No Regrets

I’ve been decluttering for a long time now, and have pared down my possessions to quite a minimal level. Consequently, people often ask me if I’ve ever regretted getting rid of certain items. Surely, in over ten years, there must be something I wish I hadn’t purged.

It may seem unbelievable, but to be perfectly honest, I have no regrets. I can’t think of a single thing that I long to have back in my life. I don’t miss any of the clothes, the books, the heirlooms, the tchotchkes, the shoes, the handbags, or the kitchen gadgets I decided I could live without.

Perhaps I just have a short memory. Maybe if I had photographed each castoff, I’d look back through the memories and wax nostalgic about a long-lost sweater or hastily-decluttered pasta pot. I highly doubt it, though. If these things truly had a special place in my life, the least I’d be able to do is remember them!

One of the biggest barriers to decluttering is the nagging feeling that you’ll regret giving something away. Take heart in the fact that the odds are pretty slim. Chances are, you’ll forget about that item pretty quickly once it leaves your premises. I’d have a hard time listing what I decluttered last year, let alone five or ten years ago.

And in the off-chance that you do, what’s the worst that’ll happen? You’ll have to go out and buy another? Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a digitizing (drawing) tablet, so that I can illustrate my future books. Several years ago, I owned (and decluttered) one—but no, I’m not pining for the old thing. I know that even if I had it, the technology has advanced to such an extent that I’d probably find it inadequate anyway. Even if it were sitting here next to me, I’d be browsing the internet for one with better features than my 5+ year-old model. And it certainly wouldn’t have been worth dragging around with me (or storing) all these years in the interim.

Still finding it hard to let go? Here are some tips on minimizing regrets:

1. Photograph sentimental items. In the fog of nostalgia, sometimes we remember objects as nicer than they actually were. A digital pic can be a great reminder that that velvet Elvis was no masterpiece. Photos also make great substitutes for such items—a snapshot of your aunt’s snowglobe collection brings back the same memories as having them displayed across your mantel (or packed away in your attic!).

2. Consider technology. Are you saving that old cell phone, monitor, or digital camera in case your new one bites the dust? At that point, will it really be up-to-snuff (or even functional)? Perhaps it would be better for someone else to use it now, and you can acquire a new and improved model when you need a replacement. I know I certainly wouldn’t replace a defunct laser printer with a dot matrix from the garage.

3. Do a trial separation. Box up questionable items for six months (or even a year, if it makes you feel better). If you haven’t missed them in that time frame, you probably won’t miss them at all. Consider donating the contents, unopened, so you won’t need to go through a new round of deliberation.

4. Get some money for it. Whether it’s a tech gadget you no longer use, a designer outfit that no longer fits, or a piece of jewelry that’s no longer your taste, sell it. That way, you can use the proceeds towards a (new and better) replacement if the need arises in the future.

5. Do good with your clutter. Donate your castoffs to someone in need. You’ll be much less likely to regret purging something if it’s brought joy or assistance to another person.

6. Value your space. Sure, if you get rid of 100 items, you might find need for one of them down the road. But look at all that glorious space you’ve enjoyed in the meantime! Much better to acquire that one replacement when needed, than keep drawers and closets stuffed with scores of “just in cases.”

7. Put it in perspective. Do you rue the day you decluttered your apple corer? It’s really not the end of the world. Go out and buy a new one—and think of the new appreciation you’ll have for the value it adds to your life.

So, what about you: do you have any decluttering regrets? Or do you find that once something’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind? Please share your experiences in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

90 comments to No Regrets

  • Karen T.

    I don’t think the point of Francine’s post is that minimalists should just run out and buy what they decluttered last year. She’s also a “minsumer,” remember? The point is that 99.99% of what we declutter is stuff we never miss and probably never needed in the first place. In the event that we do discover one thing that we miss having and maybe should have kept, Francine is reminding us that we can probably replace that one thing if we must. She’s giving us a reason to let go of the fear that we might need something “someday,” or that we might suffer without it.

    Besides, the process of purging is not something that should go on forever. Eventually, a minimalist should reach the level of “enough.” Since she is no longer buying mindlessly, and has learned how little it really takes to meet her needs and make her happy, she no longer has piles of things just sitting around taking up space. At that point, the “one in, one out” philosophy makes sense. I just bought two new shirts for fall, and donated two shirts I’ve had for a couple of years. No big purge necessary.

  • I have to admit that I have one regret that may seem like I shouldn’t say it out loud to those in the minimalist world BUT….

    I sold, gave away, donated most of my things when I decided to make a move to Hawaii from San Diego. It has been absolutely wonderful. The love of my life and I did this move together and started our own life here after getting rid of two house holds of things.

    My regret: I sold my Toyota 4Runner that was paid for. We have another one we shipped. But as a person who has been overly independent my whole life… at 47 without my own car and having to coordinate my activities in sharing a car quite frankly pisses me off most the time…. and I think part of it too was it was paid for.

    Yes it is an it is a large island and living 1200 feet in elevation from the ocean (town is 5 miles away an at sea level) on small windy roads with no shoulders, it can be a bit dangerous and to walk, run, ride bike etc.

    So… I regret selling my paid for Toyota 4Runner. Bleh.

  • Zoe

    I am 40, and there is stuff that I regret throwing out. After my exams when I was 18, I was so happy it was all over that I got rid of all my work. I often think now that I wish I’d kept it, particularly my biology A-level work, also so much of my schoolwork from earlier. I was going through a difficult time & also I was just about to move to university (not using the biology) & I just wanted to get rid of everything. Also I got rid of all my photos and I do wish I’d kept them too. As a parent I am going to make sure I keep my daughter’s schoolwork. Perhaps I had taken my free education for granted.
    Otherwise I have to say this is my favourite website out of the whole of the internet!! :)

  • Jen

    Here’s a tip for dealing with the husband.

    If you come across an item you don’t want, put it in that box in the garage. Slowly but surely, that box will be full enough to donate. If he didn’t ask, “Hey, where’s that thing I had?”, he won’t miss it.

    As long as you don’t run through the house looking for items to donate, he’ll think nothing of it.

    If it seems too sneaky to donate things behind your husband’s back, think of the other things you didn’t ask him if it was okay to get rid of. You didn’t say, “Honey, I think this leftover chili from 3 weeks ago should be thrown away. Do you think so too?”
    Just say, “We haven’t used this, we don’t need it.”, and out it goes.

  • My wardrobe is getting more “honest” in the last year or so. I used to have way too many aspirational clothes – the ones I thought I should wear as the person I thought I should be. These are the items my sister said looked “fantastic” on me, but I always felt like a poser instead of feeling confidence.

    Fantastic or not, if I wasn’t feeling it, I really only feel guilt when I see those things in my closet.

    Now that I have given away 90% of those “poser” pieces I feel lighter and calmer and more confident getting dressed in the morning.

    I do let my fashionista sister help me edit the stuff that doesn’t look good on me (or is faded or worn out) but I don’t shop clothes with her anymore. I chose my wardrobe based on comfort, simplicity and fit. A lot of V-neck cotton in colours I like and straight leg, natural waist pants. Those low-rise designer legged pants have been donated away because I FEEL wrong in them.

  • Crystal

    Get this. Husband and I just went through our house the last 2 days and filled 7 black garbage bags full of stuff to give away. They are by the door waiting to go to Goodwill, and even now, just one and two days later I can’t recall most of the stuff in those bags. Crazy! I know theres a few bags of my sons toys he never liked, some clothes, and some….well, there you go. I can’t remember specific items. LOL! I do see 2 wedding dresses but those didn’t go in the bags. Still, what a great feeling to get rid of all this clutter! We still have 2 rooms to go through today. For the first time since moving into this smaller house I don’t feel overwhelmed by all the stuff and the need to organize it and find a place for it. What a relief! And BTW, I am not totally ‘minimalist’ like a lot of people here on the blog. But I’m finding joy in less. Thanks!

  • Saralina

    @Crystal, I’ve donated about 10 30gallon trashbags in the last year, and I have no idea what was in them now. My house still feels cluttered, (was I really THAT bad?) so I’m at it again. I’ve got my eye on the “heirlooms” that I can’t even associate with a memory because they were someone else’s stuff. KEEP DECLUTTERING! YOU GO GIRLS (and GUYS!)

  • Marie

    I just went through my closet and dressers today and got rid of 25 items of clothing. 2 bags of donations. And just that small amount made it easier to close my dresser drawers. :)

  • Jim King

    I figure it’s all right to go through your own stuff and donate whatever you want but you shouldn’t be doing that with other people’s stuff.

  • Kate

    I regret getting rid of so many things. There must be lots I don’t remember, but if I remember something, it’s usually a sign that I wasn’t comfortable getting rid of it – and I remember the loss with regret. Unfortunately, I have a very good memory.

    I have issues with hoarding, but I feel more burdened by the things that I got rid of and I miss – the “ghost items” – than the many things I still possess. I wish these feelings would diminish over time, but they only seem to be getting worse, even for things that have been gone 30 years.

    • Jamie

      I’m the same way. I often feel that I have a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde personality. Things will suddenly pop into my mind that I gave away and then regret consumes me. The best solution I’ve found is to not be QUITE so drastic in what I give away, and to accept that regret is normal and it’s okay to feel sad, but it doesn’t mean I should have kept all those things. Even now I can’t remember some of those items that caused such regret, lol!

  • Jac

    I am thinking of embarking on a minimilist journey, or at the very least doing some heavy decluttering. I’m recently married and our combined hoarding habits have overflowed our living space (and then some). We both collect materials for different hobbies and crafts, as well as antiques and “one-of-a-kind” finds. If I got rid of a lot of our stuff, we almost certainly could not replace it. Does anyone have advice for decluttering a house where everything feels (and might actually be) irreplaceable? I fear freedom if the price is regret..

  • Tina

    Whenever something new comes in we have to get rid of something else. DH bought 2 sweaters and got rid of pants and a sweatshirt. I am getting rid of a shawl I can’t remember ever wearing. We
    haven’t achieved our goals yet but we are much closer.

  • Tina

    I always have a bag out for Goodwill and there is always something to add to it. We’ve been in our condo 13 years and just bought some new bath mats. The old ones are in shreds. We are getting rid of some tchotchkes and souvenirs brought back by someone I don’t know. Our souvenirs from our cruise are maps, ticket stubs, and the pictures on our phones.

  • Tina

    I want to own less stuff. The more I get rid of the better I feel. I took a big bag down to recycle and now I have another bag full of papers and plastic. I gave some bars of soap to my son because he needed it and we have plenty. I took 4 magazines out of the library because I hadn’t looked at a decorating magazine in a long time. The homes were very overdone with too much stuff in them.

  • Tina

    I don’t regret giving away anything. I like giving away a lot. We almost have 2 more big bags ready for Goodwill. If they can’t use something, they will recycle it. My cousin saves chicken bones and hangs them over her kitchen sink. My mother saves used tea bags, another cousin died in his hoard, my daughter is a hoarder and has tons of cardboard boxes. To me, the ability to give things away means I’m not mentally ill.

  • We went past a large number of storage lockers today. And a number of McMansions. Someone has a lot of stuff. Glad it isn’t me.

  • One of my friends has 12 fur coats. No one wears fur coats any more. She just bought a leather jacket with a fur collar. I can’t imagine why. She is amazed that I don’t own more clothes but I wear what I have. I taught my kids when they were young to pay cash and if they couldn’t do that, to pay everything off at the end of the month.

  • Tina

    I have never shopped at Sam’s Club or Costco. I have no room for so much stuff. I have a lot of hobbies and do volunteer work. When I have more than I need, I give things away. Markers, crayons, paper, fabric, and yarn just sit sometimes. I have enough wrapping paper, bought second hand several years ago, that I can go another 5 years without buying any. It is all stored flat.

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