But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses)

“Why do we even own this?!?” 

I can’t tell you how many times those words have come out of my mouth in the last week.  Since resigning from my position as Stuff Manager last week and taking on the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge, I’ve unearthed a treasure trove of items that should have been discarded months or even years ago.  Truth be told, some of them should never have made it in the front door in the first place!

This is just one of the treasures we found in our home this week.  It’s a mug.  Of a face.  
I’m pretty sure we gave it away more than once. 
 I’m not actually sure how it keeps finding its way back to our home.
  Or why no one would keep it.

I’m 17 bags in, and this process has prompted me to think about all the excuses I use to hang onto all of this stuff as well as some of the excuses I’ve heard from others on this decluttering journey.  Here are a few of my favorites, and some ideas for how to overcome them:

Excuse:  I might need it later.  This has to be the most popular excuse for hanging onto our possessions.   We live in a culture that is both consumption driven and obsessed with value.  We want to buy things for as little money as possible, and most of us don’t want to replace those items either (despite the fact that cheap often equals poorly made and likely to fall apart).  This is how we end up storing things like camping gear despite the fact that we’ve only been camping once.  I mean, I might go camping again in fifteen years.  It would be wasteful to go out and buy a new box of waterproof matches when I could have just keep the box I already have in my basement.

My son felt pretty certain he might use these Altoids boxes at some point in the future.

Solution:  Use Goodwill as storage.  One of the most creative solutions I’ve ever heard to this particular excuse comes from a blogger named Nina Nelson who had to pare way back on belongings when she decided to move her family of six into a tiny home in a converted school bus.  Nina once said she likes to use Goodwill like her own personal storage unit.  Chances are, your local Goodwill will have that thing you’ve been hanging onto for ten years when you need it again.  Just because you let something go does not mean you’ll have to pay full-price to replace (if you ever actually need to replace it).  Sharing items with your friends and family is another way around hanging onto clutter.  I’ve seen neighbors all pitch in to purchase one shared snow blower and friends trade baby goods until they were falling apart.   Ask yourself honestly, do you and every member of your extended family each need his or her own fondue set?  Probably not. 

Excuse:  It’s too valuable to part with.  How many times have you gone through your wardrobe in the attempt to discard the clothing you don’t use anymore only to come across something that you haven’t worn in the last year but it seems “too nice” to give away?  When I left full-time work ten years ago, I struggled with this.  I hung onto several suits for way too long, knowing that I would not return to the type of work that required suits before mine went out of style, if ever.  When I finally parted with them, I felt a pang of guilt for not letting them go sooner, because there are women that need suits for interviews or jobs and can’t afford to buy them, and much like my sewing machine, mine were collecting dust in a closet when they could have been out blessing someone else.

Solution:  Use it or let it be of value to someone else.  I’ve got two solutions for you here.  I gave the suits and all of my business casual work clothes away after reading Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess a couple of years ago, and now I approach my donations from the opposite perspective.  If I have something in my closet that I haven’t worn that season and it is particularly nice, that is the item I am most likely to give away, because that is the item that has the potential of making the most impact in someone else’s life.  Your valuable items only offer you as much value as you get out of their use.  If you aren’t using your valuable items, let them be of value to someone else.  If you still can’t part with your valuable items, then for crying out loud, use them!  Bring out your best dishes and serve dinner on them to the people you live with.  Wear that dress on a weekend for no good reason, other than the fact that you love it.  You don’t have to wait for a special occasion.  You are the special occasion, and so are the people you love. 

Excuse:  It was a gift.  This is a tricky one.  Sometimes we hold onto things simply because they were gifts and we don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings that gave the gift.  We imagine that Grandma will come to visit and immediately notice that the miniature spoons she has been sending over the years are not on display.

Solution:  People before things.  Look, this one is really personal.  I’ll offer up a few suggestions, but ultimately, you know your people better than I know your people.  If you’re lucky, you’re in honest enough relationships that you can tell the truth about what you like and the amount of objects you like to own.  If you’re even luckier, the gift giver has a sense of humor and understands why you would pass along an object like this in your next White Elephant Gift Exchange:

This very special DVD has been passed around a group of my friends for a decade now. 

But, if you feel that your relationship would be truly damaged if you got rid of a gift, you could consider keeping it.  We use the phrase “people before things” a lot in our home (usually when breaking up fights between our boys over Pokemon cards) and while that usually means that the relationship should be about something more than the material gifts, it might mean, on hopefully a rare occasion, you hang onto the thing for the sake of the relationship.

You know, kind of like that time on The Gilmore Girls when Emily hung onto 35 years worth of gifts from her mother-in-law and only brought them out when she came to visit.  Except maybe on a smaller scale.

Excuse:  I’ll need it in the zombie apocalypse.  You make a fair point here.  As someone who has given up 400 square feet of basement storage for holiday decorations but has only one backpack and few gallons of water in the way of emergency preparation, you win this argument.  There is a point to be made for being prepared for an emergency.  There are so many great resources out there to help you (and me) set up an appropriate emergency preparation center in your home, but I promise you that your 1982 television is not going to do you a lot of good in the zombie apocalypse.  It will only slow down one zombie, if you are lucky.

We can’t be stopped by your Ab Master Plus or your George Forman Grill. 

Solution:  Make a real plan and execute it.  Our plans for the zombie apocalypse involve the above costumes, a Super Walmart and the advice found in Rye Bread and the Loafer’s Post Apocalyptic Love Song: Tales of a Doomsday Prepper, to which you really need to click here and give a listen.  No, seriously.  I’ll wait.  Okay, are you back?  Feeling better prepared?  If you still insist on doing actual emergency planning, check out The Red Cross’s plans for emergency preparedness tips and set aside things you’ll actually need in an emergency.  Keep tabs on those items, making sure you use canned goods or bottled water before it expires.  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that everything in your basement or attic is going to be useful in the event of a natural disaster.  No one is going to barter their canned goods for your childhood Barbie Dreamhouse.

Excuse: But I Collect Those!
  I hear you.  I’m not a collector myself, but I’m raising one.  My seven year old will try to turn anything (rocks, Rainbow Loom bracelets, the aforementioned Pokemon cards, stuffed animals, outgrown baseball caps) into a collection if it means he does not have to throw it away.  I mean, it’s a collection, not clutter.  What kinds of collections are you stashing away?  Maybe you have a huge box of Precious Moments figurines in your basement that you don’t display anymore because they no longer fit your home decor style, but you are hanging onto them for your future daughter-in-law.  Because you just know she’ll love them. 

Solution:  Use it or lose it.   I recognize that collections can be such a joy to true collectors.  There is the thrill of the hunt for the perfect item and the joy in introducing your interests to others through a well-maintained and displayed collection.  At their best, collections are the heart and soul of museums (of which I am a big fan).  But a pile of similarly-themed items in a box does not a collection make.  If you have collections that you are not ready to part with, consider putting them on display in your home where you can enjoy them.  Put the stamps in a photo album or hang the plates on a wall.  Enjoy the work you put into curating your collection.  Otherwise, like with the items that are too valuable to give up, it might be time to let your collection be a blessing to someone else.  Just maybe not your future daughter-in-law.  She can thank me later.

Do you see yourself in any of these excuses?  Or do you have other reasons for hanging on to all of the things you don’t use anymore?  I’d love to hear how you’ve overcome your own obstacles to letting go.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 
1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations

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