Decluttering: Do You Use The ‘Future Use Excuse’?

De-cluttering: Do You Use The 'Future Use Excuse'?

How much ‘stuff’ do you have? Any idea? Too much? Not Enough?

If your answer was ‘too much’ then the chances are that you have used the future use excuse.

… i.e. “I might need that someday.”

In this article I’d like to take a moment to discuss with you the idea of removing clutter from your life.

Ideally, I’d like to convey the message that when you remove clutter (which we’ll take to mean things you don’t really need) then you make not just more space physically but mentally too.

When you de-clutter you make not just more space physically, but mentally too.

Decluttering Using Numbers

Can you put a number on how many possessions you have?

How easy would it be to halve that number?

Well, for starters if you give it a number, probably a lot easier than if you don’t.

There have been quite a number of really interesting ‘challenges’ on various websites which encourage you to cut down the amount of stuff you have by numbers. Here are some of them:

  • Courtney Carver’s Project 333
  • Colleen Madsen’s 365 Less Things
  • Leo Babauta’s 50 Things Challenge
  • Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge

There seem to be quite a few 100 things challenges out there these days.

Also of note: Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle owns 51 things (at last count), and Tammy Strobel has 72 things.

All very cool.

The number doesn’t matter by the way – it’s switching from not knowing what you’ve got to being conscious of what you have that is the all important switch.

The number doesn’t matter, it’s switching from not knowing what you’ve got to being conscious of what you have that’s the key switch.

It’s a Personal Thing

As I said, the number doesn’t matter.

I’m not suggesting here that you reduce your life to 50 things. Or even 100.

The point is to avoid waste and excess and be conscious of what you really want and need in life – make time for those things, look after them. Cherish them.

Personally I have few things that I don’t use but I am far from a minimalist.

I did more than halve the number of t-shirts I have (I used to have a LOT of t-shirts, and still have quite a few) – for me the determining factor is the space in a single draw I have for all of my t-shirts and polo shirts. If they don’t fit neatly in the draw, then that means I have too many and have to get rid of some. Plus, if I buy a new shirt I have to get rid of at least one old one.

(i.e. the answer is not we need more drawer/wardrobe space, it’s: we need less clothes).

As far as books are concerned, I’m still finding that a struggle, but I’m working on it…

Decluttering by Category

Common questions when looking at the subject of decluttering are “Do I have to count every item of clothing?” or “Can I count all of my books as one item?”.

I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer but obviously there’s no point in decluttering everything else if you still have a house full of books or clothes (or any other ‘collection’).

So if you want to start with a simple decluttering exercise, just start with one of these categories. Count every single item of clothing you have (yes you can count a pair of shoes as one item) and then make a note of that number. Now halve that.

Get rid of the 50% of your clothes that you like the least. Go on, you can do it.

3 Simple Ways To Declutter

Here are 3 simple ways to deal with the future use excuse.

Whether you are doing this by numbers (i.e. you have X items and you have decided to get rid of Y of them) or you are doing this for every item that provokes the future use excuse, try one of the following 3 methods:

1. Put it in a box – if you haven’t opened that box in a certain fixed period (I’d suggest 6 months) then get rid of it. You don’t need it.

2. Give it away – to a friend or use something like freecycle to find a good home for it – you’ll feel better about giving it up that way.

3. Sell it – if possible – the money you get from selling this particular item takes less space in your life and is going to be far more use to you than that thing you think you might possibly need in the future but almost certainly never will (and the emotional baggage that goes with it).

What It’s Like To Have Less Stuff

Really liberating.

Having a few treasured possessions you really can’t live without means that you get to appreciate what you have more, you look after them more and you get to invest in the stuff that really matters (both physically and emotionally).

So here’s the thing.

We already agreed that removing clutter from your life frees you mentally as well as freeing up physical space…

What you’re actually doing is first of all identifying and then making room for the things that are really important in your life.

By decluttering and removing all waste and excess, you are making space to enjoy the things that are really important in your life.


Decluttering: Do You Use The ‘Future Use Excuse’? — 19 Comments

  1. Hi Alan

    You inspired me to finally retire some of my old t-shirts. I knew that I kept wearing the same ones, but couldn’t face saying goodbye to some old favourites. I was originally not too sure about the 50% rule, so I instead tried to set a rule of ‘if I haven’t worn in last 6-12 months – it goes in the charity pile’. It turns out that I got to 26 to keep, 24 to charity and 2 not sure. It was so close to the 50%, that the final 2 went to charity. It feels good looking at my uncluttered wardrobe. Not sure why I need 26 t-shirts, but it’s a start. I’m even going to be brave and apply the 50% rule for the next set of items – my work shirts. Cheers Jonathan

    • Awesome.

      Restricting work shirts to only the very best ones you have is both liberating and sensible.

      T-shirts you can get away with hanging on a bit longer as they start to get a little worn. Work shirts, definitely get rid of them as soon as they get even the slightest bit worn. It’s a good way to guarantee you keep them crisp and clean and keep space in your wardrobe. Go for it!

  2. Your idea of only adding one more thing if you get rid of another is one we’ve been trying (sometimes with more success than others) to practice. We call it “one in, one out.”

    As for the books. I’ve only recently received a Kindle and have yet to put it to good use. But loading items to it is on my weekend to-do list. I’ll see how this goes, because I do so love the touch and smell of real live books.

    One decision we made a few years back which has helped with our book problem was to only purchase reference books. We borrow (from that old fashioned place — the library) fiction and non-fiction we expect to read only once.

    • Hi Yvonne,

      I know what you mean about real books. There’s a kind of romanticism about them – plus you can’t sit on a kindle when your bum gets cold.

      – but I do like the convenience of a Kindle – plus I’ve wrapped mine in a lovely home-made leather binding which makes it feel like a warm old book personalized just for me (and by me).

      Reference books don’t really work well on a Kindle so I’d definitely agree with you there.

  3. Sometimes getting rid of clutter seems like a never ending task. It seems like there is always as much stuff going into my house as stuff I get rid of. For me, it’s that people give stuff to me that I don’t need and i feel obligated to hang on to it for a while. There are a quite a few gifts I’ve had that just sat in my closet for a year and then ended up in the giveaway pile.

    You make an interesting point that when you have less stuff, it makes you treasure the items you have left over more. I can definitely see that. The ones you keep around should have greater value. Plus you’re not mentally looking after them with other things too so you can focus on them more.

    My wife and I have been talking about getting rid of some of our clothes. We regularly donate a bag of clothes about once or twice a year, but it seems like there is always more. I think it’s time for another round of donating clothes. Maybe I’ll try to get rid of half and see how that goes.

    • I hear you Steve. I think you have to slowly and gently train people not to get you too much stuff.

      We have somehow slowly but surely encouraged gifts to be more of a consumable nature, if we get any at all, e.g. at XMas time – then there’s far less chance of waste.

      Getting rid of clothes is definitely very liberating – at least I have found so, I really like the clothes I have left, and the fact that when I want to get something new I find it hard to part with something in it’s place, means I value what I have left even more.

      Less stuff also makes the house tidier 😉

  4. Similar to Annie, I’m a reluctant minimalist having moved several times over the last few years. Getting rid of anything that wasn’t a necessity was incredibly liberating (emotionally and physically).

    Now that I’ve settled in Paris, I’ve started to accumulate things but my buying habits have changed – I buy fewer things (read:shoes) but higher quality things, which means I ultimately accumulate less.

    • A reluctant minimalist. I like it – that would proabably make a good blog.

      Let me check the URL…

      OK, so it’s not often that a good URL is available but according to godaddy, is.

      Now, I think it’s quite catchy. Maybe it’s just the moment. Could be a good ‘niche’ – there are lots of blogs on minimalism, but reluctant minimalism. I think you’re on to something there. Gran that URL while you can.

      I’m not gonna – I have too much on my plate for the moment, especially for someone who claims to be retired 😉

      So how many pairs of shoes do you have (that’s not something a gentleman is supposed to never ask, is it?)?

        • I’ve never had to ‘gran’ anything before, Alan….not sure I want to know what it means 😉

          I guess you can add this to the list of questions a gent shouldn’t ask, but since you HAD the audacity to, I can tell you the number is currently at 15. And I only buy shoes now when a pair is replaced. Yikes.

          The reluctant minimalist eh….added to my projects list 🙂

  5. Twice in my life I’ve narrowed my things down to a small level (a 4×5 foot storage locker). Much like Annie’s description, it was quite liberating. While I now have a great deal more belongings, I go through everything I own twice a year and eliminate a LOT of things each time. It feels wonderful.

    One thing that I that I’ve learned is that it is just stuff. The memories are mine forever, whether I have these representations of events past or not.

    • Thanks for the comment Tammy.

      Good idea to periodically go through everything you own – and if you’ve got the amount of stuff down, then presumably this becomes quicker and more liberating every time you do it?

      • It does become quicker and easier each time I do it. I don’t know that it feels more liberating. Not doing it now makes me feel like I’m drowning in stuff. Purging excess returns me to feeling “normal”.

        • That’s really cool – I like the idea that you only feel normal when you purge excess – that’s got to be a good habit to have.

          I’m not sure when I feel normal but I’d like to think I’m similar – at least I don’t like any form of excess and I’m much more tuned into that these days – especially with things like eating out where I used to often order too much (now I order less and enjoy it more).

  6. Love this topic Alan. I don’t know the actual count of things I own in total but I do make sure that all of my belongings can fit in one 50 pound suitcase not including my violing and digital toys. By virtue of living in a place and moveing every 8 months has made me an unwilling minimalist.
    I fought it at first and missed a bunch of stuff but now, it is very liberating. My husband Blake has never recovered. He still buys things that he likes to have. He just bought some wellies because he likes the idea of them. He also buys physical books even though he will have to leave them behind while all my books are now digital and i can read them anytime i want.

    It would be a challenge for me to get down to 100 hundred things unless it was a necessity. I don’t think i would ever do it by choice.. It sounds miserable to me actually. I still carry a cheese grater with me in my luggage and a crepe rake and there is no way i am giving those up.

    • Hey Annie – me too, particularly the idea that by getting rid of stuff you make more room mentally as well as physically.

      I have to admit that was something of a revelation to me even though it’s kind of obvious when you think about it.

      These days to it’s probably far more possible than ever to have fewer things – an office in a laptop, a library in a kindle and a record collection in an ipod. That’s 3 things with a lot of ‘stuff’ packed into them.

      Wellies in the South of France doesn’t quite compute for me – you definitely need them where we live though.

      Also – you’re right – I think the numbers can be a bit distracting, the point is perhaps just to remove excess and appreciate what you have – the numbers don’t really matter (unless you need them for discipline).

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