What Ifs and Why Nots

When I first started cleaning out my closet, I faced some strong internal resistance. My dialog (because don’t we all talk to ourselves about these things?) sounded something like this:

What if this comes back in style? I should probably keep in just in case…

What if I gain or lose ten pounds? Even though it doesn’t fit now, I might need this size one day…

What if the weather gets unusually hot or cold? I’d better be prepared…

What if I get invited to a formal event? I ought to hold on to this prom dress…

Wait, what?!? Does this sound familiar?

My crammed closet back in March, right before I cleaned it out and started Project 333

My crammed closet back in March, right before I cleaned it out and started Project 333

For years, I catered to the “what if,” and I think this was the primary cause of my crowded closet. Even a serious shopping habit can be offset by ruthless editing, but I had a math problem; I kept adding without subtracting. There are benefits to being prepared, and holding on to things seems like a money saver. If I already have it, I won’t need to buy it…right?

There is a certain comfort in having a stock pile of clothing (or anything, really), but life rarely shakes out exactly the way we anticipate.

In reality, I will want to buy (or rent, or borrow) a new dress if I happen to be invited to a formal event. If I lose ten pounds, it could very well be during the winter, and those tiny linen pants will be of no use. I could gain ten pounds in the summer when those next size up corduroys won’t be wearable. In either of those cases, I would probably want to get something new to embrace my new size. Unusually extreme weather only lasts briefly, and I could probably manage a few days of snow by piling on lighter layers. If something comes back in style, there is little chance of me wearing the trend again and in the same way.

Last spring I found a piece of advice that made letting go seem a little easier: store it at the store.

My clean summer closet and a fraction of what is no longer in it, loaded up for the thrift store

My clean summer closet and a fraction of what’s no longer in it, loaded up for the thrift store

Store it at the store.

This one little sentence gave me some ammunition against the “what if” onslaught. I first read it here on Apartment Therapy, and this article on Untitled Minimalism expresses the concept well.

I decided that if “what if” was my main hesitation in letting go, I would store at the store instead of in my house. If I could get a similar item for less that $20 in less than 20 minutes, I would definitely store it at the store.

I recently had an unexpected opportunity to test the efficacy of the 20/20 rule. We needed a roasting pan (and by “we” I mean my husband, who is the chef in our home). When I went to look for the pan, I realized it had been in the drawer of our old oven. We had gotten new appliances, and I forgot to check the drawer before the old ones were removed. Since dinner depended on a roasting pan, I stopped by the thrift store and found one in pristine shape for $5. The errand took less than 20 minutes, including the time it took to wash the pan.

I didn’t intentionally give away the roasting pan, but I saw how it might not be so terrible to find myself unprepared in one of those “just in case” moments. After that experience, I used the 20/20 rule as inspiration to give away some books I have already read, some art supplies I haven’t used in the last three years, and some extra plastic kitchen utensils that were taking up drawer space. I decided two slotted spoons were plenty, and in the unlikely event that I needed more, 20 minutes and 20 dollars would be more than enough to make that happen.

If the item is easily borrowed, I can also store it at the store. I don’t need to hold on to that heavy carry on luggage with the marginally functional zipper; I have another one that works perfectly, and I can borrow one from family if I ever need two at once. Friends often borrow serving pieces from me. I like to entertain and have a large collection of vintage dishes, so these items are not burdensome for me to keep. They bring me joy and serve a purpose, and I’m happy to share them. My friends could “store those at the store,” in a way.

In the process of minimizing, I found things I haven’t worn or used in years, things I was unlikely to wear or use in the near future. These are things I wanted to let go of, but I held on to them out of fear…because really, for me at least, the core of “what if” is fear…of insufficiency, inadequacy, of not enough. I no longer want fear as a motivating factor in my life. I don’t want fear deciding what stays in my closets or cabinets or drawers.

So goodbye, dress that I kept because I was afraid I might need to wear it one day! That dress took up space. It occupied physical space that I would rather use for something I enjoy wearing often, and worse than that, it wasted emotional space. I want to spend more energy living my life in the present and less effort planning for what might be.

Now when I consider getting rid of something, I ask, “Why not?” If the answer is that I really love and/or use said thing, then it stays. If not? Add it to the giveaway pile. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss it, and if I do, it’s probably stored at the store.*

 


Do “what ifs” interfere with your attempts to simplify?

Are your “what ifs” motivated by fear or something else?

What could you store at the store instead?


 

*So far, this has only backfired one time that I recall. One summer I gave away my favorite fleece lounge pants. They fit well and were broken in to perfection, and they were the most comfortable thing I had for wearing around the house. In a fit of ‘roid rage (I had to be on prednisone and was having mood swings and hot flashes), I cleaned out my dresser and donated some things, including my beloved lounge pants. In that moment of heat and bloatedness, I couldn’t imagine ever wearing them again. Whenever the weather gets cold now, I do have passing thoughts about those fleece pants. Maybe this year I’ll find a suitable replacement. So…usually “store it at the store” is helpful, unless you are medicated…in which case, best not to make any rash decisions. 😉

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