A Radical Approach to "Just In Case"

Have you ever gone to donate or trash something and then thought, “No, I should keep that just in case”?  I can tell you that I hear this All. The Time., and so do The Minimalists: a pair of best friends who discovered minimal living and are out to spread the good news through their website, podcast, books, and documentary film.  They’ve come up with a revolutionary way of approaching the concept that will likely shock you the first time you read it: Getting Rid of Just-in-Case Items: 20 Dollars, 20 Minutes.

Kind of crazy, right?

But here’s why it works.  Think of something you’re holding on to just in case, and try what I do with my clients: drill down on that.  Just in case of what?  What is the scenario in which you would need this item, and how likely is that scenario to occur in your life?  What would happen if that scenario occurred and you hadn't kept the item – how much expense and effort would it take to replace it?

This might feel aggressive and make you uncomfortable, and that’s ok.  People are often resistant to this line of questioning because it challenges a very deeply held belief for many of us: that one should always be prepared for anything.  But as The Minimalists point out, preparedness for unlikely situations carries its own costs.

For example, I have a client who travels frequently.  She and her husband each have a complete set of rugged, top of the line luggage that they use on all their trips.  Perfect!  However, they have also kept the last couple of sets of luggage that their current set theoretically replaced.  When I asked if she was ready to donate the old suitcases (which are still in good condition), my client said the magic words: “I want to keep them just in case.”

I tried to drill down on this a bit. Her reluctance to donating her old suitcases boiled down to the fact that she had really liked her old luggage set and wasn’t as big of a fan of the new stuff.  She felt guilty that she had spent a non-insignificant amount of money on new luggage only to find she didn’t like it.  It became clear that she wasn’t ready to make this decision, and that was totally fine – I work on my client’s timeline, not mine – but my gentle probing questions got the wheels turning.

Hold on a second, you say – luggage is expensive and can’t be found just anywhere!  This doesn’t pass the 20/20 test!  I would counter that this situation does in fact pass the test because my client will never need the old luggage in the first place.  A scenario in which her new set is completely lost or destroyed is incredibly unlikely.

In the meantime, suitcases are large and take up space my client could otherwise use for other things.  In addition, their continued presence in her home means that she’s continually confronted with a decision she made that makes her uncomfortable and feels pressure to resolve this discomfort.

What are you holding on to just in case, and at what cost?

LMW