8. “I Might Use It Someday”

Listen to this in Podcast format

There’s one phrase that professional organizers probably hear more than any other when working with people who are simplifying. “I might use it someday.”

Let’s first take a look at what this phrase means, and the types of objects we apply it to. I’ve never heard this phrase applied to things we use on a regular basis. I wouldn’t say “I might use it someday” about my car or my computer because I use them both often. When you say, “I might use it someday” you’re most likely talking about something you have used rarely, if ever, in the past and will use rarely, if ever, in the future.

There are two key words in this phrase, “might,” and “someday.” Let’s look at each one individually. First, “might” indicates that the likelihood of using the item is far from certain. It’s possible that it will be used, but it’s probably just as likely it won’t be. Second, it’s been said that “someday never comes,” but even if “someday” does come, it’s uncertain how far into the future it will be when this happens. “Might” and “someday” are two types of uncertainty compounded upon each other.

When someone keeps one item because they might use it someday, it’s very unlikely that this is the only item they are keeping for this reason. It’s far more likely the rationale is applied throughout their lives and with many different possessions. It’s been my experience that if you keep one item because you might use it someday, you end up keeping a whole bunch of stuff because you might use it someday.

Therefore, the phrase, “I might use it someday,” is a very dangerous phrase. It’s dangerous simply because it’s possible to fill up three houses and seven storage units with stuff you might use someday. So please, please, please, pay special attention to any time you use the ‘M’ word in the same sentence with the ‘S’ word.

Here are some examples of things you “might use someday.”

• Clothes that don’t currently fit. You might be keeping clothes that are too small in case you lose weight in the future.
• An extra blender or two, in case the one you currently use breaks.
• Contacts. For example, I had a client named Jerry, who for years had saved all the junk mail he received, a quantity amounting to boxes and boxes. He said he was saving them in case he might use them someday, and when I asked him to be more specific, he said “if I ever need a gardener, for example, I can go into these boxes, and I know I’ll be able to find a contact of a gardener.”

So for Jerry, the junk mail represents a resource, an opportunity. It’s important to know, however, that this is not the only resource at his disposal. For example, I can think of a bunch of possibilities for what Jerry can do if he does ever need a gardener.
1. He can ask friends and neighbors who have used gardeners for a recommendation of someone they’ve had good experiences with.
2. He can find a gardener who is Diamond Certified.
3. He can do an Internet search for gardeners in his area.
4. He can get a recommendation from the local Better Business Bureau.
5. He can get reviews from websites that offer reviews like yelp.com or Angie’s List.
6. Or, he can look through his boxes for a gardener who did a bulk mailing five years ago. The company may no longer be in business, their contact information may have changed, or they may have a reputation for doing poor-quality work, but Jerry wouldn’t know that from this piece of junk mail.

Of all these possibilities, which presents the best opportunity? Which is the most empowering? Which is most likely to yield the best results? Of the six options, number six, the one that Jerry is doing, is not only the least effective, but also the one that takes the most space and the most effort.

I want you and Jerry to realize how resourceful you are. And by resourceful I mean “full of resources.” Each of your possessions is a resource, but beyond that there are lots of other resources as well. When you view your possessions in the context of the full range of resources available to you, you can make decisions about simplifying that will better serve you.

Now, I have to address the reason a lot of people give for not wanting to let go of items they might use someday. I’ve heard people say, “I let go of something, but then almost immediately, I needed it.” For example, Bob said, “in 1996, I let go of a battery charger, and then I needed it the next day.”

This is quite a coincidence, isn’t it? When someone makes the decision to let go of something, it’s because they haven’t used it in a while, and they don’t expect to use it in the near future. So this person went from not using an item for long time to suddenly needing it right away. What’s going on here? I believe that it’s not really about the usefulness of this particular object, but more about the ability of our minds to keep track of our stuff. Let me explain.

If you haven’t used something for a long time, you may forget that you own it. If you remember that you own it, you may not remember where it is. If you remember where it is, you may realize that it would be hard for you to get to it. In any case, the awareness of this possession and what it can be used for is going to be buried in the clutter of your consciousness. It’s possible that even if you did have a “need” for this item, the thought would never occur to you.

On the other hand, imagine that you are organizing and you encounter this object. You may have a thought like “Look at that. I forgot I owned that,” or “oh, that’s where that is!” Then you spend time considering this object, what it’s used for, how useful it is, how often you use it, and how important it is to you. Finally, you make the decision about whether this item should stay or go. All of these considerations have the effect of bringing this possession to the foreground of your consciousness, so now, when you encounter a situation where this object could be used, it’s much more likely to occur to you. It’s sort of like how after you buy a new car, you notice more of that type of car on the roads. There are not actually more cars of this make and model, you just notice them more.

Let’s take a look at an example of this in real life. Remember Bob, who let go of a battery charger but then needed it the next day? If Bob had forgotten that he owned a battery charger, he would’ve probably just made arrangements to charge his battery some other way, like jumpstarting it using a pair of jumper cables and his wife’s car. But since he had just encountered it the day before, he remembered the battery charger, and very reasonably thought that this would be a perfect occasion to use it. Bob may have needed that tool several times in the past five years but didn’t ever use it, but now that it’s fresh in his memory, he regrets not having it.

It’s reasonable for Bob to regret not having it, especially since this would be an ideal situation to use it. However, if Bob uses this experience with this one possession in order to justify keeping a lot of stuff that he doesn’t use very often, it’s likely that he won’t be able to actually use that stuff whenever he does have a need for it. I believe that our minds can keep track of a certain number of items, and people who have a lot of stuff, especially if it’s disorganized, tend to lose track of it.

So when you’re about to keep an item because you might use it someday, I invite you to also consider the following questions:

1. Is there another way you can accomplish the same objective? For example, Bob can achieve the same end by jumpstarting his car as he could with the battery charger. When I was a student in France, I had a good friend who was Ukrainian. I still remember him sharing his impressions of America. He told me once that he had heard that in America, there’s a device for everything. “I’ve heard,” he said with outright incredulousness, “there’s even a special tool you can use to scratch your back!” In some sense, my friend was right. We have tools to peel an orange, to peel garlic, to crush garlic, to slice eggs, to cut apples, to hold corn-on-the-cob, and to scratch our backs. If you use these conveniences, that’s great. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. But, although the companies who sell these devices will claim you can’t live without them, you can usually find some other way to do the same thing.

2. If you do need it in the future, how likely is it you will be able to remember, find, and access that tool at that time? Remember that the more stuff you keep because you might use it someday, the less likely you’ll actually be able to use it when needed.

3. If you do need it in the future, how likely is it that it will still be usable? Michael kept a whole box of computer cables, but when he needed them, he realized they no longer were compatible with his current computer. Jerry kept the names of companies he may want to do business with someday, but many of these companies went out of business before he ever called them.

4. Does the benefit you get from something you might use someday justify the cost of keeping it? In “The Hidden Cost of Stuff,” I discuss this question further.

5. For each item that you might use someday, is there someone out there who really needs it right now? If so, the satisfaction you get from donating an item now may be more than the benefit you might get from it someday.

6. If the item is information, is it available via other sources, like a library or over the Internet?

7. If you donate this item, and later discover that you do really need it, how hard would it be to replace it? I would never recommend donating something you think you’re going to need, but for an item you might use someday it may be worth the risk to let go, knowing you can replace it if it does become necessary.

There are more and more reuse organizations popping up all around the country. They allow you to combine the benefits of donating and ease of replacement in order to reduce the amount of stuff you need to store for yourself. A client Phyllis is a perfect example of this. Phyllis is an extremely creative artist, a sculptor. When I met her, her studio was full of unusual objects that she thought she might use them some day in an art project. However, her studio was so full of these objects that she had no room left to work. All the stuff she might use someday was keeping her from being creative now. I told Phyllis about a local reuse organization called SCRAP. SCRAP stands for the Scroungers Center for Reusable Art Parts. As the name implies, it’s a huge warehouse full of objects that someone could use in art project. Knowing about SCRAP benefited Phyllis in two ways. First, she was able to all the unusual objects to SCRAP. This gave her more space to work, gave her a tax deduction, and made these objects available to others who could make better use of them than she could. Second, when Phyllis does need something in particular for an art project, she can go to SCRAP and most likely find something at the time she needs it. After all, the selection at SCRAP is much larger than the selection she could keep in her studio. Rather than storing her own warehouse of stuff, Phyllis decided to use SCRAP’s warehouse instead. Creative reuse places, like SCRAP, allow you to change from keeping a bunch of stuff you might use someday to being able to obtain the items you need when you need them. Such resources are now all over the country, and I will talk more about them in a future podcast.

Ultimately, at the deepest level, I believe that a reason people keep stuff they might use someday is because they are afraid that when they do need to do something, they will lack the resources they need to accomplish it. I believe this underestimates our resources, and I believe that our best resources are not our possessions, but our creativity, our resourcefulness, our intelligence, and our friends and families. Letting go of objects you might use someday will help you to enjoy, appreciate, and benefit more from what’s important in your life right now.

This wraps up our discussion of the phrase “I might use it someday.” Have you ever said, “I don’t like this item, but it was a gift from my dear friend”? The topic of my next post will be simplifying gifts. Until then, make you realize how resourceful you really are.

3 Responses to “8. “I Might Use It Someday””

  1. Randy says:

    I can’t live without my backscratcher.

  2. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

  3. ODESSA STEELE says:

    Every time I come to clutterfreeservices.com you have another remarkable post to read. A friend of mine was talking to me about this topic a couple weeks ago. I think I’ll send my friend the link here and see what they say.

Leave a Reply