“I might need it someday.” We both know that we’re guilty of saying this many times when faced with a decluttering decision. I know everyone in my home has said it, including my young children, and I know nearly every one of my clients has said it, too, for reasons that are frequently heartfelt. We want to be frugal. We want to recycle and upcycle. And that’s great! The landfills are overflowing and we have a planet to protect.
Employment is tenuous and we need to be prepared for lean times. It’s not logical to get rid of perfectly good, functional, and often expensive items. These are concepts we’ve had ingrained for years…for generations even. My parents wasted not and wanted not. They cleaned their plates and made use of everything. “It’s not responsible to throw away perfectly good things,” you think to yourself. Which is why I wouldn’t ask you to.
But what am I asking you to do? Simply to consider what is truly serving you best and to know that you have options. There is a way that you can serve others with what no longer serves you.
Let’s start with what you’re saving. What do you have that you don’t use and that takes up space you can’t spare? Have you considered why you save that lamp, these clothes, those small appliances? Is it really the best choice for you and your space, your family, and the way you want to live?
That’s where meaningful minimizing all begins: asking yourself how you want to live. Consider your life and your lifestyle; consider not just how you are living, but how you want to live.
Have you ever done that — asked yourself how you want to live? If not, does it feel a bit awkward for you? That’s understandable. It’s unfortunately rare that we even allow ourselves to consider what we want, let alone do it in the context of organizing and decluttering our living spaces.
More often than not we live with what’s practical, what’s comfortable, and what’s easy. Words like “dreams” and “goals” are not the words of our daily lives, but instead the chatter of lifestyle gurus ad productivity coaches.
Ok, busted. But guess what? Not to go all “lifestyle coach” on you, but I bring it up because that’s how it works. Start with the end in mind and truly allow yourself to visualize that goal and that’s how you’ll create the most impactful transformation.
The traps we get caught in the most are fear and obligation, but breaking free results in huge changes. Clearing your path physically can lead to increased productivity, creativity, and even physical and mental health.
There are many studies out there linking clutter to depression and, conversely, organizing to better living. But I think the simplest way to make the point is to ask you to envision the last time you organized a closet, or the space under the sink, a small pantry, or even a cabinet.
Think about how you felt when it was cleared out and arranged. Did you breathe a little easier? Did you smile when you saw it? Revel in the way you could easily access what you wanted? That, to me, is the impact of decluttering and organizing and the goal we have in mind.
So what is blocking you from removing the excess? Below, I’ve identified three of the biggest excuses to decluttering, and given a few tips to help you overcome them:
EXPENSE OF ITEMS
What it is: You spent a lot of money on that dress. Those tools are valuable. That end table is antique…isn’t it? This excuse has as an official name: “the sunk cost fallacy.” The reason it’s a fallacy is that the value is rarely what you think. At some point, most items depreciate considerably, so you are actually caught up in remembering what you paid. It’s the emotional attachment and the memory that create the perception.
Now the challenge is to ask how much you’re paying to keep housing this item that isn’t serving you. How much room is it taking up? (And what is the cost per square foot of your space? How about heating and cooling?)
What you can do: Ask yourself what would the release of not just space but worry mean for you? If you have the time and the ability and the item is of real value, you could consider selling it. But you really have to question your return on investment. I blame Antiques Roadshow for the dream that we all have a famous painting or rare teapot buried in the attic.
For most, the best would be a tag sale. But even that requires effort, time, and continued storage. It even requires an investment for supplies, advertising, a sitter, etc. There is a cost to sell what is already costing you. Are you willing to accept that? If you are, forge ahead and seek the funds. But if it’s not the best choice, this is where donation can play an important role, especially when it’s tax deductible and it helps America’s veterans and their families.
What it is: These are the objects that are connected to your dreams and former goals. You were going to refinish furniture, learn to play the ukulele, start your own calligraphy business, make collages for the whole family, read all those books…you had plans! But life got in the way and now you’ve been moving that box around for years. You know the one that hasn’t been opened through two moves?
What you can do: Be honest. Is this still something you’re going to do? If so, where? When? If it’s truly in your heart, create a plan to act on it. Stop storing it away. Use this organizing time to create a space for this long-forgotten love and bring it back! But if it’s not likely, let it go by donating it, so someone else can explore it. The key here is having faith. If now is not the time, then making room will open up your space and life for what’s meant to be at this time. Believing you will find what you need when you’re ready takes a leap of faith, but allows you to be far more productive in the current moment.
FAMILY GIFTS & HEIRLOOMS
What it is: These are items that were given to you by those you care about. Sometimes they are things you don’t even like. Many times they are things that represent someone you’ve lost. More than items, these are obligations and emotions.
What you can do: This isn’t a challenge one can solve in a paragraph. This is where professional organizers and counselors can really help. But I will encourage you to ask yourself why are you keeping what you’re keeping, and are any of these items things that you truly love? Are you displaying them? Using them? Or do you feel obligated? I know there aren’t easy answers, but asking these questions are critical.
Take it at the pace that works for you, but keep asking the questions. And if you can’t release it all, consider reducing the collection. Every little bit helps. One of the best ways to reduce the collection of gifts and heirlooms is to keep just the favorites – just the ones you want to use or display — think of it as a sampling, and you’ll be paying loving respect to the person who gave them to you.
One of the greatest concerns I hear from clients (and have had myself) is “Now that I’m letting it go, will it get used?” The key to releasing what you have is to have faith it goes where it’s needed. One way to ensure that is to donate it to a worthy and legitimate charity. My personal favorite, for many reasons, is the Vietnam Veterans of America.
My father and many of my family members were veterans, so men and women who protected our freedoms have a special place in my heart. My appreciation for their service is considerable, but it’s rare that I have a way to properly thank them, let alone help them. Donating to a group designed to serve them does it all.
I originally came upon the VVA donation option because they pick up items by truck. It was embarrassingly convenient for me:
Step 3: Smile at the drivers when they picked it up and take tax receipt. (And to be honest, I often skip step 3 because I don’t have to be at home when they stop by! They leave the receipt for me.)
It’s almost too easy and I’m thrilled. I’ve been donating to them for years, but only found out recently that although it was founded by Vietnam vets (as indicated by the name) they serve all veterans. That makes my heart sing. My donations support veterans’ healthcare efforts, women and minority services, and lobbying efforts…and so much more. A few boxes and bags on a porch in exchange for that? Plus I receive a tax deduction receipt that is often more credit than I’d get at a tag sale? Amazing.
“I might need it someday.” Yes, you might. But consider this. If you release it now, you make room for what is in this moment, instead of closing up your space for what will be, or really only might be. Have faith you will have what you need when the time comes. You might need it someday…but there is somebody who needs it now.
Lisa Zawrotny became a productivity coach and professional organizer after being trapped in her own clutter and chaos caused by caregiving for a Mom with Alzheimer’s, running multiple businesses, and raising a family. Through a combination of personal development, renewed self-care, and her own customized organizing and productivity approaches, she not only changed where her family lived, but how they lived. The process was so healing that she launched Positively Productive Systems to help others do the same.