I have regretted decluttering two items in my life.
It took me about three years to realise that I regretted giving up one of those items.
And the second one, I can’t be sure if it’s even gone – it might turn up one day but I might have donated it. I just don’t know.
The trouble is that, although I’m happy – over the moon, in fact – with the rest of the stuff I’ve decluttered and the resulting peaceful life and tidy home, I tend to focus on those two items.
The ones that got away.
I don’t need them. I wouldn’t use them. But they were mine once. And now I miss them.
Do you have items that you’ve given up that you regret? Perhaps the item marked the end of an era, of a dream completed, or of a project discarded? Was it the full-stop to that time of your life? Were you happy to see the back of it at the time but now yearn for those hazy days?
If so, you may have an idea of how and why I’ve come to rue my impulsive decisions.
Let me tell you what specifically I have regretted decluttering:
The first and least bothersome is a jumper. A simple black jumper. I enjoyed wearing it for years. I probably donated it because it’s such a basic item; something that can be easily replaced and I may have even already got a duplicate black jumper. I know I currently have a perfectly acceptible one in my wardrobe.
But that doesn’t stop me from hankering after the old jumper. It was the best-fitting jumper I’d ever owned. It was supremely flattering, with a scoop neck and a figure-skimming waist. But now I can’t find it, so I’m assuming that it’s gone. That it was donated with any of the other bags of clothes I’ve cleared out.
However, I think I’m remembering it in a rather more favourable light than it actually deserves. Perhaps the knit was bobbled and pilled? I think I remember the black looking a little faded? Was that scoop neck really a little too low for my liking? Did it even fit me anymore? It had probably come to the end of its life when I decided to let it go.
But I still think about it from time to time.
The more worrying item is a childhood book. This time I know I’ve decluttered it. Because I remember it being worth some money so, once I’d decided to declutter it, I sold it.
I didn’t declutter it because it was worth money – that was just an added bonus during lockdown when the world was an uncertain place and we needed extra money, not knowing what would happen to our jobs and our future.
I specifically remember not wanting it at all – it almost gave me the ‘ick’ looking at it – and being certain about decluttering it along with other books, childhood toys and so much more stuff. I think I was searching for order in a chaotic lockdown world. In fact, the pandemic had turned me into a hoarder and I wanted to regain control of my home and my mental health.
So I let that book go.
And now, three years later, it’s pinged into my mind.
I suddenly want to see it again.
More specifically, I want to smell it.
The pages had a certain smell – warm, milky, oaty – that took me straight back to reading the book as a child.
It wasn’t a story I cared about and I don’t even really remember the content or how many pages it was. But I remember the pictures and I loved that smell.
I miss that book.
So much so that I’ve been searching online to see if I can find it again to replace it. But even if I did find the same book, it wouldn’t have the same scent – so what would be the point of owning it? My childhood memories are all tied up in the aromas, not the plotline. Replacing it would feel hollow and would just remind me of the one I gave up.
So I won’t be replacing it and will just have to work on letting it go in my heart as much as I let it go in my brain.
I admit, this particular item was given up during a bit of a whirlwind declutter. A month or so of quick decisions and unemotional moments. Maybe if I had decluttered more slowly, this single regret wouldn’t have happened.
In Episode 410 of The Minimalists Podcast ‘Declutter Slowly‘ they discuss how it’s perfectly acceptible to take your time while clearing out your belongings. They make the point that it will have taken time – maybe ten years or more – to have accumulated all your possessions. So, you may need to take just as long to rid yourself of those items.
There’s no need to remove excess belongings overnight – although the all-at-once method may work for you. Sometimes, you might need to put a little more work into the decluttering process, particularly with personal items, and let things go mindfully.
And I think that a little extra thought before decluttering might have minimised my regrets.
But, then again, to have only two items haunting me out of the thousands of things that have gone is quite an achievement.
And one of those items I don’t even want anymore.
Now that I’ve written about the jumper, I’ve become more certain that it was time to let it go and that I wouldn’t even want it if I had it here now. That’s like decluttering it for a second time – it’s out of my mind now as well as my home.
If only I could feel the same way about that book.
Fields Millburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2023) ‘Ep.410 | Declutter Slowly’, The Minimalists Podcast, YouTube [Podcast]. 18th September 2023. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlR1gV5TE40&t=365s (Accessed 20th September 2023).