciate hearing advice for people my age from people who are a little farther down the road! I love the idea of making a wish list of experiences instead of things for birthdays!

    • Your welcome Victoria! I’m glad you were able to take something away from it. We are trying to do the experience wish list with our sons. Hasn’t completely caught on yet but we will get there!

    • Kate says:

      I am 27-years-old, married with no children but working full-time and finishing up graduate school. Some of the best advice my husband and I have ever gotten was to watch what our family and friends and others around us were doing very closely and mimic the good choices they made and learn from the bad choices. Everyone has something to teach us. It is so helpful to watch and learn from others if at all possible – and we’ve personally found that it sure is the less painful way to attempt to make the best choices possible. We’ve put this into practice with our marriage, careers, and educational goals… and are watching and learning from those around us in regards to having and raising children so that when the time is right for us to become parents, hopefully we will get off to the best start possible. 🙂

  • Kelli says:

    Amen and amen. I am almost 40, and I wholeheartedly agree with the points made in this post. I’ve made the same journey. Experiences that make memories? Yes. More stuff? No.

  • Alyssa says:

    This is coming at a great time for me. My family (husband and 2 kids) is moving across the country. We are moving into a nicer home and I’m already starting to feel the wants of new things to make my home beautiful. But, to be honest, I’m a horrible impulse buyer…as in, it almost always is a bad purchase. 🙁 I need to take this advice and think a lot before I buy something. I love the idea of a few nice pieces for the home. It will be fun to invest in something I LOVE instead of a bunch of “meh” things. I love your reminder to spend more on experiences, not things.

    • Hi Alyssa, I know I didn’t appreciate the open spaces in my home when we moved in 9 years ago. I sure do appreciate them now! Spending time in your new home before you purchase new things will give you greater clarity on what you actually need too.

  • Kadee says:

    I’m 45, been married 24 years, and we have 3 school aged kids. Your advice is spot on. I laugh at myself when I think of what we put on our wedding registry. So many unnecessary, unused things. You think I would have learned from the wedding when it came to the baby registry, but no, I asked for too many unnecessary things – including a diaper genie! Tried it for a month and figured out plastic bags worked way better! Go for the experiences, not the things, and you will save money, won’t have to declutter, and will lead a richer life.

  • Sandy B says:

    I have always been an intentional memory maker. At almost 60 years old, 37 years of marriage, 4 children and 4 grandchildren, just a reminder to be careful what photos you toss. Keep enough of them to keep the memories, because the older we get, and the more memories we have made, the less we remember them. 🙂 I have passed on pictures to each the children over the years, and the grandchildren enjoy getting pictures of their parents when they were younger.

  • Kelly Cox says:

    Love the point about experiences! So true! Also, as you go through life, it is so much better to have things PAID for rather than just have things that come with monthly bills. Excellent advice for your 23 year old self. 🙂

  • Melinda says:

    So true, Angela!! Now that I’m here, I’ll look around, see what Money Saving Mom has to say.

  • Jennifer says:

    Such great advice here.
    I’m 45. If I could talk to my 20-something self I would say, stop wasting your money on magazines.
    Also, don’t wait too long to have a baby. I was 34 when I had my first and only baby. That was too late, in my opinion.

    I had to laugh about your diaper genie comment. We bought one and gave it away. It was useless.
    I’m friends with a younger woman at work who told me she and her husband will start trying soon and that’s one of the first things I told her. Don’t buy a diaper genie. Wrapped up in a grocery bag works even better.

    Fun piece 🙂

    • Kriss says:

      Maybe she would like it. I found my Diaper Genie very useful and wouldn’t have wanted to do without it. To each his own.

    • Guest says:

      Hilarious about the magazines and true!

      I have to respectifully disagree on the Diaper Genie, though. I can’t imagine not having one and when we had friends who didn’t use them, I could smell the poop. We have a neighbor who has a Diaper Genie in their garage for dog poo which I’ve actually considered – ha! (we don’t have littles in diapers any longer)

  • Jacks says:

    I’m a minimalist (at heart) who’s married to a *sentimental* hoarder…needless to say we have fun times ’round here 🙂 I’ve learned to just buy extra storage totes when I see a good sale, so I can still nicely organize and put his extra stuff away out of my sight (so I don’t go crazy and nag the poor man to death) but he can still keep things and find them when he needs/wants them. Keeps our marriage a LOT happier! Guess that’s a bit off the subject, but I always feel a little twinge of envy when I read these awesome de-cluttering articles, and thought I’d share my perspective in case anyone else is in the same boat as I am–where you literally “can’t” de-clutter because it’s all someone else’s (whom you love and respect) stuff.

    • Jean says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate your perspective. It gives me ideas about how to help straighten up my husbands’ things too. Thank you!!

    • Jacks, if you come by my blog you’ll see that we are in the process of Decluttering the basement ( mainly my husbands stuff) and it’s not pretty. I’m right there with you and we are trying to figure out how to work together. We are making progress, but certainly don’t have a minimalist home. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Teresa says:

    These are great ideas… but at nearly 60 years old I would suggest cutting down on photos and yearbooks rather than clearing them out entirely. As you age you will likely want to remember times past, but memories fade with time. It is really nice to be able to look back at photos and books that are reminders of those we love and happy times. When you are young it seems like you will never forget those special memories, but with aging, the memory sometimes needs a jump start. And you never know when you will lose someone or wind up alone… then those things that help you remember will become more precious than ever.

  • Grace says:

    I love your advice to young women. At the age of 69, after being married for 46 years, I have two more suggestions:
    1. Stick with your dreams and fight for them. I wanted to go to college when I was a teenager. I lived on a farm and money was tight with eight children in the family. I gave up that dream because I figured there just was no money to accomplish it. I should have fought harder to see that dream realized and looked for ways to pay for college. Nowadays there are so many more opportunities to achieve a college degree with scholarships, grants, online study, etc. I should have worked and taken courses in night school or weekend studies. Just go for it, whatever your dream may be!

    2. Stay debt-free. I see so many young (and older) people become trapped by credit card debt. As the Bible says, “the borrower is slave to the lender.” I have seen credit cards with interest charges of 25%! At that rate, a person would have to work very hard to ever get an accumulated balance ever paid off! Debt limits one’s ability to do things that are truly important with their lives. Even future employers check out an applicant’s credit rating. If a person is carrying a lot of debt compared to another person seeking the same job, guess which one will be hired? I am so glad that through the ups and downs of the economy, we were free of debt and had so much peace of mind.

    That’s my two cents. 😎

  • Carri says:

    I am so grateful for this article! I had just talked with my husband about modifying our budget and I how tired of moving “stuff” from place to place. I am a young 33 but like you stayed wish someone could have told me all of this before I got married. Thank you for your honesty!

  • So funny about the yearbooks- I moved mine 3 or more times before I decided to ditch them. They were heavy believe me. I graduated with a class of over 600.
    all these are great ideas!

  • denise says:

    I love keeping things minimal and love most of what you said except the part about photos and yearbooks. Memories are important! Keep them organized but don’t throw them out! Someday you can share those memories with future daughter and son in laws and kids and grand kids! They should be cherished!

    At the very least do digital photos that you keep backed up somehow. We lost our digital honeymoon pictures because I didn’t back them up and it was devastating!

    • Susan says:

      I agree about keeping the yearbooks. Makes me sad to see folks comment that they ditched theirs. How old are their kids? My daughter loved looking at my old yearbooks when she approached the same age that I was then, and it sparked some great conversation between us.

  • This is so true. Wouldn’t we all tell ourselves a thing or two if we could go back? I would tell myself to recognize the wisdom in the older generation. My grandparents are all gone, but I would love to ask them what life was like during the Great Depression, and I would love for my sons to be able to talk with my grandfathers about their experiences during WWII.

    I would also tell myself to stop thinking I had all the answers, and to be more open and receptive to being a student of the experts around me. Being more observant of others and their admirable qualities would go hand in hand here.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I couldn’t agree more! 🙂 I started thinking about it in my mid-twenties, but should have been at the beginning of twenties. My parents always gave me advice, but I never really wanted to listen. The good thing is, through experiences we learn a lot and since I turned 26, I no longer invested into stuff like I used to.

  • kariane says:

    This is so true! These are three wonderful things to consider. I’ve also been writing about Simplifying and What a Baby Truly Needs lately (for example: ). It’s nice to know that we’re not alone in our journey.

  • Sylvia says:

    While I agree with the all of the above, the advice I would give my 23 year old self would be to take care of the most dearest possession, yourself.
    Create new habits that will last a lifetime. Like washing your face nightly ?
    Break bad habits while you are young; smoking, overeating, not enough sleep.
    They become exponentially harder later in life.
    Treat yourself with respect.
    All items may come and go, but these are everlasting.
    At 63, I’ve lived and learned the hard way. If you don’t have your health and respect yourself, nothing matters. And no amount of stuff will give them to you!

  • Bethany says:

    I’m 26 and the best advice I received so far was don’t try to attain everything your parents have over night. Don’t compare yourself to others. Saving money to buy houses and vehicle takes time.

  • Angela Silva says:

    I was going to say ditto to your diaper genie advice, but had to laugh that there were some ladies standing up for them!

  • Joy says:

    My advice to 20 or even 30 something’s looking to start a family is try to pay off your student loans before having kids. If you can use your tax return money, monetary gifts, work bonuses, etc to pay that loan down before you add the debt that comes with having children.

    Also, I would tell my 20 something self to eat healthier and exercise. Since I was so skinny in my 20s, healthy eating and exercise was the farthest from my mind. Those bad habits will catch up with you in your 40s.

  • Sruthi says:

    I wish I had a simpler wedding and invested that money wisely for the house down payment or buying a car or for studying further.

    I wish I knew that there would be more responsibilities beyond my imagination and that I could enjoy the time I had on hands.

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