How Do You Know How Much To Discard As a Minimalist?

How Do You Know How Much To Discard As a Minimalist?

You’ve just gotten into minimalism and have gone on a decluttering rampage. Barely anything in your environment is adding value, and you won’t stop until you look around and only see the things that matter to you.

A few months pass, and you’re feeling the benefits of living with less. You feel increased clarity, and you’re more strict with what you consume.

But then, an event in your life presents itself. Only for you to realise that you could really use that dress you gave away, or that toolkit you sold—which you now need for a project. Damnit!

This happened to me recently. I’ve been invited out to a few formal occasions where I really could have used a suit. But when I look in my wardrobe, I don’t have any.

I got rid of my suits partly because they didn’t fit at the time, and partly because I didn’t see them as essential anymore.

I go on to lose weight unexpectedly shortly after getting rid of those clothes, and now I either need to rent a suit, buy a suit, or go to the events without a suit. I settled on the latter, but it was a little bit painful, even though my pride wouldn’t let myself feel regret over a decision I made.

Sometimes when we’re decluttering, we get on such a roll, that it’s like we experience a blackout. Only to wake up and realise that you’ve taken your discarding efforts too far.

This is the challenge of managing your possessions. At the point of deciding whether to keep or get rid of something, you’re running the “what if” test.

What if I need {insert item} in {insert situation}?

For many years we’ve advocated that the “what if” mentality is a trap. The thought of having to re-purchase something is a terrifying prospect for many of us. To the point where you could justify keeping everything for the “just in case” moments.

To help you find peace with how far you take your decluttering efforts, below are a few prompts to support your decision-making process.

Thinking about your future

When deciding to keep something, it’s only natural that you think about your future. In fact, everything you buy represents who you want to be in the future.

The problem is, despite good intentions, we don’t always follow through on our promises to ourselves.

I remember doing my first round of decluttering back in 2014. I was reviewing my exercise equipment. I had resistance bands, bikes, a boxing bag, gloves, gym towels, tennis rackets, running shoes, the list goes on and on.

These purchases symbolised my intent to exercise in the future. But as I was discarding, I was forced to think about how realistic it was for me to start doing these physical activities.

It was through these situations I learned that to decide your future, you first need to look at your past.

I realised at the time that I had not used any of the equipment in the previous year. This was a good indicator that this trend was likely to continue. Yes, even despite my best intentions.

Furthermore, I had to be realistic about my motivation to change my behaviour. And not in 6 months. But that very afternoon. “Would I start using any of this exercise gear today?” I asked myself.

By thinking realistically about my future, I decided to get rid of all my gear, which brings me to the next point.

Assessing the worst-case scenario

To build confidence in your decision to discard something and overcome the “what if?” trap, you need to get skilled at contingency planning.

What is the worst-case scenario if I discard this item? How much will this decision impact my life?

Back to my example of workout gear. I knew that even if I got rid of all my equipment, and one day I wanted to exercise, I could always do exercises that don’t require gear.

As I write this post, the only workout gear I have is my hiking shoes. So that means no basketball (because I’d ruin my shoes), no boxing, no cycling, no weight lifting.

But what can I do?

I can walk, jog, do bodyweight exercises, stretch, yoga. This is my worst-case scenario? That’s not too bad at all!

So assess your worst-case scenario if you’re unsure about discarding something. If you blacked out and got rid of your Monopoly board game, play more scrabble. If you got rid of paint kit, maybe focus on a different craft instead to prove that you’re serious about getting back into art, then re-purchase your tools if it comes to that.

Ironically, we haven’t regretted discarding our iron and ironing board. Does this mean that we wear creased clothes? Yes, sometimes. But funnily enough, we’ve found ways to iron clothes when we really need to. We borrow our families iron, we use the iron at a hotel, or I used to use the iron at my old workplace.

Do your contingency planning, and you’ll start to see that it may not be such a big deal to get rid of something after all.

Practising contentment with your decisions

I want to wrap up this post talking about the “trade-offs” of minimalism.

There’s no way you can predict your future. Again after years and years of not losing weight, as soon as I got rid of my suits, I started losing weight.

If you live in fear of the inconvenience of not having access to something because you got rid of it, you’ll struggle to pair down and feel the benefits of minimalism.

It’s a numbers game. The correct decisions I made about whether to keep something or not far outweighs the wrong choices. And this is a ratio I’m happy with.

But here’s a secret. You make the ratio.

Because I’m more interested in working with what I have instead of worrying about what I could have, I always make the right decision to get rid of something.

You get to choose whether you feel regretful, or opportunistic to work within a constraint.

But even if you do genuinely regret over-decluttering, it still comes down to the question; are the benefits of having more good decluttering decisions than your bad decluttering decisions, still worth it?

If the answer is yes, then you can be at peace with your decisions.

Over to you

I’m curious, have you experienced any anxiety from the fear of over-decluttering? Or have you had any regrets from discarding something you later needed?

Share your experiences in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

Other articles on minimalism:

  1. Minimalist Living: Breaking Down The What, Why & How
  2. How To Finally Overcome Your Resistance To Declutter
  3. A Minimalists Guide To Debt-Free Living
  4. What Is Minimalism? An Introduction To Living With Intentionality
  5. 17 Simple Tips To Declutter Your Home

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8 thoughts on “How Do You Know How Much To Discard As a Minimalist?”

  1. I have indeed regretted getting rid of things. I change and circumstances change. An article that I had no need for in the past now is something that I wish I had. However, this happens only in a minority of situations so, overall, I feel that I am still ahead.

    One trick I use before getting rid of something that I haven’t used in a long time is to make myself use it and then see how it feels. I will often reach into my closet and deliberately pick a shirt that I haven’t worn in years and wear it and see how I feel. Usually it doesn’t feel good wearing something that I haven’t worn in a long time, or using a purse that has been stored for a long time, for example. Based on how I feel when using an article, I decide whether to keep or donate.

  2. I have been a minimalist for years and didn’t know it! Since moving country twice, (Aus and back) I have kept possessions quite limited. I had a two bedroom house with my two daughters for several years, and really loved the control of a sort of ‘one item in, one item out’ approach. It meant my daughters had fewer toys than any of their friends (1 toy box between them) and we did have questions from other children, like “where are all your toys?” and “you’re house is really small”. We live in a bigger house now, as we are a blended family, but I do miss the enforced minimalism. My children are now teens, and thank me for my decisions. We all decided to do a minimalist Christmas, sparked by my youngest daughter wanting horse-riding lessons, instead of a present. I want to reassure any parents out there that your kids won’t hate you (and will probably thank you) if you limit their belongings. My children took control of their budget and spending very young, and are really sensible in their habits.
    Sorry for the long comment!!

    1. Hi Ali, I agree that enforced smaller spaces can do wonders for your perspective. Thank you for sharing your parenting experiences as it relates to minimalism. It’s refreshing to see the impact it’s had on your daughters. Enjoy your minimalist Christmas 🙂

  3. These scenarios happen but that’s what friends and family are for – to share, borrow and recycle. I recently had a suit I bought 2 years ago and have worn twice. My brother loved it and was happy to pay me something for it. I now see him wear it and it brings me a lot of joy.

  4. Thanks for sharing your insight on over-decluttering. After years of aspiring to be a minimalist, I’ve opted to become a “midimalist”. At this time in my life I’m focusing less on what I already own and more on what I’m bringing in. I’m becoming more thoughtful than ever about what items enter my life and home. As I’m mortgage free with a new pension, I have the space for many possessions and plenty of time to avoid hasty decisions of discarding things too soon. When I lost weight last fall, I got rid of lesser quality pants, jeans and skirts, yet kept a box of a half-dozen higher quality items in my past size. Maybe a high quality second hand suit, both tailored to fit and freshly cleaned, could work as separates and a suit as well? I’ve seen tuxedo and suit rental businesses sell inventory for pennies on the dollar prior to restocking with new rentals.

    1. Hi Rhea, thank you for your comment. I like the idea of taking the time to make decisions about what to keep and get rid of. Also, I love your suggestion about a second-hand suit although I’m pretty happy without a suit and interested to see how I manage that process.

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