A Phrase I Don’t Love

Woman feeling doubtful. There is a common phrase I hear tossed around that I don't love.
Image by cristinaureta from Pixabay

When it comes to de-cluttering, there is a common phrase I hear tossed around: “When in doubt, throw it out.” I imagine the sentiment behind this comment is something along the lines of, “How important can it be if I am not even sure I want to keep it?” It is tempting to overthink decisions, and I can see that this phrase is meant to ease the difficulty of letting go.

However, in my mind, this mantra encourages us to ignore the inner voice that is telling us to hold on. Simply disregarding our concern leaves the doubt unresolved, and potentially sets us up to regret our choice.

In my experience, it actually works better to say, “When in doubt, keep it.” This phrase works well because…

It feels less intimidating.

I always tell clients I will never make them get rid of anything. After all, these are not my belongings. Everyone has a unique relationship with his/her possessions. I am happy to give my opinion (since an objective opinion is helpful), but I won’t pressure anyone to pitch.

It keeps the process moving.

When de-cluttering, it is tempting to get “stuck” belaboring a decision. Unfortunately, this slows the process and kills momentum. Since most people are motivated by progress, it is helpful to make a rapid decision and keep moving.

It minimizes regret.

Few things are more destructive to a de-cluttering project than regret. Regret damages self-confidence, feeds anxiety, and weakens resolve. Letting go should be a freeing process that we feel great about, not an anxious project we dread.

It facilitates learning.

I find that the more a person de-clutters, the easier it gets. As with most skills, we become increasingly comfortable the more we practice. Shedding may seem hard at first, but the more we do it, the less threatening it becomes. An item we may initially have struggled to shed we may find we can effortlessly remove a week later.

It allows context to do its work.

Frequently, we have more than we think we have. We may be “in doubt” about an object because we believe it is the only one we have. In reality, I find clients are regularly surprised to discover that they have multiples or an abundance, which makes it less painful to pitch or certain items.

It provides time for devising smart storage solutions.

With items such as paperwork, we may have valid anxieties about pitching a piece we might later need. If we keep it, we give ourselves time to come up with a safe, reliable, and efficient storage solution once the sorting process is completed.

*     *     *     *     *

If you conduct a sort and find that you have kept more than you can accommodate, it may be necessary to go back and start again. The second time through you will have more information and perspective than when you began, with the likely result that the process will be smoother.

The most important part of de-cluttering is to begin! Grant yourself the permission you need to make the choices that will move you closer to your goal.

How do you handle “when in doubt?”

34 thoughts on “A Phrase I Don’t Love”

  1. I like to use a hibernation box when in doubt. This way you can see what life is like with out the belonging. If you find a need for the item I pull it out of the box. If after a specified amount of time or, if the box is full, it is time for a trip to a local charity. You don’t have to donate the entire box, just what you are ready to let go of.
    Jamie Steele recently posted…Tech Tip: Glitches Be Gone!My Profile

    1. The hibernation box is a great idea! I find that can be especially good with toys and children. It achieves that goal of getting past the difficult decision moment, and so often when you go back and look in the box, you do realize the you can easily let the contents go.

    1. Thanks for this comment, because this is the point I am making. So often if you give yourself permission to keep it, you end up letting it go!

  2. I agree with you and use Jamie’s hibernation box idea. These ideas are particularly important when encouraging your children to go through and purge their toys and belongings.

    1. Totally agree with both you and Jamie, and YES… especially with children. The only tip is to not pull the box back out 3 months later because they often suddenly fall in love with the contents all over again LOL!

    1. This idea is coming up a lot in the comments, so clearly it is a terrific tool. I find that often when people look into the box 6 months later, it is easier to shed much of what they thought they wanted to keep!

  3. Such wise words. I love the context you give and the support for pausing to ask a few questions and not to push if the client isn’t ready.

    I often describe the concept of developing the “letting go muscle.” The more we exercise it, the better equipped we become at making decisions that make sense to us.

    1. What amazes me about the “letting go muscle” is how quickly it strengthens. I feel like I watch the process take place before my very eyes. A couple of hours of de-cluttering and I can clearly see the difference. Much easier than trying to build a six pack:)

  4. Yes! I like the way you think. When in doubt, you may regret dumping something. You can always come back and re-evaluate during your next de-cluttering session.

    1. You can still make great progress without forcing yourself to throw away things that make you uncomfortable. In reality, when you give yourself permission to keep something, you end up getting rid of more!

  5. I have thrown a lot out and not until recently have I regretted it. We had to buy another coat rack and shoe organizer. If only I had hesitated and let Tony keep it, but he keeps so much. I guess sometimes he’s right.
    karen canino recently posted…Small, But SpaciousMy Profile

    1. Most of the time, we don’t regret our decisions. I think the statistic is something like .01%. And, we will never make perfect decisions. Normally, I say trust your gut. If your gut is wrestling, that is when it is okay to keep it, or set it aside and check again in a few months.

  6. Yes! If something gives you pause, then it’s time to think about keeping it. There’s an intuition that is following this pause. It’s a way to live without regret. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Yes, exactly, an intuition. We shouldn’t force ourselves to ignore the inner voice! I’m so glad to see affirmation from my peers on this one:)

  7. I agree. I feel that “When in doubt, throw it out” should not be used in any organizing process. If someone can’t decide, it means they need more time to think about it, do they want/need it or is it sentimental to them. Emotions and feelings are a part of us and we must allow them to come to the surface before taking action. Thanks for sharing. This is great.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Living Room Organizing EssentialsMy Profile

    1. I’ve felt affirmed by comments like these from fellow organizers. Seems like we all feel the same way, which is important for clients (and potential clients) to know!

  8. Really nicely done. I agree. I have found that the second time through, with the new information and knowledge of space decisions are easier to make and the results are longer lasting. I also love the concept of “undecided” as a temporary situation until you have the information to make the decision.

    1. The POs have had a similar response to this post. Your point is excellent.. the “second time through” is often so much easier. Whether it is elapsed time (because we tucked it away in undecided), or just a different perspective (“now that I’ve been through everything, I can let this go”), the choice often becomes clearer.

  9. Very respectful of both the personal nature of de-cluttering, and the organic process.
    Being patient with the decisions puts the person in the center, instead of the stuff.
    Thank you

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