The Burden of "What If?"

“But what if I need this someday?”

I hear this question constantly. Any little thing in our home, even if dust covered, recently found, or presumed to be junk, suddenly becomes so important we can’t bear to part with it. 

Why is this so common? It relates to the general difficulty of getting rid of something once we have it. Once something is in our home, we own it. We associate with it and then it may begin to creep into our identity. This is when we begin to lose control over what we have and tend to keep things around as a default. It is less about what we want in our homes and really a misunderstanding about what we should keep. Let your home only include just the things you would want if starting from scratch.

“What if’s” manifest our fears because we put so much importance on stuff in general. Sometimes we forget that we are creative and that having the perfect thing at the perfect time is completely unnecessary. Occasionally, you may be minorly inconvenienced but there is likely another way to accomplish what you want to do without the perfect item. Occasionally, you may find that there is a financial cost sometime in the future but that it’s miniscule. Each person’s maximum replacement cost threshold is different. Some say $20 is a good rule of thumb while others say $10. Perhaps for you, it’s $2. Respond to this based on your financial situation, following a rule of thumb that is most comfortable for your current lifestyle. But keep in mind that in most cases, you don’t need to worry about a replacement cost because in the future you would not buy it again. 

So while a few of these “what if’”s are more reasonable (ex. the item is unique, very expensive), most are not. What is the likelihood of the “what if” scenario coming true and what would be the consequence of it not being true? These are the more helpful questions to ask. If you dig a bit deeper beyond your assumptions, you are more likely to let go. An organizing project will take much longer and result in you keeping more stuff than you need unless you address the “what if” problem head on. Instead of framing the question as “what if” I need this someday, ask yourself how bad the negative consequences would be to not have it. In other words, assume you are getting rid of it, unless you are able to make a bulletproof case for keeping it. 

Having some rules of thumb about true cost of replacement and how many multiples of items to keep are helpful in speeding up the decision making process. In the end, “what if’s” are a deterrent and distraction. By asking better questions, you can reassert control over your home space.