‘I can’t just throw it away’

I’ve been reading about minimalism this week. I’m not a minimalist, or a maximalist, though I recognise that one’s position on this continuum is not static. Instead it can change as a result of life events, emotions, and even world events. That’s right! The amount of possessions we’re hanging on to could actually be attributed to who’s sitting in the Oval Office!

Well….. possibly. Fumio Sasaki, the author of Goodbye, Things, maintains that the trend for decluttering in Japan really took off after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake – the one we in Europe know more commonly as ‘the Fukushima one’. When this earthquake happened, citizens saw in an instant that their rooms full of carefully selected knick-knacks were also shelves and cupboards of items that could quite literally kill them with a single knock to the head. People began to consider whether every item was actually essential to their happiness, and the desire for simpler, more streamlined spaces grew.

But today we’re not delving further down that particular avenue, interesting though it is.

Instead, possibly more helpfully for you, we’ll look at common reasons that we hold onto possessions, even if we’re not truly delighted by them. These aren’t the only 5 reasons of course – simply the ones I come across most frequently in my work and reading.

  1. ‘But it was a gift. It’d be rude to throw it away’.

There are a multitude of opportunities to give and receive gifts – new babies, birthday celebrations, end of the school term….. sometimes it can feel like a positive merry-go-round of wrapping paper and tape. If we’re honest, how many of the gifts that we received and are on display in our home, bookcase or wardrobe do we truly love?

Some of us may have relatives and friends who actually ask after the gifts they have sent – ‘where’s the parrot shaped vase I bought you for your anniversary darling?’ – but this is seemingly less common than it once was. Perhaps it’s recognised that one’s home is a space to express one’s tastes, or perhaps good manners have reared their head to encourage a more subtle approach.

It can feel like an insult to dispose of a gift item. However, try this viewpoint: most of the joy of a gift is in the selection and giving for the sender, and in the moment of receiving for the receiver. After this the excitement is tempered by time and other matters. So finding a new home for that candle with the scent that makes you sneeze really isn’t so bad. The giver has had their moment of joy by offering it to you. Donate it somewhere where it will have the chance to be someone’s ‘wow’ item – charity shop or school fair? Otherwise you will likely feel resentment every time you pass it, holding your breath, in the hallway.

  1. ‘It was so expensive – I may as well sit outside in the street and post my salary down the drain’.

I have good news for you! You’ve already spent the money. It’s gone. It went the day it left your account and whizzed its way to the company you bought from. Holding on to an item you no longer want or need (or like!) is not going to save you money. If anything it could be costing you money. The item has probably depreciated since you brought it home. Therefore holding onto it ‘because one day I’ll be able to sell it for a fortune’ is only really a good idea if it’s an item with a good known resale value, or if its popular with collectors.

Additionally, if you’re one of the many people who finds that their cupboards are full to bursting and feel you need to buy additional storage items, e.g. plastic chests of drawers to fit next to the wardrobe…… if you discard the unwanted ‘expensive’ items, you won’t have to pay for those storage items. In essence, money saved! On a larger scale, paying for a storage container is an increasingly widespread household expenditure in the UK and USA. That’s right – we’re paying for a storage locker (or even container) because we’ve run out of space in our homes. Add up the cost of those expensive items you don’t want to get rid of and see how quickly you would spend the equivalent in storage fees to keep them.

Truly – it’s fine to get rid of an item even if it was expensive. It’s ok to realise that you made a mistake, or a poor shopping choice. Move on and don’t torture yourself about that decision by keeping the item!

  1. ‘Well I need that’.

Yes. Yes, you probably do. Nobody can dispute the need for thousands of household items that don’t seem particularly joy-sparking. Tea towels are one example that spring to mind. Although you may not want to throw perfectly useful but non joy-sparking items out (and I agree that this seems a bit wasteful), it’s good to make a mental note. ‘OK, I really don’t like looking at these red tea towels. When the time comes to replace them, I’m going to find some lovely grey linen ones that I actually like using’. Functional doesn’t have to be ugly. Shop consciously to invest in items you love using.

  1. ‘It might come in useful one day’.

Many household appliances seem to fall under this category – George Foreman grills, baby food processors, juicers. It’s such a common thing to want to buy the latest fad. Of course a few months down the line we may still be juicing religiously every morning and grilling healthily at night. But most of us have at least one appliance that we’re keeping in case we suddenly really crave home-made ice cream, or home-made bread.

It’s up to you whether you’re ready to accept that home made bread just isn’t feasible for you at the moment. To help you decide, perhaps consider how often you use the item compared to the amount of space it occupies, the amount of time and effort it takes to set up, and the cost of any essential items you need to use it.

  1. ‘It will be very hard to replace this. I’d better keep it / stock up’.

Ah. The big one. This can be a legitimate fear, e.g. holding onto a rare wool colour that you may one day need to repair a beloved sweater that you knitted for your husband.

Of course, living on an island can definitely contribute to this feeling. For example my wife loves Orangina. Every trip to the supermarket sees her stock up, because ‘they might sell out and you know it takes weeks for them to restock’. I can’t argue with her logic, though it’s possible that she’s slowly consuming all of the Orangina on the island herself!

High shipping costs can add to the uncertainty about whether it’s better to discard and re-purchase later if needed (hello Ikea items! and Amazon deliveries!). Only you know how frequently you actually use that item. And for those nagging ‘but one day I might…..’? thoughts? Be honest with yourself – under what circumstances would you use that item? How likely is that to happen? Can you borrow or purchase a similar item off of someone who shares your interest or hobby? Could an agent or specialist here in Malta order the item for you?

So there we have it. Five reasons we hang on to things that often don’t make us that happy.

TL;DR?

We’re all guilty of hanging on to possessions that we don’t truly love.

To shape up our decision making, it’s worth asking questions such as:

‘How often do I use it?’

‘How much space does it take up?’

‘How much has it depreciated by?’

‘What feeling does it give me when I look at it?’

‘Could I easily source a replacement if I needed it in the future?’

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