Let’s Be Honest

woman trying to decide yes or not and be honest.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Decluttering is a process that requires making decisions about what to keep and what to remove. I encourage clients to keep items that they use, need, and love. One category of belongings that I find can be challenging to shed are those for which we “have a plan.”

These are items that we intend to come back to at some point in the future, and as a result, they have staying power. These possessions represent good intentions. Unfortunately, we often fail to carry through with our plans, and thus these belongings end up clogging up space that would be better used for objects we are actively using. When it comes to possessions like these, it’s time to be honest.

 What kind of pieces am I referring to? Here are a few examples:

  • Old electronic devices from which we plan to remove files and/or photos
  • Photographs that we plan to frame, display, organize, put into albums, or give to children
  • Clothing we plan on wearing “when we lose a few pounds”
  • Broken objects that we plan on repairing
  • Borrowed items that we intend on returning to the original owner
  • Appliances and gadgets that we are going to figure out how to use

Let me clearly say that everyone has some of these belongings, including me. Busy schedules and pressing responsibilities dictate that we cannot tackle every project as quickly as we might like. Nevertheless, if our space is unpleasantly crowded or inefficiently organized, it behooves us to be honest about our commitment to our plans.

A helpful course of action when you run across an item like this is to ask yourself – and honestly answer – a few questions:

  1. Do I have the knowledge to carry through with my plan? If not, am I realistically going to seek and obtain it?
  2. What is the likelihood that I will ever get around to following up on my idea, and do I have the requisite time in the foreseeable future?
  3. Is my original plan still worth completing?
  4. Do I still want to do what I was originally planning to do?
  5. Has anything changed since I made my original plan that has made me feel differently?
  6. Can I afford to carry through with my plan?

Let’s take an example and see how this might play out.

One object that I frequently come across and that falls into the “plan” category is “baby book.” If you’ve never seen one, these are scrapbooks with spaces to record all kinds of baby milestones, facts, special objects, and observations. They are a common baby shower gift and seem like such a nice idea, offering a simple and convenient place to capture sentimental information. The problem is that most parents never fill them out. In fact, if you have an empty (or only partially completed) baby book in your home, I dare to suggest that you are in the majority.

The truth is that the time surrounding the arrival of a new baby is busy and frankly, completing a baby book can very rationally get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Even those parents who successfully fill out a book for their first child may find they simply aren’t getting around to it for the second (and/or third, fourth, etc.) child. For some reason, this one item seems to elicit a lot of guilt, so much so parents hold onto these books year after year, even for children who are in high school or beyond.

So how can the questions above help you decide what to do? Let’s look back at the questions and see.

1. Do I have the knowledge to carry through with my plan? If not, am I realistically going to seek and obtain it?

Depending upon the age of your children, you may no longer have access to the information called for in the various sections of a “baby book.” (Does anyone remember when Junior took his first step?) You also may not have saved an item the book calls for (Darn, I never saved a lock of hair from the first haircut!)

Take a look at the book and ask yourself how much of it you can actually complete. If you lack the resources to fill in the book, what’s the use in keeping it? After all, a partially completed book may make you feel worse than not having one at all.

2. What is the likelihood that I will ever get around to following up on my idea, and do I have the requisite time in the foreseeable future?

If you didn’t fill out the book when the child was a baby, how committed are you to doing it now? It’s okay to say you have no desire to complete it. That doesn’t make you a bad parent. You are probably busy being the best parent you can be today and filling out a baby book won’t make you a better one. If other parental priorities are higher on your list, feel free to focus on what matters most.

3. Is my original plan still worth completing?

As a parent of two young adults, I can honestly say that having a baby book is not one of my children’s primary concerns. In fact, at the moment, I still have practically all of my children’s memorabilia in my attic. They are both moving around, living in small apartments, and acquiring possessions they picked out. Would a baby book be fun to peruse? Sure! Do they want to have it in their apartment? Nope. A completed baby book falls into the “nice” bucket. It definitely isn’t necessary, and its presence or absence does not weigh heavily in their memory of their childhood.

Consider your own experience. Did your parents fill out a baby book for you? If so, do you look through it often? Ever? If not, does it feel like you are missing something important?

Just because an item exists doesn’t mean you need to own one or that it is somehow critical for a fulfilling life.

4. Do I still even want to do what I was originally planning to do?

Filling out a baby book is an activity which some people love. In fact, scrapbooking (whether paper or digital) is a hobby. Others find the very idea boring or tedious. Perhaps there was a time when you thought you would enjoy the process, but now you just dread it. In all honesty, there are many other things you would rather do for your children than sit down and fill out a baby book. If this is how you feel, donate the book and go do those other things. It is perfectly acceptable to be the parent you are, not the one you think you ought to be.

Children love attention, care, and thoughtfulness, particularly when a parent bestows it with joy and enthusiasm.

5. Has anything changed since I made my original plan that has made me feel differently?

There could be a variety of circumstances that have made the idea of completing a baby book no longer appealing. Loss, struggle, strained relationships, illness, and more could make it hard to go back and fill out a book that arrived in your life when things were different.

There is no reason to perform an unnecessary task that is painful or unpleasant.

6. Can I afford to carry through with the plan?

In the case of a baby book, the financial outlay associated with its completion is probably low. Maybe you need to print a photo or two. Nevertheless, time is a valuable commodity. Consider your “hourly rate,” and whether this endeavor is worthwhile.

*     *     *

Baby books are just one example of many items that might be stalled in your space, awaiting action. Whenever you come across these kinds of belongings, use these questions to help you honestly decide whether or not they justify the space that they are consuming.

Can you think of a possession that you have plans for, and yet never seem to get around to? Will answering these questions help you figure out how to proceed?

35 thoughts on “Let’s Be Honest”

  1. I love all the questions you offered to help tease out the validity or value of holding on to incomplete or never-to-be-done projects. It’s the area we so often can get stuck in. Sometimes we remain in that “someday” or “hopeful” mode. We’re living aspirationally and not practically. And maybe that project (like the baby book) is important enough to stay on the to-do list. But if not, I love the permission you give to let go. Let go of the idea, the commitment, and the physical stuff taking up physical and emotional space.

    Living in the present with the things that support this time is a gift. Sometimes we don’t recognize how much the past holds us back until we’re willing to release some of the stuff. It can be freeing.

    1. It really can be freeing. I completely agree that we don’t even recognize the weight of what we are carrying. I know someone who has been planning to complete a knitting project for many years. At this point, I think it is the not knowing how to start again that is the barrier. I wonder if this project is so important that she couldn’t just let it go and start over when she feels excited about doing so. Hopefully these questions can help people walk through this decision process.

    1. I know crafters and artists can make terrific use of “bits and pieces.” I think if you are still actively knitting, keep the ones that have you sufficient quantity of to use. The real question is whether or not you are enjoying and participating in yarn crafts. If/when you find that you are not, that is the time to seriously consider passing the yarn on to someone who would use them right now.

  2. I love the way you have laid this out. And having permission to let an old “ought to do” project go is huge. I have found that it can help to make a list of projects that are hanging around and put down by each one how long it would take to complete the project. That can be an eye opener and a way to cull some of the lingering projects.

    1. That’s a great idea. I’d love to go through that exercise with my husband, who has many of these (and their supplies) hanging around in “our” space. 🙂

  3. My dad had a saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” These intentions include how to take care of things. While we aspire to be the one to repair or do these things, you call directly into awareness how unprepared we are with skill and time. Your questions coach us into realizing that we might be best off with letting this stuff go.

    1. That burden may simply not be worth carrying around. I think it is heavier than we realize, potentially making us feel guilt and shame. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t hold onto physical objects that make us feel bad.

  4. You are so right, Seana! So many of us, my self included, have projects that are best released. This way they will not hold us (just be their mere presence) and make us feel guilty. I love the example you presented. I mostly filled out a baby book for my first child and not at all for my second child. Looking at the unfilled book made me feel very guilty and irresponsible – something I am not! I let that book go several moves ago.

    1. Ah, the upside of moving! That helps us feel the motivation we need to shed a bit because we feel it both in our wallet and our back, right? Good for you. 🙂

  5. Yes, I have stuff like this. (I am usually motivated to purge such items when, eventually, I need the space for something that now seems more important.) When it comes to question #6 — Can I afford…? — people tend to think mostly in terms of money. But there are also time and energy “budgets” to consider. The flip side is how much money, time, and energy is currently being spent to maintain the half-finished project or aspirational item? Is it occupying space you could use for something else? Do you imagine it nagging at you? Does it require dusting or other upkeep? Are you paying extra for storing it? (P.S. My mom made a baby book for me. I look at it whenever I see it which is almost never because it’s stored away in a bin.)

    1. Wow, I really can just picture the project “nagging” me… mocking me! That’s a great visual, Hazel. I’m not saying that baby books aren’t nice to have, they are! It’s just that they are not the sign of having been a good parent, right? So many projects like these weigh on us, and who needs that?

  6. It is so true about the baby books. I think we got five.. I maybe half filled out one. And I wasn’t prepared for body changes after having Scarlet, despite still being slim, and I held onto low rise jeans for YEARS thinking they would magically fit again. What the what?
    And I do have an old computer I’m afraid to get rid of until I can figure out how to get the music and photos off of it!
    Tamara recently posted…My, My, My, It’s a Beautiful WorldMy Profile

    1. Ah, the body changes. Yes, I think I had some of those jeans as well. Long gone, now! I don’t think I filled out a baby book for either of my daughters, and neither of them feel that they were somehow robbed of a valuable item!

  7. Oh, the plans! Many of my clients have had these “plans,” and while going through questions similar to yours with them, they usually end up getting rid of 90% of the objects that had “plans.”

    Selling objects tend to stick around longer than I want, so instead, I give them away. A few weeks ago, I had two end tables that my daughter didn’t need for her apartment. I took a picture of it, shared it on my HOA community Facebook page, and at the end of the day, they were gone.

    Wanting money for an object they may have to spend a small fortune on can make people hold on to things way too long. I try to explain to clients that the value may not be there any longer. Some understand; others do not. At that point, it is up to them to determine if keeping an object and its plan are more important than the space it is taking up.

    I love the list of questions. I tend to give myself a timeline to do the project, so it doesn’t linger too long. If I don’t have it done by a particular time, like a year or two, I get rid of it.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…What to Keep in Your Bill Paying StationMy Profile

    1. I love this comment – holding onto items to sell them is such a great one! My husband has a pile in his office that fit this category right now. The same questions apply. Often, it is just a better choice to donate.

      Timeline is a great way to add a boundary to an outstanding project!

  8. Nagging projects are the worst – the longer we put off doing them, the more our brains think they must be really difficult, otherwise we would have done them already. Yes, I have a project you’ve inspired me to take care of and I think the way to take care of it is to not do it. What a relief to let that one go!

    1. That’s such a good point, Lucy. When we put things off, we are reinforcing the mental image we have of the project being difficult, unpleasant or otherwise unappealing. Excellent!

  9. I absolutely love this reality check approach, with defined questions to ask. Not only will this help people make decisions about their possessions, it’s more likely to make them feel CONFIDENT that they’ve made the right decisions. I have a very detailed “baby book” my mother made for me, but it’s the kind designed to take you through high school. Mine is incredibly well-kept until around 4th grade!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Rhymes With Brain: Languishing, Flow, and Building a Better RoutineMy Profile

    1. Wow, your Mom had GOALS! That is quite a commitment. Have to say I’ve never seen a book from birth-senior year completed. And I thought getting the baby stuff recorded was a challenge. Sounds like you have a nice piece of memorabilia nonetheless.:)

  10. I certainly have many of these hanging around. I have always had trouble getting rid of things but I am better than I used to be. I had baby books for both children and finished neither. I think I started both. I eventually gave them to the girls “as is” and they probably threw them away-a no guilt way to get rid of something.

  11. I think everyone can relate to this post. I love the questions you formulated for decision making. They help to put things in perspective. Another example I have often seen is craft projects. I’ve been working with my husband’s aunt on downsizing, and she has entire sections of rooms dedicated to unfinished or envisioned projects, and she is by no means the first I’ve come across. Crafters often shop for an intended craft and then later they can’t remember what they originally intended to do with the supplies!

    1. I completely agree! Crafts and craft supplies are a common category for this type of belongings. It’s funny how we can forget why we even bought the items in the first place!

  12. I like the question, “Is my original plan worth keeping?” I find people have plans to do scrapbooking. It might have been something they liked in the past or thought it would be a good idea. Their life may have changed and it might not be a hobby they are interested in anymore.

  13. Oh wow, I think you were peeking in my memorabilia closet..I have an unfinished baby book. Reasons why I haven’t finished it? I’m not a scrapbooker (it was a gift), I feel guilty that I don’t have a similar one for the second child, I’m impatient when it comes to photos, it definitely was not part of my original plan, did I mention I’m NOT a scrapbooker?? That said, it’s not taking up a ton of room in the closet at this point, and I do like to keep photos and mementos. I’ll probably take out the one finished page and let the rest of it go. Thanks for all of the great questions – very helpful and thought-provoking!

    1. I’d say you qualify as “normal” on this one. It has been interesting to see how few people have actually completed a book for each of their children, and how guilty people feel about not having done so! I’m giving you permission to pitch.. if and when you want to make a decision!

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