Let's talk for a few minutes about “waffling. " You know what “waffling" is, don't you? It begins one day, when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?" You take it back out. Then you think, “That’s silly. No one has wanted waffles in 5 years. " You stick it back in the bag.
This goes on for another 15 minutes until you finally think the unthinkable – “But I might need it someday. " You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, where it continues to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It’s not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You have simply never had a solid set of CRITERIA for determining an item’s worth. No longer!
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED IT?
If you haven’t touched something in the past 12 months, chances are that you’re not going to use it in the next 12. Clothes and sporting goods seem to be some of the worst offenders! It’s natural for people to have a hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowling ball really means that much to you, then put it away with your keepsakes. If you feel like you need to hang onto ancient financial paperwork, send it to offsite document storage. Just don’t take up valuable space in your ACTIVE storage areas with items you don’t use.
WILL I EVER NEED THIS AGAIN?
Be honest and realistic about this one! At what point will a green shag toilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture a specific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeable future, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday" isn’t a good enough rationale.
CAN I ANSWER THE 5 W's?
If you can’t conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:
- WHY WOULD I NEED IT?
Try to come up with one specific concrete occasion when you would need that exact particular item again - not just “I might need it someday. "
- WHERE WOULD I NEED IT?
If the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami - or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?
- WHAT WOULD I NEED IT FOR?
What purpose does this item serve? Are you still involved with that activity? No reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing.
- WHO WOULD ASK ME FOR IT?
People seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday. If it's the IRS or the police, keep it. If not, think twice.
- WHEN WOULD I NEED IT?
Okay, you might need it “someday" - but when is will that day arrive? Three months or 35 years from now? Is it worth hanging onto that long?
IS IT EASILY REPLACEABLE?
Okay –- so let’s say you do get rid of something, and then decide that you need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens to her, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn’t always a problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace this lost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-find item, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it. You have to consider cost versus benefit –- it may cost you more (in time, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it IF and WHEN you ever need it.
WHAT IS THE WORST THING THAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I GOT RID OF IT?
When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are really saying, “I’m afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it. " This is simply fear of the UNKNOWN -– uncertainty about the consequences of their actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild, and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Quite often, the worst-case scenario is not that bad. Will the world end if you toss out that ring binder you haven’t used since college? Probably not. This knowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.
Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com - offering “a world of organizing solutions!" Visit http://www.onlineorganizing.com for organizing products, free tips, a speakers bureau - and even get a referral for a Professional Organizer near you. And if you are interested in becoming a Professional Organizer, we have all the tools you need to succeed. If you would like to reprint this article, please send in an e-mail request to email@example.com