When I was growing up, we used to keep and reuse tin foil. You see, my parents lived during the Great Depression when certain things like tinfoil were scarce, so they learned to be thrifty and reuse items. Then along came the Second World War when things continued to be in short supply. So they also learned to store things for future use because times were uncertain.
By the time I was growing up, the Depression was over, the war was done and tin foil was no longer scarce. But my parents’ mindset remained. Hold on to stuff because you might need it one day. Stock up when you have the chance. The circumstances had changed but the way they looked at life didn’t.
I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of keeping stuff as I continue to purge my own clutter.
Recently I emptied my linen closet. It was a like pulling the cord on an inflatable raft. I could not believe how much stuff was stuffed into that space.
Seeing it all piled on the floor prompted me to ask myself some truth-telling questions:
How many spare sets of sheets, pillowcases, pillows and blankets does one actually need?
How many of these items have not seen the light of day in a long time?
How many were things that I was holding onto just in case some undetermined event happened that required their use?
By the time I was done sorting and keeping only the items that I truly needed and used, I had five large bags to donate to someone who might actually need them today not at some nebulous date in the future. It seems like I still had the old tinfoil mentally stuck in my head.
Here’s the tidbit of wisdom that exists in the midst of our clutter:
We can live our lives in one of two ways.
If we live with a scarcity mindset , we tend to hold on to things just in case. We collect stuff. We worry about the future. Enough just doesn’t seem to be enough. Fear becomes our primary motivator.
Or we can live with a spirit of abundance. That means that we are confident that we have enough. We are clear about the difference between wants and needs. We have gratitude for what we have. We aren’t trying to fill up a space in ours heart with stuff from Walmart. Trust becomes our guide.
Don’t get me wrong. Reusing or recycling stuff is a great idea. Being thrifty means you have your priorities straight. But unless your circumstances dictate it, stockpiling stuff is more about being afraid that you don’t have enough, or worse yet, don’t feel that you are enough, than it is about being practical.
Clutter is often a sign of a scarcity mindset. When you brought that stuff into your house, you were thinking you didn’t have enough of something – clothes, books, toys, ideas, love, attention.
Chances are some of the clutter you experience in your life also has to do with filling your space with too many wants. Rarely do we ask ourselves another truth-telling question:
Is this a want or a need?
On the surface that seems like a simple question. Not so much when you are confronted with things you would like to have and a mind that can come up with 101 seemingly good rationalizations for buying them.
It’s actually a really important question that helps expose another mindset that contributes to the clutter problem.
Needs are really the basics: food, shelter, safety, comfort. Thanks to seductive advertising campaigns, peer pressure and trying to fill emotional holes in our lives, we convince ourselves that we need a bigger or better version of something we already probably have.
I’m not saying that you should never indulge your wants. I’m suggesting that you do it consciously.When you are tempted to purchase something new, ask yourself: Is this a want or a need? If you already have one that is functional, it's a want. Click To Tweet
If you already have one that is functional, the answer is it is a want, not a need.
How do you decide to indulge a want?
Consider these questions:
Can I afford it right now? Be honest.
Will it enrich my life or make my life simpler or easier?
Is there something I can remove from my space to make room for it?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, then you might decide to buy it.
Or you might say, “You know, I don’t really need this.”
With consumer debt skyrocketing, people stuffing their possessions in self-storage units, and an overwhelming sense of clutter, asking yourself the want/need question is a good thing.
Take a look around.
How much of your clutter is stuff you wanted but didn’t really need?
I’m confident that you can find a dozen items to get rid of.
I would also bet that you don’t need any more material stuff. I bet you have more than enough. And I know for sure that all the stuff in the world won’t fill up your heart. Get rid of some of the stuff and you make more space in your life for new possibilities.
Here’s another bonus:
Not spending your money on everything you think you want but don’t really need just might free up enough cash to get something you really, really want but thought you couldn’t afford. Things like travel or the theatre or getting a weekly massage.
My linen closet is a thing of beauty now. When I open the door I can almost hear it whispering, “It’s all good.” No clutter. No tinfoil.
ps a version of this article first appeared in my community blog Life Goes On in the St. Albert Gazette.