Fear is Not a Good Reason to Keep Old Junk

You know why it’s hard to get rid of things and give things away?

We’re scared, mostly.

What if we give away something we need later and we regret it?

Fear of regret.

Fear of wasting.

Fear of missing out.

Fear of going without.

But what are the odds that an old skirt we will never wear is something that should make us afraid? Why should I be afraid of missing something that I’ve already forgotten about once it hits the inside of the donation bin? We know the truth, when we look at it in that perspective. We call ourselves out for it and laugh.

We’re afraid of the fear, and you can’t make good choices based on fear. Make brave choices. Don’t keep old stuff around that you don’t need. It’s slowing you down.

Make bold choices. You don’t need those extra dishes, the skirt you won’t wear, the stuff in the garage. They’re not helping you.

I loved this line from a post by Susie Davis:

“My things should complement, not complicate, my life goals.”

May you go into your weekend making choices that fit your goals.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I’m always so impressed with your posts, Rachel. They say so much with so few words. There’s no….clutter to complicate the ideas. Thanks!
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s last post…Saving Electricity in Winter

    • Thank you Robin!

    • This post was confirmation for me! I have been holding on to too many things since we downsized 2.5 years ago. We always planned on having “that” garage sale… every week…. it never happens! So I just called a donation centre and am waiting for my confirmation on pickup for all the things that complicate my life! Yippee! Many Thanks!

    • Exactly…You Lead by Example, Rachel! This is a great post…gets down to the very reason we tend to hold on to so much stuff. This is especially true with Kid’s Stuff! You’re afraid to get rid of toys/clothes, etc. because you feel you may need it or the kids will be sad without it. Half the time they never miss it and you find it all in your garage or attic years later!

  2. Love this post! Great thoughts to start off my weekend :)

  3. Excellent post. I experienced this fear today when going through a box of old books. I haven’t touched the books for 2 years or so but I was afraid to let them go. Why? You put it into words for me; fear: of wasting, letting go, missing them, going without.

    What if I need them in the future? Ugh. It’s a vicious cycle and you are right, I just need to let go and un-complicate my life! :)

  4. Timely post as I’m getting ready for a yard sale tomorrow morning. I’m agonizing over some country wood items that my parents made for me in the 80’s for another house. The shelves and bench have been in the attic for years. This post was meant for me. I’m definitely selling them tomorrow.

    • I did it. Not all of it sold, but I let go of the things that people purchased with no regrets.
      All except for a train liquor decanter that belonged to my granddaddy. (The other granddaddy and my daddy were railroad men.) My kids sold it. My regret is not having a picture of it. So it’s gone and that’s that. I’ll be OK. ;)

  5. Tomorrow, our church is hosting a “FreeBay” where everyone in the church donates unwanted/unneeded things for everyone else in the church to pick through, all for free! We open it up to the community, too. This post comes at a good time as I’m going through my stuff to find donations… and, as I’m deciding whether to bring things HOME from FreeBay, too! Sometimes resisting bringing home a free item is as hard as getting rid of something. Thanks for your timely words!

    • What an absolutely wonderful idea! I don’t suppose you live in Minnesota do you?? :)

      • Catherine,
        No, sorry! :) We’re in PA. But, you could always start something like that at your church or your neighborhood (free neighborhood yard sale)! It is a lot of work to sort/organize all of the donations, trash the junk, donate the leftovers, etc. But, it blesses so many people (hundreds!) that the effort certainly is worth it!

        • Cheryl,

          I started something like that at our church several years ago. I called it a “garage-free.” Every time we’ve had one it has been such a blessing to US! I had some friends tell me it would be horrible, people would be fighting over things, taking things only to re-sell them, etc. I fretted for an evening and then decided what they did with the items was between them and their Maker, I was doing what I thought I should do. The events always went wonderfully and people were so kind – even trying to pay us for the things we were giving away. I’ve never regretted the decision.
          We usually ask for volunteers the night before to go through everything and if anyone in the church is in need, they can take anything they want to then. (I love the name, “FreeBay,” so cute!)

  6. Just what I needed! Tonight I’m going to get rid of all of the shoes I don’t wear – something that I’ve been planning to do all year. Just do it! Thinking about and “planning” to declutter probably takes up more of my time than the amount of time it would take to actually do the decluttering!

  7. I always do a little test when I’m unsure whether to toss: I ask myself, “If one of my kids spilled permanent ink on this or broke it or destroyed/ruined it in some way, would I a. feel the need to replace it for its usefulness, b. feel saddened because of its sentimental value, or c. shrug and say ‘whatever’?” If it’s a or b then I need to keep it, but 9 times out of 10 it’s c and away it goes.
    Kasey´s last post…Home-based Preschool: G is for GHOST!

  8. I learned this lesson well when I sold my last house. Filled a whole storage unit with stuff I took out to stage the house. 6 months later, I realized there was only 1 thing in there I really missed/wanted during that time. 1.
    Rita@thissortaoldlife.com´s last post…15 Minute Friday: Setting a Goal

  9. Good point! Fear is not a good reason for stuff.

    However, sometimes we keep things that don’t work for us because of other reasons. Frugality and sharing are good reasons and can sometimes lead me to keeping a little more than my clutter-free side would prefer. If something is of value and will likely be useful to someone (possibly my family), I tuck it downstairs and give it as soon as the opportunity arises. This has happened many times this year and it is always a blessing to both me and the recipient!

    The best post I’ve ever read on this aspect of ‘stuff’ is Lindsay’s: http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2012/06/why-do-i-have-this-stuff-building-a-sharing-community.html

  10. I agree. I threw out a bunch of stuff this morning. And almost second-guessed a couple of half-full lotion bottles. Silly.

    Clothes are trickier for me though. Perhaps once I’m past the pregnancy/nursing stage of life, but in the last few years my sizes have changed so drastically I have clothes in about 8 different sizes, and I’m hesitant to get rid of anything, in case I might need it in the next few years.
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…TLC Book Tour: Ironskin (& a giveaway!)

    • Oh, I find unused lotions and such so hard to throw away. That does feel so wasteful but having them go bad in my cupboard is not helping so I may as well just get rid of the clutter!

    • Hi Jessica–I know what you mean. When my marriage was ending, I lost a ton of weight. (Stress kicks my metabolism into warp drive.) It came back gradually. At one point, I had clothes in a range of 6 sizes. I was keeping them all in case I needed them again, and I hated to get rid of things I’d spent money on.

      I finally realized two things: 1. By the time my body might return to that size, either the clothes would no longer be as stylish or my style would likely have changed some. 2) I want to dress for who I am now, not for who I used to be.

      Much as I loved some of those “skinny” clothes (and how I looked in them), I realized that I don’t want to be the woman who fit into them. I want to be the one I am now. Getting rid of the old made room for things that physically and emotionally fit me now. (Hope this is helpful in some way.)

      • Yeah, I think once baby #2 (which is still theory at this point! don’t want to start rumors!) arrives, all those maternity clothes are goners. If someday we happen to have another kid, I’ll get new ones that’ll be more in style at that point. :)
        Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…TLC Book Tour: Ironskin (& a giveaway!)

      • @ Rita – and of course @Rachel :-)
        I am not sure, if I understand you correctly – ” 2) I want to dress for who I am now, not for who I used to be.” – Does this imply that you give a away clothes that still fit? I just can’t do that, it seems to be a waste of money.
        Maybe choosing classic clothes helps? I mean my sweaters are made of cashmere in navy blue, beige and black. My shirts are without patterns, white, blue, grey, rosé.
        Maybe it has to do with heritage – I grew up in a country where my grandparents experienced 2 worldwars. Throwing away stuff – even if it means giving the items to salvation army – was just not part of the concept of living.

        Now that I am more aware of wast and our environment, I find it even harder to throw/give a way clothes that still fit.

        I enjoy jogging in 15 years-old-pants and never envy those people who obviously wear new stuff. I think it is an achievement, holding on to your old stuff and only replace it when it’s damaged.

        What do you think?

        • PS: I forgot to say I just pulled out that 20-years-old-tweed skirt and I am so glad I kept it in my closet all those years. This only “works” as long as you don’t buy clothes for fun, since there is not that much space in the closet. Especially when you share a 600sqft apartment with your partner! I guess I am lucky I never enjoyed shopping. It seems like a waste of time and exhaustes me. Last weekend Mr Paula and I escaped a mall after an attempt and escaped to a riverscape.

    • I still have a box of my nursing and maternity clothes too since my sizes change so quickly. They’re stored out of the way. I think maternity clothes can be worth keeping unless you have friends who wear the same size and style. It’s just for a few years.

    • Jessica, Boxing up clothes by size might work. Every time to you open the box to use those clothes, you can cull for style.
      Bridget´s last post…Rules of Mother-in-Law Etiquette

  11. Around twice a year, I look through my wardrobe and clean out what I don’t wear. This year, I’ve been through my jewelery boxes and other drawers in my bedroom and threw out one of the boxes. I did the same thing in my kitchen.

    I’m a very brutal person when it comes to junk as my townhouse is small and I can’t afford to keep too much stuff. If I do need to store things, I have to be careful about how I do it. Some people think I’ve got clutter, but really it’s just how storage is for me. It looks cluttered but it’s not. I just have to do a clean out once in a while and keep on throwing out what I don’t need and I’m fine. I’ve had to teach myself this as I come from a family of people who hold onto things ‘just in case we need it’… and I don’t want to become like that.

    Or like those poor souls on that television series ‘Hoarders’… yep, I’ve seen it. And I have known a few people who are exactly like that. So, I have made sure I throw out what I don’t need anymore – and if I need it again? Well, I can buy another one.

  12. it really is true. i am working on the simplifying! little by little!
    charis´s last post…how’s the fruit?

  13. A few months ago, I got to thinking about all the random stuff I had hidden away in boxes that were stored in the dark corners of the attic. Boxes full of stuff I had as a kid & teen, etc. a total of 6 large Rubbermaid boxes slam full of stuff from my childhood.

    Anyways, I yanked all that stuff down & took a zillion photo’s of each & every item. Then I was able to let go of 4 of the 6 boxes of stuff. Most of that stuff was random things that really didn’t hold much sentiment & was devaluing the few precious treasures I did want to keep.

    The last 2 boxes of stuff took a little longer to cull as I would get all teary-eyed & sentimental & It just took longer to decide the fate of many of those items. however, after a few days, I was finally able to par down to 1 box & that 1 box truly does contain the trinkets & knick knacks of my childhood that I hold precious. That box is kept in the house & not the attic anymore.

    The other stuff…well it was just stuff. But by taking photo’s of everything helps keep the image of the items but not the bulk & clutter & storage of those items. In hindsight, I rarely looked in those boxes anyways except when we move & now that I have all the contents of those decluttered boxes saved as photographs…well I have yet to go back & look at the photo’s either.
    I’m sentimental about stuff right up to the point that I’m not.

  14. Great post! I’m always worried that I’ll need something as soon as I get rid of it….which is rarely the case.
    Emily´s last post…Weekend Recap – Halloween Party

  15. Thank you for condensing into 100 words what I’ve been trying to articulate for 3 years! Whenever I’m decluttering, I always ask myself if I’m keeping something because I actually use it or because I’m too scared to live without it. Using stuff as a security blanket is not helpful or healthy.
    Jennie´s last post…Sometimes “I Don’t Have Time” Is a Good Excuse

  16. “… making choices that fit your goals.”

    Wow. Very profound for me today. I need to reassess some goals in my life, and make some choices with my time relating to those goals. It’s not just the clutter of stuff in our house that gets in the way of our goals. It’s also how we use our time and what we allow to clutter our lives that way too.

  17. Gosh, Rachel … thanks so much for sharing that from my blog.
    I love how you identify fear as the culprit. I totally agree.
    And isn’t it funny how difficult it is to be bold about stuff?
    As if stuff is the most important thing … gracious.
    Susie Davis´s last post…Gooey Pumpkin Cupcakes {2 ways}

  18. This post makes me giggle a little. Why SHOULD I be afraid of my old clothes? Thanks!

  19. Very timely post coming up to Christmas and the threat of yet more stuff coming in. I love that line about your things complementing your life. Great thought to keep in mind all the time.

  20. At this point, it is not my fear that keeps old stuff in our home–it is the hubby’s. Ladies (or gents), any suggestions on how to help him overcome that? We have boxes of receipts “just in case” even though we take the standard deduction. (and I’m talking about receipts for the groceries and shampoo.) We have clothes for a much colder climate that no longer fit anyone in the house, but “we may move.” I was just as bad at one point but have cleaned out a lot of junk. I started with *my* stuff, went on to the baby’s stuff, and then the kitchen. But his end of the closet and those boxes! Please, can anyone help?

    • You can’t declutter an unwilling person. If you can afford it, here is one of the few times I think it could make sense to rent a very small storage space for all his “just in case” keepers. It would be worth it to me for my serenity in living in a clutter-free home and for my spouse’s sense of security and most of all for the health of our marriage. Just an idea. :)
      Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Cerebral Homemaking, Part 9: Homemaking is So Daily

    • Probably the first thing is to accept that you can’t change your husband’s level of fear/security. (Though you might get some insight considering how you overcame some of your own fears in this regard, since you said you used to be “just as bad”). There’s always hope!

      Having accepted the situation, you can focus your efforts on working with him to manage the stuff. Maybe you can compromise on some points — like saving only the receipts necessary for a deduction (medical, utilities only if you work from home … . I don’t believe grocery receipts ever figure into deductions). Also limiting receipts to the current year, and only until you’ve filed your taxes. Once you’ve taken the standard deduction you won’t need them for documentation. Keep the clothes for a colder climate, but only if they fit.

      We wives all have that “husband factor,” whether it’s about stuff or something else. ‘Hope this helps. :)
      Bridget´s last post…Rules of Mother-in-Law Etiquette

    • I think, too, you should install a system that respects his fears/worries.
      For the receipts, you might get a smallish box (an empty chocolate box or something) and collect them for a month, then go through them and file the important ones (for computer parts or other things with warranties), but get rid of all the ones for things you already have eaten/used up (like shampoo). It’s irrational to keep a receipt for an item that doesn’t even exist any more.
      Likewise with the clothes, I would make him try them on and if they don’t fit they go away. Yes, it may be possible that he feels like taking a vacation in Alaska or something, but even if he does that, he would need clothes that fit.
      I would focus on torn and worn out clothes, on organizing his closet and reducing the “inflow”, so that if he owns 40 T-shirts, he just doesn’t buy any new ones until he reaches a more reasonable number. When he’s a “saver” anyway, it might come natural to him to not waste money on new clothes while he already owns enough.
      In this house, we have over time even come down to fixed numbers for clothing items and it is working very well for us. We buy little clothes over the course of the year and do one “purge” a year in which we check, mend and toss and make a list of things that need replacement.

  21. Perfect timing for me to read this….hubby and I are going to be cleaning the garage today, and I really needed this reminder. Thank you!! Sometimes we know something in our minds, but we need someone else to put it in writing for it to really click. :)

  22. I loved this post, you cut straight to the bone. Thanks for the inspiration!
    xo from a fan abroad ;)

  23. Loved the post:). My biggest difficulty is not getting rid of something. I’m pretty good at that. The thing I’m working on most now is not replacing things I have given away. I find that is a typical cycle for me. I have to remind myself that I’m not simplifying if I replace donated items.

  24. Rachel, You’re so right. Fear of the unknown, the odds, keeps us from getting rid of things we don’t currently need or use. Sometimes it does turn out that we’ve miscalculated. But we shouldn’t let our inability to predict the future keep us from living our present to the fullest. The present is all we truly have.
    Bridget´s last post…Rules of Mother-in-Law Etiquette

  25. Love this advice. I really needed it. As I take out my bins of winter stuff I sort through and usually donate clothes I didn’t wear the year before {or sometimes the year before that even!} but I am hanging onto for whatever reason — mostly scared that I’ll miss it, or wonder where it is and search for it. Thanks for this!

  26. Now I wish I’d have had a clearout and tidied my bedroom (which, by the way, I do always tidy last) instead of blogging. But then I wouldn’t have found this little gem to motivate me!

    But what about unwanted gifts. I know there’s something on here about that…
    Rudelle Jade´s last post…The power of post

  27. What if it’s fear of your mother? My mom has this bad habit of trying to give me junk. I usually say no but every now and then she slips something past me. Like a couple of weeks ago. She gave me this wooden bean bag baseball game to give to my daughter and son-in-law, or if they didn’t want it, to their church group. Well, they didn’t want it and they didn’t think the church group would either. No one else wanted it and my mom obviously didn’t want it since she gave it to me. So I threw it away. Well, my husband did but with my blessing. We are tossers & rarely regret any tosses we make. But we did regret this one because last week my mom asked for it back. She said it had only been a loan so we could use it as a pattern. Uh oh. I asked my daughter what she remember her saying and we both remembered her saying to give it to them or the church. Mom obviously forgot. Now I’m going to be in trouble. She has been irritated with me more than once because I threw something away. But really . . . it was junk. Once she gets over being mad at me, hopefully she’ll see it that way.

    And even fear of my mom will not keeping me from throwing (or giving) stuff away.
    Patty@homemakersdaily.com´s last post…Chocolate Toffee Cake

  28. Christina Neumann says:

    It’s true, I just let go of 3 bins of life magazines. Why was it hard? Because I have sold these on eBay , and these are the last of the last, and just don’t sell. I was just afraid of missing out on that extra $10 bucks.. Huh…. So off they go to the thrift so some else can love them like I did!

  29. oh so true! Sometimes I feel really paralyzed about giving stuff away because I’m afraid that I’ll regret it someday. I’m trying to have a heavier hand with donating stuff and just transitioning it OUT of my life. So far, there are very few things I regret giving away in my life…
    Meghan´s last post…LIfe is Good Today

  30. Thank YOU! For me, making choices is ALL about what would something add/bring to my life? Greater joy or more cleaning up to do? :-)
    Prerna@The Mom Writes´s last post…How to Manage a Work-at-Home Business During the Holidays

  31. I have purged things I later regretted (A few items of clothing, shoes, PJs for my younger son, a few kitchen items). Honestly, it was not a Big Deal. We lived. And the only thing I replaced was the kid’s PJs and using a Kohl’s coupon they only cost $6. Not a hardship.

  32. What helped my DH and I is assigning space. He could keep all the files he wanted, in the available space. I could keep all the children’s keepsakes, in their assigned space. After a while, to add something in, something had to go.

    We are in NY, and will be helping NJ relief through our church. It is a good time to give good, usable items and maybe even a little more than we would under other circumstances. At least we know the items are truly going to those who need them, and how can we keep all we have with so many needing so much?

    It really helps me to read all the comments. I feel like I am not alone as I tackle my living space and my life, and that makes changing a bit easier. Thank you, Rachel, for your insight into living!

  33. oh so right, and just the reminder I needed as I see my closet and cupboards bursting at the seams and feeling a deep yearning to simplify life. It is true that energetically “old stuff” holds you back, keeps you in the past. Plus it is my experience that the more “stuff” one has stashed away or cluttered around the house the less conscious one becomes, as if one can’t think clearly anymore. I get this sense of feeling out of sorts, unclear about next steps and difficulty focusing, overwhelm at the little things… then I look around and realize my enviornment is not conscious. I used joke with my husband, if you find me late at night furiously scrubbing out the fridge or cupboards, you know something is wrong and I’m working stuff out.
    Purging and cleansing a home has an energetic effect on many levels. It cleanses the soul and opens one up to new beginnings.

    Many thanks and Cheers!

  34. Illy Mooncat says:

    This is SUCH a timely post. My fiance and I are moving to AZ from CA after Christmas and I am valiantly trying to pack my belongings. I am VERY sentimental and I have lots of little collections. And you’re right, it’s fear: guilt for feeling ‘wasteful’ like I have too much, fear of not seeing my childhood toys and things again, fear that what I donate won’t be loved and cherished like I love and cherish my things. I am trying to remind myself that I haven’t interacted with a lot of this stuff in many years, so why should I care now, but it’s very hard. Part of my brain wants to take EVERYTHING and the other part is giddy to not be encumbered with stuff. You’ve given me a little hope and some thoughts on going foreward. :)

  35. I have two big goals for the next five years, which unfortunately are not very easily combined — the first is to go walk around Europe with just a backpack for a year, and the second is to buy land and a house. So I have a tendency to buy things for the One Day House — and at the same time simplify and purge so that I am not storing too much. I know I’ll want to keep my books and artwork and good kitchen supplies . . . but the rest? It won’t be very difficult to replace an Ikea couch.

    I have six months till I plan to put it all in storage, and I need to get over the fear. I am afraid, though, of nebulous futures where I won’t want to spend the money that could be going to the trip — or the house — but it is fear.

    I like what someone said above, to have things for who I am now not who I used to be — I think my problem is that I have things for the person I *want* to be as well! Some of that is realistic, some of it a little less so . . .
    Victoria´s last post…A Walk Out of Town – List #11

  36. I used to be afraid to get rid of gifts people had given me. Then I read a book called 30 Days to a Simpler Life, and I remember this quote: “Gifts are an symbol of a persons love. Keep the love, get rid of the gift.”
    Zipporah Bird´s last post…Interview with Gabriella: “I always felt loved, but it wasn’t a touchy-feely family.”

  37. Hi Rachel, I miss your posts! I hope you and your family are doing well and enjoying this season.

  38. Rachel – I keep checking in to see if you’ve updated the blog here. I hope that you and your family are well and your lack of blogging is by choice and not due to yucky circumstances.
    Merry Christmas!

  39. I miss your wise and insightful posts as well, Rachel. Hope all is well.
    Morgan´s last post…Heart Lessons from a 5-year-old

  40. Hi Rachel! I just found your blog very recently and miss your postings. Hope to read from you soon and that you are all well!

  41. Thinking of you and hoping for the best.

  42. Rachael,
    Hope you and your family are okay.
    Miss your posts.

  43. vermontmommy says:

    I hope you are healthy and happy. I miss your posts.

  44. Just like everyone else, I have been checking your blog daily for new posts. Keeping you and your ‘ohana (family) in my prayers.