Is The “What If I Need It Someday?” Excuse Preventing You From Decluttering? Here’s What You Should Do

“But what if I need it?” The thought that goes through everyone’s mind during the purging process. Yes, even I have this thought at times. So, where does this thought stem from, and how do we overcome it? Learn how to combat the dreaded “what if” question each time you want to part with an item.

I’m far from a psychologist or a human behaviorist, but these “what if” questions stem from anxiety. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

What if my boss doesn’t like me?

What if there’s a house fire while I’m on vacation?

What if it rains or snows or what if we go swimming, hiking, or jogging on this vacation? 

What if I need that black sparkly dress for a Halloween costume?

The “what if” questions are normal. We want to control what we can, and the unknown can worry us. When we ask ourselves the “what if” question, we’re really saying, we don’t want to feel like we made the wrong decision. We don’t want to be caught on the back foot. To avoid these feelings, we either do nothing, we overdo, or we overthink and still take zero action. 

During the purging process, the “what if” questions are bound to come up. The above photo is from a kitchen session with a client. We were discussing tupperware, and as I asked questions about the use, I could tell my client was coming up with reason after reason to keep all of them. Ultimately, this was from a place of guilt. They were given to her as a wedding gift, and reasons like “they came in a set” and “I could use them during the holidays or big parties” or “I may have a cookie baking party and we’ll need extra containers” all spouted forth. 

After I coached her through this and pointed out the anxiety and guilt she was feeling, she was able to part with half. A huge win!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Joanna, but what if I actually need the item in the future?

Yes, it is possible that you may need that item in the future, but is that really the reason to hang on to something that doesn’t serve you currently or that you don’t like? 

If the risk of needing to buy it again or feeling like you made the wrong decision, what’s the risk in keeping it?

The possible risks of keeping something you no longer want or need can cause a barrage of unnecessary and unhelpful feelings like guilt or shame, and these thoughts can take up precious mental energy that should be spent elsewhere. 

Here’s the thing, there will come a time when you part with something and you realize later that you did actually need it. It’s happened to me. And when this happens, you have two options.

You can either take a confirmation bias approach and think this is why I should never get rid of anything  or you can take a problem-solving approach and think I either find a substitute or purchase the item again. 

These “what if” questions typically happen with pantry items, tools, very specific gadgets and clothing. Next time they pop into your head, remind yourself that these thoughts are rooted in anxiety. Reframe and instead ask yourself what the risk is in keeping the item.

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