Decluttering Tips: What to do about “just in case” clutter

Decluttering Tips: What to do about

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.

Decluttering Tips: What to do about
Photo by Alyssa Strohmann on Unsplash

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.

Decluttering Tips: What to do about
Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

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.

Decluttering Tips: What to do about
Photo by Vladimir Mokry on Unsplash

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