As I consider the task of decluttering and de-stuffing our home, there are two niggling words that seem to be stifling my best intentions. They are:
You see, despite my enthusiasm to declutter, and despite continually reconnecting with my why for this entire endeavour (a life rich with experience, not stuff), these words poke up and I hesitate.
What if I need this thing again? What if I donate this spare vegetable peeler and my other vegetable peeler stops peeling? What if sell this ball gown and I get invited to a ball? What if I start liking the colour pink? What if we move houses and the new house has no wardrobes? What if there is an emergency and I need old linen to make bandages?
Ah yes, bandages. I sometimes wonder what if there is some catastrophic event. A depression or recession? Something environmental? Perhaps a war? And if that catastrophe happens, will the hoarders of the world have the last laugh?
In the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, the earth is thrust unexpectedly and rapidly into a modern Ice Age. Those who survive only do so through donning ski gear or many layers of winter clothing and by barricading themselves inside, sitting by fires fuelled by papers and books. In this scenario, the minimalists would be the first to go. Picture it: Damn! I only have one winter jumper and in fact, only 33 other items of clothing in my wardrobe! And books? Shit! There’s only these two I borrowed from the local library.
I confess I thought about this movie when contemplating the two vac bags full of thermals and old ski gear I have in the shed just in case. They are still there. I am part laughing at myself here and part recalling the news article titled ‘New climate modelling shows the conditions portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow movie are not so far fetched’.
So one barrier to decluttering, for me anyway, appears to be this worry about the what ifs and a need to hold onto things, just in case.
Have you heard of Preppers? They are people who believe that a catastrophe is likely and imminent and thus they prepare by stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies. You can read about them here or even here. (The clip on teaching kids to shoot is truly terrifying BTW.) Obviously preppers take their what ifs very seriously.
On the lighter side of doomsday preparation, this also reminds me of my absolute favourite episode of the This American Life podcast: Father’s Day 2011. This episode features the story of a dad who copes with his daughter’s move to New York to attend college by constructing her an Emergency Terrorist Attack Kit. If you feel like a laugh or a cry, then this is highly recommended listening.
Anyway as for the apocalypse, I suppose it comes back to how much you want to let the what ifs get in the way of the right nows. Example: Odds of me regretting lack of stockpiled supplies and old-linen-for-bandages because of unforeseen catastrophe?.. Who knows. Odds of unnecessary clutter intruding into my life right now as I waste hours maintaining, cleaning and reorganising it?… 100%!
Returning then to my spare vegetable peeler. The Minimalists (the trail blazers of living more life with less) offer a very helpful solution for getting rid of these little just in case items. It’s called the 20/20 rule.
Essentially, if you are holding onto something just in case, ask yourself:
Can this item be replaced for under $20 and without having to travel more than 20kms out of your way to get it?
If yes, then… Get rid of it! Free yourself from this what if clutter.
Perhaps this sounds wasteful, but as The Minimalists explain here, 99% of the time you’ll find you never need to spend that twenty bucks. Why? Because it turns out, the what if doesn’t happen and that just in case wasn’t so needed after all.