Today’s post is all about how to handle “just in case” clutter. Those tricky items you find yourself hanging onto “just in case” you might use or need them someday. But in the meantime, are keeping you from fully decluttering your home and enjoying the benefits of simplifying!
Does this sound familiar?
If it does, you’re definitely not alone! Keeping stuff “just in case” you might need it someday, is one of the biggest obstacles many people face when decluttering their homes.
“Just in case” clutter: focus on letting go, not holding on
When you’re decluttering, the trouble is, if you try hard enough, you can probably find a reason to keep just about anything!
It can be hard to let things go that are still perfectly good and usable, even though you aren’t using or needing them. It can be hard to let things go when you can see a potential use for them, even though you don’t ever actually use them.
But if you’re trying to simplify and declutter your home, now is not the time to think about all the ways you could possibly, potentially, maybe, someday use items you’re not currently using or loving.
Instead, focus on your goal of clearing the clutter, the excess and the distractions from your home.
Focus on the goal to give yourself a clutter-free home and the benefits that go along with it. More time, more space, more energy, more financial freedom, less cleaning, an easier to maintain home, etc.
What is clutter?
The first step is learning to identify clutter. Some clutter is obvious to spot. But sometimes identifying clutter can be tricky, especially “just in case” clutter.
Clutter is anything you don’t currently use, need or love and/or isn’t adding enough value to your life to justify the time, space, energy and attention it takes from you.
When you’re decluttering, it’s not the time to think of every potential use or reason for keeping something. Instead, it’s the time to be very honest with yourself about what you truly use, need and love. Then start getting rid of everything you don’t use, need or love!
What is “just in case” clutter?
It sounds easy enough in theory, but “just in case” clutter can be tricky!
But once you teach yourself to spot clutter that you’re holding onto “just in case”, it becomes a lot easier to avoid falling into the trap of keeping “just in case” clutter.
“Just in case” clutter is anything you aren’t using or loving, but find yourself wanting to keep for some reason or future use.
When you come across something you know you aren’t using or don’t need right now, the best way to decide if it’s “just in case” clutter is by literally saying out loud why you want to keep the item.
Look for common words, like just in case, what if, someday
If you find yourself using any of these types of phrases: just in case, what if, someday, that’s a good indicator an item is “just in case” clutter.
For example, maybe you’re keeping a cupboard full of drinking glasses “just in case” you ever host a party for 60 people.
Or maybe you’re keeping a box full of mystery cords you haven’t used in years and don’t know what they’re for because “what if” you get rid of them and then need one and can’t buy it anywhere?
Or maybe you’re keeping piles of scrapbooking supplies because you plan to start or finish a project “someday” when you have more time.
Sometimes “just in case” clutter can come from a frugal or practical perspective. Maybe you’re keeping the extra sets of sheets so you won’t have to buy more when your current sheets wear out. But in the meantime, they are sitting unused and taking up valuable space in your home.
Here are a few more examples of common types of “just in case” clutter:
- Clothes in different sizes, just in case your weight changes.
- Kitchen gadgets you use rarely (or never) use but keep just in case you’ll start using them someday.
- Empty boxes just in case you ever need to return the item.
- Baby items you’re keeping just in case you need them one day.
- A huge stack of towels just in case you’re hosting 20 overnight guests.
- 14 sets of sheets just in case your kids get sick or wet the bed and you need clean sheets.
- Books you’ve owned for years that you plan to read or reread someday.
- Duplicate items, especially old electronics, you’re keeping just in case your new or favourite one breaks or gets lost.
Three common themes drive “just in case” clutter
Notice a theme?
First, all of these words – just in case, what if, someday – are things you’re worried might happen in the future.
And second, they are most often rooted in one of three common themes: fear, procrastination or trying to be frugal or practical.
The problem is, when you keep too much stuff “just in case”, it can add a lot of clutter to your home right now. And prevent you from fully decluttering and experiencing the benefits of a clutter-free home.
First, let’s take a look at the fear that can drive “just in case” clutter
Often, you hold onto these types of items because of the fear of scarcity or not having enough. Holding on makes you feel safe and secure, knowing you will have something if you need it.
You might worry what if you need it and don’t have it anymore? What if you can never find a replacement? What if you regret getting rid of it? How can you get rid of it after spending so much money on it, it feels like a waste?
But the problem for most of us isn’t that we have too little, it’s that we have too much. And that too much is adding unnecessary stress to our lives.
Procrastination is another reason for “just in case” clutter
Another common reason for “just in case” clutter is simply procrastination.
You could be keeping something thinking you’ll use or need it someday.
Or maybe you just don’t want to make a decision about keeping it or getting rid of it right now. You might not be sure what to do with it or where to get rid of it, so keeping it is easier.
Or you’re just not ready – mentally or emotionally – to make a decision. Maybe it feels like you’re giving up a part of your past self who used to use it, or your future self who you hope will use it, so you keep it instead.
Practicality can be another reason for “just in case” clutter
Sometimes the reason you keep “just in case” clutter is driven by trying to be frugal or practical, saving your future self money.
You don’t want to get rid of something you’ll need in the future and have to rebuy. So instead, you find you’re talking yourself into keeping everything just in case you might need something.
The problem with “just in case” clutter
The problem with “just in case” clutter is that there’s usually too much of it.
Everything you choose to keep takes up some of your time, space, energy and attention. If the things you keep are adding value to your life because you use or enjoy them, it justifies that time, space, energy and attention.
But if you’re keeping things “just in case”, but aren’t currently using or enjoying them, they are taking up your time, space, energy and attention without giving you any value back in return.
The “just in case” clutter is weighing you down and adding a burden and stress to your life, without giving you anything in return.
What to do about “just in case” clutter?
Now that you know how to identify it, let’s talk about how to handle “just in case” clutter when you’re decluttering!
The best way to avoid falling into the trap of keeping things “just in case” is by taking a moment to logically think through the “just in case” scenario and evaluate it from a place of realistic honestly, instead of fear or procrastination.
Asking yourself some key questions is a great way to do this. The point of these questions is to dissect the future scenario that’s making you want to keep something “just in case” and figure out the likelihood of it happening.
Questions to help you get rid of “just in case” clutter:
When was the last time you used it?
If you don’t know, or it’s been longer than a year since you’ve used it, you probably don’t need it.
How realistic is your “just in case” scenario?
Think through whatever “what if” or “just in case” scenario in your head and see if it’s ever happened before. Or how often has it ever happened? More often than not, the “just in case” scenarios you might be worried about rarely or never actually happen.
What could you do instead?
If the “just in case” scenario did happen and you no longer had the item, think about what you could or would do instead.
Would you be able to use something else instead? Could you borrow the item from a friend or family member? Would it be the end of the world or a huge hardship if you had to rebuy the item? Can you easily find the item second hand for a low cost? Could you just do without the item altogether?
Sometimes when you look at the “just in case” scenario through a more rational lens, instead of a fear-based one, it can be easy to find alternatives.
Would you remember you saved this item and/or be able to find it if you needed it?
Maybe you save something for those “what if” or “just in case” scenarios, but when the time comes, you either forget all about the item or can’t even find it!
This is especially true if you’re keeping a lot of stuff “just in case”. The more you have, the harder it will be to locate an item if and when you ever need it.
How easily could the item be replaced if you ever did need it?
Although no one ever sets out to get rid of something only to have to rebuy it at some point in the future, it’s worth thinking through this question when you’re keeping something “just in case”.
The Minimalists have something they call the 20/20 rule to help with “just in case” clutter. They say if something could be replaced for less than $20 and in less than 20 minutes, it’s not worth keeping “just in case”.
I like this rule. If you’re hanging on to something “just in case” you might need it someday, take a minute to think about what keeping it and not using it is costing you. It’s costing you time and space and adding unnecessary stress to your life.
It might sting to have to rebuy the odd item here or there if you absolutely need to. But to me, I would rather run the risk of maybe, possibly needing to rebuy one or two items if it means I can clear a whole bunch of clutter and give myself so much more time, space and freedom in the meantime.
And just for the record, in all my years of decluttering, I can’t think of one specific thing I’ve decluttered that I’ve had to rebuy.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you got rid of it?
It’s easy to let your mind get carried away with “what if” scenarios. And one way to thwart the power of those what-ifs is thinking them through all the way to the very worst thing that could happen.
Often, once you get all the way to the very worst thing that could happen, you end up realizing that it’s not so bad after all. Especially when it’s just “stuff” you’re talking about!
If you get rid of the item, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You might need it and have to rebuy it? You might regret you got rid of it, then move on?
At the end of the day, it’s just stuff! And most of the worst-case scenarios aren’t all that bad anyway.
Challenge “just in case” clutter with a maybe box
If you’re still struggling with “just in case” clutter, even after asking yourself these questions, a maybe box can be one of your best secret weapons.
Here’s how a maybe box works. If you’re struggling to decide if you can live without an item, put it in a box, then seal the box and put it out of sight somewhere. Add a reminder in your calendar for some time in the future. Maybe one month, three months, even a year if you’re really struggling!
If you haven’t needed (or even thought about!) the stuff in the maybe box when the reminder goes, get rid of it knowing you don’t need that stuff and can easily live without it.
A maybe box is like a decluttering safety net, letting you be more ruthless with your decluttering decisions. It lets you try living without the item, so you can see how realistic your “just in case” thoughts are. If you end up needing it, it’s still there. And if you don’t, you can feel confident getting rid of it.
Find what is realistically “enough” for you
The goal in decluttering “just in case” clutter (and clutter in general!), is to find what is realistically enough for you. There’s no way to plan for every possible “what if” or “just in case” scenario. Why fill your house with clutter trying to?
Instead, think about what you realistically use, need and enjoy. Then use these questions to work through the fear, procrastination or frugal side of you that’s trying to hold onto clutter you don’t use or need.
Learn to let go of the “just in case” clutter adding stress to your life. Clear the clutter and enjoy the time, space and freedom you can give yourself instead!
Do you struggle with “just in case” clutter? I know I do! Even after all my years of decluttering and loving the benefits of a simplified home, I sometimes still catch myself thinking I’ll keep something “just in case”! The struggle is real! Leave a comment and let me know if you can relate.
Monday 16th of January 2023
Thank you. I appreciate the patient break down. I struggle with having a realistic understanding of what I'll use again in a future season of life. I'm parenting a 5 and 7 year old one with high medical special needs, and their dad has severe mental illness- which requires my daily attention. I have boxes of cooking specialty gadgets and fabrics and crafting supplies etc that I would like to be using, but in this season of life those activities are largely out of reach. I like keeping them, hoping that in a future season of life I'll be able to spend more time creating in those ways again. And if I do move into that season of life I'd be loathe to re buy the fabric stash I've built up now, or the kitchen gadgets I own now. But an equally loud inner monolog wonders if those are simply excuses to hold onto stuff that no longer serves me and it's time to let it go. For the most part those things are boxed up and in the basement i.e. not in the spaces I use daily. What are your thoughts?
Tuesday 14th of March 2023
@Simple Lionheart Life,
Sometimes I find myself holding onto, or even acquiring things that represent the life I wish I had. But instead of giving me joy, it actually just gives me more to try to clean, organize, deal with. Draining. My late best friend hoarded fabrics, material- she was a clever seamstress until her illness, so I know it represented a better future for her, that never came. When she passed, her daughters had to throw it all away, because over time, fabrics decay and smell, and can't be used again. How much better to share it with others who could make beautiful things and share the happiness now. Every time I take a load of bedding, blankets, curtains, household items I have been accumulating in a sad attempt of creating a happy family home, to the local thrift stores and charity shops, I think about the happiness someone else might find with it all.
Simple Lionheart Life
Tuesday 17th of January 2023
Sorry to hear you're in such a challenging season of life. My suggestion would be to let go of the "all or nothing" mentality and see if you can find some middle ground. For example, instead of getting rid of all the fabric or gadgets, can you get rid of some of it or the things you like least or don't see yourself using in the future. Keep your favourites and let go of some of the things to see how that feels. I hope that helps. Thanks for reading :)
Monday 9th of January 2023
My husband died last January. I had been removing things in the house that we were not using before he died for about two years, he didn't want to get rid of anything because we might use it. I just moved 2000 miles away and sold the house bought a new one. A smaller one and I knew that I didn't have room for a lot of things so I got rid of a lot of things. Now that I'm in my smaller house, I still have a lot of things. I have momentos from our trip we took to Australia and New Zealand. Those are hard to give up because it was a really fun time and they're small which means you have to dust them. Sometimes I put some of them away and bring them out at another time. Anyway, I have way too many utensils in the kitchen, some are from my Mom so I'm gonna choose to keep those that are still good and not keep some of mine that I haven't used in forever because I don't cook much anymore especially with just one here, that would be me. I already decided to do away with all of the bed sheets except for two, so I was happy that you mentioned that. I have a lot of blankets but it gets cold here and it didn't get cold where we did live. I don't even know where the blankets came from. I'm going to keep them one season and see if I use them because I do have another bed for guests. The other thing is I have a really nice China cabinet that I've used for my China well for my tea cups and stuff. I'm like just thinking I really have way too many tea cups, they were all gifts from my husband but when I look at them, there's only two or three that really make me happy so I guess that tells me something anyway, I just wanted to share that with you I think I'm doing pretty good. Every box I go through and say no, no, no, and I even had help when I moved and packed. And of course there's a few things I kept just because I didn't have the emotional stability to decide. I have come across some of those and I don't know what to do with them so maybe the spare room will be the place till I can sit down and make a decision about them in three months. Thanks for your ideas and tip.
Simple Lionheart Life
Tuesday 17th of January 2023
It sounds like you're doing great. Good for you! I'm so sorry about the loss of your husband. Sending love your way. Thank you for reading :)
Saturday 19th of March 2022
I’m guilty of keeping things just in case and it’s a hard struggle. Like I keep clothes just in case because they still fit and are different in some way, however minor, to the other ones I have. I don’t wear them much but when I try them on I can’t see any reason why I don’t wear them. So I think I should keep them. I worry if I give it away I will want it and I won’t be able to get the same thing again. It also feels like a waste to get rid of things that fit and are in good condition. The problem is I l have too many really for the space and gravitate to a lot of the same things over and over so some things that I could wear sit. I think also I have a habit of saving the best items for going out or later when I shouldn’t and wearing my more casual or cheaper items first.
. I will try going through things again using your good suggestions. Thanks
Tuesday 14th of March 2023
@Susan, I am also a Susan, and we share the same "hoarding" tendencies! I have a closet jammed full of great outfits, that all fit- but I wear the same junky old items over and over every day, year round. Did I mention all the fantastic boots and shoes that are gathering dust, while my grungy sneaks get daily wear?
Simple Lionheart Life
Tuesday 22nd of March 2022
This is great, Susan. I think just reading what you wrote answers your question about what to keep or not. If you don't have space and don't choose the items, you could probably easily let them go. This is great work you've done here figuring that out. Way to go! Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!
Sunday 30th of January 2022
This is such a helpful article! Thanks. I really love all the content on this website.
Simple Lionheart Life
Monday 31st of January 2022
Thanks! I'm so glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading!