When In Doubt, DON’T Throw It Out

BXP39417When In Doubt, DON’T Throw It Out

I realize this title sounds like organizing heresy, but it’s really all about learning effective organizing habits. When purging clutter with my clients, I tell them that I would prefer that they NOT throw out an item they’re not sure about, than have them waste time and focus with fear and regret. It’s important to let go, but it’s more important to keep the momentum going so the project of the day comes to a satisfying conclusion.

I know you’ve heard the catchy rule of thumb many times: “When in doubt, throw it out.” That’s easy to remember and it’s certainly captures the right spirit of purging, but I also think it can be quite damaging. Many is the time I have seen a client swing from one extreme to another. They get the urge to purge and they suddenly go from keeping everything to tossing everything. I have to keep them from traveling down the path to regret. I don’t want the client to regret their decisions and I don’t want them to regret the process of organizing. The bigger goal of getting organized outweighs the obstacles of a few tough decisions.

Being organized is not about just throwing everything out. Obviously some major purging is usually necessary to get organized, but the goal is to first know WHAT you have, to know WHY you are keeping it, and to know WHERE to find it.

This brings me to another popular organizing rule of thumb: “If you haven’t used it in a year, throw it out.” An argument could be made that if one knew where an old coat was hidden, one might have worn it. There was probably a good reason that coat was hidden, but OK, hang it in a more prominent place, THEN if you haven’t used it in a year, out it goes. If it’s sort of a keepsake you might want to take a picture first.

One condition to the “Don’t throw it out” loophole is you must simply ask yourself WHY you wish to keep something for now and WHERE will you keep it so you can find it. If you can’t find something, there’s no good reason to keep it. I’m not always sure if I’m ready to let go myself, so my solution is a trial purge box.  If I empty a closet out and find a few items that I MAY still want to use, I’ll put them in a box, label it, DATE it, and stow it in the basement. The dating is really important, because our internal sense of timing is never as good as we like to think. When I return to that trial purge box in 12 months or so, I am in a MUCH better position to say “goodbye” to it because I have generously seasoned my decision with time.

Now don’t get me wrong. Giving yourself permission to keep-for-now is not a license to keep everything. It’s simply a device to free up the purging log jam. When you allow yourself this device, however, an interesting thing often happens.  By forcing yourself to ask why you are keeping something and where are you going to put it so you can find it, that’s often enough make you realize,”Aw to heck with it. It’s not worth it!”

TODAY’S KEY TO UNLOCKING CLUTTER: As long as you answer the questions “Where will you be keeping something?” and “Why?,” keeping an item for now can can be just the thing to keep the organizing train moving full steam ahead.

Have you ever thrown out something you’ve regretted?

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