10. Three More Simplifying Challenges

Listen to this in Podcast format

Let’s look at a few more challenges you may face when deciding whether something should stay or go. The challenges I describe, and the reasoning behind them, are all based on examples I have seen while working as a professional organizer and discussions I’ve had with clients.

Part One

Mrs. Zimmerman said, “I don’t want this thing, and I don’t intend to ever use it again, but I don’t want to get rid of it because I don’t want it to go to waste.” Hmmm. “Don’t want it to go to waste…..” I believe waste is when something’s not being used to its full potential. If you’re storing something that you’re not going to use, it’s effectively being wasted. Not only is the item itself being wasted, but the space it takes up is being wasted, the time and energy you spend moving and cleaning it is being wasted, and the time you spend looking around it to try and find something else is being wasted.

Furthermore, it’s possible that someone else out there is looking for an item just like yours right now. If you keep yours, unused, in the back of your garage, then that person is going to have to go out and buy a new one, therefore causing energy and resources to be unnecessarily wasted in its production.

If you keep something you’re not going to use, it’s effectively wasted. If you throw in the garbage, it’s wasted also. The best way to ensure that the item is not wasted is to get it into the hands of someone who can use it.

Ways to do that include donating, to Salvation Army, Goodwill, schools, reuse organizations, other charities, or friends. It could also include selling the item at a yard sale, on eBay, or on craigslist. Or it could include giving the item away on FreeCycle or on craigslist. I will devote a future post to the best ways to get unneeded stuff into the hands of people who can use it. Until then, you can use the extensive list of resources on our website.

Part 2

Occasionally, I’ve noticed someone may hesitate to let something go because of some kind of an unrealistic notion of value. Let’s look at two different ways this might show up.

The first is valuing an object based on what you paid for it or what it was worth in the past. For example, Michael said “I don’t want to let go of this camera because I paid $700 for it in 1995, and it’s still brand-new; I’ve hardly used it.” Michael feels like he made a big investment in a possession, and since he hasn’t used it very much, he feels like he didn’t get a good return on that investment. When I asked him if he would ever use it again, he replied “No way! I’ve got a digital camera now. If I used that old film camera, I’d have to pay for film, pay for developing, and I couldn’t even tell if the picture came out until after it’s developed. It’s too expensive and inefficient.”

Well, you know, there will be times when we realize that an investment we made didn’t pay off the way we had hoped. With the financial crisis, there’s been a lot of talk of “toxic assets.” A toxic asset is something that is worth less now than what you paid for it. Well, maybe this old camera has become a toxic asset!

If you’ve ever said, “hey I paid good money for that!” You may be evaluating an object based on its past value, rather than its present value. If something is not important in your life, the fact that you paid a lot of money for it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not important in your life. The investment you made in the acquisition has already taken place. The question is do you want to keep investing time, energy, and money in this object to store it and maintain it, when you’re not getting any benefit from it?

The second counterproductive notion of value is evaluating an object based on market value as opposed to its value to you personally. Randy said, “I’ll never use this, but I could sell it right now for $500.”

There’s a difference between the market value of an object and how it fits into your life. This may sound shocking, but I contend that the market value and what you paid for it are irrelevant to the question of whether it should stay or go. The only thing that matters is how valuable the item is to you, how much benefit you get from it, how it supports what’s important in your life.

So when you’re deciding whether something should stay or go, make that decision based on its value to you personally, rather than its market value. After you do decide to let something go, then you can of course use the market value to decide HOW to let it go. Based on an item’s market value, you may make different decisions about whether to donate it to a charity, give it to a friend, or try to sell it.

Part Three

In your collection of possessions, there may be objects that are broken, that you intend to fix some day. This is an example of what I call a project, something in which you must invest time, effort, money, or all of these before you can get any benefit from it.

For example, I’ve heard:
“I should fix the broken lamp in the basement and then use it in the office.”
“I have all these supplies so that I can make a scrapbook and give it to my cousin as a gift.”

It’s been my experience that most people have more projects on the back burner than they will ever actually do. Therefore, the same way we make decisions about which belongings to keep and which to let go, we also need to make decisions about which projects to hold onto and which to let go. If there are other activities in your life that are more important than fixing this lamp, then every minute you spend on the lamp is less time you have available for those other, more important parts of your life.

Also, when you consider a project, is a passion, or an obligation? Is it something that you feel excited about doing, or do you feel it’s something you should do? Please, be particularly careful about the obligations, about those projects you don’t really want to do, but feel you should. It’s been said that if you have too many “shoulds,” you start to live in a “shouddy” world. Please take care to “should” on yourself as little as possible.

It’s been my experience that projects that are obligations never get done, because there’s always something more important or more enjoyable to do. So I suggest you take stock of all your projects and eliminate any that are “shoulds.” Then, for all the projects that you really do want to do, let go of all but the top three. After all, if these projects really were that important to you, you would’ve already done them.

One Response to “10. Three More Simplifying Challenges”

  1. Randy says:

    ADD keeps many people from doing what they “should”.

Leave a Reply