A Phrase I Don’t Love

Woman feeling doubtful

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.

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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…”?

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