Decluttering Without Regret

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but Mel’s post yesterday prompted me to finally do it. I was going to comment on her site but realized I had too much to say, so I came here. I also believe it’s an important part of my continuing discussion on attempting to embrace minimalism.

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In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the metric by which each object is weighed is whether or not it brings joy. At first I thought such an obtuse determiner was useless, but since my huge, two-day purge I’ve become increasingly good at recognizing what does and doesn’t bring me joy. Every week I wear something that I realize I don’t really love anymore, and I immediately throw it into the give-away pile when it comes out of the wash.

But what of the things that we don’t love, but we clearly need? What fits into this category can be harder to identify.

Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is pretty unforgiving in her assessment of what we actually need. She has helped hundreds of people completely transform their homes and lives by getting rid of stuff, and since I knew my choices weren’t getting me where I wanted, I decided to trust her expertise. Per her suggestion, I got rid of pretty much ALL my paper work, ALL the little junk I thought might be useful some day (but have never actually used), and I’m even set to get rid of most of my photos. When in doubt, I almost always get rid of something. And if I don’t the first time around, I do on the second pass.

But what if I get rid of something I eventually need? This is a big worry for people who are trying to declutter. I understand this concern, I really do. I used to have it. But the more stuff I get rid of, the more I realize that I don’t actually need a lot of what I think I need, even when I end up thinking I need it.

Let me explain.

I have gotten rid of a few things that later I went searching for. What has been very liberating is the realization that even in those situations, I don’t usually end up really needing the thing I previously got rid of.

Recently our BluRay player wouldn’t work. Actually, it seemed to be working, but the TV kept flashing a no-signal message. We tried restarting everything. We tried changing out the HDMI cord. We tried using a different input. After many variations of inputs and cords, it became clear that we couldn’t watch the BluRay I’d gotten from the library. Then I had one last idea, maybe we could try an old audio/video cord. Surely we had one in our “tech box.” Except we didn’t. I had done such a thorough job of cleaning it out that we didn’t have one red-white-yellow cord. I could tell my husband was annoyed. We used to have a dozen of those dumb cords! I felt bad, because I probably should have saved one, but how was I to know our BluRay player would suddenly be all weird and we’d need a cord we hadn’t used in ages? And even if we had that cord, who’s to know if it would have worked?

My daughter was managing her frustration surprisingly well, and when I asked if she wanted to play on the bed, she happily agreed. We ended up enjoying a good 20 minutes of quality mommy-daughter time and it wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t have the cord. I’m going to borrow one from school to see if it makes our BluRay player useable, but in that moment, it wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t have one.

There have been other times when I’ve wanted to let a friend borrow something that I’ve given away. I will admit, sometimes I’m pretty disappointed in those moments, but ultimately I’ve come to realize that it saves me time and energy not to lend so much stuff to others. Finding the thing, putting it in my car and delivering it to its new owner are kept off my to-do list. In a few instances I’ve so wanted to share something with someone I’ve just gotten them one as a gift. And that felt a lot better, and meant more to the person, than finding an old one at home.

So yes, there have been moments when I’ve looked for something and realized I gave it away (and I’m struggling to recall other specific examples or I’d share them), but I’ve never once lingered on that object for very long, and I haven’t yet bought myself any replacements.

All this to say, I have been surprised, and delighted, by how little I actually need. The more I experience this for myself first hand, the easier it becomes to throw stuff away.

Do you worry you’ll need something you’re considering getting rid of? Do you usually end up keeping it, or setting it free?

7 Comments

  1. I needed to read this. Want to start decluttering this month. We did a good job several years ago, but haven’t kept it up and obviously things are out of control again. we live in a small house, so its really annoying to not have enough space for everything. I read on a personal finance/frugality blog recently about the concept of “storing” things on craigslist or freecycle—you sell or give away your barely used item, and in the event you need it, can usually buy or get it back. This definitely rings true for me—for example, i’ve kept my bike for 8 years without ever riding it. I should have sold it 8 years ago, and then 2-3 years later, if I want to ride with my kids, I could buy a used one.

    1. I love that idea of “storing” stuff on craiglist or freecycle. That is an awesome way to think about it. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. I’m getting better and better at this, and both your posts and Court’s posts lately have me motivated to do another thorough cleanse of my home. The clutter and closets overwhelm me so easily, and I honestly never regret getting rid of something. Like you said, occasionally there’s a “crap, so-and-so could have used that” — but overall it just improves my life to reduce the amount of stuff in it.

    1. Embracing minimalism, in the way I have been able to, has completely changed my life. Truly. There isn’t a day I regret it. I’m so glad I finally made these changes. My life has been so much better for it.

  3. That’s usually my problem…will we need it again. And it seems inevitably as soon as we get rid of something we need it. Happens at work too…actually there it’s more that I will keep seeing the same document on my desk or elsewhere, in the way, until I actually need it then I can’t find the d@mn thing.

    1. There were probably more things I used to know that I had but couldn’t find when I needed them before than the purge, than there are things I think I need that I got rid of after it. I could never find anything before I got rid of so much stuff. The time I’ve spent in looking for stuff is worth buying something again if I ever have to. 😉

  4. Always a good reminder – I thought that our recent move had led to a great decluttering – and it had – but damn if there isn’t still a lot of it. Going to embrace another move coming up to do it again. It’s just challenging when one’s partner doesn’t necessarily feel the same way. It’s not that he accumulates stuff – he is not a buyer – it’s just that his personal hobbies involve a lot of already accumulated gaming stuff, and he doesn’t have the same zeal for clutter-free living that I do. So it falls on me. We’ll have to reach a compromise (damn you, adult compromises!)

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