What Kind of Keeper Are You?

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When deciding how to organize, declutter and otherwise simplify your space and life, it can be helpful to know what type of “keeper” you are. I’ve found that there tend to be 5 types:

  • Past Life

  • Next Life

  • Just In Case

  • Good Money

  • Gifted

Why is it helpful to know? Because then you can recognize that the desire to keep something is just the way you’re wired. “Oh, that’s me, preparing for all those times people will ask me for something and I’ve held on to it “just in case”. But you know what, they can just as easily go get that item on Amazon and my house doesn’t have to be their storage unit.”

Read on to figure out what category you fall into and what to do about it.

Past Life

Characteristics:

  • I bought this couch for my old home and it worked perfectly, I might be able to use it again.

  • I bought these outfits for my old job in finance and even though I don’t work now, I might go back to finance.

  • I bought these quilting supplies when I had time to quilt, but I don’t anymore, but if I let it go, I might regret it.

I think this is the area I’m most guilty of.  I’ve moved 17 times in 20 years. 😬 The spaces have ranged from dorm rooms and studio apartments, to 2 story town homes, and bedrooms in furnished houses.  My stints in said places have ranged from 6 months to 6 years. For a long time (read: until next month when I sell it all at a garage sale), I’d been hanging on to a lot of stuff from that 2 story townhome - it was the first place I got to furnish with all of my own “adult” stuff.  In 2005. 14. Years. Ago. I haven’t had room for it all since. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have room in my family’s shed to keep some of it, but it’s been weighing on me. And the idea of living even lighter and letting go of some of that old furniture is really exciting to me. A lot of it is “past life” stuff that I’ve been keeping for my next life. The thing is, my current life is pretty fantastic, and I haven’t missed any of that stuff, nor am I pining away for a place to put that bookshelf that I’ve been lugging around since 2005.

A big thing for many of my clients in this category is letting go of that “past life” career.  So many have transitioned to a new job, be it motherhood or something more casual, and I know it feels like giving up on that past version of themselves to let these items go.  The thing is, you can’t reach the future if you’re clinging to the past.

Are you holding onto a past life? Or enjoying your current one? What is it costing you to cling to the past? What would you gain by letting go?

Next Life

Characteristics:

  • When I have that mansion, I’ll need this couch, and it was free so I couldn’t pass it up.

  • When I have the job of my dreams I’ll need this suit I bought on sale at Nordstrom.

  • When I have time, I’m going start making quilts, and I found all these supplies on Craigslist!

This kinda piggy-backs off of “Past Life” keeping…because if you needed it back then, why wouldn’t you need it in the future. I mean, duh? Well, there are many reasons you won’t need it in the future. What if, when you find that mansion of your dreams, it’s actually in Italy, and it would be ridiculous to ship a sofa there? What if you got the job of your dreams and their dress code is Lululemon, not Brooks Brothers? What if you absolutely can’t stand making quilts in the future? I know a bunch of us were on the scrapbooking bandwagon and I swear, if I never use cutesy hole-punches again, it will be too soon.

And here’s a big one, is hanging on to this stuff for your next life interfering with your current one? What if, instead of spending $200 a month on a storage unit full of stuff for your next life, you spent that money on something you love right now? Travel? Flying lessons? Massages? An emergency fund?

Just in Case:

Characteristics:

  • I should keep this old couch just in case the new one breaks.

  • I should keep these outfits just in case I gain weight again. 

  • I should keep these quilting supplies just in case my neighbor’s 4 year old son decides to take up quilting and needs supplies.

After going through periods of feast and famine in my life, I can attest to how hard it is to break the urge to keep something “just in case”. The fear of not having enough is strong, and I’ve seen this handed down through my own family and the families of clients. So many parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and many were affected in the more recent recession. I think the important thing to focus on though, is that we, as a nation, are currently drowning in stuff. For the most part, we have far, far more in our homes than most ever did during the Great Depression. Back then, you had one, maybe 2, pairs of shoes, a couple of outfits, and a few kitchen pots, pans and tools. Now we are inundated, and if times get tough, Goodwill and multiple other charities are also inundated with stuff, and replacements for worn-out things can be found quite cheaply (looking at you, $5 electric kettle from Goodwill! You’ve served me well!).

But let’s walk through the cost of these “just in case” items. That old couch, sure it might still work, but what is storing it costing you? Space in your garage? Space and $$ in a storage unit? Annoyance that you see it everyday? Stubbed toes from tripping over it in the garage? Do you even like it? If you loved it so much, why did you replace it? So maybe consider selling it for $50 to someone who actually needs a couch, and put that $50 in a savings account for when those tough times hit.

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Same goes for those outfits. Do you really want something hanging around reminding you of a weight you didn’t want to be, and giving you permission to go back to that weight? Maybe someone else out there could use them, and you’d enjoy the extra space in your closet. Or what about those quilting supplies? Be honest, has it been more than 2 years since you’ve quilted? You’re probably not going back to it anytime soon. And what’s the worst thing that could happen? You decided to go back to it and end up spending $20 at Michaels for new supplies? Is that really worth having stuff taking up space that you don’t even use? Real estate is expensive!

Sometimes stuff costs us far more than it’s purchase price.

Good Money

Characteristics:

  • I paid good money for this couch, and even though I don’t like it anymore I can’t let go of it.

  • I paid good money for this suit in 1989 and even though it has huge shoulder pads, I should still keep it.

  • I paid good money for these quilting supplies and even though I don’t have time, I should hang on to them.

I’ve seen this one hit hard for clients all over the financial spectrum. I think we’re all wired to “get our money’s worth” out of everything. So when we perceive we haven’t, for whatever reason, it can be really hard to let go of something. I see so many clothes in clients’ closets, tags still on, that were on sale, but not quite right. Hell, I have a pair of AG jeans I just listed on eBay because even though they were a size too small, they were only $70 at Ross instead of the usual $180.

But here’s the thing, even if you paid good money for that couch in 1997, you’ve gotten 20 years of use out of it. Divide it’s cost by the number of years you’ve used it and it’s been a darn good deal! And those suits with the shoulder pads? Again, divide them by the number of times you wore them, and you probably got your money’s worth. Those quilting supplies, and clothes with the tags still on? eBay them if it really bothers you, or donate them and take the tax write-off.

Another way to look at “good money” items is like this. When you go to a fancy restaurant, and splash down $150 on a meal, you only get one meal, but I bet it was delicious. You had a good time with your partner, laughs and smiles were had, a delicious dinner consumed. And no need to keep saying, “but I paid good money for that meal! I want it to keep providing!”. You enjoyed it for the experience it was. Look back fondly on that couch and those suits, but let them go. And for the “good money, but never worn/used”. Well, sometimes you go to a great restaurant and get a really shitty meal. We’re talking rude waiter, hair in the food, undercooked…the works. And maybe you complain, maybe you don’t, but after the meal is over, you don’t hold onto that experience and berate yourself for the next 5 months because you had one crappy dinner. No, you let it go (right?).

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Gifted

Characteristics:

  • Aunt Irene gave me an antique family heirloom couch, and she’s going to wonder where it is when she comes to visit.

  • My kids painted me this (horrible) t-shirt, but they’ll be heartbroken if I get rid of it.

  • My grandmother gave me these quilting supplies, and even though I don’t quilt, she’s passed on and they remind me of her quilting on the back patio.

Oooh….so this is a hard one. I think we can all agree that if someone comes to our home and looks for the gifts they gave us, that’s pretty damn tacky. (Don’t do this to people!!!) But knowing that and actually letting go of said gifts when they don’t fit our lifestyle are two different things. Then there’s the added layer of nostalgia and sentimentality when the gifts are from people you love. I myself have a small bin of things that my mom gave me, some are broken, some worn out, some just don’t fit my current space, but I can’t bear to let them go…..because my mom gave them to me. Such irrational beings we are…Mom’s not in the stuff, her love isn’t in the stuff, but there it sits.

So to deal with this gifted category, I would posit that you choose your battles and set limits. If you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone will be looking for an item and that fight over it being gone is greater than the hassle of keeping it, then just keep the damn couch (and learn to say no thank you in in the future!). But if you know your kids make you “lovely” shirts once a week, maybe just keep the current piece. And if the items are from someone you love, try limiting those things to one box, like my one of mom’s gifts. Set limits on how much you can acquire.