One of the most common excuses we have for keeping things we don’t use is that we “might need it someday.” Someday it might be useful to have this costume jewelry. Someday I might need this half-used box of crayons. Someday I’ll have a problem that can only be solved by eight sets of takeout chopsticks.
We can store an almost unlimited number of things in Someday, because it doesn’t actually exist. Someday is, by definition, a day that we never get to live. When we say that we need to keep something because we might need it someday, we are not just holding on to the object, we’re holding on to the potential. And potential can be very difficult to give up.
Rather than imagining an amorphous Someday with all its potential and all it’s needs, imagine your specific future self and the exact situation that might come up. Keeping asking questions about that future self and situation until you come to a confident answer: either you should definitely keep this item, or you obviously shouldn’t.
Here are some questions to get you started:
What is the exact situation where I will need this item? You’re not allowed to say that it “may come in handy”, or that it “seems useful”. Plenty of objects in the world are useful, but that doesn’t mean they are useful to you. I once got a set of fun cocktail garnish toothpicks as a gift and kept them for years before admitting that I was never, ever, going to host a party where I served fancy cocktails.
How likely is the future need? You still have the Allen wrench from when you put your Ikea dresser together. It was very useful at the time, but will you ever actually need it again? Do the screws in the dresser ever loosen, or have they stayed tight in the years since you first bought it? And how many identically sized Allen wrenches do you have anyway? Is there really going to be a time in the future when you simultaneously need two of the same sized Allen wrench?
Why did I stop using it? Perhaps you have some jewelry that you liked when you bought it but haven’t worn in awhile, or eyeshadow palettes that you haven’t opened in months. But you might use them again someday, right? There’s a reason you haven’t worn these things in a while. Maybe the jewelry is too flashy for your taste, or the colors don’t look good with your complexion. So what will be so different Someday that hasn’t happened yet? Will your complexion change? Probably not. Will your style change? Perhaps, but there’s no reason to believe it will change in the direction of the pieces you already have but don’t wear. In fact, it’s probably the least likely direction you’ll go, since some part of you has already proven you don’t like it.
Why haven’t I needed it already? You’ve got a box of cables and a bunch of power adapters because maybe you’ll need them in the future. But you’ve been using all the electronics you own just fine without them. Is it possible that these are all adapters for electronics you’ve already discarded? Or extra cables that were included but never needed? If you know why the items haven’t been used yet, it might tell you whether they will ever be used at all.
Will I actually want this when the time comes? Many people find themselves with stashes of certain free items, such as hotel toiletries, pens, USB drives, etc. The giveaway versions tend to be of a lower quality than what we’d buy for ourselves. So even if you do run out of all your current chapsticks, you won’t actually want to use the cheap version you got for free. You’ll just go buy new chapstick.
Is this just an inferior duplicate? Similar to the question above – I find this is most often an issue with clothing, such as pajama pants with loose elastic that have shrunk into high-waters. They’re functional as PJs, sure. But you never reach for them. You’d rather wear the better PJs you already own. Imagine if all your best pajamas were gone and this pair was all you had left. How long would you wear them before you bought replacements anyway?
How often do I get more of this item? I understand keeping a couple pairs of unused takeout chopsticks in the silverware drawer just in case you order takeout and the restaurant forgets to include them. But the reason you already have spares is that you’re usually given too many. They are easy to acquire. So you can ditch most of them, secure in the knowledge that more will arrive at your house soon – whether you like it or not.
How easy/cheap will it be to replace? A popular rule of thumb is that if it would take less than 20 minutes and $20 to replace, go ahead and get rid of it. The time and money you’ll save in aggregate by getting rid of your excess will make up for the few occasions when you’ll actually need to replace something.
Do I really need so much of this? Certain categories of just-in-case items make sense to keep for some people, such as an active crafter keeping spare fabric, paint, and supplies. The problem is not that you’re keeping extra stuff around, just that you’re keeping too much. If you rarely dip into your spare fabric, you probably don’t need five bins of it. In this case, I often encourage clients to choose a designated amount of space they want to devote to the category (two drawers, one bin, a single bookcase, etc), and pick out only the best items to keep until the space is full. This also makes it easy to keep the collection in check, since you’ll know you have too much when it doesn’t fit in the designated spot anymore.
Will I EVER use this much? When items are smaller, such as bobby pins, it’s hard to use the Designated Space solution. In this case, I think about lifetime usage. Even if you regularly use and regularly lose bobby pins, if you have hundreds of pins it will take you years to get through them all. In fact, the more you have of something the more careless you will be with it. A person with only 20 bobby pins is more likely to keep track of them than someone with 500.
Ultimately, there are two possible futures in front of you: one in which you still have your Someday item, and one in which you don’t. One in which your house is filled with items you almost never use, and one in which you occasionally kick yourself for getting rid of something too soon. Choose the future that brings you the most happiness.
Pick at least one of your “I might need it someday” areas this week and ask yourself the questions listed above. Can you believe in your Someday event all the way through to the bottom of the list?