Inside: If you’re holding on to too much stuff because you’re afraid you’ll need something someday, here are 5 tips to help you prevent declutter regret.
When people find out I’m a minimalist, more often than not they ask me this: “Okay, I have to know. Have you ever decluttered something you wished you’d held on to?’
It’s a telling question because I know it means the fear of declutter regret is what’s holding them back. Let me make this clear: I regret nothing. There isn’t a single item I wish I hadn’t decluttered. Becoming a minimalist has helped me realize just how resourceful I am and revealed the lies I’d bought into about how much stuff I actually need.
In my five+ years of living as a minimalist there has been exactly one item, totaling $6 in value that I had to buy again because I had donated it. It was an apple slicer and I just bought another one.
While decluttering my kitchen five years ago I realized just how little we used that apple slicer. When making apple pie, which I love to do, I never used it because I didn’t like the size of the apple slices. When cutting up apple slices for my kids, I found a knife to be just as efficient. So, when clearing my kitchen of its excess, I donated my apple slicer. No regrets.
Fast forward five years later: my daughter, who is now nine, asked if I’d buy an apple slicer after slicing her finger while cutting up an apple with a knife. It’s a fair request. So, for a whopping $6 I bought an apple slicer and slid it into her Christmas stocking as an extra gift. She was geeked.
Yes, holding onto that apple slicer all those years would have saved me the $6 today. However, holding on to it, along with the many other unnecessary kitchen gadgets I donated back then, would have kept my kitchen cluttered and functioning inefficiently. Bedsides in my experience, my kids could have just as likely grown up to despise apples. #momlife
We don’t know what the future holds and predicting what we will need years from now is impossible. Now, let me make this very clear. I don’t promote a version of minimalism that says, “Go ahead and donate it because you can always buy it again later.” I believe, while that may work for some people, to the majority of us it’s unappealing. On top of that, it’s an impossible sell for those with a not-so-minimalist spouse to contend with. My husband never would have gotten on board with minimalism if I told him, “Oh don’t worry honey. If we need anything I’m decluttering, we’ll just buy it again later.”
Going minimalist is about realizing you need less stuff all together.
To put it simply, it’s choosing to use a knife rather than own fifteen different items to slice fifteen different types of foods. It’s knowing trends are manufactured through planned and perceived obsolescence in order to keep you wasting your hard-earned money and precious time to line someone else’s pockets.
You can read more about the driving forces of consumerism in my book, Messy Minimalism.
(Don’t worry, I see it. The irony is not lost on me. I’m suggesting you buy my book in order to stop buying stuff. I’ve got a secret though. You can also request Messy Minimalism from your local library. 😉 Shhhh.)
Fear is a large part of why our homes remain cluttered when we desperately want to declutter. We’re so afraid we’ll experience declutter regret that we rationalize holding on.
How to Prevent Declutter Regret
1. Don’t Panic-Declutter
I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that I can be a bit of a slob. My first college roommate was a sweet, southern, tidy and organized pre-med student. While messier myself, I do recall putting in a fair amount of effort to keep that dorm room somewhat organized.
However, my roommate for the next three years was a little more like me. We were both procrastinating pack-rats, with a natural tendency toward messiness. Our room was a mess, often. Every May, during the great dorm exodus, it took us hours to clear our dorm room of debris.
One year, we’d procrastinated for as long as possible. The deadline was now rapidly approaching. In order to head home without incurring a fee, we needed to empty that room fast.
When I realized the time, I started frantically tossing stuff down the trash shoot. I know, I know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I vividly recall taking our entire coffee pot, which most certainly had moldy old coffee in it, and just shoving it into the trash chute! (Facepalm.)
Did I regret it when a year later I had to purchase a new coffee pot? Absolutely. But at the time, it seemed like the simplest solution.
All that to say, panic-decluttering is the leading cause of decluttering regret.
I know what it feels like to walk into your kids’ bedroom that looks as though someone broke in and overturned the entire room looking for hidden documents. I know how overwhelming it can feel to stand in front of a closet so packed with clothing, it’s literally falling from the ceiling.
Once you see your excess stuff for what it is, it’s easy to start ditching everything in arms reach without thinking first.
Instead, walk a way for a minute. You’re not on a deadline. Your RA isn’t standing in the doorway tapping her wristwatch and assessing your progress. Take a deep breath and get your bearings. Then move slowly and deliberately by adopting a minimalist mindset first.
2. Adopt a Minimalist Mindset First
Hear me. I’m not saying you should wait to declutter. Becoming a minimalist doesn’t require a three week silent retreat to a monastery first. In fact, you can adopt a minimalist mindset in a matter of moments. A minimalist mindset is simply a new way of looking at our material possessions. It’s choosing to do the work to understand how we became so cluttered in the first place.
Prior to minimalism, if I wanted something and could afford to buy it I did. I didn’t pause first to think through why I wanted it or if I actually needed it.
Minimalism has made me a more conscious consumer which is the most important first step when minimizing our homes. It doesn’t matter how much we declutter or how often. If we don’t change our relationship with material possessions and halt the influx of STUFF into our lives, we’ll never create the clutter free homes we are after.
For more on adopting a minimalist mindset read: How to Become a Minimalist Without Getting Rid of Your Stuff
3. Know You’re Resourceful
At some point, you may experience the minor inconvenience of wishing you had something back for a moment. However, there are very few things we actually need in life to survive. Yet, there is a list a mile long of “recommended items” a couple should register for when getting married.
If you do happen to find yourself in need of something you’ve let go, I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to find a way around it. You won’t just curl up and die. Instead, you’ll wear something else, make a different meal, borrow something from a friend or just do without.
For those who need a little more certainty, try looking at thrift stores as a back-up pantry. There are so many kitchen gadgets, pans and serving ware sitting on the shelves at your local thrift stores right now. I stopped buying new spatulas years ago. When we break a spatula, I just grab one new-to-us for less than a dollar at a thrift store.
You may not find everything you need there, but I’ve found it’s definitely worth looking first.
For more on thrifting read: 5 Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores First
4. Lean into Generosity
If you do happen to find yourself at some point wishing you’d kept a particular item, knowing you donated it can help relieve any declutter remorse. I’m sure the apple slicer I donated landed somewhere it was needed. Now, it could have spent five years sitting in my drawer, taking up space, waiting for its “someday moment.” But instead, it was picked up by someone who needed it then.
Generosity helps me declutter more deeply, avoid feeling regretful and notice just how flipping good I’ve got it. When I hear about a new mom who just received housing in need of some things, or a family who lost everything in a fire, it makes letting go the obvious choice. My immediate reaction is, “How can I help? What do you need?” And I never think… “Ooooh, but I might need that someday.”
If you find yourself second guessing what you gave away, just know it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.
5. Don’t Buy Crap You Don’t Need
The number one way to prevent declutter remorse is to have never owned the clutter in the first place. But we can’t do that. I’d love to go back in time and stop my young adult self from registering for and buying so many unnecessary items in the first place.
Instead, we would have slowly, deliberately and intentionally, added only the things we actually needed. My husband hates stir fry, yet I thought it essential to add an electric wok to our wedding registry. We donated it ten years later having never once used it. Why? Because I wasn’t paying attention. I was preparing for a “someday” life instead of living fully today.
The reality is we can’t go back in time and undo our past excess, but we can change how we manage stuff from here on out. We must be willing to risk declutter remorse if we’re ever going to live clutter free.
While I can’t promise you’ll never regret donating a random item, I can promise you this: The clutter free life is worth the risk.
For more information on Messy Minimalism head to MessyMinimalism.com
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