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:
- Do I have the knowledge to carry through with my plan? If not, am I realistically going to seek and obtain it?
- 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?
- Is my original plan still worth completing?
- Do I still want to do what I was originally planning to do?
- Has anything changed since I made my original plan that has made me feel differently?
- 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.
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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?