Getting into the mindset to declutter is a process. You have to have the desire to start and it can be really daunting if you have a house full of stuff. Then, once you get started, there are those things that make you hesitate. You ask yourself “do I need this?” and although you haven’t even touched it, thought about it, or known it was there for months (possibly years), you get stuck wondering if maybe you’ll use it later and how it may come in handy one day.
I’m here to tell you that probably 99% of the time, “one day” never comes. That item will continue to sit, unused and unloved, right where you left it until you go through your things again.
We know we don’t use these things that catch us up, but we still want to keep them. Why?
Mainly because of fear. We’re afraid if we get rid of something, we’ll need it right after. As someone who has gotten rid of about 60% of what I previously owned, I can assure you I’ve never once needed any of those “just in case” items.
Clutter overcomes us because we keep so many things we don’t actually need.
But what if you’re the exception and not the rule here? Well, I’ve got great news for you. Here are some tricks to put your mind at ease and let go of those “just in case” items. Most of these are concepts popularized by The Minimalists, Josh & Ryan.
“JUST IN CASE” AND “JUST FOR WHEN” ITEMS ARE DIFFERENT
There is a difference between those items that you really use less often (a hammer or ski pants) vs those things you are holding onto in case you ever need them (your old coffee maker you’re holding onto in case the new one breaks).
Things that actually add value that you use less often are perfectly fine to keep. If you know you are going to keep skiing, holding onto those pants is a great idea. Items like this are used for certain occasions usually and not part of the typical day-to-day. For me, this is camping gear. However, if your new coffee maker were to break, would you actually want to get your old one back out of storage? You probably got this new one for a reason, after all. My guess is you’d just go get another new one, so that old one needs to go!
If an item is actually used but is more for hobbies or once in a while things like hanging pictures around the house, it’s a “just for when”. If it’s buried under other unused items and hasn’t been thought of in the last 12 months, and you’re just afraid to get rid of it, it’s a “just in case”.
THE 20/20 RULE
Most of the items we hold onto thinking we’ll need can be replaced in 20 minutes for $20 or less. This means if you DID need that thing for some reason, you can probably get it within a 20 minute drive for $20 or less.
Now, I know we aren’t all made of money and replacing things we already had seems pointless. But the truth is this: you never used it anyway, so there is a very slim chance you’ll ever need to replace it. And even if you do, it’s not something that’s likely to break the bank. This should ease your anxiety and allow you to move on and let it go.
THE 90/90 RULE
If you haven’t used it in the last 90 days and aren’t realistically (key word here) going to use it in the next 90 days, it needs to go.
This typically envelopes the big season changes, but you can obviously adjust this to your liking. You can do 30/30 or 120/120, whatever works for you. But this allows you to see the practicality of the things you’re holding onto and if you haven’t/won’t use it within this time frame, it’s safe to let it go.
A HOLD BOX
If you are really trying to get rid of things but you’re too nervous to take the plunge, create a hold box. Get a box of whatever size (or more than one if you really need to) and put those “just in case” items in it. Close it up and put it out of sight for a while. A month, 6 months, a year..whatever you’re comfortable with. Set a reminder in your phone for that amount of time, and if you haven’t needed anything in that box in that time, donate it.
The key here is DON’T OPEN IT after the time is over. Don’t tempt yourself all over again. Just take the box and let it go. You’ll probably have forgotten all you put in there anyway!
USE A TAG SYSTEM FOR CLOTHES
I recently started tagging my clothes to keep track of what I wear and don’t wear. I have a roll of ribbon left over from my wedding and I decided to put it to use. I cut a small piece and tie it around the top of my clothes hangers. Whenever I wear something, I remove the ribbon when I put the piece back on the hanger. At the end of the year, if there’s anything still with a ribbon on it, it’s safe to let it go.
Now, I do think there are exceptions for special occasion items, but that’s about it. This took me maybe 10 minutes to do and will save me a lot of trouble down the line by showing me what I actually wear in my closet!
PUT IT UP FOR SALE
This is a trick I use for my stuff. If I’m unsure about something, I post it for sale. Even if I’m concerned I might need it later. I mostly use Poshmark and ebay, but will use Craigslist for bigger items like furniture. If it doesn’t sell in set amount of time (I use 2 months) or I haven’t used it, I donate it. If it sells before then, I see how much it really means to me when I go to get rid of it. If I REALLY need it, I can always cancel the sale. But I’ve never had that happen and I have no problem letting it go as I would rather have the cash!
WHAT ABOUT SENTIMENTAL ITEMS?
Sentimental items are the hardest to get rid of, I agree. We associate them with times in our lives and memories. But the truth is the memories aren’t in the things themselves, they’re in us. The things spark the memories.
When I started getting rid of things and I finally got around to the sentimental things, I had a process. If I loved the item and was happy to have it, I kept it. I have a stuffed animal my grandpa gave me as a baby and although it’s so old and a bit ratty, I know I’ll never get rid of it because I still love it. But the things that I kept out of guilt but didn’t really like I would take pictures of and donate. My pictures didn’t take up any extra space and they still allowed me to look at the items and remember the memories just the same.
Don’t feel obligated to hold onto things that you don’t love or that don’t bring you joy. If you think your mom would kill you for getting rid of something, ask if she wants it, or a sibling or other family member. Or don’t say anything about it! It is your life, after all. Once you get rid of these things that are holding you down, I promise you’ll feel much lighter!
The truth is things are just things. Anything that you look at and think “I might need this later” when you haven’t needed it in a long time is likely just taking up space in your home. Donate it to someone else that can really use it, or sell it if that makes you feel better.
Once you begin to declutter, I tell everyone it’s like a snowball. You get this momentum and the more you go, the easier it gets. If you can’t bring yourself to get rid of things the first go-round, you most likely will later.
My first big purge, I got rid of quite a bit and was sure that everything that remained was something I wanted to keep. But as time kept going on, I was acutely more aware of those things I wasn’t using and had just held onto for one reason or another.
Almost 4 months later, I’m still finding things I want to let go of. Decluttering is a process and it takes some people longer than others, but if you’re really determined, you’ll get there.
Are you struggling with getting rid of things or wanting to get started but aren’t sure how? Leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!