Why do we keep things we shouldn’t? (Introduction to the The Sinister Six)
For six and a half years I’ve been a full-time organizer/de-clutter-er: This is plenty of time to notice fun behavioral patterns!
In my classes and workshops about clutter and organizing, I go into detail about what I have termed the “Sinister Six”- a list of the six reasons we hold on to things for too long. It’s kind of like those feelings charts that we were
forced asked to look at as kids, when we pointed to the face that we related to the most in that moment; identifying the beast means we’re halfway to defeating it, right? Same idea here.
So here they are. And I will do a blog post on each one.
We keep things for longer than we need to because of….
- Guilt and Obligation
- Loss of Connection
Actually, I believe that we really only keep things for too long because of one reason: FEAR. But, I think that this is vague, and that this can all be more accessible and feel more relatable when we break it down into these Sinister Six.
Most excuses we make to keep things that really aren’t useful are actually combinations of two or more of the Sinister Six. They are “hybrid” excuses! Be aware of these.
Before we delve in, let’s talk about the word “clutter”. My very own favorite/personal/Eliza/Simplicana definition for clutter is a material clue that something needs to be emotionally released. I will come back to this idea in a little bit.
Let’s begin! This week, let’s talk about POTENTIAL.
Ahh, Potential. Also known as the “What if” excuse. This is when we keep something because of its potential use, even if we’ve had it for a decade and have not used it yet. This one is really tricky, because if the moment ever does arrive where you actually need this item, it will justify all of your feelings that keeping it was the right thing to do. And you know what? You will remember that! You will remember how good it felt to have exactly what you needed when you needed it. And that feeling can be dangerous if you take that too far- you have to find your own balance of keeping things based on potential. If you have a big house with plenty of storage and you are happy in said house, this may not be an issue- maybe these potential keepers aren’t clutter at all, since they don’t get in the way. But if you live in a small apartment like I do, or if you are longing to downsize to live a simpler life, suddenly your definition of “clutter” gets broader, and many of those items that are now clutter fall under the POTENTIAL category.
Examples I often hear when working with clients, for keeping POTENTIAL clutter:
- “But what if…”
- “I’ll need it as soon as I throw it away.”
- “I don’t need it, but if I do, it will be super annoying/difficult to replace.”
- “I bet I can use that in a craft.”
- “I might need that for a costume if my neighbors ever throw an 80’s themed party again!”
- “I can sell it when its value peaks and make a profit.”
- “It doesn’t fit now but it will when I lose weight.”
Frequently kept items based on POTENTIAL:
- Junk drawer items.
- Crafting items.
- Mystery parts of things with no discernible purpose.
- Decorative items (“well in case we redecorate, it could go with the new theme.”)
What you are really saying when you keep based on POTENTIAL:
- “Life is unpredictable, and the universe can be stingy with the goods. I don’t trust life/God/the universe to provide when I am in need. So I am holding on just in case.”
- “If I get rid of it now before it has served it’s purpose, I am being wasteful.”
This is the *SUPER* important thing that I really want you to know: Reread those examples of subtext above. Many, many people equate wasting with failure. And, many people over-keep out of a lack of trust in the universe. If this is you, please examine your belief very closely. Who or what in life taught you this? Because the belief itself is the real clutter. The material item in question that we are examining is merely the symptom of the belief. Pause and really think about that. I will say it again, a little differently: False or negative beliefs are the real clutter, and our stuff is just a material reflection of the belief. Remember above when I said that clutter is a material clue that something needs to be emotionally released? If you identify why you are really keeping this stuff around, you may find it easier to release it. Always start at the root of the problem: as you are decluttering, you will have more momentum if you work from a deeper place. “I am shedding the stuff I don’t need to live a more fulfilling life” may be a better mantra than “I am shedding this stuff I don’t need because I probably won’t end up needing it.” Do as Simon says, and start with WHY.
By the way, I believe that the word “waste” is a MAJOR trigger word for all of us when we face decluttering.
What I have kept too long in my own life, based on POTENTIAL:
I wouldn’t be insightful about this decluttering business if I didn’t have my own demons, right? That said, I have kept items for too long based on Potential: when I was a kid it was “but I can make a craft with that!!”. Until about two years ago, I kept my Italian books and notes from college because I wanted to brush up some day. I was finally able to declutter it when I took an honest look and told myself that if I ever get serious about brushing up on Italian, I will enroll in an intermediate class and start my notes all over: I would be more than okay with this, because I love classroom settings for learning. Or, I will download audio lessons to brush up before a trip. I think I kept those books and notes for so long because I worried that if I donated/recycled them, I would be wasting (there’s that trigger word again!) my education. Sometimes all it takes is a glass of wine or three and my Italian comes right back.
More thoughts on POTENTIAL:
If you’re a crunchy hippie like me, and like to chat aloud in your car with the universe, POTENTIAL is a killer opportunity to practice saying thanks for all the awesome stuff in your life. The more you feel that you have, the less you will feel like keeping (or acquiring!). It was really nice to walk through my home town of Princeton, NJ on Black Friday with my family and feel content with my rich and delicious small hot chocolate from The Bent Spoon, while people loaded down with shopping bags bustled around me. I felt satisfied and full.
… Although admittedly, part of this feeling of fullness was due to the huge plate of Thanksgiving leftovers that I had nuked and scarfed shortly before heading into town.