Probability, not Possibility


As I write this blog entry, I am flying back to Tennessee from Colorado. This is a flight I am fortunate to make semi-regularly. With my older daughter Emma in graduate school in Fort Collins, my husband Eric and I look for any opportunity to travel to Colorado. This time, Eric was presenting at and attending a developer’s conference in Denver. My younger daughter Lydia and I jumped at the chance to come along. I love this part of the country for so many reasons, but chief among them is the chance to hike again in Rocky Mountains National Park. The beauty of these mountains never ceases to amaze me. It was particularly enjoyable to see Lydia enjoy them for the first time.

As we set out on our hikes, I chose the items for my backpack very carefully. The essentials were easy to determine: water, snacks, sunscreen, a trail map, and my phone (for taking pictures). Beyond that, anything else that I *might* need was considered optional. I considered a raincoat. There was no rain in the forecast, but by this time I am well aware of the extremely unpredictable weather of that area. I decided to chance it and didn’t take my raincoat. Thankfully, the weather was absolutely beautiful. I could think of many other items that I could have taken on the off chance that I might need them: a first aid kit in case of injuries, a walking stick, a mirror to signal a plane in case of getting lost, a compass, a hammock, freeze-dried food, salt tablets, a change of clothes in case I fell in the lake, an Ace bandage in case of a twisted ankle, etc. You get the idea. For every item I chose to take, there was a distinct cost involved. Every item increased the weight of my backpack. Even though our hikes were short ones, I valued a lightweight backpack over being perhaps overly prepared.

As we hiked, I thought about how carefully I had chosen what to put in my backpack and how thankful I was that my backpack was so light. Then I started thinking about the items in my suitcase, and how that same principal applied. If I stuffed too many items in my suitcase, I would have had to pay an extra fee because the weight was over the 50 pound limit or I would have had to take two suitcases. I didn’t want to face either of those consequences, so I made my selections carefully.

What if we evaluated every item in our home just as carefully? What if we were just as discriminating in our choices? I am betting that a large percentage of items wouldn’t “make the cut”. In the case of the backpack or the suitcase, there was a clear negative consequence to taking too much (heavier pack to carry, cost of overweight suitcase, inconvenience of carrying two suitcases). What about the consequences of keeping too much in our homes? You may be thinking that this doesn’t “cost” you anything, I am sorry to break the news to you, my friends, but you are wrong. Anything that we keep when we don’t need to is clutter. And our clutter definitely costs us. As a country, 1 in 10 of us pay a monthly fee to rent storage space because we have more than we can fit into our homes. 1 in 4 of us have too much stuff in our garages to fit our cars. We buy things we already own because we can’t find them amidst the clutter. We don’t have the peaceful home environment we crave because of the clutter. I could go on, but you get the idea. Clutter costs.

You might be thinking, “But most of the things I have kept are because I might need them!” That might be true, but let’s look at that reasoning a little more closely. I believe that you need to go a little deeper. First of all, you need to be able to separate the possibility of needing something from the probability of needing it. For example, one of the items I decided not to pack was salt tablets. If we had drunk all of the water we brought and needed to use salt tablets to decontaminate lake water to make it safe for drinking, this would have been extremely helpful, perhaps lifesaving. But I was counting on the fact that our hike was relatively short and that we had all brought sufficient water. While there was definitely a possibility that we might need them, the probability was extremely low, so it was an easy choice.

Now, think about an item in your home that you have been debating about whether or not you should keep, and let’s use those same principles. I’ll use an example from my own home. My daughter Lydia just went back to school for her junior year at MTSU. She is living off-campus for the first time, and her apartment has a full-sized bed. In her previous two years, both her dorm and her on-campus apartment had a twin-sized bed. When we were getting her things together to take back to school, we realized that she would need a full-sized comforter and sheets and would no longer need her twin-sized ones. What did I do with the twin-sized comforter and sheets? Because we were in a hurry to get her ready to go, I just set them aside. But when I get home, I will most likely sell or donate them. Although there might be a possibility I could use them in the future, I think the probability is extremely low. We haven’t had a twin bed in our home for about 10 years. I don’t foresee either of the girls going back into a living situation where they would have a twin-sized bed. Even if we did somehow need one, it wouldn’t be that expensive to buy a new one. Yes, I have room in my linen closet for that comforter, but just because I have room for it is not enough reason for me to keep it.

The next time you are considering whether or not to keep something because you might need it, take a few minutes to consider it more deeply. In what circumstance would you need it? What is the probability of this circumstance occurring? If it did occur and you no longer had the item, what would it cost you to replace it? Be ruthless in your decluttering. Everything you keep costs you in some way.

Getting rid of unneeded things can be incredibly freeing. Trust me—I’ve seen it in my own life, and I have seen it in many of my clients’ lives. You can start slowly, one space at a time. You will be so thankful for making these hard decisions when you see the benefits in your home.

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