It has been six months since we moved into our new home. In that time, my husband has pointed out to me on three occasions a decluttering version of "I told you so". After discovering a use for something I chose to get rid of, he has essentially said, "This is why you don't get rid of things you might use."
I adore my husband, but I respectfully disagree. In all three cases, I am content with my choice even though it meant replacing each of the items in question. Lest you think I'm a lunatic, I will endeavor to explain.
Ten years ago our youngest son did an experiment in bouyancy for his fifth grade science project. It required approximately 40 ping pong balls which we have retained in our possession ever since (until our recent move). We do not own a ping pong table or have access to one.
At one point several years ago I made a vain attempt to repurpose the ping pong balls after seeing an idea on Pinterest. This involved writing tasks/activities on each ball. My son was not nearly as impressed with the idea as I was, and the ping pong balls soon found their way back to the garage. Thus, I felt completely justified in tossing them out when it came time to move.
As luck would have it, mere weeks after discarding the ping pong balls, my husband was put in charge of securing supplies for a church youth activity. They planned to play a series of Minute to Win It games, one of which required...ping pong balls.
Here's why I do not regret my decision to toss out those ping pong balls:
A couple of years ago we created a cement patio in our back yard. In preparation for the project, we pulled up eight square red brick pavers which have been sitting in our shop ever since. In preparation for the move, I offered them up on Facebook, and they were quickly claimed by a friend. She had the perfect spot for them. They actually solved a problem she'd been battling in her yard, and she was thrilled to get them.
Several of the flower beds in our new house are filled with rock. One such bed is a narrow strip between the driveway and the front walk. A couple of weeks ago we decided to space flower pots in the rock to add some color and interest to the area. We decided it would be useful to put down pavers underneath the pots so they would sit flat. Again, my husband pointed out that we were buying something we had only recently given away, but I was completely comfortable defending that decision. Here's why:
We moved in December, and I honestly wasn't thinking much about spring and planting flowers. I was thinking about downsizing. In my zeal to lighten our load, I gave away six or eight mismatched plastic flower pots in varying sizes. All of them were sun faded and some of them were a little cracked around the rim.
Now it's May, and I'm busily striving to beautify my new yard and increase my home's curb appeal (see the above entry for details). As we drove to Home Depot to shop for flower pots, my husband jokingly said, "It's too bad we didn't have a bunch of flower pots lying around that we could have used." Haha. I know. I know.
Once again, I was unphased by the fact that we were replacing something we had recently owned and given away, and this is why:
Might is a word I hear often as an organizer. "I can't get rid of that because it might come in handy." Or "You never know when you might need a...."
Other related words include ought, should, and could. All of these words convey a sense of uncertainty coupled with a vague notion of obligation. Most people, if questioned, would no doubt indicate an unwillingness to let fear serve as a primary motivator for their decisions and behavior. Yet many of us do just that when we succumb to the influence of 'might'. In essence, we let our belongings bully us. We keep things that serve no apparent or meaningful purpose in our lives - things we have no emotional attachment to or conceivable use for - simply because they might be needed.
Instead of sacrificing precious space for things that may or may not prove useful at some future date, why not make space for the things you have a use for and interest in right now?
A client recently complained to me that "organizers always say that holding onto things you might need is pointless because you never use them." I admit, I'm guilty as charged. This person went on to express her amazement at how many times she has been saved at the last minute because she held onto something she needed.
This well-meaning individual failed to see the flaw in her reasoning, which is this: there is a difference between an actual need/use and a hypothetical one. In her case, she was actually using the things she had chosen to keep. The problem arises when we aren't sure when or if an item will prove useful.
If you can visualize a legitimate use for something, by all means, hold onto that item. If, however, you only have an ambiguous notion that it could serve some purpose someday - but no real notion of what that purpose could be - please consider getting rid of the item.
When trying to determine which of your 'mights' are legitimate and which are simply nebulous, I recommend doing a cost comparison. There are many different costs associated with keeping vs. replacing an item. Consider the following:
When it comes down to it, there are a couple of questions we should ask ourselves when considering whether or not to keep the 'mights' in our lives:
There is no wrong answer to these questions. Only you can decide what a particular thing is worth to you, but I encourage you to take the time to think it through. If you decide you value other intangibles over the item, you can feel confident letting it go, even if a use actually does arise in the future.
I hope that I have demonstrated through my personal experiences that discovering you could have used something you got rid of doesn't have to be devastating. In fact, it can be validating. In each of the cases I shared, I discovered that what I had wasn't really what I wanted. While the items in question could have been used to satisfy my purposes, I would not have been as happy with the results.
In recent weeks, my husband and I have searched for and selected a new home, and tomorrow we sign for it! Needless to say, we are very excited! It is wonderful to get to this point in the process, but there were plenty of times during our search when I seriously contemplated giving up and staying put. There aren't many houses for sale at the moment in our area, and there are even fewer that met our wants and needs. We'd see a house on the internet that seemed perfect only to be disappointed when we saw it in person. Of course there were contenders, but knowing which house to select was intimidating. It's a big decision!
To help us in our decision making process my husband developed a grading system. He's good at that sort of thing, and I'm so glad because it works!
Before introducing our home grading system, I feel like it would be useful to explain why we began searching for a new home in the first place. We aren't changing jobs or seeking to be closer to family or anything that would force us to move, and technically our current home meets all of our needs, though not perhaps as well as we would like.
We purchased our current home while living in the Middle East in preparation for a move back to the United States. My husband spent a few days at the end of a business trip searching for a place before returning to Abu Dhabi where we were living. I never saw the home face to face until after we signed for it, and in all honesty, my first reaction was one of (albeit mild) disappointment.
In the intervening 7 1/2 years, we have made numerous upgrades and changes to the home, making it our own, but there are some things about it - the things we like least - that we simply cannot change. It occurred to us that we were not stuck here. If we wanted to move, we could, and so we began our search.
To start with, we made a list of each of the spaces in our current home. Next to each space, we gave our current home a letter grade (A, B+, C-, etc.) depending on how well we feel each particular area of our current home meets our wants and needs. This gave us a baseline with which to compare other homes.
After looking at a potential home, we would go over our list and grade the contender independent of our current home or other homes we had seen. The idea was to make an honest assessment of how any given home measured up on its own to our list. Then we compared the contender to our ratings for our current home. This made it easy to see whether the home we were considering was actually an improvement over our current home. Seeing the pluses and minuses for each home displayed next to our current home and one another made comparison simple and helped us rule out homes that appealed to our aesthetic but didn't actually meet our needs.
We are (almost) empty nesters. Our youngest son is living with us while finishing up a program at a local community college. Despite the fact that our children are grown, we wanted a place where the whole family could gather comfortably on occasion. We wanted a place for our grandchildren to play, and we needed a place where my husband could record his podcast and we could both work from home. I'm sure there were times when our realtor wanted to strangle us! We turned down many a beautiful home because it just wasn't quite right. We were in a position to be able to do so (since we didn't have to move), and we wanted to be sure that we got it right before we upended our lives.
The grading system made a huge difference for us in narrowing down our options, so that after two months and countless houses spanning a 30 mile radius we knew the house we wanted when we saw it. Another benefit of using the grading scale was that it helped us to be unified in our search; by thinking through each space, how it functioned, and how we wanted it to function, we were able to come to a consensus about what we were looking for.
Here is a look at our home grading system. You'll notice that there are things about our current home that we truly love, but many things we do not love. I think you will also see how clear it became for us on paper that the new home would meet our needs and desires much more effectively.
In the interest of simplicity, I have only included the grades for our current home and the home we are purchasing, but we did use this scale to judge most of the homes we considered (some didn't warrant the effort).
As I discussed this blog post with my husband, he pointed out something that I felt was worth mentioning. Most homes have what he refers to as an "X-factor", a single characteristic or space that you fall in love with which makes it possible for you to overlook other aspects of the home that you are less enamored with. In our current home the X-factor is a space we call Narnia. You can read about why in my last blog post, Why a Little Clutter Can Be Good for the Soul.
In our new home it is the all season room - a room with windows on three sides and a lovely tile floor where I intend to do a lot of sitting and reading and writing. What is the X-factor in your home? What does it allow you to overlook?
Unless you're independently wealthy, chances are you cannot afford the perfect house. Compromises must be made. Identifying your wants and needs and carefully rating a potential home as to its ability to meet them will help you choose a home where you can feel content and comfortable. If you're in the market for a new home, I hope you are able to utilize a home rating system to make your decision easier. If you know someone who is shopping for a new home, please share this post with them.