What to Keep, What to Give Away
When I was growing up, life was about gain, gain, gain. People wanted to fill their houses with objects they didn’t really need, as outward evidence of their financial well-being. Nowadays, though, with the current trend for de-cluttering and simplifying, it seems to be that he who has the least, wins. Emotional and psychological well-being has surpassed financial concerns, and now we try to organize our homes so that they appeal to our sense of inner calm, rather than trying to impress the neighbors with how much we have.
However, there seems to be some recent backlash against the whole de-cluttering phenomenon. After the extreme of having as much as possible, followed by the extreme of having as little as possible, people are starting to find a middle road, where a better sense of the utility of certain items can help balance the desire to have things, against the wonderful feeling of being clutter-free. Instead of just throwing everything away indiscriminately, we’re starting to make a deeper analysis of what we need to keep and what we need to discard. But how to make those decisions?
When I went through my major de-cluttering project a few years ago, for a long time I had no regrets whatsoever. It felt so good to be free of all that stuff, that I didn’t think too much about things I might miss down the road. And to be honest, I didn’t miss anything for the first few years, and still there’s a lot of stuff I’m convinced I’ll never want to replace. On the other hand, within the last year or so there are a few things that have popped into my mind, and when I remember that I got rid of them, I feel a tiny pang in my heart at the haste with which I threw away so many things that deserved a greater weighing process.
I have learned my lesson about clearing things out, and now I have a much more comprehensive system for deciding what goes and what stays. If it is an item that has zero sentimental value and no unique qualities, or if it is a broken item that no one will ever care about again, it goes straight into the trash. On the other end of the scale are items that I definitely want to keep, and those stay right where they are. The great majority of things, though, are somewhere in the middle, and I not only give those a lot of thought, I often put them away in a box somewhere, and leave it alone for a couple of weeks. Sometimes when I go back to look at the box of things marked for the charity shop, I’m shocked at what I decided to get rid of. Other things, yes, they do need to go, and they stay in the box. But I’m always glad that I’ve given myself the chance to change my mind, after I’ve calmed down from my cleaning frenzy and am thinking a bit more clearly.
It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees when you’re within the throes of a de-cluttering mission. The process of trashing things seems to gain its own momentum after a while, and before you know it you’re convincing yourself that you don’t really need any of this stuff. But remember that your feelings about the things you own can change over time, and something that seems to be old or useless can have great nostalgic value later. When you’re throwing things away, slow down and ask yourself if anything you’re discarding could possibly be worth something to you in the future, whether in practical or emotional terms. If the answer is really, really no, then don’t hesitate to throw it away. But if your heart hurts at the idea of losing this item, then the answer is yes, and it might be best to hang onto it, for a little while at least. You can always throw it away later if you want to.