I got a question last week on Instagram that sparked the idea for this blog post. A sweet follower, Morgan, asked this, "I am fine purging stuff when its "keep" or "definitely not" but how do you work through the "maybe" pile that is the actual problem?"
I think she brought up a really good point, and something that becomes a stumbling block for people who are trying to minimize. It's easy, like she said, to differentiate between the obvious "keeps" and the obvious "throw aways." Your favorite pair of jeans, keep. The broken toy with the missing wheel, toss. But what about those things that you just might use? That you don't have space to display currently but really really love? That you don't use regularly, but are nice to have around? I think a lot of people reach the point where they have a pile of "maybes", unsure whether to keep or toss them, so they quit. The decisions, one after another, are overwhelming, they aren't sure what's "right" and the minimizing train comes to a screeching halt.
I certainly can't give a black-and-white, works-in-every-situation formula for this, because it's true: it is hard. That "maybe" pile takes a lot of decision making, and a lot of intentional thought.
Here's how I've approached those tricky "maybe" items so far...
I think about the last time I used it. For instance, I had a garlic press in my utensil drawer. Any "kitchen necessities for the home cook" list will say that you absolutely need a garlic press. As I held my very lovely garlic press, I tried to remember the last time I used it, and drew a blank. Although I know fresh garlic is the best option in any recipe, I honestly always reach for the jar of refrigerated, pre-minced variety. It's easy, and quick. So although it's deemed a "necessity" for many, a garlic press is not, in reality, a necessity for me.
I try to envision the next time I'll use it. On the flip side of the garlic press, there are things I haven't used in awhile (years, even), but that I realistically picture myself using again. A great example are the hiking backpacks that my husband and I each own. I bought mine for a backpacking trip in college, and used it for a few mission trips here and there. It's been hanging on a nail in our garage and hasn't been used since before we got married nearly four years ago. Some would say I should let it go. And honestly, by my own usual rules of "have I used this in the last year?", it should go. But! Hiking and backpacking are still very much interests of mine, and I realistically envision using it again sometime in the future, even if that's 10 years from now. It was expensive, it's in good condition, it's easy to store, so I'm keeping it. Another (opposite) example: my snowboard. One year for Christmas, my brothers and I each got our own snowboard. I've used it a handful of times, and it's nice to own your own equipment and not have to rent, which can be expensive. But I haven't snowboarded in probably five years, and I don't think Matt knows how, and I can't imagine the next time I'll be hitting the slopes, especially now that we'll have two kids. There are so many other trips that are high on our priority list. So, I'm going to sell the snowboard and snowboard boots. It just isn't worth it to hold onto, for the "maybe someday when we take a ski trip" possibility, especially since I can just rent equipment if that trip ever comes.
Temporarily remove the items, then re-evaluate. If I truly can't decide if an item should stay or go, I put it in a specially marked bin to be stored out of sight, and re-evaluate in three months. The trick is to not put all of your stuff in here, only things that are really tripping you up, so you can continue to make forward progress. If I think of something in the bin that I want or need, I go grab it, and I keep it. After three months, whatever is still in the bin gets tossed (donated, sold, whatever.) I used this approach to make the jump to a capsule wardrobe and it worked really well.
Consider the cost of storing vs. replacing down the road. The biggest area that comes to mind for this particular strategy is with baby and kid stuff. We are in our "family building" years and, Lord willing, hope to have a few more babies before we're done. Even though we're due with a girl this June, I'm hanging onto all of Xavier's boy stuff, because we might someday have another boy. Sure, the boy stuff might not be the right size for the right season, but I just don't know yet. And since I have very little clothing saved (one tote bin for size newborn - 9 months and one tote bin for size 12 months - 3T, so far), I have space to store it for several more years and don't mind doing so. The same is true for all the baby gear. Even though this next baby might not like the MamaRoo or bouncer seat, another child down the road might love it. I tried to pare down to what we really used and really loved (i.e., I got rid of every single sleeper that had snaps, and only kept the ones with zippers, because snap sleepers were impossible for me!) and let friends borrow things like our MamaRoo while we aren't using them. Also, we aren't really buying more baby gear until we need it. Meaning, if this sweet girl hates the MamaRoo and the bouncer seat, we'll consider buying (or borrowing!) something different, like a traditional swing or a Rock-&-Play. It can definitely feel like we're hanging on to way too much stuff, but the reality is that every child is different and might prefer different things, and since we have room to store stuff, it makes more sense for us to just hold onto everything we have, rather than donate or gift it and have to replace it down the road.
The most important thing, though, is to just be realistic. If that set of beat-up, Craigslisted dining room chairs have been sitting in the garage for three years, just waiting for you to get around to refinishing them, it might be time to let them go. That project obviously isn't a priority for you right now, and that's okay! I think about all the home decor I have stored in our attic. Our wall space and flat surfaces are pretty maxed out on decor right now, yet I have two bins' worth of stuff upstairs. Why? Well, this is not our forever home, and we plan to either renovate (adding 3+ rooms that will need to be furnished and decorated) or move within the next few years. So I feel okay holding onto those decor items, knowing they'll realistically get used in the foreseeable future. If we were in our forever home, or had no plans to move to a bigger space anytime soon, I might feel differently about keeping so much stuff that didn't fit the space we currently had.
So, there are my very long-winded thoughts on how to handle those tricky "maybes" that will inevitably come up as you're trying to minimize. It will take time, and maybe a couple passes through the same room, to come to a decision, but just remember that rarely are your decisions completely permanent. If you decide to keep something you end up not needing, you can toss it! If you end up tossing something you want later, you can replace it! Except in the case of heirlooms (and I'm a sucker for heirlooms, so no judgment if you hold onto a lot of them!) everything is replaceable.
Always happy to offer more insight, although I can't imagine there are any more questions after this 5,000 word post ;) XO!